The spooky visual novel Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is steeped in Japanese history. When you’re not absorbing the sights of 1980s Tokyo or listening to ancient folk tales, Paranormasight gives you an insight into Japan during the wider Showa era and the earlier Edo period.
Whether from decades or centuries ago, elements of Japanese history are woven into the game, Paranormsight director and writer Takaya Ishiyama told me more about this, in a discussion that opened up about how history is used in the game’s story. Revealed more about the team’s approach. To balance realism and suspense.
The first thing you notice when playing Paranormasight is the difference in visual style between the environments and the characters. The game’s cast was drawn by Kobayashi Gen, and their distinctive style is contrasted with the game’s surroundings. The 360-degree panoramas you explore were all created from photographs, although the team didn’t initially set out to do so.
“We considered recreating the city in highly detailed 3D graphics or hand-drawing the entire panorama from scratch, but found that it was not possible to do so with the resources we had,” Ishiyama revealed. Eventually the team came up with the idea of using 360-degree photography, and Ishiyama helped strike a balance between realism and a unique style, using photographs to create the in-game environment.
The realism and suspense dynamic – a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar – was a core formula for the team to apply throughout the game. The central plot of Paranormasight revolves around the Seven Mysteries of Honjō, a collection of centuries-old urban myths dating back to the Edo period. The number of these myths and their exact details are still debated, which Ishiyama said he found “amusing”. But the ambiguity surrounding the myths allowed Ishiyama to get creative. Ishiyama said, “Being able to fill in the gaps with my own interpretation was something that inspired me.”
Ishiyama’s interpretation of The Seven Mysteries ties together the different stories and places a greater emphasis on the realm of Honjō himself. The Sumida River plays a large role in the game’s plot, both symbolically and physically. Many of the major events of the game take place near it, and its history and symbolic importance are discussed by the two characters. Ishiyama wanted to create these historical episodes to give the story some realism. By connecting the world in which Paranormsite is set and the real world, he hopes to give the game something familiar to players.
This is why the team chose to set the game in the 1980s. Ishiyama said, “I feel like it’s an era and setting that sits somewhere between modern life and fantasy, which makes it feel more real.” It’s far enough out that we can suspend our disbelief about the presence of curses, and buy into believing the strangest stories and the strangest leaps of logic people make. I’m still reeling from the revelation of that baby.
To keep the game from straying from realism, Ishiyama decided to include aspects of 1980s Japan society. In addition to the high interest with the occult, which is the main focus of the play, mention is made of other social issues and fads that were prevalent at the time. Collectable stickers called mocking birds are the latest craze. Delving into the in-game files gives you an idea of the political mindset common among young adults at the time and the rise of youth delinquency.
The team spent a great deal of time researching and collaborating with local authorities in order to portray the historical aspects in Paranormasight as accurately and authentically as possible. Ishiyama told me that one of the in-game maps was inspired by an illustrated map of Honjō from the Edo period, while the illustrations for The Seven Mysteries in the in-game files are all prints by Kuniteru Utagawa, a ukiyo-e artist. . 19th century.
Although the team used photographs taken of present-day Sumida City to create the panorama, these will not accurately represent what the area formerly known as Honjo looked like in the 1980s. “Compared to the late 1900s, the scenery of modern Honjō has changed dramatically,” Ishiyama explained, “due to the influence of urban development”. The creation of the background was a huge collaborative effort. After taking the photographs, Ishiyama revealed that the team cross-referenced their photographs with aerial photographs of the area from the 1980s, which were provided by the local authority. “Next, we asked librarians and individuals with a lot of knowledge on the local area and history to actually play the game and we incorporated their feedback.”
The overall effect of this combination of fiction and history is something uncanny – a world that feels familiar but is capable of surprising us at any moment. Treading the line between realism and suspense, the atmosphere that Paranormsite creates is delightful and unsettling. The game as a whole is something that has to be experienced for yourself, and if you haven’t been convinced to try it out yet, read through Donlan’s review of the game to see why it earned a Recommended badge.