Being dead should be easy: just lay back and enjoy an eternal rest. But that’s not the case for Sissel. Upon awakening in a junkyard, he discovers his first problem–he has amnesia. With barely enough time to mull that one over, he realizes that he’s been murdered. Not only does he need to figure out his identity, but also who killed him and why. If this isn’t stressful enough, in his first few minutes as a ghost he discovers he’ll cease to exist in the morning. No pressure, right?
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was developed by Shu Takumi, creator of the Phoenix Wright (Ace Attorney) games. If you’ve had any experience with that series, you’ll be happy to know that his knack for creating a cast of quirky and downright funny characters carries over perfectly. In his latest game, they don’t exist solely as herky-jerky talking heads. Instead, we often get to watch them walk, run, and even dance about, as they act out the scenes. It’s brought to life with some of the best animation I’ve seen on the DS.
If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese adventure games, expect to find a character driven story filled with leisurely paced scenes. You’ll have to be patient while they casually chat their way around key points of interest. This might be a sticking point for some, but I appreciate these sequences for their ability to give the characters’ breathing room to display their own personalities. After each scene, I was always eager hear what they’d have to say next. However, if the idea of reading dialogue for five to ten minutes at a time sounds like a dull affair, this game probably isn’t for you.
Sissel’s peculiar situation is further complicated by the fact that he can’t interact with the world as a living person would. In fact, he can only move about by jumping into an object, then leaping into adjacent ones. When inhabiting an object, he can perform a ‘ghost trick’ to interact with it. Doing so has varying results, from causing things to fall over in order to get a character’s attention, to creating a bridge of sorts, allowing you to access places previously out of reach. In typical adventure game fashion, there is a bit of trial and error involved with manipulating the environment to set up the right path through each situation. This ghost trick mechanic comes with a great benefit–you don’t have to deal with carrying inventory around. Everything you need to solve your immediate problem is contained in that location.
Sissel isn’t limited to nudging objects into action–he also has a special trick. If he inhabits a dead body (and you can probably guess that in a story beginning with a murder, you’ll encounter a fair number of corpses), he can travel back in time four minutes before their death. While in the past, it becomes possible to change events in order to save the recently deceased. In the event of failure, the four minute time frame is a saving grace. Along with the option to fast forward through all previously read dialogue, it never becomes tedious to retry.
My only real disappointment with Ghost Trick is in its rigid linearity. Many of the puzzles were a little too easy, since there is only one possible solution. Some areas are littered with a good supply of useless objects, but merely jumping into one would quickly reveal it to be a dead end. This might be good news for people who don’t have the time or patience to observe and think about each puzzle, but for long time adventure game fans, it’ll be very simple. Still, it beats the old fashioned ‘pixel hunts’ that passed for puzzles in some adventure games of the past.
It’s to be expected that a gaming platform will see a number of inventive gems as it reaches the end of its life span. This year, the DS has seen a few such titles, with Ghost Trick easily falling into this category. It’s a terrific adventure game with a wild sense of humor and plenty of unexpected twists.
Things We Liked: The amazing animation. Creative story with plenty of twists and funny characters.
Things We Disliked: At times, it can be little too linear.
Target Audience: Adventure game fans who aren’t averse to a bit of reading in their games.
(Ghost Trick – Developer: Capcom. Publisher: Capcom. Available for Nintendo DS. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)