Monday, July 25, 2011

Review - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

(As always with Youtube videos, if you open it at Youtube avoid the comments.)

There are a lot of bad places to wake up in and a junkyard is definitely one of them.  But that's not necessarily the worst thing that can happen - after all, if you wake up, it means you're alive, right?

Not always.

That's the lesson our protagonist, a ghost who eventually begins to refer to himself as "Sissel" learns when he wakes up as a ghost with no memories of himself or just what he's doing there.  But there's more pressing matters at hand; namely a woman being held up by a suspicious looking character wielding a golden shotgun.  Of course, our protagonist isn't really in a position to do anything about it, right?  After all, he's dead.

Just when it seems like there's nothing that can be done but watch the young woman perish, the voice of a tired, wise old soul communicates with our MC to inform him that he has the power to prevent this tragedy.  This is how Ghost Trick:  Phantom detective starts.  It's gripping from the start and it doesn't let you go, and it doesn't give you any reason to resist.

Right from the beginning, Ghost Trick shows off it's main features, the things that will make you fall in love with the game, which, upon listing them out is more or less everything.  Chiefly among them, however, is the art style, which I want to talk about first.  Now, it's a generations-old statement, something along the lines of, "If you have a great Art Style, the actual graphics don't really matter" and there's been many, many, examples of this.  Likely there will be many many more as well.  Because it's not about being picture-perfect - it's about making a clear, appealing style, which is exactly what Ghost Trick does.

It's not easy to make a good-looking DS game.  At least, a good-looking DS game with non-sprite-based graphics, but Ghost Trick manages to pull it off.  Sure, there are some sprites, mostly just for the 'talking heads' for dialogue cut-aways, but everyone has a three-dimensional model that shows a few jaggies, of course, but doesn't look like they cut any corners or 'settled'.

It's really just a pleasure to look at.  Above is, very obviously, one of the colorful characters you'll meet on your journey through Ghost Trick and arguably one of the best characters in the entire game.

Which leads me very smoothly into talking about the cast of characters you'll meet in the game.  Rich and varied, you'll meet some characters who are less tolerable than the others, much like any other piece of media, but this is from a time where Capcom apparently 'got it', a time frame that has obviously long since passed.  Only one of the 'bad' (as in a character you really just won't like) is featured fairly heavily, with the rest having bit performances here and there, leaving you to run through your experience with the best of the best, for the most part.  Of course, telling about them would be...well, telling and if there's anything you take away from Ghost Trick, it's that you don't want a moment of it spoiled for you.

Of course, the very start of the game isn't a spoiler, right?  Right, because it's the part of the game you got to play waaaay back when there was a web-based demo of the game.  (Unfortunately, it's long gone; I wanted to link to it yesterday, but the one place I found it just wouldn't load it.  It's -possible- that it's in the DSi Shop or even the 3DS eShop, so by all means, take a gander there)  The start of the game introduces you to the easy, but clever gameplay that you'll spend most of the game toying with and improving on as your knowledge of it expands.

It's fairly simple, as I said; at any given point in the game (barring cutscenes) you can click an on-screen button (or hit the L-button) to enter the Ghost World.  There, your soul burns with a blue flame to let you know where you are, and other blue spots, called "Cores" show up to give you options on things to reach out and possess.  Your soul can't just fly around willy-nilly, you're not that type of ghost after all, but the method of travel is pretty easy and even fun regardless.  Using the stylus (or the control pad) you can reach out to a nearby core to move to it.  The top screen will display just what you're possessing at the moment and what, if anything, you can do with it through the use of a "Ghost Trick".

Not unlike a poltergeist, you can turn on and off lamps, flip switches and roll most things with wheels.  Unfortunately, you can't throw a chair across a room or anything of that sort; more like you're just doing things with an object that it's used to doing.  The main idea of this game is that it's a puzzle game, so it's through this mechanic that you'll play most of the game.  Whether you're using it to simply navigate here to there, or something more dire, like saving a life, it's a simple, fun mechanic that doesn't wear out its welcome.

You do save lives, by the way, through the other really interesting story bit.  While not entirely original, it's original enough, this other mechanic:  You learn in short order that you have the ability to communicate with a recently departed soul and rewind time to four minutes prior to their demise, giving you a chance to manipulate the environment to ensure their survival.  It's not just a one-shot deal either - you can rewind back to the start (or a special point during the four minutes that's unlocked under certain circumstances) of your time as many times as necessary with no real repercussions.

There's very few negative things that can be said for the game, but in saying "very few", that is of course saying that it's not perfect.  Nothing is, after all.  While my complaints are very minor, I can't very well leave them un-said.  For the positive note about the life-saving mechanic, that it's fun, mostly original and mostly innovative, it also helps to make the game mostly linear, as once you start a save, you can't stop it.  And if you even could stop it, the game doesn't really offer many places to go otherwise.  It gives you a method of traveling long distances and then mostly gives you no reason to go anywhere but where it's very clear the game wants you to go next.  Should you chose to delay that and head other places, the most you can hope for it an amusing and/or mildly informative cutscene.

While there's nothing at all wrong with linear games, when the travel mechanic was introduced to me, I had visions of actually moving and investigating areas to figure out where to go next, which unfortunately never really panned out.  So maybe it's not really a problem so much as it was me hyping something up beyond it's clear usage.  My other complaint about the game is very simply that it ends without offering any sort of New Game + or anything beyond what is contained in the game proper.  Essentially, it is a story first, and once that story is done, it's done.  It's a wonderful story, however, and even knowing that there's nothing gained by playing the game again, I immediately started it again after beating it the first time, which I think is a firm indicator of quality, as when I really like a movie or game for it's story, my first instinct is to simply watch/play it again.  And again.

The Good
  • Quality visuals, especially from a DS game
  • Very nice, mood-appropriate soundtrack
  • Fun, easy puzzle gameplay
  • Some of the puzzles are quite clever, actually
  • The cast, save for a few exceptions, are all fantastic
  • All but one of the 'few exceptions' aren't heavily featured, letting you forget about them.
  • The story manages to never really contradict itself badly or create big plot holes
  • The story is fantastic and never really lulls, either
The Bad
  • There is one character that is incredibly awful and has a fairly decent-sized chunk of playtime
  • Not the longest game - I beat it in a single day, admittedly from several hours-long sessions
  • Unless you like retreading things, there's really no replay value
  • Some of the puzzles (One in particular, about halfway through the game) can require frustrating precision
  • Even though there's a good reason for it, the game is -painfully- linear 
Mogs Says
Ghost Trick:  Phantom Detective is undoubtedly one of the best DS games I've played to date and quite possibly one of the better games in general that I've played lately..  If you're all about a good story, and you don't mind leaving it just at that when it's over, you'll very likely enjoy it as well.  I really had to think hard to bring up things to put down as negatives for the game, and given that the game inspired me to actually, properly review it, I would very heavily suggest that it's something rather special, deserving of your time, should you be able to spot a copy of it.


  1. Shit. Bullet points for The Good and The Bad. Genius! I'm stealing that.

  2. Awesome.

    I'd actually wanted to do, like a Side-by-Side thing, for a column of both and do the Mogs Says under that, as center-oriented, but there's no column options for Blogger s'far as I can tell and I didn't want to make it an image.

    Then I saw the Bullet Point thing while looking for a column button and went, "Well, hey, I could do that."