Ghostwire: Tokyo are many different things. It’s a psychic buddy cop drama, high-octane action title, and haunted exploration game from a studio best known for its horror titles. But according to producer Masato Kimura, none of those elements were the premise for the game. “The whole concept came from the city of Tokyo,” he says The edge†
The game takes place in a nearly empty version of the city, thanks to a mysterious event called ‘the disappearance’ that causes the sudden disappearance of almost every person in Tokyo. In their stead, folkloric creatures and evil spirits roam the streets. Players use magic to fight enemies as they search every corner of the city for lost ghosts to rescue. Ghostwire draws players through everything from iconic locations like Shibuya Crossing to more mundane places like alleys and generic office buildings.
According to director Kenji Kimura, much of the inspiration came from the duality of Tokyo, a city that is both strikingly modern and rooted in history. “Office buildings are constantly under construction, but when you turn the corner, you walk into a sanctuary,” he says. “When you walk into a sanctuary, the air feels different, it almost tastes different, so it feels like you’ve stepped on a different plane. Sometimes you walk through the streets of Shibuya, turn into an alley and a few steps further you are surrounded by normal houses or a completely different environment. We wanted to adopt that idea of stepping into another world in a very natural way.”
Since development studio Tango Gameworks is based in Tokyo, much of the research simply involved taking lots of walks. There are plenty of games in Tokyo – from persona 5 nasty The world ends with you to each iteration of the Yakuza franchise — but one of the targets on Ghostwire was to show the city from a different perspective that people from the outside might not be so familiar with.
“Not only did we pick the tourist sections that are in the tour books, we also selected a lot of the cool parts that we saw and felt interesting,” Masato says. “It is a city that is very modern, but also very historically rooted. A lot of traditional culture is reflected in the architecture and layout of the city. There are alleys and houses full of garbage, there are apartment complexes that are run and owned by the government – all these different parts of Tokyo that we wanted to make more accessible for the player, so we condensed them and stitched them closer together to Shibuya, so the map is much more accessible.”
One of the challenges was capturing the essence of a city of more than 30 million people, when almost none of those people are there. Kenji says “it took a lot of experimentation” to figure out how to capture that vibe, while Masato describes it as “a very difficult process.” Ghostwire enlivens the empty city in a few ways, from the ghosts of city dwellers that are still left to the thumping music from now-closed bars and restaurants to the cats and dogs now running through the streets of Tokyo. (You can pet the dogs, of course, although it’s more challenging with cats. “Cats probably love you just as much,” says Kenji, “but they want to keep a little more distance. So we try to represent that in the game.” )
Capturing the mundane and familiar aspects of Tokyo was also important to the game’s theme. The idea was that by rooting the city in reality, the more surreal and supernatural elements of the game would stand out even more. “There are things that you can’t see, but that do exist and that could be very important to us,” Kenji says. “We kept using this phrase throughout a lot of development: we want the player to experience the unusual lurking in the ordinary. Those Tokyo walks may feel like a normal day of commuting, but there may be unusual things we can’t see .” This is true even for the protagonists: the main character is an ordinary man named Akito who is possessed by the ghost of a detective named KK.
However, one thing the developers couldn’t predict is how prescient a game about a city full of empty streets would be. Development on Ghostwire started before the pandemic, and the premise was already locked so that, as Kenji points out, “we weren’t creatively affected by it.” But for players, it adds another layer of familiarity in a game full of monsters, ghosts and urban legends. “When the pandemic hit and we started to see how [empty] the city has actually become,” he says, “it gave us the feeling that there will now be parallels with real life.”