Spirit Hunter: NG review for PS Vita, PS4, Switch

Platform: PS Vita
Also on: Switch, PS4, PC
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Experience Inc.
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

Even though Spirit Hunter: NG is a sequel to Spirit Hunter: Death Mark, you don?t need to have played Death Mark to get anything out of NG. I mean, you probably should play Death Mark because it?s a very good horror visual novel, but the connection between the two games is basically only in the title, and you don?t need any prior knowledge of Death Mark to get the most out of NG.

That said, even if they?re not linked beyond the name, the two games are still quite similar — with all the good and bad that entails (mostly good). First and foremost, like its predecessor, NG looks absolutely stunning. Where the graphics in most visual novels are — ironically — pretty forgettable, here they?re distinctive and striking. The characters, the settings, everything that shows up on screen — they all look like creepy Gothic paintings, with all kinds of details and flourishes that add to their unsettling-ness. For a game that?s trying to be scary, that?s a pretty important first step.

Also like Death Mark, NG knows how to ratchet up the tension and make you feel like your choices matter. Every so often you?ll come to key decision points in the story, and you have to watch as a timer ticks away and pushes you to go one way or another. Even if lots of other visual novels have branching storylines, I can?t think of many that use them as effectively as this one does.

Even the gameplay is similar to the previous Spirit Hunter outing. NG is mostly a visual novel, but it also incorporates a bit of point-and-click adventure into its proceedings here and there. You get a break from reading and get to explore your surroundings, which not only helps advance the story as you discover key plot points, it also helps make the game much more immersive than most visual novels.

Mind you, as I said, NG also inherited some of Death Mark?s bad traits — or, more specifically, its one bad trait. NG has a way of lingering on scantily-clad dead women that lingers on fetishistic. I get that the game wants to be as unsettling as possible, but it?s possible to do that a little too well. There?s a line where creepy goes from being a good, horror movie-type of creepy to a not-so-good, uncomfortable kind of creepy, and there are definitely moments where NG hovers in that area.

I?d be remiss, though, if I didn?t mention NG?s one innovation: the Judging feature. This time out, the game allows your character to respond to the people around him (which, for some reason, the game calls judging, which I?ll chalk up to an iffy translation). It doesn?t impact the story in any tangible way, but it does a good job of giving you the option of making your character relatively pleasant. Given how often visual novels seem to be filled with thoroughly obnoxious jerks, it?s kind of refreshing to come across a game that allows you to be half-decent.

And, of course, it?s always refreshing to come across a visual novel that?s as good as what it does as Spirit Hunter: NG. Like Death Mark before it, it?s a game that wants to scare you and knows how to do it, and it makes for a visual novel experience that?s well above most of its competitors.

Aksys Games provided us with a Spirit Hunter: NG PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: A-