After I came out the other side of Manga Gamer’s anime style adventure Tokyo Babel, I felt like I’d been through an arduous but epic story. It was full of Gods, Angels and Demons, presented as what I can only describe as a digital manga. I struggle to call it a video game as there’s virtually no real interaction. It’s entirely right mouse click to advance text unless you put the dialogue on auto-play, then you can just watch and read completely hands off.
The characters are excellently voiced, albeit, only in Japanese. This means if you don’t understand Japanese you will be reading throughout. Not all of the text is spoken as there are many inner monologues with some very interesting philosophies at play, questioning various aspects of life and each character’s raison d’être. The text options are fairly extensive, including varying speed and changing the font if you wish. From the in-game menu you can access a text log so you can go back over dialogue and events if you happen to miss anything. It’s clear from the offset this piece of entertainment relies almost entirely upon its narrative and presentation which will be the crux of this review.
The story starts out strong. You wake from a horrible nightmare as schoolgirl Kugutsu Sorami who seems to have fallen asleep in class. In an instant things take a turn for the worse as reality slips back into the nightmare and things get a little strange. A demon named Lilith and an android called Tenou Setsuna show up. Of course this is a manga, so they look like a teenage school girl and boy respectively. After a battle that is well described but has no interaction at all, they save her. They then take her to Tokyo Babel, a city built upon Purgatory, a place in the afterlife between Heaven and Hell from Abrahamic mythology. Everything is viewed from Sorami’s perspective for the first part and later it changes over to Setsuna and it flips back and forth between them.
It’s an anime that lacks animation, as nice as the illustrations are there are moments when it lacks crucial imagery for key moments that are merely described to you. The text is eloquently written even if it’s a tad convoluted as far as the story is concerned. There are lulls in narrative such as talking about how well someone makes their packed lunch and literal ex-machina moments that became incredibly predictable. Arguably these are authentic cultural elements within manga and anime. The cybernetic boy, Setsuna, vows to protect Sorami no matter what. His is an alternative perspective that’s a more cold and logical one than that of Sorami. That said, he’s a bit of a hothead, you can expect sudden fights with characters you’ve just met for no real reason. There are no options for peaceful resolutions, it’s just deathbattles all the way. Visually animation is sparse and some of the imagery gets overused to a point the digital manga seems be missing key illustrations.
I could probably count the amount of choices I had in this entire story on one hand. Two of which allow you to meet different characters along your journey. Others are a little bit more arbitrary, yet, still affect the plot to a certain degree. However, these choices take hours to get to. There’s path branching here, but it’s too few and far between. Even though certain choices within the game give a certain amount of replay value, it takes a couple of hours of reading to get to the next optional narrative, not all of which is very interesting. There are many opportunities to incorporate simple gameplay that could have been thematic. For example, after the very first section Suromi gains the ability to see things that aren’t readily apparent. It’s a shame this wasn’t incorporated into a basic mechanic that allowed some kind of puzzle solving or detective work. I constantly saw missed opportunities to change things up and get the viewer involved in the adventure as a player.
Don’t get me wrong the characters and story, if a bit long-winded clocking in at 18 hours and laden with the usual manga tropes, was fairly good. The illustrations and animations are limited in variety. Though, they don’t always show a decent representation of what you’re reading, they still serve the purpose for the most part. I just wanted to be more involved and play as these characters with fantastic abilities. While special powers, gods and demons are nothing really new, the themes within Tokyo Babel could make an awesome video game, as a digital manga, it’s somewhat average.
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