Among the many original concepts that found their home on the Nintendo DS, Ghost Trick is one of the most refreshing
In its waning months, most systems suffer from a nearly total lack of good releases, a drought caused by a safe attitude from game developers who witness as their target audience becomes so deeply interested in the system that is to come that they completely forget about the devices they have in hand. Naturally, it was to be expected that Nintendo DS – with its glorious third-party support and a hardware that inspires creativity –would be one of the few systems to defy that logic and keep a relatively steady flow of good releases pouring into the market.
Out of all those games that came surfing on the last wave of releases for the dual-screen handheld, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is absolutely the best. And unsatisfied with making this adventure be the most stellar of the system’s closing games, Capcom went ahead and made it an easy contender to rank among the best ten games to ever grace Nintendo’s most successful portable machine. The Nintendo DS bowed to leave center stage, and it did so in an extremely remarkable fashion.
Ghost Trick explores the world of the dead. As its body has been the recent victim of a murder, a confused spirit wakes up to notice that it has lost its memory. Unaware of what is happening and of its identity, it witnesses yet another assassination: a young detective by the name of Lynne is shot dead at a junkyard on a dark side of the city by a sinister looking man. And so, the wheels of the tale of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective start spinning.
The detective falls, and shocked by what it has just seen the spirit expresses its urge to try to help the young woman. It is then approached by another spirit, named Ray – who is appropriately possessing a lamp. Ray seems to now all about the ghost world where the confused soul is now in, and so he goes on to tell the spirit the number of unique abilities it has acquired by being killed. Desperate to discover its identity, its background, and why it was murdered, the spirit decides to save the young detective from her seemingly inevitable death, upon hearing from Ray that she is the only lead into finding out more about its story.
The main disembodied character learns that when a body loses its life, the spirit that resided within can be contacted in the ghost world. Not only that, but if the person or animal has just been recently killed, spirits have the ability to travel back to four minutes before that event in order to watch the whole scene unfold only to, then, have the opportunity to save the victim from death by rewinding time back to the beginning of the occurrence.
By saving someone, the deceased hero will gain the ability to communicate with that living being from within the ghost world, meaning that it will be able to ask that being questions and communicate effectively. Averting deaths is done by somehow finding ways to interfere in the world of the living. Bodies, though, cannot be possessed by spirits; therefore, in order to stop lives from being lost the only option is to take control of objects placed around the environment and use them in ways that will allow the fate of the victim to be altered.
And that initially complicated explanation basically sums up the overall premise of Ghost Trick. Throughout the game players will witness the killing of a lot of beings, some of which will die more than once during the adventure, and they will always have to be there in order to go back to four minutes before the death and change destiny. Once the action is on, the clock will start ticking away and the starring spirit will be able to switch between the ghost world and the realm of the living.
On the latter gamers will be able to trigger actions on the objects they have possessed, and with a right timing things will work out just great; while on the former, they will be moving from one object to another, while the action is completely frozen, therefore having the opportunity to think about what decision needs to be taken in order to stop a hidden gunman from firing a deadly shot or help a clueless character not to fall victim to a mortal trap that is about to go off.
Every puzzle only has one solution, a fact that always gets a little bit in the way of the value of games of the genre. They are, however, so varied and unique, sometimes requiring thinking outside the box and often revealing awe-inspiring solutions, and the ways in which deaths happen are so distinct that the game never gets repetitive. Ghost Trick is an astounding blend of thrilling action with cold reasoning. It employs usual elements present in puzzle games in a never-seen-before scenario, and the setting is so brilliantly developed and exposes such a high level of inventiveness that the title falls nothing short of utterly spectacular.
Although the thrill of watching the four minutes available to act is intense, as death will be approaching mercilessly, there is no reason to worry about failing to save someone, though, as spirits can cheat death as many times as they feel like. So, if players do not succeed in their goal the first time around, it is possible to simply go back in time once more and try again. And in that resides the only flaw of the game: players may end up watching the same cutscene that tells the story of a character’s death way too many times. The first time the spirit rewinds to the past, gamers will see everything play out so they can understand what has happened, only to then start trying to use their powers while the scene rolls for a second time.
Naturally, the first two instances when one watches the death occur are not tiresome, since they are somehow distinct experiences; however, it is from the third time onwards that the repetition gets a little bit frustrating. If players fail or miss a unique chance to alter the occurrence, the game will immediately let them know the death can no longer be avoided (which is a rather nice touch that avoids futile attempts to change what can no longer be altered). After that, they will have to rewind the scene once more and watch it again only to then have another shot at success. It is true that developers tried to diminish that issue by making things go slightly faster on repeated plays through the death scenario, but the fact remains that it can get a little annoying.
Toying with time, watching the story of someone’s death, saving those lives, and then being able to interact with those that were rescued, as a consequence creating very strong friendship bonds with some of the living, is a pretty intriguing concept in itself. Still, in spite of the gushing creativity that stems from that source, the great gameplay may not be the best part of the game: that award goes to its story. As a tale that stars a confused spirit with a serious memory problem, Ghost Trick is obviously a mystery, and it is a very well-written one.
At first, players will meet and interact with a huge group of characters (some more intensively that others) that seem to have no connection whatsoever with one another, but the looming feeling that a bigger plot wraps around all of the cast will keep gamers going for hours and hours. And as the confused spirit is told at the beginning of the game that it will cease to exist by dawn, the quest to uncover the truth behind its identity, life , and death is an extremely urgent one.
The story is developed at a really good pace. With every chapter that players conclude and with each life they save, the spirit becomes somehow closer to discovering what exactly is going on during this unusually eventful night; some of the chapters, in particular, lead to more questions and doubts, something that will certainly keep players absolutely hungry to discover what is to come next and see when those riddles will be cleared. And they will not be disappointed, for Ghost Trick makes that curiosity pay off by delivering a wonderful and satisfactory ending.
The will to play more and more is also helped by the game’s perfect difficulty curve. Puzzles start as simple as they can be, and saving the first few lives feels like a simple tutorial. Yet, as the adventure progresses, extreme measures such as travelling to another place through the phone line (another power ghosts have) may become necessary to keep someone from dying. The web of actions required to save lives grows increasingly complex and becomes more clever as the game goes on.
Visually, Ghost Trick is a very charming game. The very well-drawn 2-D scenarios are mixed with stylish character models that have a good amount of detail. The production values of the game help all dramatic murder scenes to resound even more due to the precise timing of the animations and the moody songs that are triggered right on cue to add some spice to the events. There are no voiced-over dialogues, but there are plenty of sound cues and effects to turn Ghost Trick into a really immersive experience.
Ghost Trick is one of the best games on the Nintendo DS, and that is saying a lot for system that had a life cycle of six years during which it built one of the strongest lineups the gaming world has ever seen. The game presents an extremely original concept that is as engaging as it is fresh, and the solid writing behind that element makes the concept materialize in a remarkable way. There is not much to the game when it comes to replay value, but the regular adventure lasts for some good twelve hours and it is hard to forget all the remarkable moments the game provides players with. Among many of the original concepts that found their home on the Nintendo DS, Ghost Trick is one of the greatest and most refreshing.