The visual novel ghostpia Season One is filled with bright, beautiful images that recall a nostalgic picture book, contrary to a dreary, dark plot of loneliness, hatred, and violence. A seemingly odd combination, this mismatch between beautiful art and depressing subject culminates in a visual novel full of surprise gut punches, forcing your emotions to whirl between sadness, joy, and more difficult-to-describe feelings.
The game’s single main route follows the perspective of a ghost named Sayoko, an outsider in a strange town where ghosts gradually lose memories and possessions, and resurrect in the town dump when killed. The game is drenched in depressing monologues and themes, as well as a few bright, caring moments, centered around Sayoko’s relationship with her friends, especially the mysterious new ghost, Yoru.
ghostpia Season One is at times confusing, distracted, and needlessly dark, yet incredible music, art, animation, and character writing make for a fantastic experience that peaks at dramatic character interactions that are executed perfectly.
▍Storybook Images Turned Horrifying and Creative
The artistic direction within ghostpia is the title’s most striking feature, offering not only incredible visual designs for the characters and environments but also plenty of delightful surprises. Colorful, charming artwork brings the town and its cast to life, yet developer Chosuido has worked tirelessly to provide interesting and unexpected depictions of character interactions. In one scene, Sayoko is placed in one box, like a comic panel, while two of her friends are placed in a box on the other side of the screen.
At other points, boxes interlock, to connect characters within a sequence of actions. Other moments make use of more abstract visual design, like blank space or 3D models. And a player will be blown away when all these elements are thrown out the window, for memorable full-screen illustrations, or comedic visual twists.
There is absolutely never a dull moment when it comes to the artistic choices in ghostpia, and the flatness of the art, roughly sketched and colored in, works well with the use of boxes to capture the isolation felt by the game’s characters. Visual static and glitching effects add to the tense and mysterious atmosphere that dominates the title’s story.
▍A Story Filled With Jumbled Plot Threads
ghostpia centers around mysteries related to the origin of the ghosts, in particular Sayoko and her friend Yoru, who doesn’t seem to belong to the ghostly town. After rescuing Yoru from the town’s domineering church, Sayo becomes closer to the girl, and the pair start living and working together. But answers to critical plot questions, like the origins of Yoru and Sayoko, are sidetracked by a greater focus on individual, episodic adventures. The disconnected storytelling style within ghostpia can feel a bit frustrating as a player becomes increasingly invested in Sayoko and her relationship with Yoru, which continues to grow over the course of the game.
Dealing with new villains and side characters feels like a chore, particularly in the game’s ending chapters. Plot threads appear abruptly and are dealt with hastily, while the game’s more interesting mysteries continue to loom. A sequel season two for ghostpia is expected to bring this story to a close.
▍Confused and Fraying Emotional Threads
The disconnected feel of the episodes within ghostpia contributes to a larger issue with the game’s themes. As the story jumps from one episodic event to another, Sayoko’s inner monologue creates whiplash – it is difficult to follow her train of thought, as she will cherish her friendship with Yoru at one moment, and then question their bond a scene later.
Sayoko’s violent and pessimistic monologues work well with the game’s depiction of outcast ghosts, who aren’t sure how or why they exist; at the same time, her confused, jumbled thoughts suit a ghost who is losing memories while questioning her own identity. But I would have liked more clarity and natural progression within her thoughts and monologues, and the plot as a whole.
▍Incredible Character Moments Redeem Story Flaws
However, these issues are completely overshadowed by the story’s high points. The game has a very solid foundation in its character writing; every major ghost is fun and unique, with a few mysteries up its sleeve. Pacifica is regal and caring, but possesses a sadistic side, and works a mysterious job that places her at the top of the city’s food chain. Yoru is the standout character: a bit of a dunce, who will give hilarious responses to questions, but charming in her simplicity, and caring deeply for Sayoko while hiding secrets of her own.
Without fail, each chapter in ghostpia builds up to fantastic, emotional moments between its female cast of ghosts. Mixing joy and melancholy, these scenes are executed flawlessly through an intersection of strong writing and fantastic art and animation. At intense moments, ghostpia will bust out fast-paced animation, or other visual surprises like rotating images, to ensure that the game’s high points are absolutely unforgettable. Action scenes in particular are executed flawlessly in this surprisingly violent visual novel.
Adding to the intensity of the game’s stellar scenes is a powerfuloriginal soundtrack. The music is often simple and stripped-down, making use of glitchy sounds, or haunting, basic piano melodies in order to place the player within the game’s haunted environment. More upbeat tunes fit the game’s happier moments, but these compositions still feel very unique and unsettling, containing wordless singing, or jazzy tunes you wouldn’t expect within a visual novel.
Though some songs are repeated quite frequently, this soundtrack fits the game’s strange ghost world at its emotional highs and lows and will stay firmly stuck in your brain after you’ve finished the game. Beyond its original compositions, ghostpia has a very unique and effective sound design, making great use of sound effects, as well as adorable character voice acting, which jumbles sounds and words together like Animal Crossing villagers.
▍ghostpia is a Breath of Cold, Haunting Fresh Air
ghostpia’s themes and story can feel confusing, depressing, and downright mean—a character named Clara is treated terribly by the main character and her friends, purely for being naive, “perfect,” and innocent. While Sayoko is clearly a self-centered protagonist, interested in her friends over others, a player can’t help but question the meanness of this game’s violence, and wonder how all the pessimistic monologues come together into a central message.
But the sheer brilliance of the game’s execution, including the artistic direction, character writing, and sound design, ensure that a player will become desperately invested in Sayoko’s struggles and the mystery of the ghost town. Intimate moments between Sayoko and her friends, at times violent and at other points embarrassingly cute, give incredible life to a very unique visual novel absolutely worth its price point. Be sure to check out this title on the Switch, and look out for its Steam release later in 2023.
This review is based on a Switch code provided by the publisher. ghostpia Season One is out now for Nintendo Switch, and will also be available for PC (Steam) later.
Follow QooApp’s official Facebook / Twitter / Google News / Reddit/ Youtube for the latest ACG information!
ghostpia Season One Review – Beautiful and Brutal
The visual novel ghostpia is filled with bright, beautiful images that recall a nostalgic picture book, contrary to a dreary, dark plot of loneliness, hatred, and violence. The brilliantly unique artstyle and soundtrack animate this game’s brooding ghost cast with breathtaking life.
Operating System: Switch, PC (Steam)
Application Category: Game