Review: "Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective"
Happy March, everybody! I’m kicking off the month with a well-overdue review of a more recent game that I want to share with you:
When you analyze how good or bad a game was, you have to examine everything in context. If a game is fun to play but doesn’t have an expansive story, does that mean that the game is mediocre? One of the common missteps when reviewing a game is that sometimes a story (or lack thereof) wholly or mostly determines the game’s score (as evidenced by high scores on several RPGs by reviewers on GameFAQs and the inclusions of a “story” rating on the inside of nearly all of the user reviews, whether the story matters or not). The only times when this is a problem are when it’s not very appropriate, like when a certain reviewer called Kirby’s Epic Yarn the worst game of the past year simply because the story was not “sophisticated” enough, completely disregarding other games that were absolute wastes of time that year. Is the story so important in games that it’s up there with graphics, music, and even gameplay as one of the most important factors that determine it’s rating? Usually, I’d say no, but Ghost Trick by Capcom is the perfect counter-example to that assumption.
Ghost Trick was developed by the same development studio that developed the awesome “Ace Attorney” series, a visual novel-type game where you defended clients in court. Ghost Trick is a radical departure from that familiar setting, bringing a whole host of new characters and a completely different art/gameplay style (while still maintaining it’s visual novel roots). Released on January 11 this year for the Nintendo DS (and also iOS, but currently only in Japan), Ghost Trick is a visual novel game that relies almost entirely on it’s story and sense of immersion to get by. Don’t let that fool you, though, because Ghost Trick is one of those stories that works much better as a game than as any other type of medium.
As the above video shows, you, Sissel, are dead. Near you is a woman and an assassin of some sort. However, for some reason you aren’t totally dead; you turned into a ghost of some sort and have the power to possess objects. This is done by dragging a line from the object you currently possess to the next one, but the problem is you have a limited distance you can cover at one time. You can’t jump from one end of the room to the other without jumping between objects in the middle of the room, for example. Once you’ve possessed an object, you can manipulate it (like opening a fridge, rolling a tire, traveling over phone lines, et al) and this is used to solve various puzzles on your way to recovering your memory to figure out what really happened. On the way, a lot of people get killed, but you figure out that you can talk to their spirits in your ghostly form and go back to 4 minutes before his or her death to try and stop it. You’ve lost your memory and you don’t know why you have these awesome powers, who you are, what ties you to any of these other people, but you plan to use your new ghostly powers to find out.
As I said, you can talk to dead people and try to bring them back to life by going back in time. This is the majority of the game, though there are parts where you’re in the present. This adds a dimension of storytelling that is rarely seen in books, movies and television because it’s just so hard to pull off. Back in time you have the same powers as before, and you need to carefully decide which objects to manipulate and when or else you’ll mess up. Thankfully though, you can restart from a point in time and try again if you want to try something different. Most of the fun in this game is enjoying the story and characters, some of them being very strange and fun to talk to (like Missile up there, the dog).You can talk with the characters you go back in time with during and even after the fact, adding lots of character and variety to the game’s storyline. Real-time puzzles like those found in Ghost Trick and how they affect the story would lose nearly all of their effectiveness and sense of immersion if they were “done for you”, like in a show/movie/book.
The story is incredibly dramatic and original with a large cast of likeable characters. The only real complaint though is that every character besides the main character is really fleshed out. You, Sissel, while always present and have a huge part in the storyline, feels almost boring compared to characters like Missile or your female companion Lynne. This isn’t such a huge problem though because, by the end of the game, once you figure out who you are and what happened, you finally get the character development you deserved and in one of the most satisfying ways possible.The animation and art direction are also fantastic. The above image shows the game’s animation which is really smooth and well-executed, making the game feel almost anime-like in execution. This is nicely complemented by the colorful backgrounds as seen in the first image which really bring the various scenes to life. All of the levels are designed just so that the solution to a problem is not totally obvious, but so it also gives you the freedom to tinker with various possibilities. Nothing is more satisfying in this game than bringing someone back to life by changing their past. This is further amplified by the fantastic soundtrack present in the game, which is sort of like a light electronic rock sound. The music in this game is almost as good as the entire story itself, which is excellent in it’s own right. Near the bottom of this review, you can hear some samples from the soundtrack that really bring the game to life.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is one of the finest visual novels I’ve ever “read”, so to speak. The story is original, the characters are entertaining, the animation and art are fantastic, the music is addictive and suspenseful, and even the gameplay, while sparse compared to the expansive story, is incredibly innovative. The only possible gripe I can find with this game is that, like a novel or movie, it’s fairly linear and you won’t get too much out of re-playing the game. If you do end up playing the game, stay far away from spoilers because the story is all that this “game” of sorts has.
The Verdict: 5/5
Rent or Buy: Buy
If you can, try to buy this game new, not used. $30-ish is a bit to ask for a game now that so many people are used to $5 iPod games, but every single cent that goes to these developers is well-deserved.
Violence: You’re dead at the very start of the game, having been shot. Multiple characters die over the course of the game (some multiple times) by getting shot, ran over, crushed, impaled, and so on. Even though death is so prevalent, blood or gore is hardly an issue as none of it is in the game whatsoever, though you might cringe a couple times at how some of the characters die. As you go back in time to bring people back to life, you watch exactly how they died, and if you don’t save them in time, you see it again (though you can always re-try if you’re stuck).
Language: Being a T-rated game in the USA, there’s a couple instances of “damn” and “hell”, but nothing too “severe”.
Moral Message: Sissel is very goodhearted and saves the lives of whoever he can. The other characters in the game are entertaining and sometimes cheerful/silly. There are characters with immoral consciences, but they’re the enemies and put in a negative light. While detective stories aren’t usually good examples of morality, the main characters are very noble and always try to do the right thing.
Overall Maturity Level: Pre-teen+
Some of the content in the game might be too much for younger people to handle and has a lot of details that need to be followed. The story is very mature, but in the best possible sense of the word, though it does have it’s moments of lightheartedness. The characters are good examples and the violence, while constant, is not very graphic and is quickly undone thanks to Sissel’s ability to save peoples’ lives. If you’re hesitating to get this for someone because of the T-rating, don’t be alarmed; this is actually a very light T-rating and is most likely appropriate for whoever you’re getting it for (so long as they are mature enough of course).
As promised, here are some selections from the game’s great soundtrack that are some of my favorites:
- Main Theme (Ghost Trick) – This plays whenever you save someone’s life.
- Trauma – Played during some dramatic moments
- Lynne ~A Targeted Redhead – This is the theme of Lynne, the girl on the right side of the artwork
- The Last Desperate Struggle – A song played near the end of the game
These are just some highlights, and the main soundtrack is much more expansive. You can even buy it in CD form, I believe.