Let’s get this out of the way: Spirit Hunter NG is not for everyone. In fact, it probably only fills a small niche in the horror video game market.
You see, Spirit Hunter NG is not your traditional horror game. It’s a visual novel with elements commonly found in detective games. If you immediately hear “visual novel” and get turned off, know that this is more of a hybrid that follows along the lines of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. If you liked that game, there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this.
Ed. note: The next two paragraphs contain early-game plot details.
The story advances like a visual novel. You learn early on that your character, Akira Kijima, is an orphaned teenager whose aunt adopts him. Aunt Natsumi, as you call her, has a young daughter of her own. Akira becomes something of a big brother to Ami, babysitting her while Natsumi attends to her business running a local bar.
One night as you pick up Ami and walk her back to your apartment, a series of strange occurrences happen, culminating in her mysterious disappearance. It turns out that a spirit named Kakuya kidnapped Ami. The only way to get her back is to play along with the spirit’s twisted game.
In the lead-up to all of this, the game has segments that allow you to offer dialogue options, react to characters, investigate various scenes in the game, and make critical choices. Those choices can have life or death consequences for Akira and other characters that can end the game.
The consequence of death, though, is only that you have to restart the sequence. This can be quite annoying since you have to wade through several exchanges of text before getting back to the point where you actually make a decision.
Like I mentioned, the game has moments where an attitude system allows you to react to characters’ comments. This has the effect of signaling your pleasure or displeasure with other characters, and it can impact how well you get along with them.
In addition to the attitude system, the game also has dialogue options for you to select. At times, these options are just useful for information-gathering purposes. Other times, they may be critical for getting out of a sticky situation, like when a police officer confronts your character.
Between story segments, the game often goes into Detective Mode. This allows you to examine a scene in more detail using a flashlight, pick up and use items, and interact with characters or objects. You can also review your notes and switch companion characters if need be.
Finally, there are the brief but important Survival Escape segments. These tense moments usually have you decide on an action or series of actions that, if done the wrong way, will result in a “Game Over” screen. Honestly, these segments underwhelm and often hinge on educated guesswork. They don’t really feel all that impactful, either, since as soon as you hit a “Game Over” screen you can just restart from the beginning of the scene.
One of my biggest annoyances with the game is that there are not nearly enough save points. The game will prompt you to save, typically at the end of a day after your character goes to bed. You can also save from the menu, but you can only do this while you are in Detective Mode. If you are in a long stretch with back and forth dialogue, you can’t save.
Overall, though, I have to say that Spirt Hunter NG is a surprisingly good game. The story is interesting, the characters are likable, and the dialogue can be both light-hearted and serious when it needs to be. It touches on some sensitive topics, too, so keep that in mind.
During your first playthrough, the game clocks in at roughly 20 hours – give or take a few hours – depending on how many times you have to replay Survival Escape segments. And it has multiple endings, so you can extend the length even more if you want to see how things would play out given different choices.
One final thing that I would like to say: Spirt Hunter NG may have pretty basic gameplay, but the character illustrations are well done. Artist Fumiya Sumio deserves a lot of credit for bringing these characters to life, including some beautifully (and horrifically) detailed spirits.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.