The Twilight Syndrome franchise is very popular in Japan and has spawned numerous games, TV dramas & films spanning more than 10 years with the most recent title being the Nintendo DS game "Twilight Syndrome: Kinjiratera Toshi Densetsu". The series also had a spinoff titled "Moonlight Syndrome" which features Mika (the character with the rucksack). The main theme of the games centers around investigating the urban legends around the characters' school and hometown (which is a common pass time for school aged kids in Japan) ranging from ghost photo locations, Hanako-san, and other rumors that involve the ghosts in the music room and the last train. The style of gameplay is a mixture of exploration in a 2D sidescrolling manner & forms of a sound/visual novel where you are faced with multiple choice answers to choose the direction that the stories go. To fully enjoy this game like most other Japanese horror games, it is advisable to have knowledge of the Japanese language as the game is text intensive and features little to no speech. Once you have gotten over the language barrier (if there was even one there to begin with) it is an interesting and relatively spooky game. It also features some of the funniest Engrish on a video game cover I've every seen.
This game features 6 scenarios/chapters with the first being a brief introduction to the urban legends around the school & town. Each of the chapters/scenarios are well written with a multiple ending scenario, depending on how you answered the multiple choice options throughout the chapter you are in. There is a bad ending in the chapters too and you will not be able to progress to the next chapter if you receive the bad ending for the chapter. Both the normal ending and the perfect ending will allow progression to the next chapter of the game apart from fifth chapter "Hinashiro Koko Nanafushigi" where you must get the perfect ending to receive the final chapter and the true ending. Though the game is a horror title, its stories are written in a traditionally Japanese way and fall into the spooky area of scenarios rather than terrifying. My favorite chapters of the game was the 2nd ("Shinrei Shashin Ryousan Kouen") & the 4th ("Saishuu Densha") as those chapters were the longest and featured more possible scenarios and ghosts, though that being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed all chapters. The only thing I did not like about the storyline is that in the final chapter, once the true ending begins it shows you that to complete that particular chapter's story and to find out what happens to Mika, you must play the sequel which is more like part 2 rather then a fully fledged sequel...the only problem with this is that it is ridiculously difficult to get hold of this game from any western speaking auction site/shops so I have yet to find the funds to use an importing site to get hold of it.
The Gameplay in this installment of Twilight Syndrome is a mixture of sound/visual novel elements and 2D exploration sequences. You use the D-pad to control the 3 characters and move them around the environment. The D-pad is also used for choosing the multiple choice answers...nothing groundbreaking but it works effectively. The sprites react with their environment well and do not get stuck on any walls or other background items. The only problem that I have found with the control scheme is that when trying to select and search items on the back of the screen...the character may exit the room if the door is on the back wall. I assume it's just due to close hit detection areas between the door and the back items, but even so, it did not hinder the game too much. Twilight Syndrome does not feature a health gauge since there are no real attacking enemies. The game uses a fright level instead, which is a meter to show the girls' heart rate which will affect the scenes and events that you will encounter depending on whether it is blue (calm), green (spooked), or red (very frightened).
The sound in this game is similar to most sound novels in the way that it features background noises to set the scene. For example, you will hear crows and crickets at the park to show that it is at night or chattering students at the school to show that the scene is taking place during school hours. Other than the usual sound effects, the game is quite lacking in music. There is no constant music in the background unless you have encountered a spirit or similar event. When the music is playing,it has a spooky vibe, highlighting the tension of the event and also creating a level of suspense and urgency. Still, the use of silence is very effective in creating an eerie setting and sets up the events well. There is a small amount of voice elements used in the game from the occasional scream, evil laugh or short phrase. The largest amount of the speeches are during chapter 3 "M.F of the Music room" where the intro features a character repeating a sentence over and over (though I'm not going to spoil it for you) and then when the main characters try to contact Fujita Mayuko mid-way through the level. All in all, the voice acting (where and whenever it is applied) is very good and helps the narrative have more of a human element to it.
The graphics featured in this game are quite unique as while the main characters have the look of 2D sidescroller characters, they were actors on a blue screen altered to fit the style of the game. Because of this, the animations are smooth and very realistic. The settings and landscapes are very dark and can be quite awkward to maneuver around; Even with Yukari's lamp lighting the way. The character design is effective and suits the setting of the game with it being a school. Each of the characters have their unique look and animation even down to a subtle change to the school uniform. The animations suit each of the girls' personalities as Chisato is quite reserved so she walks with a more cautious manner, Mika being more childish and playful has a lighthearted walk cycle, and Yukari (being the leader) often walks at the front leading the group with the light.
My overall impression of this game is a very positive one, apart from the fact I am very partial to Japanese horror themed media. I thought that the game brought a new twist on the sound novel/exploration genre. I am looking forward to delving deeper into the Twilight Syndrome series, which will most likely be Twilight Syndrome: Sakai which is the 3rd installment of the series and the newly released DS title just as soon as it pops through my letterbox. If you are interested in Japanese horror titles and can read Japanese, I would really recommend this game, but if your knowledge of Japanese is not that strong, I would not really advise it as the story and multiple choice answers will probably be lost in translation.
- Written by Chocolateburger -