TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight is the first game by Japanese solo developer Nocras, whose impressive art portfolio includes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Final Fantasy XIV. Exploring Far East aesthetics and inspired the Nintendo 64 era, the game evokes the same explore-and-collect philosophy and charm of Super Mario’s 3D platformers.
Story – A Simple Tale
You play as the intrepid explorer Yukumo, who is caught up in saving towns and their inhabitants from a corrupting fog. There is very minimal story to follow. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it gets you right in the thick of the action, so to speak. The game doesn’t try to fool you into thinking this is a sprawling epic. This is a very chill experience that’s meant to be enjoyed for its exploration and puzzle platforming challenges.
Because the environments have such an important part to play in the game, I was a little disappointed with the lack of environmental storytelling. Sure, bits and pieces of this fascinating fantasy world can be found on scrolls scattered throughout the towns, but wouldn’t it have been better to tell more of the story via the actual place? Posters, different buildings, and other such content would have made for a more immersive experience. It’s a shock that these beautifully rendered, magical settings are so sparingly inhabited by people and activity. Because of this, the town’s feel – at the expense of using an internet buzzword – liminal and unfinished.
The drawback of TASOMACHI’s towns is how empty they feel, even after fully restoring them. Its resident cat-people of the Nezu tribe are only stationed in certain parts of the town only to serve as glorified RPG signs. The personality they bring into the game is very limited, but there’s so much design potential in these cute characters, so it’s a shame they had such a reserved role in the game.
While this lack of character is to the detriment of the whole experience, the narrative potential of these gorgeous towns and their curious inhabitants make me excited about a possible sequel. The world that the developers built here can be expanded even further.
Gameplay – A Straightforward Goal
TASOMACHI is a collect-a-thon, plain and simple. You gather the “Sources of the Earth” – glowing lanterns that help fuel your airship. There’s a ton of them, and depending on the kind of player you are – maybe there’s too many. Still, the game tries its best to even out and balance the challenges of finding these magical tokens. Some are as simple as jumping into a bush, and others will only become available after a series of well-timed jumps. This creates a fun progression of exploring nooks and crannies and solving little puzzles. These challenges are never too arduous and you’re often rewarded with a hard-earned Source of the Earth or a satisfying new view of the gorgeous landscape.
Outside of the exploration, most of the “gameplay” occurs in the Sanctuaries found in the towns. These are a set of platforming challenges, which increase in complication (rather than difficulty) as you go deeper into the story. The controls feel alright, if a little delayed at times, and the progression of powers and moves you can build up add to what you can do in-game. This balances the level of exploration in each town as well. I appreciated that there’s an easy way out for levels in the Sanctuary. The option to skip levels you are having a lot of trouble with or just don’t feel like completing the task at hand. This is truly a chill move on part of the developer, encouraging you to play at your own pace, or how to you want to proceed.
If there’s something I have to nitpick on, I’m not a fan of how the actions are mapped out on the keyboard. I had no real issue with the controls but had to adjust a little given the growing number of power-ups I had to think about.
I don’t think I’m in a minority when I saw I’m a fan of collect-a-thons in sprawling adventure RPGs. Having a game dedicated to this activity hits the spot for me. I love watching that counter go up. There are cosmetic rewards for those who are into that sort of thing. But other than that, the reward for collecting these lanterns is simply the progression through the game and not much else – and I think this works for a fair number of RPG fans.
Audio and Graphics – A True Delight
The towns feel thoughtfully designed and feel like sets straight out of an East Asian town. Despite their fantasy compositions, these landscapes feel like real places, and discovering characters and curiosities in every corner feels like your truly backpacking across an unknown city. The magic of traveling through a new place is captured well in the design of the towns. The landscapes capture the magic of exploring these bustling cities full of character (as in, personality, as these cities are largely uninhabited). There is the effort to make each locale unique, utilizing flora and striking infrastructural elements.
Unfortunately, once you’ve seen one town, you’ve seen them all. The geographies could have stood to have more variety in terms of aesthetics and color palettes. This would have made the gameplay more interesting and make the locales distinct.
The soundtrack was made by the well-known Japanese electronic musician Ujico*, also known online as Snail’s House. The versatility of his electronic beats and soulful piano pieces work well with the overall aesthetic. I also appreciated the variety in the music used. Each town has its own theme, with its twilight, morning, and night versions – the sanctuaries also have a unique track, which is a neat touch.
As you explore, you are accompanied with music that is a pleasure to listen to – quiet but not jarring; sentimental yet exciting. The music really captures the essence of the title, doubling down on the energetic explorer themes while also inviting some melancholy slowness that helps you appreciate your surroundings and the time that you’ve dedicated to playing the game.
TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight was reviewed with a key provided by Stride PR.