Courtesy of Capcom
I just happen to stumble across one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Yes it sounds a little crazy, and in truth it is, however this game was fun, innovative, original, and walks the fine line of humor/drama amazingly well.
The setup is this, you start of the game “waking up” after being killed. You are then treated to one of the better tutorial levels I’ve seen. It’s informative but at the same time it doesn’t have nearly as much of that “yes yes yes I get it lets move on” as most games do. Don’t get me wrong, it is still there, but not as much. Now this is coming from someone who loves origin stories so the fact that the tutorial is explaining how all the powers work may have something to do with my opinion on this, so your mileage may vary, but I found it enjoyable. Essentially you can “jump” from one object to another over a predetermined distance, and on occasion you can interact, or what the game calls performing a “ghost trick” on the item. So using the first level as an example, you have to get up a pile of junk, but only have a few items that you are allowed to jump into, one is a folding cot, which you jump into, and then unfold in order to get closer to the next item that you can jump into.
The other part of your abilities, and the main draw of the game for me, is that if you find a body, you can jump into it and go back to 4 min before their death. This allows you to both see what happened to them, which gives you more plot, and you are able to try and alter their fate by using your ghost tricks. The nice thing about this is although there is some trial and error, the game does have a halfway point that you can restart at instead of going back to the beginning, and throughout the game there was really one one point where I got frustrated, and that was solely because that apparently in the world of japan a bullet is shaped like this guys hat:
Courtesy of Capcom
instead of this:
Which, when the goal of the scene is to find something the same shape as a bullet, is quite annoying.
Probably the most important thing to know going into this is the choice of items you can jump into is very arbitrary. Basically the game says “only some objects have cores, which are what allow you to jump into them” but that is all the explanation that you get, which is fine with me but I know some people may be looking for more on that front, I advise you, don’t. Its much more fun that way.
The plot of the game is for you to find out who you were and how/why you died. A straightforward sounding trip, however this one is filled with so many twists and turns that you get a bit dizzy. These turns range from partially obvious to well crafted surprises. Many times I found my self knowing in general what the next twist would be, but not the specifics, like in a horror movie when you know the mystery killer is actually one of the kids, but you don’t know which one or why. My best advice to you is to see this one through to the end, which I found to be amazingly rewarding and well worth it. In addition to this the cast of characters is…. interesting, but in a good way, most of the main characters are somewhat normal with just some random quirks, but then you have some odd balls, such as the smooth dancing inspector and the junkyard superintendent w/the pet pigeon. All these characters, although weird, still somehow seem to fit in the story and don’t seem that out of place so it’s not as jarring as it sounds.
As far as the game play portion of that journey, it’s almost all good. You have two ways to control everything, stylus or traditional buttons and both are always active so you can mix/match, which is what I did. You have two worlds to navigate, the real world, which you can slide the screen around to get a better view with either the stylus or d-pad, and the ghost world, which stays locked on you, but is where you can see what cores are around for you to jump to, again by using the d-pad to “reach” in the direction your pushing, or drawing a line with the stylus, which is sometimes required to reach certain cores that are behind another core. In this ghost world the top screen shows a picture of the item you are in and what, if anything, you can “trick” it into doing. This may have been my favorite part, because in many puzzle/adventure games half the game is figuring out what items are useful and what ones aren’t and this tells you right away if its just a stepping stone or useful item.
Now this is a type of game I do normally enjoy but end up using a walk-through for most of it just because I’ll become impatient with the trial and error nature of the puzzles, however this game does a great job of guiding you but not hand-holding you. Now if you are a hardcore Myst fan you may have a different opinion, but for me this was the perfect middle ground of difficulty and I only resorted to a walk-through once, for the above mentioned “lost in translation” moment.
As far as graphics and sound, they are both good. The music, although good, is limited to only 2 or 3 tracks, and as nice as they are, do get a bit repetitive after a while, whereas the sound effects just seemed to fit perfectly with the game. The graphics are colorful, and clear, on par with most recent DS offerings. I thought it was a little odd that the top screen of the DS, which from what I understand does have slightly better resolution, was only used for the item info and not for any of the few cinematic scenes in the game, but it didn’t seem to suffer for it.
Now, as far as replayablity…this I’m not sure on. As much as I loved the story that was told, because so much of it is based on not knowing what was going on, it does loose some replay value there, and the game doesn’t offer anything new a 2nd time around from what I understand. But it was definitely worth a play through, and who knows I may change my mind in a year and want to play it again.
Fun factor? Through the roof. And this game is a perfect example of why I want this in my reviews. I can’t really explain how a puzzle/adventure game is this much fun. But it is.
As mentioned above, the learning curve on this game is also excellent, it leads you along nicely, similar to Portal but at a much faster pace, that still works. You never really feel left behind, however some hard core adventure fans may find this too slow or too easy.
Overall here’s what we got, scale of 1-10:
- Graphics-8/10- Good solid colorful graphics, Ghost effects are simple but just plain work and look right, some anime/Japanese flair but not overly done in that style.
- Sound-7/10 not bad but not quite enough variety in the soundtrack. Appropriate sound effects.
- Gameplay- 9/10 It works 90% of the time exactly as you ask it to, and is very intuitive and easy to figure out.
- Replayability- 5/10- this is all down to personal preference, the game offers nothing new, and due to the nature of the plot being surprise heavy, its tough to nail this down. Basically, if you can re-watch movies like The Game, or Sixth Sense then you can replay this game.
- Learning Curve 9/10- one of the few games to get this right, although the final end of the curve may not be high enough for some, the gradual climb is perfect for those of us who never could get through Myst.
- Fun Factor 9/10- It just is. The combo of time travel, twisting plot, innovative controls/concept. They all come together in a great package.
Now, a brief note on my overall scoring, it will not always be an average of the above because I don’t think its a fair system, just because the sound is bad doesn’t always bring a 9/10 game down to 7 or 8, sometimes its still 9/10 even with bad sound.
Overall 9/10- Fun, great story, good gameplay, total package. If you have any interest in an adventure type game, but have had problems with other entries, try this one out.