Jarrod Mawson
02 Feb, 2011

Ghost Trick Review

DS Review | And to think people say the graphic adventure genre is dead.
Dying sucks. In games, dying means the loss of valuable lives, or even loss of hard earned loot. Sometimes dying means loading up an old save, and who knows how far back that might be. Nobody likes dying. It’s even the worse in the real world, where I hear there aren’t any checkpoints at all. But dying doesn’t always have to suck. Sometimes we come back smarter and stronger than before, ready to tackle impossible challenges with a new frame of mind. Sometimes we realise this is all too hard, and lower the difficulty to a more comfortable level. Sometimes we come back as a ghost detective, capable of manipulating objects, rewinding time, and talking to dogs. Wait, what?

Everybody likes the Ace Attorney franchise. No objections? Good. Now here’s something different: Ghost Trick. Directed by adventure game mastermind Shu Takumi, Ghost Trick for the Nintendo DS abandons the director’s court room shenanigans of his Ace Attorney franchise in favour of taking the crime scene and making it you. Your name is Sissel and you are dead. No reloads here, and no respawning too. You’re dead and that’s it. But it’s never that simple, is it? You’re suffering memory loss, and have questions in need of answering. Who are you really? Why were you killed, and by whom? What is all this glowing blue stuff, and why is that lamp talking to me?

A graphic adventure game through and through, most of us know the drill from this genre by now; it’s time to go on a whirlwind adventure of mystery and discovery, where we’ll learn a little bit about ourselves and everyone else while we’re at it. There’s a heavy emphasis on story, character and dialogue, to the point where reading and watching story sequences makes up the backbone of the game, but this is all expected. It’s not all story though, as like any good interactive adventure gameplay still manages to pop up every now and then in the form of puzzles.

Crossing over to the other side.

Crossing over to the other side.

These puzzles usually offer more of a hands-on approach than the story focused gameplay. Here the player is usually tasked with jumping back in time to change the course of history, preventing otherwise disastrous events, most of which involve helping characters avoid frequently grim fates. Intuitively controlled, these periods of gameplay are built entirely on touch mechanics. Using the stylus, players can guide the protagonist’s soul from one object to another, possessing them and where allowed manipulating them. Each of these puzzles works somewhat like a Rube Goldberg machine, with the objective being to move objects into the right place at the right time, and manipulate them in a specific sequence. Some of these puzzles take place during more placid gameplay moments, in which the objective is usually as simple as trying to reach a particular object or character, while other puzzles take place during moments of intensity, and must be completed under the pressure of time.

The former puzzles benefit from being able to be played at the player’s leisure, which is necessary as Ghost Trick sadly dips into the common graphic adventure game trope of confusing game logic in puzzle solving, where a puzzle’s solution is not always as logical as anticipated. This, however, is not so much of an issue thanks to the slow pace of these puzzles, as players are free to interact with objects and sequences at their own pace and with no consequences. The timed puzzles, however, are a different story. Fighting against the clock, these puzzles are almost entirely hinged on trial-and-error gameplay mechanics, many of which will require multiple restarts and playthoughs until the game’s logic in the manipulation of objects is fully understood.

No need for night vision.

No need for night vision.

The tedium of these trial-and-error puzzles would be considerably more forgivable if there were notable differences between right and wrong choices, perhaps witnessing humours alternate events and responses from characters should the wrong choices be made. Unfortunately most of the incorrect decisions have no impact on the course of events, instead leaving the player stranded in an immovable objects and unable proceed, forcing a rewind to the most recent checkpoint. These checkpoints are created whenever a character’s fate is altered, the frequency of which notably alleviate some of the tedium in having to rewind time and reattempt puzzle.

To a certain degree the simplicity of puzzles works in the title’s favour, as it allows many puzzles to be completed quickly and painlessly, shifting focus to moving the story forward at a consistent pace. However, their simplicity also calls into question what purpose they have in the game. At their most basic they are over so quickly and with such little thought that they’re hardly stimulating, and at their most complex they often, as mentioned, fall back on tedious trial-and-error mechanics. Thankfully, the game does manage to find a comfortable in-between for a number of puzzles, which offer a simplistic and straight forward interactive experience while still requiring some thought on the puzzle’s mechanics and order in which objects should be manipulated. While as a whole the puzzles are certainly a valued element of the game’s design, it’s a shame that they’re not as consistent in quality as other aspects of the game, and that the tedium of some puzzles borderlines on intrusive.

In death we find truth.

In death we find truth.

Breaking away from the puzzle and interactive focused gameplay are, as expected from an interactive graphic adventure, the animated story sequences and written dialogue. Unlike the hit-and-miss puzzles, this is one area of Ghost Trick that hits the ground running and never stops. Simply put, the story is absolutely delightful. A huge line-up of colourful and lovable characters populate this tale, from groovy detectives to talking dogs, and their well localised written dialogue is chock full of identity. Best of all, each of these characters is seamlessly interwoven into the core story, and not once does it feel like their presence is forcefully shoehorned into a plot twist or development, nor does it ever seem like there are too many characters to keep track of.

Just like the characters, the overarching story is too a joy to follow. Outside of one or two chapters where the plot developments lull, the story is consistently engaging and interesting, loaded with plenty of unpredictable twists and revelations that seem totally reasonable within the context of the game. Having each character’s importance to the story and their interwoven relationships revealed as the game progresses never gets tiring, and the writing always makes sure to keep players guessing right up until the end. Particular praise needs to be given to the story for finding a comfortable balance between rather grim subject matter, from murders to executions, and genuinely humorous dialogue and events that often play on the subject of death without ever dipping into the overly morbid.

Finally a game that appreciates the magnificent art of chicken.

Finally a game that appreciates the magnificent art of chicken.

However, as good as the story may be, it is the character animations and game presentation that truly steals the show. Simply put, Ghost Trick features some of the most lively and beautiful character animations on the DS platform, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the game has some of the most impressive presentation work in the whole graphic adventure genre. Watching characters smoothly and lively animate, interacting with the environment and one another, is just as enjoyable as reading their dialogue, and adds a considerable degree of character to their personas, resulting in an attention to detail that significantly outshines the often clunky and static animation work that exists in so many other games from the same genre.

Musically, each character has a unique theme to fit their personality, each environment usually comes with smooth background music, and shifts in gameplay, such as relaxed moments to timed puzzle solving, are accompanied by their own individual tunes. Overall, the sound work might not reach the truly impressive highs of the graphical presentation, but is consistently fitting to scenarios and characters, and more often than not quite catchy and memorable.

Every night is doughnut night.

Every night is doughnut night.

Ultimately, Ghost Trick is a brilliant addition to a genre that has, over the past few years, seen an explosion of quality content on the Nintendo DS. It doesn’t necessarily break a whole lot of new ground, and occasionally slips in quality thanks to some questionable puzzle design, but the sum total of elements makes for a notably impressive package. In the world of graphic adventure games, the likes of story, characters, dialogue and presentation are arguably the most important of all. These are the reasons many are drawn to these kinds of games, and it is in those areas that Ghost Trick is deserving of great praise.

Shu Takumi has delivered another memorable adventure more than worth the price of admission. Plus hey, who doesn’t want to be a crime solving ghost detective who’s best friend is a talking lamp?
The Score
Graphic adventure fans would be drop dead crazy to let this this fantastic adventure pass. Pun intended. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
on about chapter 4. Amazing game so far
3 years ago
I'd have to play the game, but I'm pretty sure the timed puzzles would make me quit the game, I've never liked them in other Adventure games (one is actually the reason I haven't finished Blade Runner), can't see me liking them now. They are the worst idea in an Adventure ESPECIALLY when there's no clear cut way to complete them and it's just trial and error, that's the worst game design.
3 years ago
I finished this the other day; loved it and loved the twist.
3 years ago
Great review Jarrod. I just finished this game last night(4:30am!), its damn, damn good.

"Its me.... MISSILE!!!"

Probably the greatest and most ridiculously likable character ever in a video game! Made me want a Pomeranian.
3 years ago
I'm 10 chapters in, having just finished
Spoiler wrote
saving the minister
and I haven't had too many problems with "trial and error" game logic.

I did have to do quite a few restarts, but I generally realised where I went wrong and what I had to do to proceed without tricking anything or going "well that was a load of crap" (notable exception being
Spoiler wrote
breaking Jowd out of prison, "herp derp I can climb into the ceiling, also saving the minister had a couple of moments of bullshit").
Yeah, was crap at times, but for the most part I found it entirely logical.

You did notice that the possessed object's actions were listed on the top screen, right? Maybe it's just a difference in the way we think?
3 years ago
Oi! Put spoiler warnings on if you're gonna comment on the review of a game you're half way through!

Anyway, this looks good. Might go over and pick it up.
3 years ago
Looks great. I'm definitely getting it, as I loved the Phoenix Wright games.
3 years ago
Does anybody have any idea about WHERE I might find this game? Can't locate it on any store shelves in Melbourne. Starting to become annoyed!
3 years ago
Michael Kontoudis wrote
Does anybody have any idea about WHERE I might find this game? Can't locate it on any store shelves in Melbourne. Starting to become annoyed!
I bought mine from Axelmusic.com.
Ozgameshop sell them too.

If you can't buy from overseas for whatever reason, PM me and I can help help you out. I have far too much money in Paypal.
3 years ago
Wait, did anyone remember in chapter 15 how when The Manipulator entered the Ghost World that he could see Sissel and Missile? And when he saw their spirits he killed the detective and you lost the level?
How come he didn't see them after he was shot by Cabanela? He very obviously possessed the step ladder thing, moved it, then re-possessed Sissel's body. Which means he went into the ghost world right in front of Sissel and Missile and didn't notice them there at all.


(Hurrah for no spoilers too)
3 years ago
@Esposch: ....don't know what your talking about, are you talking about Missile? I LOVE ME SOME MISSILE!
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/06/2010 (Provisional)
Year Made:

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