Earlier this year we got the fifth chapter in the Drakengard-franchise, Nier: Automata, a game that combines phenomenal action with mechanics pulled from an array of different genres. Tokyo 42 goes down a similar alley. It's best described as a mix of Grand Theft Auto, Syndicate, and Fez; a combination which sounds downright crazy on paper, however, Tokyo 42 manages to deliver a worthwhile experience with these disparate elements.
The game starts with a short intro where the unnamed protagonist gets wrongly accused of a murder and accordingly has to escape across Tokyo's rooftops to avoid the advancing police. Thanks to an anonymous phone call our character manages to get away. This is the basic setup in Tokyo 42, a narrative that in no way revolutionises storytelling, yet still, it works as an entertaining tutorial to the mechanics and introduction to the aesthetic expression of the game.
As the name gives away, the story takes place in Tokyo in the year 2042, and visually this setting is a joy to look at. It's a clever mix of dystopian themes, science fiction, and minimalist architecture; think Ghost in the Shell merged with Blade Runner (with a dash of colour). The style translates across everything, from the menus to how you aim with your weapons. Every little detail has been polished with its own brand of originality.
Shortly after getting rid of the police you're assigned the task of clearing your name and subsequently starting work as an assassin so you can catch up with the people who wronged you. While Tokyo 42 is a short game, about five or six hours in length, the main story still manages to introduce a number of interesting scenarios about corruption and the future dystopia. Don't expect to be sitting on the edge of your seat, however, as the story never really manages to set itself apart from those that inspired it.
The best parts of the narrative were experienced through the different conversations we overheard as we moved through the streets, rather than in the dialogue that set up the missions in the main story. Ranging from people with suicidal thoughts to passers-by reflecting and debating the state of the world around you, it makes for a more interesting setting.
Some of the best aspects of Tokyo 42 are therefore not in the plot, but rather they manifest themselves in the gameplay and in the wider world. The futuristic Tokyo is a semi-sandbox game divided into different open areas with no connection to each other than the means of transportation that link them. All areas are explorable down to the smallest details, though, this because it has been totally cleared of invisible barriers and other archaic gaming conventions.
As with games such as Bastion or Diablo, Tokyo 42 is played from an isometric perspective, which helps the player get a great overview of the different challenges. The game also takes place almost exclusively on the rooftops of the Japanese capital, hence navigating the world can be a challenge. Luckily the player has the ability to manipulate the camera, similar to the mechanic found in Fez. If you're having trouble reaching a certain platform or rooftop you simply change the angle and reveal new opportunities.
The Fez-esque camera is a pure joy to use and is of imperative importance when moving through the more difficult areas of the game, this due to the fact that often you're unable to spot all of the enemies and/or escape routes without changing your perspective. In Tokyo 42 you often have the option to complete a mission by taking a stealthy approach, or of course, you can just go in guns blazing. Since it only takes one hit to see the Game Over screen, going loud is rarely the recommended course of action. It's a tricky game, then, and Tokyo 42 is one of the more challenging titles we've played in 2017.
The arsenal of weapons is mapped to a radial menu for easy access and it includes everything from katanas, snipers and the always trustworthy AK47 (or AK42 as it's called here). In particular, the katana is of pivotal importance if you want to survive the perils of Tokyo's underworld. There's even a cover system, and the core shooting mechanic is inspired by classic twin stick shooters, and we thought this yet another area had lots nuance and quality. Tokyo 42's greatest strength, however, is the game's soundtrack. A mix of Jamie XX and Moderat-esque inspired melodies range from short electronic compositions to longer, intense techno tracks. It creates a wonderful sense of dystopia and futurism. We would often just run around listening to the tunes rather than furthering the narrative. Perhaps that's because Tokyo 42's story doesn't quite compare to the rest of the offering, which offers great gameplay and some phenomenal audio-visual design. It's so good, in fact, that everyone deserves a journey to Tokyo to see its wonders for themselves.
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