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Review: Netghost — A Dystopian Computer Thriller

In this day and age, AI has been on the rise, ChatGPT in particular. With that in mind, I thought I’d go looking for a game that had a fittingly computer-related theme, and a thrilling, mystery-driven plot. Thanks to the Fuwanovel Discord community, I was able to find a game that met all my criteria: Netghost.

Netghost is a mystery visual novel, released on by developer Dragonfire Studios in December 2022. By the time you’re reading this, the Steam version of the game has released as well, and you can find it here!

We follow Ian Newfield, a software developer and a gray hat hacker at Daikon Industries who specializes in security. He lives in a dingy apartment despite his hefty salary due to the high cost of living in his area. He also has a sister who is bedridden due to her chronic illness; thanks to that, she has spent most of her life in a hospital.

One day, Ian’s boss tells him that a sensitive program was somehow stolen—and worse, decrypted. Now, Daikon is at risk of losing their most important client—one of the world’s most massive tech companies, and owner of several social media platforms. Ian’s job is simple: find the leaker and keep his mouth shut to prevent controversy from igniting. However, things take a darker turn as Ian finds out there’s more to the leak than meets the eye, and before he knows it, his life—as well as his sister’s—is at risk.

The plot of Netghost is excellent, and is accompanied by great—almost atmospheric—music. And, judging by how thoroughly the game’s story glued me to my computer screen, I’d say it should prove irresistable to other fans of the genre.

It should also be mentioned that, as the game’s plot is based around hacking, there are moments when complicated tech jargon is used. The writer has done a great job explaining that jargon for those who are less tech-savvy, and as a tech geek myself, I can confirm that the info is all accurate.

The graphics quality of Netghost’s character sprites are great, and they’ve all been given a variety of poses based on what emotion they are currently feeling. One thing I did notice about them during my playthrough, however, is that some of the characters look different from others. To be more precise, their art styles look different. For whatever reason, some characters were drawn in an anime-adjacent style, while others lean more western. It isn’t a subtle difference, either—the two character types are clearly distinguishable.

Beyond that, though, I thought the game’s visuals were excellent. The backgrounds were great; personally, my favorite was one where you looked out over the city from a hill.

This one, to be precise.

Netghost has a very interesting take on the typical visual novel choice system. Basically, whenever you’re home during the story, sometimes an icon will pop up in the top left corner of your screen.

When you see the Skymail icon, you can click on it and open up an email interface. This is where you can reply to or ignore messages from other characters, and re-read past messages, of course.

The email interface. Everything except the emails themselves and the Reply button are not interactable.

The actual mechanic here is pretty basic. If you click on the Reply button in the lower right corner of the screen when reading a message, you’ll essentially be saying “Yes,” to whatever that email is requesting. Ignoring a message—which you’ll know you’ve done when the Skymail icon disappears—will imply you said “No.” The icon only stays active for a short window, typically a few lines of text, so make sure you don’t miss it! Otherwise, you’ll have missed your chance…

Some of these emails matter to story progression, but there are also a number of characters you can interact with that don’t have any effect on the main plot. If you reply to their messages, it’s possible you’ll get additional scenes with them.

As I mentioned earlier, I think this is a pretty unique way to go about a choice system. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it was executed pretty poorly. The reason being: there was nothing to draw a first-time player’s eyes to the Reply button, or indicate that there are any choices in the game at all. In my initial playthrough, I didn’t realize they were there, and ended up ignoring all emails. I thought the ending I got was the only one, but it turned out there were four possible endings—all contingent upon your email replies.

It was kind of frustrating to realize I’d totally missed out on one of the game’s main mechanics, but oh, well—ultimately, that’s on me for not spotting the Reply button.

Thankfully, with the Steam release, the developer has said they’ve addressed this issue, as well as some other bugs and text errors throughout the game, so this problem hopefully no longer exists outside of the copy I played. The Steam copy will also reportedly feature some additions to the game’s interface.

So here we are, in the conclusion of my review on Netghost. In terms of the mystery aspect, this VN surpassed my expectations. Hence, I’d recommend it for computer geeks like myself who’ve been looking for a tech-focused game, or for the less tech-savvy people who’re just looking for a good mystery visual novel.

Either way, the game is out on Steam, so I hope you check it out and enjoy!

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