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Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II (PS4)

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II (PS4) - Review

by Thomas Froehlicher , posted on 13 January 2023 / 6,929 Views

I'd never thought about erasing part of my memory before I played Death Mark on my PS Vita a couple of years ago. This horror visual novel left such a monumental impression on me that I wanted to forget it and re-experience the game over and over again. So, with no means to alter my memories just yet, I waited for and then quickly grabbed this sequel, which was recently released in Japan.

While NG had its own new universe and characters, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II is the first title in the series directly connected to the original Death Mark. Seeing the main protagonist of the first game back and at the school gates immediately revives nostalgic memories. But actually Death Mark II is a somewhat misleading title. Not entirely so - it does bring back all of the characters from the original Death Mark - but there's no "mark" in this sequel.  When the protagonist enters the haunted school of Konoehara, the mystery of the Mark has already been solved and you instead face a new threat: a cruel undead spirit called the Shibito, which has possessed someone from the school.

To my surprise, Death Mark II isn't a pure visual novel and instead tries to an adventure game with 2D scrolling exploration. You directly control the protagonist, running around the school trying to find clues or key people. And I must say I didn't like this change at all - it dampens the atmosphere, because moving around in this way makes for fewer surprises and inspires less fear than progressing between still screens. It turns out that you don't really explore either, as the game blocks most areas (other than the ones you're meant to visit) off, so nothing really happens when you move around until you reach the room where the story unfolds in the current chapter. The 2D scrolling isn't a big drawback in itself, but it feels very unnecessary, and the 2D models look slightly off somehow.

However, if you look beyond that, Death Mark II remains true to its predecessors. The Shibito controls various lingering spirits haunting the school and drives them against you. Each chapter contains a new sub-story about a particular specter, and Experience still has a knack for telling good horror stories. From the initial rumors to the horrifying discoveries you make throughout each chapter, the sequence of events is captivating. Decisive moments still play out on static screens, just as we've become used to in the Spirit Hunter series, so the narrative is very tense and the level of suspense is very high. Death Mark II is CERO Z in Japan (forbidden to minors), which means unbearable, gruesome death scenes very much befitting the genre.

Generally speaking the artwork remains extremely good, and the atmosphere that the sound design helps to create is effective too. Experience decided to retain some of the music tracks from the original Death Mark, notably the absolutely irreplaceable theme "Rumors". But Death Mark II also adds new and fantastically eerie music, which helps draw the player into the narrative.

I'm more skeptical about the choice made by Experience to keep Death Mark II tied to one key location. You do briefly visit a graveyard and the nearby forest, but almost everything happens in the school. This is a fundamental change compared to Death Mark or NG, as they both featured completely new locations every chapter. My main issue with this is that I quickly got used to roaming about the school, which goes against the grain of a horror game. The player should never become comfortable or familiar with an area because that drastically reduces the level of tension and fear they'll experience, and those elements should be the first priority of a game in this genre. As you progress through Death Mark II you start to realise that nothing will happen in most of the rooms you're exploring; in Death Mark or NG, however, the world around you changes completely, so anything can happen. The latter defines the ideal feeling a horror title should provide, and Death Mark II simply isn't as good as its illustrious predecessors in this respect.

Boss events are another aspect that end up being disappointing. In the Spirit Hunter series up until now, when you face a key spirit you have plenty of objects and actions to choose between, and there are two ways to end a face-off: destroy or save the spirit's soul. These have traditionally been tricky and challenging puzzles, but Death Mark II simplifies them far too much. In this entry you have only three basic choices, and the correct one is often fairly obvious. There's also only one way to end a boss scene, although you can later take action to save its soul, but even this is much easier to discover. The puzzle aspect quickly lost my interest in Death Mark II, not least because it simply doesn't feel very challenging.

As for the scenario as a whole, there are an even number of pros and cons as far as I'm concerned. I found it enjoyable that all of characters from the first game returned, each being given a solid role, with plenty of screentime and varied interactions. They can join you as a buddy, which means they're at risk of being killed too. As a big admirer of the original Death Mark I'm really satisfied with how well these original characters are implemented. On the other hand, the ending feels quite underwhelming - there's neither much suspense or surprise, nor does it really conclude the story in a meaningful way. I've read that there's a 'true' ending supposedly locked behind new game plus, but I'm not a fan of having to play entire games all over again to get a more satisfying conclusion; essential content should be achievable in one playthrough.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II seeks to renew the Spirit Hunter series when there's no need for it. Death Mark and NG were almost perfectly crafted, while Death Mark II is great only when it stays true to the core values of those titles. Easier, awkward at times, and much less surprising than prior titles, this sequel is still an effective horror game, but not the hardened experience that I have come to expect from the series.

After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a retail copy of Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II for the PS4

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Mar1217 (on 11 February 2024)

The artwork aspect of these games was always the reason why I was drawn to these games. Guess I'll have to wait for a discount when it gets ported to Switch

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