Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story Review (Switch)
Release Date: January 7, 2021
File Size: 885MB
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
“The most controversial game on the Eshop.” Should that description be considered a prestigious one, or is Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story just another game that exploits the shock factor in an attempt to rake in some dough? Well, after my own playthrough (and then some), I can say with confidence that developer Suzaku simply does NOT deserve the unfair judgement it has received whether it has been a boon to sales or not. This is a game with flaws, but anyone that is open-minded enough to look a bit deeper than the semi-erotic art and character design on the surface will find a deep, well-crafted world filled with lore based on Daoist culture, twisted into a Cyberpunk setting. “Twisted.”
Yes, twisted indeed.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, shall we? Sense – A CyberPunk Ghost Story is simply not a fun game for the first 3 hours or so. You will backtrack, then backtrack, before finally backtracking some more. It feels incredibly forced. Protagonist Mae will come across objects that the game will allow you to interact with. You’ll find yourself knowing with certainty that the object will come in use soon, but the game doesn’t allow Mae to pick it up yet. Sense forces the player to solve small fetch quests and puzzles in order to advance the story. It’s very similar to the mechanics in early survival horror outings, like RE1 and Fatal Frame. The issue here is that it feels too constricting, as things happen just as you knew they would when you backtrack to get that item that you knew you’d need a half hour ago.
Thankfully, after the initial mind-numbing wave of backtracking, the game begins to peel back key layers of the story that gives these mundane tasks a sense of meaning. At this same point, combat is introduced. Mei is bestowed with a longsword that is capable of combating impure spirits. Combat consists of little more than single taps of the X button to attack said spirits. It’s simply not meant to be a key mechanic of the game. Mei’s more important goal is to collect necessary items in order to perform a Daoist ritual that allows the pure spirits to finally be at peace.
The gravity of locating and interacting with the objects needed (backtracking or not) started to shift when the game began to reveal why these spirits were still lingering and unable to be at peace. If Sense deserves any controversy at all, this is where it should come from in my opinion. Some of the spirits that Mei must put to rest have some of the more dark and twisted pasts that I’ve ever experienced in all my years as a gamer – you have been warned.
Sense begins innocently enough as young Mei takes to the streets of 2083 Neo Hong Kong to meet up with a date. Something goes horribly wrong when Mei’s cybernetic eye augmentations malfunction and she is seemingly transported to a dilapidated (and very haunted) apartment building in 1983. In Mei’s quest to escape, she meets multiple spirits of tortured souls that she must help ease over to the other side.
In order to accomplish her goal, Mei utilizes Tao / Daoist rituals and is subsequently judged by spirits of dark and light herself. It can be complicated to understand but it’s important to note that Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is deeply rooted in Eastern religion and philosophy. I’ve read and heard many other gamers, and even game reviewer’s disgruntled takes on this game due to their feeling of the game lacking in Cyberpunk elements despite it being in the title of the game. If you’ve read similar opinions, SwitchRPG is here to put your mind at rest. Without spoiling too much, I can say there are VERY important Cyberpunk elements revealed within the story – especially in the game’s last hour and leading into the endgame.
While Sense may be heavily influenced in Eastern religion, that doesn’t mean that the concepts in play will be unfamiliar to Western crowds. As a Dragonball fan, I quickly caught on to some of the themes involved with the judging of a spirit (and even Mei herself) as a person with a pure heart and what that could mean for the afterlife. Just as Goku’s story is based on a similar theme. The same could be said for those that might have been fans of the TV show “LOST.” The eternal battle between the entities known as Jacob and the “Man in Black”, and their metaphorical comparisons to light and dark are very similar to encounters that Mei has within the story. Having this little bit of extra knowledge truly allowed me to understand and appreciate the depth of this story.
Visuals and Sound
While the character designs have sparked some controversy, the game doesn’t wow you in any other way visually. The environments are gringy and backgrounds are static. Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story could pass for a PS1 launch game with its appearance. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all generic. The game features gorgeous, anime-inspired, hand-drawn stills, and this is another area in which the game earns its “M” rating. Not only will you see some terrifyingly twisted ghosts that died after such tragedies as witnessing murder, being raped, and self mutilation, you will also see the erotic side of the game in these stills. I use the “erotic” term loosely, as this is hardly the H word here (hentai), but a few of these cutscenes do reveal partial nudity. Does it merit the controversy the game has gotten? Well, I can honestly say that I saw much more skin in a different anime-based game that I reviewed back in 2020, “Is it Wrong To Try to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon?: Infinite Combate” and that particular game only earned a Teen rating by the ESRB.
Sounds are hit and miss in Sense. You’ll hear recycled sound effects for footsteps, doorknobs and sword swings. The scary sounds are unique and spooky, however. Ghosts make haunting sounds similar to the crackling of static, and spirits will moan in anguish. The small team did an excellent job of setting up an unsettling atmosphere in my opinion. The music also has a heavy Eastern influence and it works well. Even when you’re in the middle of a boss battle and expecting something a little more spooky, the woodpipes and strings set the mood just fine. Voice acting is surprisingly solid for an indie title, as well. Mei and Meiko’s V.A.’s in particular do an excellent job of conveying emotions although their respective lines are always short.
As we are a site dedicated to covering RPGs here at SwitchRPG, I am inclined to say I can’t quite consider Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story to be a RPG any more than say (wait for it)…Zelda. The only real sense of progression in the game comes from Mei starting out as a frightened young girl with no means of protecting herself, and finishing as a hardened “Daoshi.” Sense is a survival horror game at its core, and that’s okay. That’s why I’m willing to give it a bit of a pass in terms of gameplay. If you view Mei’s story as one of survival and discovering strength through being pure of heart instead of combat prowess, it shines light on the true goal of the art that Suzaku set out to create.
Do I think the controversy surrounding the game is unfounded? Unequivocally, yes. Do I think the developers should fear the controversial moniker? Not at all. Full Disclosure – my interest in the game was born from the controversy. It led to a gaming experience that I’m glad I had the opportunity to enjoy. While Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story won’t blow your mind with its gameplay, it will scare the hell out of you, tug at your heartstrings a bit, and leave you itching for more stories from Neo Hong Kong. If you have $20, and are 17 or older, pick this one up on the eShop.