But look at what you’d be leaving behind
When I was a kid it was not uncommon for me to stealthily stay up late on certain nights to watch the anime airing on Adult Swim on our CRT TV in the basement. This is how I became familiar with shows like Cowboy Bebop or Yu Yu Hakusho, and for the younger folks among you it may be hard to understand just how different a vibe anime from that era had in comparison to today's big names. Something about the aesthetic of the signal sometimes having issues or the scan lines being visible in certain scenes is just deeply nostalgic, and it's these memories that Ghostpia expertly throws me back to.
Ghostpia is a visual novel that, based on some light research, is a remake/reimagining of an iOS game originally released in Japan in 2014. In Ghostpia the player takes on the perspective of Sayoko, a socially awkward girl living in a ghost town, not as in a town that is deserted but a town that is literally inhabited entirely by ghosts and surrounded by a seemingly endless desert of snow. These ghosts act like regular people, but they cannot die, they do not age, and they cannot go out during the daytime. Sayoko is also a ghost, but she doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the people in town. In fact she finds herself ostracized by most of them, an incident in the past causing them to be fearful of her, and for this reason she mostly lives as a shut-in. Eventually she is dragged out of her apartment by her only friends, two girls named Pacifica and Anya, and learns that something unprecedented has happened: for as long as anybody can remember there have always been exactly 1024 ghosts residing in town, but a new ghost has suddenly arrived and is being held captive by the local church, an organization with a stranglehold on the town's politics. The trio decides to welcome this new ghost into town to try and make Sayoko a new friend, and what results is a story about friendship, violence, and the importance of human connection.
The story of Ghostpia is its defining feature, as it does not have a whole lot in terms of interactivity. While the original 2014 product seems to have had branching story paths and QTE sequences, those have both been stripped out in this new version in favor of telling a more focused story. There are no dialogue options or anything of the sort, this is a visual novel through and through. By far my favorite part of Ghostpia, however, is its presentation. The game is split into five episodes and presented as if it were an old school anime playing on a shoddy TV signal or a well-worn VHS tape, complete with an OP (opening cinematic), an ED (ending cinematic), and even mid episode interstitial eye catches. These alone add so much personality to the experience that they almost single handedly make the whole experience worthwhile. The music also adds heavily to the experience, able to perfectly swing between atmospheric and whimsical, which is a rather good thing as the game itself does this as well. In a single episode you may find yourself having a comical conversation about how the local priest is a "poop" and then ten minutes later be putting a bullet into the skull of that same priest, and the soundtrack reflects this dichotomy exceptionally well. The story is also not afraid to go some wild places, both comedically and in terms of action (episode four in particular has what I can only refer to as an "anime as hell" finale sequence).
If you want more interactivity or branching out of your visual novels, Ghostpia is probably not going to scratch that itch. For what it is, however, I found Ghostpia to be a delightful time both story-wise and aesthetically. The cast of characters is fun and varied, from the anxious Sayoko to the bubbly and optimistic Yoru, and all of them etch themselves into your memory immediately. Ghostpia never fully throws out an explanation for many of its mysteries, but with a season 2 apparently already planned it fits to leave some questions unanswered. Those looking for a purely narrative experience that may take you back to those late nights watching Inuyasha will find that weirdly precise desire in this town full of ghosts, and I have a feeling you won't regret your visit.