This Trick is One Hell of a Treat
Having owned a DS lite for almost 5 years now, I feel like I went to Ghost Trick under jaded ideals. I haven't played the Phoenix Wright games, I do not have a burning relation with Miles Edgeworth and the only thing I can tell you about Mia Fey is that she looks damn good in a suit. It was only on a whim that I found any interest in Capcom's latest quirky detective game, having chosen to pass over the Wright series much in the same way I passed over the Trauma ___ series. After all, games that are about real world things aren't really games right? No one plays cooking mama seriously, and Farmville is a joke in gaming circles. Still though, I found myself thoroughly impressed by Trauma Team early last year, and the artstyle and character design of the game did tickle my fancy, so I decided to dive in.
I'm glad I did, because Ghost Trick turned out to be one hell of a treat.
(And now I feel dirty...)
The most brilliant feature of this game, coaxing players to try it out, has to be the visuals. This game does a wonderful job differentiating itself from almost every other DS game out there, coming away with an off kilter mixture of Rubbin' Rabbits and Dick Tracy. The style used for text boxes and dialogue menus is traditional Japanese, everything looking very anime-esque, however the rest of the game takes inspiration from older classics like "out of this world" or "Flashback", using rotoscoping in order to create incredibly detailed and unique animations. Much like games like Enslaved or Heavenly Sword, this game, rather unexpectedly, uses the ideals behind someone Andy Serkis, placing emphasis on capturing bodily performance in order to exude emotion rather than relying on dialogue, which in this game is all text. Most of said animations are silly or are simply there to build up the quirkiness of character, but it works very well. The first time you see detective Cabanela moonwalk across the room only to bust out moves from Smooth Criminal, you will find yourself either giggling incessantly, or struggling to hold back a smile. The charm these characters have is absolute, whether viewed positively or negatively. And while the rate of use for certain specific animations can be a little high, you never really find yourself getting tired of seeing them. They're just short enough to not truly get annoying, but long enough to know what you're getting into every time a character comes on screen. And that performance leads to the unique nature of each character. Everyone looks acts and feels different from one another, a welcome departure from the constant same face with different color hair that's been coming out of Japan as of late. From Lynne's rooster-eque hair rolls to the Lavish Perfumed Lady's blossoming-with-rage beehive, everyone feels like they've had a lot of love and time taken put into them. No one feels shoehorned in, and even the "palette swap characters" feel unique and lively (Oh Officer Bailey, your antics will go down in my heart forever).
The puzzle play in this deceptive puzzle game is varied, but never feels terribly overwhelming. In every scenario you're given a number of nodes which your ethereal self can travel through, often requiring you to active your "ghost trick" in order to manipulate objects in to allowing you passage. There is only one real type of puzzle until the later levels of the game, though the game always manages to stay fresh by adding or taking away mission criteria. I was expecting this game to continue stacking problem after problem on top of the main goal as the game continued, but, rather refreshingly, found that game placed more emphasis in storytelling than they did artificial difficulty. This allows the player to take their time in trying various possibilities, with the only penalty being restarting from the last "checkpoint" should that experiment fail. It's very open and it never feels overbearing.
Not everything is perfect though. There are some interesting UI issues, especially during the end game when you are manipulating multiple nodes with multiple tricks and time limits, but they never keep you from finishing. They're just niggling little issues that keep you from moving across the map as quickly as you were at the beginning of the game. It forces you to slow down, which if you do get stuck on a puzzle and have to restart multiple times, can be annoying. The game's biggest fault is how it handles dialogue. Its simple textboxes, standard faire, but the worst part is if you are restarting a mission or loading the last checkpoint, It always forces you to go through special dialogue. If you're at the end of the game, this is EXCEEDINGLY frustrating when you know what you want to do, but have to press the x button or the touch screen 20 times before you're allowed to do it.
Thankfully though, and ironically, this game's best trick is it's story. I was a little worried after the first hour of play that the story was going to be little more than the standard anime rigmarole where mystery man helps adorable but quirky dimwitted girl get from point a to point b, and Lynne's (the main heroine's) antics were starting to grate on my nerves toward the end of chapter 3. But HANG IN THEIR FOLKS, because when everything comes full circle and the game reveals its secrets in the end, you will not be left wanting. When the credits rolled, I wanted to stand up and give my DS a standing ovation. But that would have been weird, clapping in my bed room in front of the DS with no pants on. So I didn't. I didn't do that.
But by god I wanted to. Now in the long scheme of things, I don't think this one is going to be on my Top Ten of 2011 list. I liked it a lot, and it was very inventive. But it's only about 10 hours long, and it doesn't feel like a game you can play on the bus. And there's nothing left to be had save for a glossary of characters and locations once the story is finished, so replay for anything but seeing it all again is out. It feels like it was designed for those moments before going to bed every night, a lot of dialogue offered up, a 5 to 10 minute puzzle, then a lot more dialogue before you move on to the next chapter. That's not bad, but I feel like we'll get a lot better experiences this year when it comes to game play. But as far as story goes, this game is at the top of my list.
By all means buy this game. It is the best DS game I’ve played in a long time and has one of the most memorable stories I can think of over the past few years gaming. I really wish more games would take the time and the love in fleshing out their characters and stories so we could be treated to more experiences like this.
Bravo Capcom. Bravo. It was a little burnt around the edges, but it was an absolutely scrumptious snack.