Yakuza, Nier, Persona and Gravity Rush are all considered ‘niche’ titles – a few of them might not be anymore but at the beginning of last year they were. The vast majority of people wouldn’t have known much about them if you asked them to explain what they were last January. Today I’m taking a look at a game that is so niche, I doubt even the most hardcore of Playstation and obscure Japanese games fans will have heard of it let alone played it. I am talking about Tokyo Tattoo Girls, developed by Sushi Typhoon Games in Japan and released internationally by NIS America in November 2017.
The game has you relying heavily on luck for the first couple of playthroughs due to the nature of the game, this could put some people off or you could put hours and hours into it if you take the time to fully understand the mechanics and strategic elements. So, come with me as I talk in detail about my favourite PS Vita game of 2017 as we see if the game is worth your time or a waste of your time…
An unprecedented disaster has struck Japan causing Tokyo to be placed under quarantine. An extraordinary thing begins to happen to all the girls who are trapped within the zone as strange, beautiful tattoos have begun to appear all over their bodies. Tattoos that hold unknown, awesome power. The 23 girls with the most powerful tattoos got together and fabricated a new government which goes by the name, the “23 Ward Syndicate”. Japan’s existing government, outside of the quarantine, gives their blessing and allows the Syndicate to operate under one condition – “Anyone who possesses a magical tattoo is forever forbidden to leave the bounds of Tokyo”.
The Syndicate agrees to these terms and together they erect a barrier all around Tokyo, entrapping all of the people within the City. For a few years, everything was fine, with no conflict or disarray. However, in the shadows and the underground, there are talks between disgruntled citizens and rebels who are fed up and want to be free. They want to defeat the Syndicate and lift the barrier but the people are losing hope as they’re nowhere near strong enough to fight against the Syndicate and can’t think of an ally powerful enough to face the tattooed rulers.
But among the civilians, a young girl rises, a small yet brilliant tattoo shines brightly on her back, it is a symbol of hope, a calling to which this girl is about to answer. A Tattoo Master steps forward, he announces that he will complete the tattoo for her as she grows stronger and more influential. This will allow her to take on the Syndicate and wage a war to reclaim Tokyo and free everyone from their current predicament…
I know what you’re thinking – “That sounds awesome, why have I never heard of this game and why hasn’t it been received very well over here”, allow me to explain. The core mechanics of this game are not what you would expect – as I said in the intro, a lot of this game relies on luck until you have fully got to grips with the mechanics at hand. If you have ever played Plague inc. or Pandemic then you will understand how this game works. You start off picking between six girls, all of them have their own strengths, weaknesses, abilities and priorities in regards to how much certain things cost. You then proceed to choose a difficulty and then a ‘ward’ you wish to start off in. There are four difficulty settings and I would recommend you start off on easy and work your way up, this is because every time you complete the game with a girl on a difficulty you obtain an item that helps you in subsequent playthroughs. So if you start on hard with nothing then you are asking for a spanking.
Once you are on the map screen things will begin to happen ‘randomly’ over time. Each ward has three statistics, the number of disciples, punks and enemies. In the beginning, every ward will have zero disciples but the other two figures will be at a set amount per each individual ward, some having over 100k and some as low as 7k. Over time, just like in Plague inc., you will begin to automatically persuade people to join your clan and become disciples. At first, the punks will convert faster than the enemies due to the loyalties they hold to the current leader of their ward, but once you have more disciples than the enemy they will begin to convert a lot faster. You can alter the speed to go normal, fast or pause, and over time ‘PM Suitcases’ (Protection Money) will randomly spawn in various wards, you can either tap on the touch screen on press X once you move over them with the D-Pad in order to collect them. Your money will also increase itself over time based on how many disciples you have recruited in total.
The second thing which happens by random is invasions, not the enemy invading you but you invading them. You could be happily mining for PM whilst not wanting to grow your range of influence (as the more wards you are attacking, the more chances of the enemy attacking you) but, by default, you have no way of suppressing this. The map, as you can see above, is very colourful. Grey wards are ones you haven’t yet invaded and are ruled by enemies and punks, yellow wards are ones you have invaded but not yet conquered, red wards are wards you are still in the process of taking over (yellow) but the enemy is gearing up to attack you, and blue wards are the ones you have conquered. In order to conquer a ward you must convert all punks and enemies to join you and become disciples, then you must ‘defeat’ the tattooed Syndicate leader of that ward.
The final random mechanic comes in the form of whether or not the enemy actually injures you upon attack. There may be a reason or a mechanic behind this but I’m unable to spot one after about 60 hours so I’m going to claim this is random as well. When the enemy attacks you (the ward turns red) you have a few in-game days to suppress or stop their attack using an ability (which I’ll go into later on) otherwise you can either tap/press X on the attack icon to initiate a fight immediately or the enemy will proceed to officially attack you automatically. Now the random part, when you tap/select the fight icon, you will either automatically receive damage based on how long it took you to press it or it will initialise a ‘fight’ scene. In the ‘fight scene’ you will briefly see your disciples attack the enemy and then, based on if you have more units or not, you will either resolve the fight with no health loss and gain enemies as your recruits or you receive a bigger impact on your health than you would have by the first method. So yeah, I would love the latter option to occur more often as it could save you losing a lot of health, but there is no way of forcing this method to happen. You will more often than not just incur damage automatically when you tap the fight icon.
Hopefully you’re still with me! So yeah, the core mechanics of the game is down to random occurrences and random outcomes – I know it’s random as I’ve saved the game before one of the above events happened and then instantly reloaded and tried again. The second time round something different happened – Random. Now, before you dismiss this game as being too random or not a ‘game’ as you have no control over what happens – don’t. True, you have no control over what your girl does directly, but if you remember, I mentioned abilities earlier on and I’ve not even touched on the tattoos yet.
In a game called ‘Tokyo Tattoo Girls’, you would hope you have tattoos somewhere, and you would be correct. As you take over wards and begin to make money you can spend it on two things, tattoos and abilities. If you chose to add some new tattoos then you can easily visit the Tattoo Master by clicking on the ‘HQ’ orb in the lower corner and then on the ‘tattoo’ button. This isn’t very clear or obvious as it’s easy to miss unless if you completed the tutorial. Once on the tattoo screen, you will see a screen similar to the above, each girl is different and has different tattoos but they are all laid out the same; five on the left arm, five on the right arm (each of these ten have three ‘levels’ of upgrades), two on the back (which are automatically inked if you do 10 and 30 tattoos on the arms), four rainbow colours (one for each difficulty passed) and finally 23 cherry blossoms (one for each ward you conquer).
So, what’s the point of the tattoos and how do they help you? Each tattoo gives you a certain reward. There are slight variations but they tend to have a small, medium or large effect on your charisma vs certain wards which allows for peaceful takeovers or simply increases the threat level you have with them. The increased treat makes you more likely to fight, but there are certain wards that are more likely to join you should you attack them – making this a strategic move. You also have a unique tattoo for each girl with will either increase how much money you gain, reduce how much health you lose, or even allow you to recover health over time. Completing as many of these tattoos as you can is imperative to conquering and reclaiming Tokyo. This is especially true in the harder difficulties where you need to conquer the wards fast before they all have a chance to creep up and attack you at the same time, making defence almost impossible.
You may have noticed a small tattoo on the girls back, in the middle, on the image. This is the ‘glowing tattoo’ that was described in my story description. The benefits you get from that tattoo is different per girl and can’t be upgraded or changed. The tattoos for conquering the wards don’t appear to do anything, they are automatic and doesn’t cost anything so they are more like her personal trophies. The two tattoos you get when you pay for 10 and 30 tattoos unlock new, stronger abilities which you can use on the map screen to aid you in your revolt against the Syndicate.
Do you remember how I said you can’t suppress attacking other wards and you don’t have much control over what you do and when you do it? Well, this is where you kind of do have control over what you are doing. On the map, you can press Cross, or tap a ward, and you will be presented with all the abilities you currently have available. At first, you will have six on the first screen (greyed out means they can’t be used on that ward) and two question marks (these are the two tattoos you unlock). If you press the Right shoulder button you will see five more icons that relate to miscellaneous abilities (which I will talk about later) and three question marks. These question marks are the best abilities in the game but you must complete all the difficulties with each girl in order to unlock these.
Each girl has the same four initial abilities, but they are balanced differently. Whereas one girl may have the ability to ‘prevent Turf Wars and recruiting on the selected ward for 7 days’ at the price of 600 coins with a cooldown of 15 days, another girl may have the same ability but it costs 1800 coins and has a longer cooldown. The four abilities are the one I just mentioned and; ‘a decrease in the alert in a ward’ (this allows you to stop an enemy attack, a red ward, without being hurt), ‘increase in honour’ (honour is basically your life bar), ‘recruit clansmen in a ward’ (instantly convert a group of enemies) and ‘recruit punks in a ward’ (same thing but with punks). The final ability is different based on what your character is balanced around.
So, part of the strategy is working out what abilities to use (as they all cost money, the money you could spend on tattoos), how to combat the attacking factions, when to delay or suppress invasions due to the cooldowns and when to splash out on tattoos in order to aid the greater good. I found the game got much easier after I had unlocked the secret abilities on the second screen as you can increase the rate of PM drops and even instantly health yourself fully – although this does come with a 999-day cooldown before you can use it again.
One final thing to mention regarding the abilities is the passive abilities you can enable or disable at will, once you have unlocked them. As I stated above, once you complete each girl on each difficulty you unlock an item each time. These items sit in your HQ and you have a chance to turn them on or off before you start a new game. They will passively increase your ability to take over wards, increase the amount of money you earn and even slow down the rate you or the enemy invades. They are invaluable when you are taking on the hardest difficulties and really help you walk away with a victory more often than not.
With regards to the five options on the second screen which you have from the start – These allow you to get info about the leader (so you can work out what their personality is when you ‘battle’ them) and to know more about your character, for the same reason. You can also use an ability to give you certain dice rolls in the mini-game. From time to time, at random once again, a betting event pops up where you can win money by betting on a dice game. I honestly used it about 4 times and never bothered again as the reward didn’t justify the long loading time. Everything has to load from going to and from the map to opening up your tattoos, it’s not really long but the odd 5-10 seconds here and there adds up and it feels longer than it really is.
How do you win?
You win the game by defeating all of the 23 Syndicate members and turning the map blue. One thing to take note of, once you have turned a ward blue and defeated its leader, you can’t be invaded and that ward is safe forever. Defeating a syndicate member is easy – reduce the number of enemy units in a ward to zero and the leader will engage with you. This takes you to a Visual Novel style encounter with a few things being said back and forth between you and them, then they will ask you a question with three answers. It’s not a quiz, it’s more like “Why do you want to take over my ward?”. All the answers are correct but some more than others. One will be an ‘Okay’ answer, one ‘Good’ and one ‘Superb’.The only difference they make is the amount of health you recover and money you find. Other than that, there is no fight or event you participate in and you can never lose once the encounter commences.
I have sunk so many hours into this game as it’s a great game to just pick up and play whilst watching TV or while on a journey. I’m the sort of person who used to play a lot of those idle clicker games on my mobile phone and even on the PS4 like Clicker Heroes and AdVenture Capitalist. I also really enjoy Plague Inc. which is another game I would fully recommend to you if you like games like this – that’s available on the PS4, iOS, Android and PC. I read a few reviews before I was given this game by NIS America for review and I thought I wouldn’t like it as the game didn’t receive the best comments; however, after trying it I literally couldn’t stop until I had completed it with all characters on each difficulty.
Graphically the game can’t be faulted, the Anime-style drawings, the different tattoos on their backs, the encounters with each leader and even the intro video are all great. If you have played a visual novel before then you will be used to a format like this, if not then you may not like that everything is drawn and not animated (other than the intro). The story is good, My summary above sounds a lot better than I remember it being in-game tbh as it kinda brushes over it. Each girl has different interactions with each of the 23 leaders as they all have different personalities and passions which clash and bond. It’s not like they just repeat the same text to each character model. The game is also all subtitled in English and voiced in Japanese – so there is that to take into account if you don’t like subtitled games.
Sound-wise, the music is calm, relaxing and very Japanese. Again, I can’t knock it, it’s great music that fits the setting and mood perfectly. Sound effects-wise, it has them… not much more I can say, to be honest, they are appropriate and they sound good. The only thing I would change would be to add an English dub – but I know lots of people would be against that and it would cost more to develop, so I don’t see that happening.
**Technical issues – subject to change and be updated**
As of 12.01.18, there are two technical issues that NIS America are aware of and are actively trying to resolve for me.
The game isn’t on the PSN Trophy lists, so you can’t sync the trophies. So if you are a trophy hunter and you are aiming to get the plat (which is easy, just time consuming) then you can’t sync at the moment. Secondly, there is a trophy that won’t unlock making the platinum currently impossible anyway. I have been advised these are being looked into and I will issue an update once I get any form of confirmation from the publisher. (The trophy was never fixed, making it an impossible platinum on the Ps Vita in the west.)
*The reason I went into a lot of detail is due to the fact that there is a lack of info out there regarding the gameplay mechanics*
Tokyo Tattoo Girls is not only my guilty pleasure but also my favourite PS Vita game from 2017. The game can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be with all the passive abilities which can be turned on and off along with the fact that no two playthroughs will play out the same due to the randomness of the various mechanics. If you have played and enjoyed Plague Inc then this is a no-brainer tbh. If you haven’t and you want a PS4 game to play then grab Plague Inc as it’s just as good. Through its flaws and awkwardness, there is a great game underneath if you have the time and patience to invest in it to learn all the mechanics it has on offer.
That being said, it’s a very difficult game for me to recommend to just anyone as it’s very niche and not for everyone. At the time of writing, you can pick up the game for £14.99 on the PSN store and about the same on Amazon in physical format – I would say give it a go but maybe watch some gameplay footage first (preferably with the sound off so you can’t hear them complaining or cloud your mind with their opinion).
Tokyo Tattoo Girls£14.99
- - Original story with unusual, but fun mechanics (tattoos)
- -Great soundtrack and dialogue
- -Easy to lose hours without even realising it once you get into it
- -29 cute Anime girls... Need I say more?
- - Progression with the abilities and HQ items promotes replayability where every time is different
- - A lot of the game is based on random events and luck until you get used to the mechanics
- - The technical issues could be a concern if you are a trophy hunter - until they fix it
- - The gameplay is a bit repetitive, you need to enjoy games like this in order to fully enjoy it
- - The loading between screens gets a bit tedious even though it's only 5-10 seconds