Friday, March 2, 2012

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

            I might as well just say this outright: If I had played Ghost Trick before I made my 5 must-play video games of the year, it might’ve topped the list.  Hell, if I went right now and made a list of my top 5 favorite DS games, I can almost guarantee Ghost Trick would be on it, right next to the Ace Attorney games by the same creator.  I just want to make it clear from the start, I could just as easily call this “I rave about Ghost Trick for several pages”.
            The game starts with your character dead.  Well, really, were you expecting something else out of a game called Ghost Trick?  Naturally, you’re a ghost, and unfortunately, your character has complete amnesia at the start.  Pretty soon, he finds out who he is and that he can use his powers to manipulate objects, along with rewinding time back to 4 minutes before people’s deaths to save them (but not his own death).  And he also finds out that, if he doesn’t figure out who he is by dawn, he’s going to vanish.  Of course, what follows is one night full of mysteries, questions, and lots of people dying.
            You’ll have to excuse the fact that I’m being rather vague with the plot.  The honest part of it is that it’s hard to talk about the plot without spoiling things.  Now, I will get to the gameplay, and it’s excellent, but it is the plot and the writing that makes this game so great, which is rather what’d you expect from the creator of the Ace Attorney games.  And what makes the plot great is that it gives you information when it gives you information.  It gives you each layer slowly, answering a question while making you ask two more.  Every character comes back, every line of dialogue means something different.  This is the kind of game where, after finishing it, even though it’s completely linear, I could easily go right back in and look for all the clues that were dropped from the start to several of the game’s major twists.  Really, the story dominates the game to the effect of almost being like a visual novel, albeit with gameplay completely unlike that genre (I’ll get to it, I swear).
            And along with a great story comes great writing.  Again, what can I say, Ace Attorney, expected, etc.  It just gives you characters that are entirely memorable.  Well, part of that also comes with the character designs.  There are “generic” designs for characters, characters that don’t have completely ridiculous hair or significant features.  But then the writing even elevates these minor characters to unique status.  The dialogue is just incredibly well-balanced.  It’s expository without being boring.  It’s hilarious at times, and then it will just turn around and touch you in unexpected ways.  I swear one of the lines near the end had me laugh at the same time that tears came to my eyes.  There’s few movies outside of Pixar that can get that kind of emotional resonance from me, and yet a DS game got me.  It’s just that good.
            I suppose at some point in the realm of a game, we should talk about the gameplay.  It is mainly as described before: people die, and you have to go back and manipulate objects to prevent their deaths.  The main thing is that you can only hop between objects fairly close to each other.  This means that, half the time, simply figuring out how to get close to the objects you actually have to manipulate in order to prevent the death can be a challenge.  Generally, it requires hopping around, seeing where people go during the four-minute timeframe, what manipulating objects does, and so on until suddenly there’s that moment where everything clicks.  You realize you use that, that goes there, and suddenly fate has been averted.  It’s a satisfying feeling.  Of course, the other challenge to the gameplay is that it’s very possible to get stuck somewhere or mess things up in the timeframe.  Fortunately, at that point, you just have to go back again and figure things out.  The game even makes sure to give you checkpoints at certain points so that you don’t have to redo EVERYthing.  It’s like someone took the unwinnable scenarios from old adventure games and actually made them palatable.  You can mess up, but it’s so easy to go back that it’s not a hassle.  Really, what the gameplay does is give adventure games a fresh innovation, that stays true to the genre in its own ways while at the same time doing something fairly unique.  I can’t say no other game has done it, but it’s so fun and simple to learn that it just works well.
            Ghost Trick is simply just one of those games I love.  It’s well-written, it has a great story, fun gameplay, and it all comes together to make an experience that’s near-perfect.  It’s even available on iOS now with the first two chapters for free.  There’s just no excuse for not playing it.

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