Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

About a year ago, I decided to hit up an Amazon sale, and I ended up with several DS titles, from Professor Layton 1, 999, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, and Ghost Trick:  Phantom Detective.  Oh, and Dragon Quest IV and V, neither of which I beat, but after going through 70% of both of them, I found it hard to go back.  I did enjoy them, but I was annoyed by several things that felt like padding, or the children who- Why am I talking about this, this is time for Ghost Trick, a game that I consider to be the best DS, or maybe portable in general, title of 2011.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review
Release Date: 11/01/2011
Platforms: DS, iOS
Price I Paid: $19.99

After completing the fourth Ace Attorney game, the creators of the series started work on a new game that presented mystery in a different fashion, and what resulted was one of the most entertaining stories that hear this year.  Well, Berserk, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and 999 were all amazing stories, but I am so delighted whenever I see a vibrant game weave humor into the dialog without any voice work at all.  To me, any notion of a story about death had to either provide some form of immortal cast, like in Baccano!, a fantastic fantastic anime once you get past the jumbled presentation and barrier to entry.  Or it needed to be dark and depressing, trying desperately to be mature about it, which was given to me after the first few episodes of Death Note, and David Cage’s new title, Beyond: Two Souls, which actually seems like a lot like Ghost Trick, but under the constraints of compromise.  

Blimey, two paragraphs in, and I have yet to talk about the story, right-o!  The story centers around an individual named Sissel, who upon being, lost him memory, and his spirit is now wandering across an unnamed city, trying to figure out who he was, and why he was killed.  During this adventure, he learns that his spirit can possess and manipulate certain objects, travel through phone lines, and travel 4 minutes before someone dies.  From there, SIssel can then talk to them in the present, and he can alter their fate so that they can live for another day, or in some cases, an hour or so.  One such example is Lynne, a junior detective who has recently been considered a refugee, and is being attacked by 1920’s gangsters with blue skin.  But she seems capable, and the deaths were never really her fault, she’s in over her head, but I never once saw her as a damsel in distress, maybe because she is so full of energy and is a very entertaining individual, which I suppose can be said for nearly the entire cast.  

While I could go on about how amazing the inspector in white is, or the dancing police officer, the star of the show has to be MIssile, a Pomeranian dog who you meet throughout the game. Missile is one of my favorite characters in recent history, purely due to how much energy this little furry creature exerts onto the plot.  Oh, and let’s just say that he helps a ton when it comes to gameplay when you meet him again.  

The story itself is pretty tightly packed, while I found a few nits to pick with 999, this is very tightly told, but is does something that I have been missing for oh so long in my stories, fun.  Ask yourself something, when was the last time you played a narrative heavy game that made you laugh over a hundred times, a game that made you smile as you read the dialog and admired the expressions?  While some games are odd and end up being very funny as a result, see Deadly Premonition, or games that make me smile due to the lightheartedness of it all, see Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, there are only a few games that are funny without even needing voice work, and Ghost Trick is one of them.  

But that’s the thing, people rarely see fun mixed with a good story, and Ghost Trick’s one is silly and focuses on a character whose soul wears sunglasses, but it is branching and stable, which is hard to pull off for most developers.  And what could be considered a loose thread, and a loose rope, is the antagonist’s goal, which I say has ground that, not to spoil much, involves gathering something powerful any way possible.  And even if that does not satisfy you, the ending does… something that shows just how important that point was.

But a graphic adventure still needs to provides something visual to aid the story, and this game certainly delivers the goods in the visual sense.  The world of Ghost Trick is filled some wonderful looking and extremely smooth animations that consist of an art style that reminds me of both Dead Leaves and Panty and Stocking, but with sprites that have this odd 2.5D thing going on.  It is iconic, but looking at the animation on the Wikipedia page is far better than any description I can give.  The character designs can get very odd, namely with the man who has a sausage head, and the chef who sings about chicken, but every one looks distinct, unless the intention is to make them look alike.  Like with the police officers, and bit roles played by Green and Blue Detective, I’m not kidding, that is actually their name in the game’s journal.  Meanwhile, the backgrounds are  very detailed and look like actual places due to all the objects that are scattered about.  

Speaking of said objects, the game makes it clear that Sissel cannot possess every object, only ones with a node in a freeze frame world that ghosts can access.  While possessing an object, Sissel can perform one of his titular ghost tricks, which can be rolling tires, moving seesaws, operating machinery, and so on.  But the lack of objects are needed to prevent the puzzles from being far too cluttered and stops them from just becoming trial and error, even if that is the best way to figure out what to do.  I’m looking at you cage sphere!  

The puzzles themselves are like operating a Rube Goldberg machine, which is actually a bit of a plot point, meaning that they are round about, but fun to go through and ultimately do make sense.  I never found the puzzles that difficult, except for that cage sphere that I mentioned earlier, which was my fault for not noticing the possibility.  But the only way to make this challenging is to either make the timing of leaping from one object to another with Sissel’s limited reach, or place a lot of dead ends, of which I can only recall two, both involving umbrellas.  I think that I would just describe the gameplay is simple, but fun, and enjoyable for a go, but I cannot see myself replaying the chapters for the puzzles, but they are very well tied in with the plot, so I’m willing to let it slide for the most part.

As for music, it is pretty damn good, very helpful in enhancing the emotions of the characters, along with a screen shake and enlarged text.  It ranges from very good atmosphere, to pretty catchy, and I suppose that’s all that I could ask for, it both supports and helps provide the excellent comic relief.

Overall, Ghost Trick is one of the most visually appealing games on the DS.  Has one of the most fun stories that I heard in a while.  Fun and simple gameplay that only suffers from a lack of replay value.  And wonderful characters that make this story something worthwhile.  The team probably had to try pretty hard to get this passed by Capcom, a company that will toss hot coffee on employees that are not working faster than humans can.  That is the only real negative, but it is a big one.  They denied an employee the right to go to the hospital until he had a heart attack, that’s just… Cruel.  The game itself is just shy of my 40/40, but the disgusting company that published it makes me conflicted in terms of whether or not it should be recommended.  Normally, if the publisher is awful, I’d say that you should buy used, and then donate to the developer.  But here, don’t even bother donating, just buy it used, emulate it, get a ROM, I don’t care how, just play it without supporting the publisher who supports blocking out content, so that they can later sell the consumers something that they technically own.  Actually, due to all the shenanigans that Capcom is pulling, it is amazing that this game came out as well as it did, so I can justify my newly named, Master Seal!

Master Seal
The game does something unlike any other, or does what it does with such finesse, that pointing out the minor qualms feels like nitpicking.

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