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Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review – grizzly, ghoulish, and gripping

In our Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review we dive into this gripping new entry into the iconic horror visual novel series.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot of artwork showing Yashiki holding a hand to his chin in thought, surrounded by images of other characters from the game

Our Verdict

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II is a ghoulishly gripping horror visual novel that sets out to spook you at every turn. Featuring a fine blend of familiar and fresh gameplay elements, spine-chilling spooks, and heart-wrenching horrors, it’s a brilliant continuation of an already outstanding series, and a real masterclass in supernatural storytelling.

Despite its lesser-known status, the Spirit Hunter series has grown somewhat of a cult following over the years. In fact, both Spirit Hunter: Death Mark and Spirit Hunter: NG have maintained solid spots on my list of the best horror games ever since I first played them, and I’ve returned to both often over the years.

There’s just something truly mystifying and hypnotic about these wonderfully macabre visual novel games that nothing’s quite come close to in my eyes, with their stunning artwork, somber tones, and intriguing explorations of Japanese urban legends, I honestly can’t get enough. As such, I’ve been counting down the days until I could get the chance to dive into this long-awaited Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review. In fact, it was one of my two picks for my most anticipated new Switch games of 2024.

While Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II is only just making its way to the English language market, it did see a Japanese Switch release back on December 1, 2022 (under the name Shinigami: Shibito Magire). However, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the official translation with bated breath, avoiding any potential spoilers in hopes of diving in truly blind. The only thing I’ve allowed myself to learn is what’s essentially on the box – it’s a sequel to Death Mark (NG is its own separate story), in which we once again join Kazuo Yashiki as he sets out to investigate more mysterious goings on.

The framing of Death Mark II is immediately intriguing. We return to the familiar H City in Tokyo four months after Yashiki and the Mark Bearers came together to battle the curse. This time, the story revolves around Konoehara Academy, where gruesome events appear to happen every ten years.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing Yashiki approaching the gates of the school as students leave

With the police unable to explain these occurrences, they label them as freak ‘accidents’ and ‘coincidences’ – but, of course, we know the truth, and rumors of the supernatural only fuel our suspicions. In response to all this, the school’s principal hires good old Yashiki to infiltrate the school as a teacher and investigate the incidents.

Following a formula similar to the first two games, Death Mark II is split into multiple chapters, most of which introduce a new spirit for us to hunt and, ideally, put to rest. However, it soon becomes apparent that all of these ghosts are, once again, bound together under the influence of one far more powerful entity. In this case, it’s a monstrous spirit called The Departed – and, for some reason, they’ve set their eyes on you as their ‘dear husband’.

Now, this series has never really held back when it comes to dark topics, but Death Mark II really pulls no punches, from unavoidable character deaths to some very tragic tales. While I won’t go into detail about these topics in this review, please note that this game does feature sensitive themes such as self-harm, suicide, assault, relationships between adults and minors, and more. Please heed the age rating and check the content warnings before diving into this game.

I will also take this opportunity to applaud the fact that this game allows you the option to toggle jumpscares off and blur gore at any time from the in-game menu, while also giving you a pop-up message warning you before a few of the more gruesome cutscenes occur so you can prepare yourself. It’s a nice touch that can tone down the horror for people who struggle with these things, while not truly impacting your enjoyment of the game (plus, I presume the gore blur is useful for content creators and streamers).

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing a girl washing her hands in the bathroom as a ghost peeks at her over a toilet door

Each of the spirits you encounter has a unique story to tell, often intertwined with that of an urban legend. The game does a brilliant job of emulating that feeling of school ground rumors, as elements from the real spirit’s tragic fate become twisted and their boundaries blur with pre-existing ghost stories, making it all the more tricky for you to investigate and unravel the truth behind each one.

And, of course, as you keep peeling back the layers of the school’s troubled past, you only continue to find more mystery, tragedy, and horror, giving you that delicious sense of palpable dread and helplessness as you draw ever closer to the core of it all.

To raise the stakes even further, Yashiki isn’t the only returning character in Death Mark II – you’re also joined by several of the Mark Bearers from the first game. Your little found family rallies around you and joins you on your terrifying journey, acting as your main support system and helping you solve each part of the case.

However, if you fail to fully appease the spirits, more often than not you end up losing one of your Mark Bearer friends, which feels so much worse after having survived through the first game together. Honestly, I would riot if I couldn’t save Mashita, especially after he saved Yashiki in the DLC chapter of the first game. I love my grumpy detective pal.

But not everything abides by the initial rules. Just when I thought I’d found a comfortable rhythm of solving each case and appeasing those spirits, the later chapters came in and spun everything on its head. While there are some elements that I’d predicted beforehand, I wasn’t at all prepared for how things were destined to play out.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing Yashiki and Ai in a dirty bathroom as Yashiki states 'one's thoughts trend towards the macabre when pursued by a spirit'

I found myself utterly gripped in the story, swimming in Yashiki’s dread and desperation as I grappled with what I needed to do next. I found myself laying in bed, staying up far later than intended as I told myself ‘just a few more minutes, then I’ll go to sleep’ – and if that isn’t the very spirit of brilliant storytelling, I don’t know what is.

But I’m gonna stop gushing about the story right there, before I get too excited and end up spoiling it for you. Just know that it truly is a masterful showcase of brilliant horror storytelling, and is more than a worthy successor to the first two games.

Now, onto the gameplay. Of course, the Spirit Hunter series are visual novels at their core, but they’ve always tested the limits of the conventional visual novel format. However, I was truly surprised to see how much the core gameplay of Death Mark II has departed from the previous games.

Instead of the first person, ‘visual novel meets point and click’ style exploration we’ve come to expect, Death Mark 2 has metamorphosed into a fine mix of 2D side-scroller, point and click game, RPG, and more. The side-scrolling sequences remind me of another brilliant horror game, Detention, with what appears to be hand-drawn walk and run animations, multiple rooms and locations for you to explore, and characters and points of interest for you to interact with.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing Yashiki and Hiroo running through a school corridor

I initially wasn’t sure how I felt about this deviation from the originals, but I’ve truly come to love it – it’s very engaging, and gives you a bit more of a fluid sense of movement throughout the game, especially as you begin to move between the special, new, and old buildings, as well as other locations outside of the school grounds.

And it doesn’t stop there, as there are heaps of other gameplay elements that succeed in building on the mechanics of the previous games, all while still maintaining an overall cohesive and seamless experience. From the familiar point-and-click, first-person investigation sequences where you must inspect your surroundings, to the turn-based ‘survival act’ battles with the ghosts where you must use items from your inventory and your knowledge of the case so far in order to get out alive, each facet of gameplay feels simultaneously fresh and familiar – it’s easy to follow and fits together perfectly, but manages to keep you invested and encourages you to pay attention to every little detail.

On top of all of that, Death Mark II also builds up some RPG-esque elements through collectibles and a leveling system. Like Kujou Mansion in the first game, the school infirmary acts as your base of operations, where you can generally choose which ally you want to accompany you, with each one offering their own benefits. For example, Daimon has high dexterity, so he can help you open tricky doors, whereas Shou has high strength, so he can help you move heavy objects.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing a hand holding an 'eerie tooth', covered in red moss

You can also level up your characters and purchase special items by collecting ‘eerie teeth’. Eerie teeth are creepy little ‘lost souls’ that you can find in all sorts of places, with a set amount hidden in each chapter, and you can trade them in at the infirmary in exchange for useful artifacts that can increase your chances of survival when facing spirits. I really like this element, as I’m a big fan of ‘collectibles for a reason’ – they encourage you to thoroughly check each location and explore every part of the map, and reward you for doing so with a tangible boost to your stats.

Of course, one area that’s always top-notch in the Spirit Hunter games is the art, and it’s no different here. The sprites are detailed and emotive, the backgrounds are gorgeously vivid, and the horror scenes are deliciously macabre. The latter really leans into the body horror here, with scissors, mushrooms, and bugs bursting through skin, swollen faces, disfigured bodies, and plenty of other ghoulish concepts that make my Junji-Ito-loving heart happy.

However, one thing that I personally dislike is the inclusion of ecchi and fanservice-like scenes, where we see women – specifically, in this case, high school-age girls – in compromising, sexualized positions. This is something that’s present in the previous games, especially the first, but feels even more uncomfortable here considering the school setting and the allusions to student-teacher relationships throughout, as well as the fact that Yashiki is in his 40s. However, I suppose these scenes do add to the overall discomfort and horror of the game, so there’s that.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing The Departed creeping up behind Yashiki

When it comes to audio and sound design, Death Mark II continues the trend of forgoing full voice acting for the occasional word or sentence spoken in Japanese. This doesn’t bother me personally, but I know some of you who are familiar with visual novel games may expect proper voice acting in such an expensive title. Luckily, the rest of the sound design more than makes up for it in my eyes, with a wonderfully horrifying mix of echoed whispers and grunts, spine-tingling chewing, dripping, and slashing sounds, and other ambient elements that really get under your skin.

This is accompanied by the OST, which makes use of some of the tracks and melodies from the first game with some alterations, such as new instruments. I really appreciate this, as it once again enhances that feeling of ‘familiar yet different’, which can create a great sense of uncanniness at times.

In terms of performance, Spirit Hunter Death Mark II looks and feels great on Switch, both in handheld and docked mode. The UI sizes seamlessly, the stylized art lends itself well to the aging hardware, and the ability to play it in bed while curled up under the covers or on a big TV in a dark room is perfect.

The controls are also a delight, feeling very intuitive and easy to grasp. I love that you can hide the UI during dialog and cut scenes to get a good look at the artwork, open the menu at pretty much any time to check your notes and items, and press one button to fast travel back to the infirmary while exploring. All of these neat little quality-of-life features add up to make for a really enjoyable experience from start to finish.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing Sakamoto telling Yashiki "every school has its own 'seven mysteries' and ghost stories"

Death Mark II clocks in at seven chapters, plus an epilogue if you solve the case which goes over the events of the game and ties things up for you. Most of the chapters are pretty substantial in length, though there are a few that are significantly shorter than others. It took me around 18 hours to complete the full game, in which I took my time to investigate everything, revisit locations, and collect all the eerie teeth, so I’d say there’s a decent amount of content, and there’s no real filler or downtime between cases.

There’s also more than one ending, and a few ways that playthroughs can differ, adding a certain level of replayability to the game. To help you with this, there’s a chapter select option, which you can use in conjunction with your pre-existing save data if you want to go back and experience a different path or grab some collectibles you missed before.

Overall, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II is a fascinating, gripping horror story, and a worthy addition to an already brilliant series. It builds upon many of the themes, narratives, and gameplay mechanics present in the first two games, while introducing a variety of new elements to keep things feeling fresh.

A masterclass in horror storytelling and a brilliant example of what makes horror visual novels so great, I couldn’t have asked for more. It was well worth the wait, and I’m eager to see what’s on the horizon for Yashiki and the other Mark Bearers in future installments.

Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review - a screenshot showing Michiho clinging onto Yashiki's arm as he shines a flashlight around

Now that you’ve made it through the twisted tale of our Spirit Hunter: Death Mark II review, why not explore some more spooks with our list of the best ghost games, or familiarize yourself with all the FNAF characters and Poppy Playtime characters? Or, for a bit of a palette cleanser, snap up some Coin Master free spins and Monopoly Go free dice.