We’re nearing the end of the year, and even if it was launched in this side of the globe early 2011, and thus is not precisely a new launch title, I cannot simply finish the year without talking about the best game that came out.
Wait Jose… (I can sense you thinking), how can a DS title that barely got any press coverage be the best game of the year? Surely Skyrim is a better candidate? To which I say, WRONG!! (though Skyrim is awesome).
Many times we ignore less media devouring games, and even if they are fantastic and they captivated us way better than a triple A title, we seem to think that a game needs something of a “minimum budget” to be considered the best game of the year.
Ghost Trick was launched on January 2011 on the English speaking world. Its development was headed by Shu Takumi, the same mastermind that devised the insanely epic Ace Attorney series, proving that you could make an awesome game about anything (in this case being a defense attorney) if you approach it with an open mind and a great concept.
Ghost Trick revolves around Sissel, an smartly dressed and slick dude with a red suit, some awesome shades, and an impossible hairdo. Sissel finds himself in something of a predicament at the beginning of the game, he’s dead. Like literally, gone, out, kaput; his spirit floating confused and memory-less. However Sissel is made of special paste (ectoplasm?) as he becomes a ghost, and as a restless dead, decides to get to the bottom of his untimely death. With the help of Ray, another ghost floating about, Sissel learns about his powers, which basically cover the main gameplay of Ghost Trick. He also tells him of something very worrying that forces the plot to propel forward. He has until dawn to get to the bottom of everything, as ghosts apparently only last for a night.
The whole idea of Ghost Trick is to help Sissel discover who ordered his death, why, and also (since as he says “he is that kind of guy”) help anyone else being targeted by the same people. Through the game you will visit multiple locations, and observe events occuring in the land of the living, mostly murders, and help Sissel stop them from happening.
Sissel can posses objects not too far away from each other, provided that they have a “core” (it’s not clear what makes an object have a “core” but it’s clear from a gameplay reason, if you could posses any object of the richly detailed backgrounds they game would be unnecessarily difficult). Once in an object, Sissel can do a “trick” (the aforementioned “Ghost Trick”), making a guitar play a cord on it’s own, turning on a light, and so on. You can move Sissel from core to core by drawing a line with the stylus, though you can also use the pad to point in a direction to “jump”, but it’s somewhat more imprecise. “Tricks” are done by just pressing the “Trick” button on the touchscreen, very straightforward.
This is not the only thing in Sissels arsenal, oh no. Time flows differently for the dead, or rather, not at all. Whenever you want you can enter the “land of the dead” a reddish copy of the real world in which time stops and you can rethink your strategy and plan your next steps. Sissel’s main long distance travel power is to possess phones. When a character is speaking on the phone, Sissel can posses it, learn the other phone’s phone number, and from that point onward gain the ability to launch himself through the phone lines to the other location.
Finally, Sissel can posses the corpses of those recently dead… he can’t do anything with the body per se, though, his power is actually way more useful, he can force time to rewind itself 4 minutes before that person died. He can do this an unlimited amount of times and its his special ghostly power, than nobody but him can do. Yes folks, they integrated save scumming as a game mechanic! Brilliant!
While in the past, Sissel has some movement limitations, he always spawns where the person ended up dying, which might be farther away from where he is needed in the past. Also, phone lines in the past are “dead”, and Sissel can only travel through them when someone is actually talking on the phone in the past, and only to the other phone in use. Whenever Sissel makes a big enough change on the past to “change destiny”, he can use that spot in time as an in-game checkpoint.
The whole point in the game is to move through a lot of picturesque locations, see someone die, and then rewind time itself to mess with your murderers plans and also gain allies on your search, as you can also speak with anyone that died and got “brought back” through Sissel’s time meddling.
It all works like a very original and fast puzzle game, locations are usually self-contained, but some phone-line jumping is needed to solve some of the tougher murders. Unlike many puzzle games, Ghost Trick is fast… very fast. You have only 4 minutes to save your charge’s life, and sometimes less than that as rewinding time 4 minutes before is worthless as the critical moments are only the last few seconds!
You solve these puzzles by jumping around cores and checking what doing a “trick” on this objects accomplishes and then think how this can fix your current predicament. Not all objects with cores are useful in any given level, so a measure of trial and error is always needed. As mentioned, the controls are incredibly simple, you basically drag Sissel’s ghost around cores and press a button to do stuff with them. Stupidly simple (as most truly timeless games are) and works like a charm.
Explaining how satisfying it is to resolve a certain puzzle is difficult to explain, but it definitely helps that the story is very involved (more on that later). The tangible time limit, the person’s death, works way more effectively than an standard countdown, and many of the effects on the map are physical enough to connect with the back of your brain. For example, you might help the victim escape by distracting the killer with a guitar, and when the killer resumes the chase you posses a nearby crane, dropping it’s load on him, saving your charge and eliminating one of the bad guys in one fell swoop (did I mention that while Sissel is a good guy, he’s not precisely too bothered about what he has to do to protect the other victims of his killers?).
Speaking about the characters, Shu Takumi and his crew prove again that their strong point is definately characters and story. Ghost Trick’s story is simply great, with several twists and turns that will surprise you till the very end of the game. I really really wish I could tell more, but you’ll have to trust me, because revealing too much would be a massive spoiler on several areas. Suffice to say, Sissel will meet lots of interesting characters, from the slick Inspecto Kabanela, to the cute (and amazingly badass!) little doggy Missile. The characters are zany and wacky, but they work perfectly in the more serious matter of the story, while still getting chuckles out of you on many scenes. The aforementioned Inspector Kabanela, the cop in charge of Sissel’s case, is described in-game as “a white lovely lanky man”, it’s always a show when he’s on the scene, since he not so much walks as dances across the level going so far as to make Michael Jackson style moves when he stops, but you’d be a fool to take him for an incompetent cop because of his ticks.
Discovering these characters and how they fit in the story is half the fun so, again, I can’t reveal much without getting into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, they are awesome, well written, and quite funny at the same time.
Visually the game is very nice. Since it’s on DS you cannot expect hyper realistic graphics, but Capcom made great use of the DS capabilities by working around the limitations. Most scenarios are hand-drawn, with objects and characters done in a cell-shaded style. The character models themselves are quite simplistic but their fantastic animations fill them with personality. Also, hand-drawn portraits of the characters appear every time there is a conversation going on, with several portraits per character to reflect different emotions or situations, and they fit the character models in the scenario in a way that you can just picture them like in the portraits every time something happens.
Sound and music wise the game is simply superb. Most characters have a theme tune that fits them like a silk glove and makes them instantly recognizable. The ambient music is always played according to the situation, with fast paced intense tunes when near a time limit, and mysterious background themes when Sissel is getting deeper into the mystery of his own death. The music is synthesized in the vein of an old 16bit game, but with a level of quality that matches that of a current generation game, using way more instruments.
The music is really catchy and I still carry the OST on my mp3 player. Sounds are all more than appropriate and I never got the feeling that a sound was “out of place” in any given moment. This being a DS game, there is no voice-acting, all lines are delivered in text form, but the writing is superb, with the characters oozing personality.
Graphics: 5/5 – Since it’s on DS, don’t expect brilliant HD graphics… that said, they are superb for a DS, nice to look at, easy on the eyes, well detailed and ooze personality.
Sound: 5/5 – Catchy tunes that fit the action perfectly and refuse to leave your brain, a perfect score without doubt.
Gameplay: 5/5 – Simply awesome. It’s stupidly simple to play, the puzzles are smart and engaging and while each of them only has a “right” way of completing it, they are so much fun you won’t mind doing them again.
Longevity: 4/5 – The only place were the game falters. It’s a story driven game, so once you’ve finish it there is not much else to do but to play it again. That said, it’s so engaging and the story is so good that you won’t mind a second or even third play-through, and the game is not short by any means! Still, not enough to warrant a top score.
Overall: 5 out of 5
The whole is bigger than the sum of it’s parts. For me there is not argument, it’s deep and engaging story, well though out gameplay and catchy music make Ghost Trick stand out from the other rest of the game’s I’ve played this year by a long shot. My personal game of the year, don’t miss it.
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata