Ghost Trick Game Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Yet another memorable murder mystery from the creator of Phoenix Wright.
What They Say:
Welcome to the Ghost World. Wake up as Sissel, a murder victim with a spirit for mystery. Solve logic puzzles and unravel the story by embodying objects in the environment. Who killed you, why were you murdered, and what have you started? You have one night to uncover the truth before it's too late!
Stylistically, Ghost Trick resembles a comic book. Characters are drawn in a simple, stylized manner with broad strokes and blocks of color. While there's a clear manga or anime influence, it's a more distinctive look than the more traditional anime style art of Phoenix Wright. Environments and characters are presented in 2D, like viewing their world through a camera. Typically, levels revolve around the 4 minutes before the death of a character, and the scene plays out in a choreographed manner, with characters interacting with their environment, and being affected by the changes your ghost character makes on the scene. Characters are animated with highly detailed polygon models, giving movement and action an almost rotoscoped effect. It's very similar to Out of This World or Flashback, although the graphics are much more advanced than those titles. Between levels, story is given using non-animated paper dolls and dialogue bubbles. Overall, it's a very stylish presentation that makes images and clips from Ghost Trick instantly recognizable.
Translation is strong. Characters' personalities and motivations come through the dialogue, though there's less memorable patter and gags than a Phoenix Wright game. Instructions and goals are clear, though sometimes the game ends up over-explaining its mechanisms even after the player understands the basics of the game.
There's no voice acting, which can be expected for a DS game, but it's still missed. Music is pleasant and atmospheric, with a few memorable tracks. Inspector Cabanela's theme is a standout. Sound effects are basic: barks, gunshots, and a soon to be familiar "ding" when clues come to light.
While the ghost emerging from a body's rear end is memorable and hints at the game's sense of humor, I can't help but feel there's a missed marketing opportunity here. Adding cute girl detective Lynne and cute top Pomeranian Missile to the front would have broadened the appeal immensely. Lynne does make a few appearances on the back, appearing in a few of the screenshots around the game description text.
Ghost Trick is controlled almost completely via the stylus. Sissel, the "phantom detective" main character is, not surprisingly, a ghost that moves around by possessing the "cores" of objects. To move around, you tap the ghostly Sissel on the lower screen, and draw to a nearby core to move from item to item. Sissel has a limited range of movement, and many of the puzzles involve moving objects closer to Sissel so he can get from point A to point B. There are two kinds of items in the world of Ghost Trick: items that are primarily used for movement, and items that can be "possessed". If an item has a unique action Sissel can trigger, it will be listed beside the item's description on the top screen. The levels can be explored by dragging the stylus around to move the camera, or by using the control pad to navigate. The trick is to quickly explore the rooms while time is ticking, find items you think will be useful, and maneuver to them when the time is right. If you interact with the environment in the correct ways, you'll be able to change what happens to the characters in the story.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ghost Trick was designed by Shu Takumi, who developed the Phoenix Wright games. Like Wright, Ghost Trick is an offbeat mystery comedy, featuring outrageous characters, grim situations, and unexpected plot twists that emerge at the last minute. You play Sissel, a murder victim whose spirit awakens in a junkyard, a few minutes after your body expired. Sissel has amnesia, and decides to try and figure out who he was, what he was doing in a junkyard, and why he was killed. It won't be easy, another ghost advises him: his spirit will pass on at the break of day, giving Sissel less than 12 hours of game time to piece together his mystery.
Unlike Phoenix Wright, this isn't a straight adventure game. It's more of an action adventure, as while gathering clues and solving puzzles is key, the game's mechanics revolve around Sissel's limitations as a ghost. Sissel no longer has a body, so he must possess items to move around. He can interact with simple items that are easy to operate. Luckily for someone who needs to get around town, Sissel can travel through the phonelines from one location to another. Finally, and most crucially, Sissel has the ability to contact the spirit of a recently deceased person, and travel back in time 4 minutes before his or her demise. He can intervene in that person's past, save their life, and from then on, communicate telepathically with that person. It's a roundabout way to gather clues, but it's effective.
Ghost Trick is comprised of 18 levels, and most of these levels involve rescuing recently deceased people. First, the 4 minutes before their death is played out in a cutscene. Then, the scene replays with Sissel able to possess items. Turning on "Ghost" mode freezes time, and allows Sissel to travel from object to object. To interact with an item, he must leave the Ghost World and start up the clock once more. Often, you'll have to interact with objects at the exact right time, in the exact right order, to prevent the death of the character. For example, let's say our heroine Lynne is going to be shot by a sniper through her window. How can we prevent this? We might try lowering the blinds, so the sniper can't aim properly. In Ghost World, we can see that Sissel can indeed interact with and lower the blinds, but from his current position, he just can't reach the window. He can interact with the nearby cabinet, however. Once Sissel's opened the cabinet door, he can just reach the window and lower the blinds. However, snipers don't give up that easily. Though events have changed, it appears the sniper's just going to change position and shoot Lynne through the window on the opposite side of the room! How is Sissel going to get all of the way over there?
Preventing a character's death is tricky, and often requires a good deal of experimentation and trial and error. Some times, you must interact with an item at a certain exact point in time in order to complete the puzzle. This is a possible source of frustration: if your timing's off, or you do things in the wrong order, you'll end up having to start the 4 minute loop over again. Fortunately, the number of items you'll need to trigger in a given level is relatively small, and you get to return to major turning points in the scene rather than the beginning after making progress. Still, there's an emphasis on the action in action-adventure, so you won't be able to just sit back, relax and puzzle things out on your own time. The game rewards you with hints when you do the right things, so you're never flailing around with no information. In my playthrough, the game remained challenging, but never reached the frustration point because I learned from my mistakes, and figured out where I went wrong.
An adventure game also needs a good story, and Ghost Trick doesn't disappoint in this department. While Sissel is a less immediately charismatic figure than Phoenix Wright, spunky Lynne and the adorable Missile will charm you while the main character Sissel develops and gains more depth. While he pieces together the mystery, it becomes immediately apparently that Sissel's murder is key to a number of strange events occurring around the entire city on this night. To find out his identity, he's going to need to unravel an entire conspiracy and save the lives of many, many people caught up in some dangerously shady business. There are several plot twists, and everything is tied up in a clever, unexpected ending. Perhaps a bit too well tied up, as there looks to be no room for a sequel. This is a shame, because Ghost Trick's much too short a game. I was able to complete it in around the 12 hours or so Sissel would have taken to solve his mystery. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it's clear a lot of work went into making all of the characters and scenes so vibrant and memorable, but it was sad to see it end so quickly. Hopefully, Ghost Trick will be enough of a success that we'll get to see its characters return in the future.
Phoenix Wright fans and adventure fans in general will want to check out Ghost Trick, which continues its predecessors' reputation for quirky characters and clever mysteries. However, fans should be aware that Ghost Trick puts a lot more emphasis on action, and having good timing and the patience to experiment are a must. The willing will be rewarded with a charismatic and comic, although far too short, adventure yarn. The only way to get more Ghost Trick, though, is to support it. Recommended.
Mania Grade: B+
Published By: Capcom