By Josh Speer / October 18th, 2019
|Title||Spirit Hunter: NG|
|Developer||Experience, Ghostlight LTD|
|Release Date||October 10th, 2019|
|Genre||Adventure, Horror, VN|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||Mature 17+ – Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence|
I probably wouldn’t have become a fan of the Spirit Hunter series if it weren’t for Aksys Games. After all, they pretty much forced me into the horror adventure genre with the wonderfully twisted Zero Escape series. I’ve also played other compelling horror stories published by Aksys such as Creeping Terror. The point is, I’ve really grown to appreciate a well written horror story, despite being a gigantic wimp when it comes to survival horror series such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. When I heard that Spirit Hunter: NG was the sequel to Death Mark, a horror adventure game I rather enjoyed when I reviewed it last year, I knew I had to be the one to tackle it.
Let me start by saying that Spirit Hunter: NG is at the same time very similar to and very different from Death Mark. To start, whereas Death Mark is pretty much a supernatural roller coaster from the very beginning, NG is a game where the supernatural is lurking in hidden corners, and slowly surrounds you in a vice. The story is a much slower burn, but once it gets going, you’ll be in a constant state of terror. Because unlike in Death Mark, in NG you never know where supernatural creatures will attack you. In the first game, you’d be pretty much safe so long as you weren’t in a haunted location, but here not even your home is a safe harbor. Having said all that, there’s still a lot of similarities between the games. They play almost identically, both feature a mysterious mark that counts down to your death and both include a diverse crew of eclectic personalities. Thankfully the gameplay, though similar, has also been overhauled here, and is much more streamlined. I can’t count the number of times some mechanic frustrated me in Death Mark, nor how often I got lost wandering about. Neither of those were an issue in Spirit Hunter: NG, which was incredibly satisfying. Which isn’t to say I was never annoyed, but it happened far less often.
Before I get too much farther, I need to talk about the story in Spirit Hunter: NG. Whereas Death Mark started with a big question mark, with your protagonist suffering amnesia from the titular mark, here things begin much calmer. You play Akira Kijima, a rough-and-tumble third year high school student. You’re pretty much a loner, with a dead mother and no father in the picture. Thankfully, your Aunt Natsumi is a kindhearted woman who makes your life better, and her young daughter Ami views you as her big brother. Under their guidance, Akira does his best to be a better person and less of a hooligan than he was in his youth. Which doesn’t mean he’s gonna get student of the year anytime soon, but it does help soften his rough edges. That said, Akira is still a bad ass. His best friend, Seiji Amanome, is the son of a Yakuza boss, and uses his growing influence to manipulate people to his whims. Years back, he was responsible for helping Akira make a quick buck in underground matches, but Akira’s trying to clean up his act. Things are relatively calm and boring, until one day when he finds a black card on his doorstep. Ami solves the card’s riddle for him, and the hidden message reads “let’s play”. Little does Akira realize how completely his normal life is over from that moment onward.
Soon after receiving the card, Akira is confronted by a strange talking doll named Kakuya. If you played the first game, your radar probably just started pinging off the charts, and rightfully so. Kakuya forces Akira to play the first of many dangerous games, and starts by sending a restless spirit to kill him and Ami. Barely surviving the encounter, Akira thinks things are calming down until Ami somehow disappears from his own residence. Turns out, Kakuya has employed supernatural means to kidnap Ami, and is using her as leverage to force Akira to continue playing her games. Each one will have him face off against a restless spirit, survive their attacks and eventually beat them. Along the way, Akira will discover many hidden truths about the nature of the game, the evil doll Kakuya, and perhaps even his own murky past. Though this structure is very similar to Death Mark, I was totally fine with that. Yes there are parallels, but there were more than enough ways that Spirit Hunter: NG distinguished itself from the first title.
One way that Spirit Hunter: NG is different from the first game is that there are less characters overall. I can’t confirm that 100 percent, but going from memory it seemed there were a lot more people you interacted with in Death Mark. This would be a problem if they weren’t all distinct and well rounded people, but thankfully each member of the cast serves an important role. In fact, the members of your band of misfits serve such a distinct role that if you allow any of them to get killed, you’ll be locked out of the best ending. Though I was tempted to use a guide to get the best ending here, like I did when I reviewed Death Mark, I’m kind of glad I didn’t. For one thing, the other endings are far more terrifying and disturbing, and do a lot to contextualize the stakes while motivating players to try again. For another, puzzles in this game were far less challenging to figure out, with two large exceptions I’ll discuss later. I really grew to like the characters in NG, so every time I failed a test and someone was the victim of a supernatural hit job, I got even more invested in the story. See, whenever you face off against a spirit, you can either defeat them or purify them. While my default reaction is usually to kill the monster, and the game definitely plays off that instinct, you’ll be well rewarded for finding the harder way to victory. If you destroy the spirit, their curse will transfer to a member of your team, and then they’ll suffer an untimely demise. You’ll never know if you made the right choice til later, and then be treated to a gruesome tableau of their death. This only happened twice to me, and both times I felt utterly wretched and horrified. If you want to avoid losing anyone and don’t like guides, I strongly recommend you don’t save til after you know the result, and make sure to save before every Survival Escape scenario.
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