"...I've been itching to experience another thrilling mystery. Unfortunately, after playing this game, I'm still scratching."
With his video game career spanning 30 years and counting (that's longer than Phoenix Wright's and Professor Layton's combined!), Jake Hunter has experienced nearly everything. But I doubt even our cognac-loving private eye was prepared for what was to come with his Western debut. Marred by glaring typos, stodgy writing, and numerous plot inconsistencies, this abysmal Western incarnation prompted a re-release of the game with a more polished localization which turned out to be mediocre at best. Now, after a nine-year hiatus, Aksys Games brings it back with this latest installment to revitalize the series and salvage Jake Hunter's tarnished Western image.
You know what that means, right?
RPGFan's unofficial resident detective is back with a new case! And this time, it involves the homeless, heinous homicides, a headstrong hellhound, and a hard-boiled Hunter... as well as a notable affinity for the letter H apparently. Is third time a charm for our beloved detective? Or does the series simply keep stepping on the same rake? Without further ado, I present to you my case notes for Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk.
Situated in a residential area on the west edge of Aspicio is a dilapidated house. They say that anyone who inhabits it becomes cursed. What this curse entails, no one entirely knows but rumors of death and suicide are linked to the abandoned abode. One autumn evening, a homeless man's corpse is found inside this supposedly cursed structure. It seems to be a simple case of alcohol poisoning at first glance, but the surrounding environment paints a more sinister picture. How did this man truly die? Did he really drink himself to death, or was there foul play involved? Why was he in such a place to begin with? And most importantly, is this related to the curse? With so many questions plaguing his mind, Jake Hunter begins searching for answers.
Clearly, these opening events are quite intriguing. From the young witness's frantic disposition to the vomit-covered cadaver lying on the floor, Ghost of the Dusk wastes no time in drawing you inside Hunter's macabre and depraved world. As a total sucker for haunted house stories, I found myself at the edge of my seat in this Jake Hunter roller coaster eagerly anticipating for that satisfying, climactic drop.
But this drop never happens.
This promising premise begins to come undone the moment the mystery starts unraveling. Ghost of the Dusk's plot suffers from what I call a "buildup letdown." Arc System Works builds up all this suspense with a revelation that doesn't live up to the hype. Pacing issues exacerbate this further with lengthy lulls that cause the plot to painfully drag at times, the most notable being the one between the big reveal and the game's conclusion. Perhaps I've just been too spoiled by Shu Takumi's grand-scale narratives that Ghost of the Dusk's simplistic storytelling feels completely underwhelming. Despite its bittersweet and heart-rending story beats, no tissues were used in the process of providing this review.
On a more positive note, aside from a few occasional typos, the dialogue in Ghost of the Dusk is entertaining and provides great insight into each of the character's personalities. I find it quite endearing that a hard-boiled detective like Hunter uses the expression "Zounds!" to express his shock. It's truly a shame that there aren't English dubs for this game. I would have loved to hear an English voice actor fully commit to saying that word. My personal favorite, however, is Kingsley whose mannerisms and appearance bear an uncanny resemblance to Marvin Grossberg from the Ace Attorney series (the man with the endless hemorrhoid complaints). I wonder...
Compared to other graphic adventure games, Ghost of the Dusk skews more towards being a visual novel that's lightly peppered with graphic adventure mechanics. The bulk of the game consists of the traditional intel-gathering process through a menu-driven interface. Conversing with locals and traveling to new locations both require a simple click on one of the available options. To encourage exploration, Arc System Works has integrated a password scavenger hunt throughout the entire game as well as the game's official website. Finding them unlocks bonus features including a side story, galleries, and a jukebox.
And believe me when I say that the jukebox is well worth unlocking.
Seiichi Hamada's compositions are every bit atmospheric and envelop you in its wisp of noir-like melodies. Preluding the opening act is a vocal piece that's hauntingly captivating. The tune starts off subtle and eerie but gradually crescendos into Atelier Iris-esque vocals mixed with a tiny bit of jazz elements. The other tracks, although not as sublime, do its job maintaining, or rather attempting to salvage the suspense throughout the narrative. Sadly, not even Hamada's arrangements are able to save the plot from mediocrity.
Serving as a change of pace from the visual novel aspects of the game are the intermittent investigations most identical to the Ace Attorney franchise. During these portions, you comb crime scenes using the circle pad (or stylus) to search for possible clues. While this may seem tedious, Arc System Works remedies this situation by indicating points of interest with a blue crosshair instead of the usual green. I do wish, however, that they had included a symbol alongside this color change to make Ghost of the Dusk more colorblind friendly. Your detective skills are put to the test during the Talk Profiles, segments that test your deductive reasoning using the clues and testimonies you've gathered thus far. But with no real consequences for incorrect answers, it all feels more redundant than satisfying.
The graphics are bit of a mixed bag. Environments are vivid and colorful making the investigation segments feel less of a chore to do. I couldn't wait to explore new areas because I was curious to see their backdrops. I can happily say that for each location, I wasn't disappointed. Where the graphics are a bit lacking are in its incongruencies. While I admire the developers for sticking to their roots with their 80s-esque character designs, they do feel a bit out of place in a smartphone-current world.
Similar to Jake Hunter Detective Story: Memories of the Past, Ghost of the Dusk contains four additional cases from the mobile game in Japan. While they aren't anything groundbreaking, they do offer a nice refresh if you are feeling to bogged down by the main mystery in Ghost of the Dusk. But be warned, they suffer from the same "buildup letdown" as the primary narrative. The Jake Hunter Unleashed mini series is also back and provides a much-needed comic relief in the form of a chibified Jake and Yulia.
My love for the mystery genre is incredibly apparent. Aside from my self-proclaimed title (which will hopefully be official soon), approximately half of the content I've written for the site thus far is related to the genre in some form. Perhaps this explains why I'm most critical towards games that fall under this category. Ghost of the Dusk is not a horrible game per se, but it is guilty of the same charges as other detective games I've played in recent times — it's criminally predictable and painfully easy. Ever since I completed Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, I've been itching to experience another thrilling mystery. Unfortunately, after playing this game, I'm still scratching.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.