Gamer Review: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

 

Well, it's either a Japanese puzzle game, or the weirdest prison rape movie I've ever seen.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a huge fan of the Ace Attorney games. Sure, the gameplay can get a little boring, and outright irritating at times, but the incredibly well written characters, the intriguing storylines, the catchy, memorable music, and the frequently laugh inducing dialogue, all combine to make an experience that you certainly can’t find anywhere else.

So why have I devoted a paragraph to a game that is most certainly not the one I am reviewing? Because one cannot talk about GT:PD without mentioning that its creator is the same man who created everyones favorite spiky haired lawyer; Capcom wunderkind Shu Takumi. But is his new game another slam dunk of enjoyable creativity, or just a sad shadow of his courtroom opus?

Ghosts N’ Gumshoes

First, let us set the scene (minor spoilers for the first level that 90% of you probably already know). It is a dark and stormy night, and two people are standing in a junkyard. Well, more accurately, one is standing and the other one is bent in some performance art position. The standing one is a young girl with gravity defying red hair, knee high boots, and a detective coat. On the floor, we have a man in a red suit and sunglasses whose hair is so damn silly, it might have a game of its own. Seriously, it’s like a cowlick that took on a life of it’s own and is out to dominate his head…

But how can we see all of this? As it turns out, we are viewing these events through a watching spirit, but the spirit has a problem of it’s own: He can’t remember a thing. Not his name, how he died, even who he is. Seeing the body on the floor and realizing his current deadness, the spirit deduces that the very deceased haircut tragedy is him. But there is no time to fret, as a blue skinned assassin called “Near Sighted Jeego” (guess what his gimmick is) appears, apparently to finish his job by killing our red haired cutie. Which he does, by shotgunning her through the back. Well, that’s it! Goodnight, everybody!

Oh, of course it isn’t. While the struggle was going on, our spiritual bystander happened to move something in the surrounding area, much to his surprise. It didn’t do much, but before he can ponder the implications of this, a lamp in a pile of garbage nearby (the brilliantly named “Ray”) informs him that what he just did is a “Ghost Trick” and that, combined with his other ability to rewind time to 4 minutes before someone dies, he could use this power to change the fate of our unfortunate victim.

What follows is a sequence too entertaining to spoil, so I won’t. After all is said and done, our hero decides to do what he must to solve the mystery of his death. Ray, unfortunately, has informed him of a little rub he’ll have to deal with. All spirits, even ones with powers like our Captain Hair, will eventually fade away. In his case, he has until sunrise to decipher the mysteries surrounding his death. And so begins  a saga of government conspiracies, singing chicken cooks, dancing detectives and deadly deeds, with oodles of questions to be answered: Who killed him, and why? Why does he have these powers? Who are the mysterious blue people who are orchestrating all of this? And who is the red haired youngster who seems to be at the heart of it all?

                                                            Ghostly Games

So how does one go about playing Ghost Trick? The game is, at its heart, a puzzler. The gameplay can be essentially divided into two sections: Real world and Ghost world. When in Ghost world, Sissel (as our hero will eventually be called) has two very important abilities: the ability to rewind time to several minutes before a persons death and the ability to possess objects. The rewinding time aspect is how one sets up the “levels” of the game, as it were. You’ll be shown the sequence of events that led to the death of the person involved, and then you will be sent back four minutes and then must try to break the causal chain before time runs out.

His other ability, to possess objects, is related to how the game is actually played. See, Sissel must be in an object at all times, and to move around he must jump between objects. Further complicating matters is a range limit: Sissel can only jump a few feet, so he is reliant on close placement of things in the environment. Finally, it is worth noting that time does not pass in Ghost world, something that will be used for player advantage as well as for exposition.

Well, this is all fine and good, but how does it let him change fate? Well, that’s where the Real world aspect comes in. Although some objects like, say, papers or pipes are just forums through which you can jump, others, like bikes or appliances, can have an action, or “Trick”, performed. So say your stuck in a folded up chair and need to get to a light across the room? You can use a “Trick” to open up the chair, moving the tip of it closer to another object. You can then hop to a table, then to a toy on the floor, up to another chair, and finally reach your destination. The down side is that, frankly, Sissel is a weakling. His powers can only affect small things in the environment, meaning he must rely on clever use of his powers to make a difference.

“But hachi!” you may cry, “how does this let me help people?”. Well, to advance in the game, one performs a series of jumps and “Tricks” to alter the makeup of the environment to somehow disrupt the chain of events that leads to someones death. Maybe a blocked entrance stops a killer from taking his shot. Maybe a turned off headset lets a young girl hear danger approaching. It all hapens in these Rube Goldberg style chains of action you set up using your abilities, sometimes to interfere with an action and sometimes to alter things in a more…permanent way. Gameplay segments range from short, one area romps to long chains that require actually jumping from area to area (using Sissel’s possession as well as his ability to move through phonelines) and will actually have several “fate changes” you will have to perform before the crisis is averted.

Gameplay itself is satisfying, although occasionally taxing. Although it never quite hits rage quit levels, some of the puzzles are a little too obtuse for their own good, requiring you to manipulate an item in the environment in just the right way at just the right time. This can lead to some frustrating puzzle restarts that are thankfully mitigated by the mercifully available save system, as well as most longer puzzles having “checkpoints” in the form of smaller fate changes. The payoff, as you might expect, is seeing all your little actions add up to one big change for someones destiny.

Sissel realizes that there is no hair gel in the land of the dead.

Living Dead Guys

Although the gameplay is obviously important, we all know that it’s the story and characters one reports for in a game like this, so how does it stack up? Well, it’s actually both stronger and weaker than it’s legal system relative.

On the one hand, we have the story. The cast of GT:PD is quite large, although not as sprawling as most games of its kind. This is probably because, unlike most of its brethren, it focuses on only one central story, as opposed to several related ones. This actually plays  to the game’s greatest strength, as it keeps the story tight and mobile. There is very little downtime here, and you always feel like everything is moving you a little closer to the answers Sissel is seeking.

The story itself is incredible, filled to the brim with plot twists, character development, and memorable moments galore. Particularly, the last two or so hours of the game had my jaw hanging open from the brilliance of what I was watching (for the record, these are GOOD twists, the kind you can see foreshadowed when you look back on the game after you’re done). It’s enthralling, masterfully paced, and is actually stronger than the stories in the Ace Attorney games, probably because of that “one story unification” I mentioned above. The whole thing lasts about 12-14 hours, but god will they seem to fly by.

The characters, on the other hand, are also good but not quite on the same level. Main characters like Sissel and the red haired Lynn are well developed and interesting. And primary supporters like Detective Cabanela (a detective who, as opposed to walking, dances everywhere. I am not kidding.) and lovable talking dog Missile are well written and memorable. As per usual for a Shu Takumi game, almost every characters’ dialogue is brilliantly written, with hilariously quotable lines and endearing, chuckle worthy quirks.

The problem here is that, although they are well written, a good many of them are also ill defined. Some of them only appear for a section or two of the game, and are then gone for good. This is most likely tied, again, to the unified story aspect. In a game where there are several subsections of the story, it is forgivable to have characters like this since they merely have to relate to their respective situations, and then go on their way. In a game like GT, however, where everything is connected so completely, it’s a little distracting to have them just be there and then not be. This would be nitpicking in most other games, but since this type lives and dies by its story and characters, it bears mentioning. Still, they all serve a purpose to the story and are more entertaining than most casts, so one can’t complain too much I suppose.

A Beautiful Corpse

Production values-wise, the game is marvelous to behold. The animation is spectacular, with character movements so smooth you would swear they were drawn by hand. This is because the game was animated using rotoscoping, the same technique that gave the original Prince of Persia games their similarly buttery animation. Character designs, meanwhile, are similar to the Ace Attorney games, but with a noticably more exaggerrated style to them, what with the big hair and oddly shaped heads. The style fits the game, though, and one certainly cannot say the designs lack personality.

The music, too, deserves its mention. The music was composed by Sugimori Masakazu, who did the original soundtrack for the very first Ace Attorney game on the Game Boy Advance, making him responsible for the original versions of many of the main character themes in that series. He does similarly fantastic work here, giving the game a sort of electric jazz sound in most of its BGM. Most every piece is well suited to its situation, from the pounding intense music that plays when your time is running out, to the heartwrenching theme that plays near the end when all the game’s secrets are revealed.

Character themes are also incredibly memorable, from the high energy of Lynn’s theme, to Missile’s jaunty, happy piece and the smooth creepiness of the villains’ songs. They aren’t quite on the level of, say, Gumshoe’s or Maya’s theme, but it is an altogether excellent soundtrack on its own.

Go Towards the Light! 

I know it sounds like I’m comparing it too much to Ace Attorney, but I actually didn’t think about that game all that much while playing this. Despite how it could have fallen back on making itself a copy of those games, GT:PD manages to establish its own unique identity and is much better for it. Sure, there are similarities (you can tell this is a Shu Takumi game from the get-go, that’s for sure) but this is very much its own animal.

All in all, Ghost Trick is a wonderfully enjoyable experience. Its gameplay is well structured and satisfying, despite its faults, and never makes you feel like giving up. But even that is just a means to enjoy the incredible story and solid cast of characters. All this is wrapped up in a package made of glorious visuals and an amazing soundtrack. If you’re not into puzzlers or games with too much text, then move on. But if you like your games bubbling over with personality and riveting story telling, then pick this one up immediately.

Final Score: 9/10

One thought on “Gamer Review: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

  1. suikoinfinity

    I really gotta make time for this game, I’m still at the part where you save the dog…. been so flooded with recent games and schoolwork that I haven’t had the chance to go back yet >_<.

    Reply

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