Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: Classification: PG Release Date: 14th Jan 2010 Platforms:
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It could very well be argued that the Japanese version of adventure games helped bring the genre back from oblivion. Titles like those in
the Ace Attorney and Professor Layton series carried the appealing qualities of adventure games - involving stories and thought (instead of reflex) based gameplay. At the same time they usually managed to avoid the more irritating aspects, like pixel hunting or combining random objects in vain.
While adventure games have definitely made a resurgence in the past five years, a lot of gamers still ignore them. Some see them as an attempt to fit a book or movie into the video game format - understandable when you look at the plethora of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes adventure titles. Others just believe any game with a stronger focus on story than gameplay doesnít deserve their time.
Itís an understandable position, although not one I agree with. A well told story can be an experience no matter what format it comes in. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective might seem like a standard light-hearted Japanese story - especially as it was designed by Shu Takumi - creator of the Ace Attorney games - but it has a surprising amount of depth and is gripping from beginning to end.
There seems to be a bit of a format for any Japanese anime or game which doesnít take itself too seriously, primarily revolving around a crazy supporting cast, a confused and easily browbeaten male protagonist and a pushy female co-star. For those afraid of something similar from Ghost Trick, youíll be happy to hear it isnít the case. While Ghost Trick has a cast almost entirely comprised of people (and animals) peeling an empty banana, the insanity is substantially toned down from the likes of Wendy Oldbag or Godot in the Ace Attorney games.
Ghost Trick follows the adventures of Sissel - a ghost with special abilities - as he attempts to find out who he is and what happened to him. As is so often the way upon death, Sissel has lost his memories - although thankfully a mysterious and helpful ghost is inhabiting a nearby desk lamp.
The ghost explains to Sissel that while most ghosts are incapable of doing anything after death, some - like Sissel - have special abilities. He only has until dawn the next day, but until then Sissel can manipulate inanimate objects and travel along telephone lines - and most importantly, Sissel can travel back in time, to 4 minutes before someone's death.
Sissel is primarily occupied with finding out who he is, but the desk lamp explains that saving the life of the nearby dead girl will help him learn his own identity. Since it seems to be his only course of action anyway, Sissel travels back in time and begins the night's adventure.
Throughout the night, Sissel meets a variety of people, almost all of whom die at some point in the game. Sissel can talk to the dead - although some who have not been dead long are unconscious when he first meets them. Itís through talking to the dead - or those he has saved (who retain knowledge of their death and time as a ghost) that the majority of the story unfolds.
While it might seem important at some point to talk about the gameplay mechanics - the aforementioned time-travel, phone line travel and object manipulation - they actually arenít particularly important.
Time travel boils down to little more than a plot device progressing the story - or providing an excuse for retrying without breaking the fourth wall. When you have spoken to the soul of a dead person and are
prepared to go back in time to save them, the screen changes to a button allowing you to do exactly that. If at any point during saving them you make a mistake, or choose to do something which doesnít lead to saving them, you can tap the top right corner and try again.
Phone line travel is similar - when not saving someoneís life, you can travel to the location of any phone you have heard in on before. Traveling to a different destination is generally (with a few exceptions) not worthwhile however, although the game doesnít punish you for doing so. The closest it comes to punishment is when you have traveled into the past. In the past you are not able to travel through phone lines willy nilly - you can only travel along a line when someone living makes or receives a call. When listening to their conversation with the person on the other end, you are given the choice to stay where you are or travel to that destination, with the correct option usually obvious. Staying when you should go, or traveling when you should stay can sometimes give you some extra backstory, but afterwards you will have to turn back time and retry.
Object manipulation is actually a little disappointing. Throughout Ghost Trick there are maybe two times when you might find yourself stuck - one of those being the last puzzle of the game.
Manipulation boils down to moving to an object as a ghost and tapping the Trick button in the lower right corner - making the object do the thing it can do. A shirt can scrunch and stretch from one side of a clothesline to the other, a folding chair can fold out - that sort of thing. Later on in the game, you gain access to other abilities which increase the complexity a little, but never to the point where the game might be
called a puzzle game.
And yet regardless of the gameplay mechanics - or lack thereof - every moment of Ghost Trick was enjoyable. The characters all seemed emotionally genuine and even Inspector Cabanela - who seemed pretty eccentric and wacky on first glance - turned out to be much more complex than I ever would have expected. The story was also well told and not nearly as convoluted as you would usually expect from anything involving time-travel.
I wouldnít suggest purchasing a DS for Ghost Trick - it isnít a system seller. While itís definitely worth experiencing, it is more a story than a game and while Iíve reread plenty of my favourite books more than once, some time needs to pass before I can. If you have a DS already however, you have no reason not to get Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - unless you only ever play skill based games no matter what - in which case I would like to remind you that you have a DS.