Spirit Hunter: NG
Developed By: Experience Inc
Published By: Aksys Games
Category: Adventure, Horror, Visual Novel
Release Date: 10.10.19
Spirit Hunter: NG for the Nintendo Switch is the second game in Experience Inc’s Spirit Hunter series; the first being Death Mark, released in the US around this same time last year. I happened to play that game, and was incredibly impressed by the way it managed to blend Experience Inc’s signature dungeon-crawling elements with visual novels and point-and-click adventure game mechanics. Despite its original gameplay combination, what really impressed me about Death Mark was the way the narrative was implemented and used to develop an atmosphere of tension and suspense despite the relatively passive nature of the gameplay. I was pretty darn excited to see how the sequel – described as a “companion game” by the publisher – held up. I was happy to discover that although there are a few very minor changes, but the basic formula and execution remain outstanding.
The Hunt Is On
Akira Kijima is your typical retired underground cage-fighting high school student beginning his summer break. He’s looking forward to relaxing with his earnings and spending some time with his family – or what’s left of it, anyway. Orphaned at a young age, Akira was taken in by his aunt Natsumi and became a big brother to her daughter Ami. After an encounter with a malevolent spirit, Ami goes missing, leaving behind only questions and a bloody pair of headphones. Knowing the police don’t believe his story, Akira has no choice but to look for Ami himself, setting in motion a series of events that see the young man embroiled in a secret world of hauntings and phantoms that draws him deeper in the more he struggles to resolve it. With every angry spirit he encounters, Akira takes one step closer to Ami – and one step closer to death.
The same team that made Death Mark made this game, and the strengths of that game’s narrative are apparent here, as well. Sometimes it seems like the horror genre relies too much on blood and gore to achieve its frights and thrills, but that’s not what Spirit Hunter: NG does. Sure, there is some blood sprinkled around – we are dealing with gruesome murders a lot of the time, after all – but the game’s writing and setting carry the load of crafting a creepy, tense atmosphere that is much more frightening than just simple bloody carnage.
The majority of Spirit Hunter: NG plays out like a typical point and click adventure game, where you move a cursor around the screen checking out items that can be either collected or manipulated in some way. You have to figure out what items to use where, or in what order, to advance the investigation. You also have an ability called Bloodmetry, which allows you to learn the history of any blood-soaked item by reading the memories of the blood. This will give you important information about each spirit you are investigating, which will help you figure out how to eventually calm the spirits and move on to the next chapter.
Each investigation area is laid out in multiple screens, with a map structure similar to what you find in Experience Inc’s other dungeon crawlers, like Stranger of Sword City. In between investigating areas, the story plays out via visual novel styled cutscenes. I’m not a big fan of straight-up VNs, as I prefer there to be at least some kind of skill involved in advancing a game, which are provided here by the investigation and adventure elements.
During your investigations, you’ll encounter various dangers that require quick thinking and decision-making to escape. These events are timed by a “Security” counter that depletes as you take your time to make a decision; if it reaches zero before you select a decision, it’s an automatic game over. You can make a wrong decision and still live if there are multiple twists in the event, but if it’s a one-decision event, you get it right or you die. This is a carry-over from Death Mark, and it’s a cool way to ratchet up the game’s tension and add a sense of urgency to a genre that can have a hard time generating one.
Purify or Destroy
Once you have investigated an area and collected enough information on a spirit, it is time to confront the spirit. Confronting a spirit involves a series of choices about how to use the items you have gathered to either purify or destroy your supernatural foe. Purifying a spirit is generally preferable, as destroying a spirit will also result in one of your companions dying. This process is somewhat simpler, and a little less satisfying, than it was in Death Mark; in that game, you and your partner could each take an action to defeat a spirit, allowing you to use multiple items in a turn or use items in tandem, making for a much deeper experience. In NG, only one character acts with one item, limiting the potential strategies. I still liked the story and overall adventure mechanics, but the previous system was more robust and rewarding.
Turn Over Every Stone
My best advice for those of you playing would be to look at every screen you can after every event: you never know what very small thing may have changed to offer you a key item to purify a spirit. You get a lot of useless items, but it is possible to miss an incredibly important item if you aren’t meticulously checking every area. This can get a little tedious at times, but if you want the best ending you need to put in the best effort, I suppose. I spent hours trying to find that one little thing I missed to save my companion on the first dang spirit, only to find I had missed one tiny scrap of paper at one point that changed everything. It can get frustrating, especially if you think you’ve been pretty thorough, but the game rewards obsessive thoroughness, so keep in mind that if you’re not getting the desired results, there definitely is something you missed.
Creepy Sights and Eerie Sounds
Much like Death Mark, Spirit Hunter: NG features the gorgeously macabre art of Fumiya Sumio. It is through that art that the game truly achieves its unsettling atmosphere. Every shadow oozes danger, every spirit exudes terror, and every character expresses their tension perfectly. The music is generally the perfect accompaniment to the art; it is tense, it is creepy, and it builds a sense of dread the further you advance into a mystery. There was this one weird thing where sometimes two different songs were playing in the background at the same time; not sure if that’s a bug or not, but it happened a few times. It seemed to happen when I was holding the button to skip through text when I was replaying a failed event; maybe it’s caused by doing that during scene transitions? Or maybe I just need to stop failing so many events? That could be it.
TL;DR: Great horror adventure game; perfect for anyone who enjoys atmospheric horror stories.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.