Horror Rides the Rails in Shinkansen 0

Shinkansen 0
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

I have written about the recent evolution of horror games before, and for good reason. Developers are really starting to push the genre by offering players everything from deep narrative adventures to more mysterious liminal horror experiences where the creepiness is embedded in the environment itself. Also, those new “spot the anomaly” types of games remain extremely popular. Yes, zombie shooters and titles rife with jump scares are still around with hardcore ones like Resident Evil Village offering an incredibly intense experience for those who like to immerse themselves in horrific settings surrounded by monsters. But they are not the only choice for horror anymore. Players who dislike that kind of adventure can instead enjoy other types of titles that are not so in-your-face with their gameplay.

A perfect example of this type of title is developer Kotake Create’s The Exit 8, which combines liminal horror to an extent with anomaly spotting mechanics, challenging players to turn back if they spot anything creepy or out of place in a subway station hallway that endlessly repeats itself, especially if you miss any anomalies. It earned 3.5 GiN Gems (of 5) in our review and was the number one most-read story on GiN for several weeks. I don’t normally play games like that, but I enjoyed The Exit 8 very much, even if there was not much total playtime (if you are good at spotting anomalies and can break the cycle quickly).

So, with my The Exit 8 ticket punched, I was excited to find that a similar game called Shinkansen 0 had just released on Steam. Both titles take place around Tokyo, and both involve trains. But Shinkansen 0 takes place on a train itself, in this case one of Japan’s famous bullet trains. It’s also not a direct sequel since it’s made by a different developer, although Kotake Create is said to be working on a sequel that takes place on a train too. But Shinkansen 0 is actually made by developer Chilla’s Art, who has an amazing reputation for creepy and interesting titles like Night Security, The Caregiver and the critically acclaimed Parasocial.

So, of course, I was excited to see what Chilla’s Art would bring to the anomaly spotting genre. And as expected, everything in Shinkansen 0 is very high quality, kind of like the bullet train that serves as the game’s setting. The graphics are extremely detailed, and even though they only really consist of train cars and bathroom areas, everything looks great. There are even reflections in the windows and on other surfaces where players can catch a small glimpse of the character they are playing in this first-person adventure.

The rules for Shinkansen 0 are extremely similar to The Exit 8. Players are tasked with walking down a hallway (in this case a moving train car) and looking for anything that is out of place. The first time you begin, the train car will be totally normal, which is how you can get your baseline for what should be there, and what is considered normal. You exit the car and head through a bathroom area (which is always safe and free from anomalies – and a nice place to rest and catch your breath if the anomalies are freaking you out a little bit). After that, you find yourself in either an identical train car, or one with an anomaly hidden within it somewhere. If you spot an anomaly on the new car, then you are supposed to turn back. But if it looks normal and clear from anomalies, you can proceed through it normally.

Only the number on the floor of the car tells you if you have progressed successfully in your quest to get through seven cars. If you get something wrong, like not spotting an anomaly, then that number resets and you have to start over again. But if you were correct, that number will be one less than before, so you know how many more times you need to get everything right before you can break the cycle.

You will need to successfully get through eight train cars to come to an intermission point. And then you will have to progress through another set of first-class cars to reach the final phase for Shinkansen 0. The second phase of the game in the first-class cars switches up the rules a bit where you have to push through cars with anomalies to the other side if you spot one or turn back if the car seems normal. It’s just another way Shinkansen 0 messes with you a bit.

Unlike many similar games, Shinkansen 0 actually has a plot which unfolds slowly as you play. A few characters on the train are actually real people, not potential anomalies or empty shells, and when the first one started speaking to me, I nearly fell off my chair since I was so used to static environments in titles like this. I was about to start running at first because I thought they were an anomaly or some kind of trick.

And not to spoil anything, but the plot is really good, and there’s two possible endings. The second ending is the best by far. It completely explains what is going on and why this crazy train exists in the first place, which is really nice and a real credit to developer Chilla’s Art. To get both endings, near the end of the game you have a choice about which direction to go on the train. You will need to play through Shinkansen 0 twice so you can choose to walk in both directions and see both endings. I highly recommend you do that, especially if you don’t get Ending Two on your first attempt, which is much more detailed. (Hint: head back to where it all started.)

The anomalies in Chilla’s Art are pretty easy to spot for the most part. I was able to get through the first section of cars during my original playthrough without a single reset. The first-class car section is much more deadly, and I got reset twice during that same run by getting killed. In both cases I spotted the deadly anomaly pretty easily, but was so mesmerized by it that I forgot to react in time to avoid the hazard. Yes, there are a few very subtle anomalies hidden in the cars sometimes, but if you go slowly and pay attention, then finding them should not be too difficult.

I would quickly walk through each car once looking for obvious anomalies and then go back through much more carefully if I did not see anything, checking each row, under seats and in all the little hidden corners. Most of the time, I would spot any anomalies during my first pass, but a few were harder to find. Generally speaking, the strength of Shinkansen 0 really lies in the creepy atmosphere and the slowly unfolding mystery more so than the challenge of detecting anomalies.

Shinkansen 0 is available on Steam right now for $6.99 and is a great value at that price. As one of the top games in this genre, it really pushes the envelope on what these kinds of titles can do in terms of both presentation and storytelling. It’s definitely worth checking out whether you are a hardcore horror fan, or just want to dip your toe in these dark waters. It’s a fun experience either way, so don’t be afraid to board the bullet train Shinkansen 0 bound for Tokyo, apparently by way of the Twilight Zone.

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