• Kyoei Toshi City Shrouded In Shadow Review - Sony PS4

    Kyoei Toshi, or "City Shrouded In Shadow" as usually advertised by western media, is a spin-off of the Disaster Report series and marks developer Granzella's first entry in the series after buying the series from Irem.

    As a spin-off, Kyoei Toshi plays very similarly to games of the main series, with the player's avatar seeking safe evacuation from a city besieged by natural disasters. However, what makes buildings crumble in Kyoei Toshi are giant monsters: the game features monsters from Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, Evangelion, and Ultraman; Patlabor, with its relatively small-scale robots also joins the fray for good measure.

    The story isn't fixed and relies heavily on player choices. After chosing an avatar (sex and personality) and a companion (that will always be a girl no matter what), the game doesn't waste time; Ultraman and a foe appear on stage bringing destruction with them. From here onward different monsters from the aforementioned series appear in every stage and several choices will shape not only the personality of the player's avatar, but enemies, companions, and ending too.

    The game is divided into stages, with each stage taking less than half an hour to be completed. In addition to monsters attacking the city, players are caught up in human drama as well, ranging from survivors of the ensuing destruction, through journalists in search of the perfect scoop, to criminals chasing down the protagonist for reasons that are shaped by player's choices; when such prompts pop up the game pauses until a decision is made; a handy feature if non-Japanese speakers want to take their phones out for a quick translation. It's easy to derail the story into B-grade (or worse) sci-fi movie territory, with surprising character backstories, betrayals, bribery, and psychic powers, but that's what this game is all about: gone is the need of Disaster Report games to keep hydrated and fed, with food and beverages simply restoring health and clothes adding some points to that and the dash meter.

    A new stage is always met with trepidation about which monster will make its appearance and when it does excitement rises but then dies down rather quickly as a much quieter, often duller moment follows it: cut-scenes with multiple choices are the best that can happen because they can lead to some hilarious moments, but portions where one or more items must be gathered to unlock the only way forward put a huge dent in the game's enjoyment. This is partly due to stiff controls that while good for large open areas, suffer when precision is required, like facing a specific active area or carefully moving near edges. There are a good number of QTEs that simply require pressing of the square button in time, but some of them are incredibly strict and leave almost no time to do them unless you know they're coming; failing a QTE will result in a game over, but there are plenty of checkpoints. Vehicles (cars, motorbikes, horses) control way worse than expected, either turning too much or not enough; luckily these segments aren't that many and very short, usually requiring good handling only if aiming for special tokens.

    As a result of a player-driven story line, the plot might not fit well together, but this can be considered a throwback to Japanese giant monster movies from the '70s, and is actually enjoyable if you like those. However, Kyoei Toshi doesn't really know how to use that many monsters. There's a new monster every new stage, and after their entrance they are locked into a very static pattern until a new trigger area is reached, and often giant monsters are simply a background to characters interacting. It's possible to automatically orient the camera to frame the player's avatar and the monsters, but this is at the expense of anything else, and running into a fire or getting squashed by crumbling buildings or a giant foot because of the camera angle isn't fun. The constant switching between monster also means that the level of interaction with them varies greatly, and the smaller the monster is, the more interactive they are: Godzilla fights King Ghidora ignoring everything, the bugs forming Legion chase people down, Eva units fire at Angels without your support, Labors hold people hostage or extinguish fires to open new stage areas. Exactly why so many monsters are focusing on the fictitious city the players are in is never really explained (or least I've never reached that ending), and in every single stage Kyeoi Toshi seems more interested in showing off monsters as cameos: less monsters, or maybe story lines focusing on one in particular would have been much better; as it stands now these giants are there as either a background or an excuse for the human drama and little more.

    Kyoei Toshi is a mixed bag technically: character and monster models look fine with good animations and texture work, but are very stiff; pendants and hairs do not dangle, and often hands are left in a default position. Facial expressions, on the other hand, are great, especially if the player's avatar ends on a less-than-righteous path. Environments are well detailed and of course there are plenty of dynamic backdrops that monsters can destroy, which in turn create a great deal of sparks and dust. The framerate on a standard PS4 is almost invariably below 30fps, with the game slowing down to single digits when effects kick in. The framerate drop is very noticeable and in some cases will also influence controls. Accessing and browsing the pause menu feels particularly sluggish, active areas will always take a split second to become active, and in some cases QTEs will apparently automatically fail because graphics are a step or two behind the underlying code. Loading times between stages and even checkpoints are quite long as well, but the game loads entire stages in memory to avoid loading screens within one.

    Sound design is absolutely gorgeous and Kyoei Toshi demands to be played with a decent surround setup. The game isn't dependent on audio cues, but hearing sounds of buildings crumbling, people screaming, sirens howling, and familiar sound effects from giant monsters all around is a definite plus that greatly enhances the experience; dedicated subwoofers will be particularly active with this game. One minor note is that voices are always mixed in the stereo and surround channels, and even during cut-scenes the center channel will remain silent.

    Despite its shortcomings Kyoei Toshi is a game to be played: every monster appearance will trigger a rush of adrenaline, and the rest of the game is solid enough to warrant multiple playthroughs to see as many endings as possible.