[Overlooked Gems is a new series where we discuss excellentgames that have been forgotten by time, given an unfairly low amount of mediaattention, bombed in sales, or anything else of the sort. Since it’s the seasonof Halloween, I figured that I’d start with a game about a ghost.]
The time is 7:02on a cold winter’s night. The place, ajunkyard. An unfamiliar woman is looking down the barrel of an assassin’sshotgun. And where are you? Why, you’redead, of course. So begins the talerecounted in Ghost Trick, a Capcomadventure game released in January of this year on the Nintendo DS. Over the course of this fateful night, youwill encounter a stable of colorful characters in the process of unwinding themystery of your identity. However, there is an even greater mystery: Why didnobody buy this game?
Even though you are dead, despair not! For with greattragedy come great powers: ghost tricks. Jumping short distances between objects in the red-tinted spirit world,you return to the world of the living to manipulate said objects- but wait,there’s more! By possessing a corpse,you turn back time to four minutes before death, and use your powers to solvepuzzles. If you do it right, the deathis prevented and you return to a new future. If not, there’s always a resetbutton. Although starting off verysimple, these puzzles soon grow to become more and more complex, creative, andfun. In the final quarter or so of thegame, an incredibly spoiler-ish new hook is added to the gameplay that adds anew and interesting angle to the following puzzles.
An ability that becomes important very early in the game isthat of traveling through telephone lines- once you listen in on a call, youhave each number in a sort of virtual phonebook. The best part is that, barring a few selectnumbers, every phone is available to travel to when not trying to solve adeath. It’s not necessary, but I foundit fun to check in on everybody I had previously met as soon as possible ineach chapter- it adds a great feeling of depth to the world.
While the puzzles are very creative, a downside is that theyare also very linear: there is always only one solution, and one solutiononly. In addition to that, there’s oftena bit of hand-holding that goes along with the puzzles. However, as gameplay complaints go, those areit. The clever design and not-too-hard,not-too-easy difficulty kept throughout keep those complaints from beinganything more than minor quibbles.
Now, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to go on this questwithout a story, and what a story there is! Remember how you’re dead? There’sone more problem: you have no idea who you are, and you only have until morningto figure out your true identity. As yougo about this quest, you interact with a whole host of characters, comingacross a plethora of plotlines that wrap together tightly by the end of thegame.
Because of this, expect a large amount of dialogue. In some places, a large amount of dialog wouldbe unwelcome, but it fits right in with an adventure game such as this. The writing is both natural and witty, andI’ve found quite a few laugh-out-loud moments within the confines of the game.Not only is the writing funny, but there’s also a scattering of in-game momentswhere the game’s slightly off-kilter sense of humor shows.
Now, the characters are some of the things set the gameapart. Evvery major player in this storyhas a distinct personality that shines through their every aspect and makesthem endearing. There’s Cabanela, thefabulous dancing detective, a flyer-handing loon trying to prevent thedestruction of a park, and Missile, everybody’s favorite “top Pomeranian.” Eachcharacter speaks just as much through their animation as they do theirheadshots and dialogue; the animation is expressive to the point that characteranimation can almost instantly tell you what the character is like.
On the subject of animation and character design, there isonly one adjective to use: beautiful. Characters and objects move with incredible fluidity, especially amazingwhen the constraints of the Nintendo DS are taken into account. The designs themselves are striking, stylish,and memorable. From the white coat andred scarf of Cabanela to the dark suit and blue faces of the foreigners, eachperson cuts a unique silhouette, filled in by a spectacular anime-esque drawingstyle. The colors used are almost alwaysvery bold, and often bright, giving the game a look close to cell shading. The world around the characters is just ascolorful and well-crafted, full of tiny details.
The final aspect of the game, and definitely not the least,is the music. The above trailer showsmany of the things mentioned before, but the way it really sold me on the gamewas through the music. With a distinctmusical style, the game carries a variety of tunes. The main character themes are fantasticallycrafted, and fit their recipients perfectly. The music from this game is not only excellent, but it also serves toperfectly add urgency and weight to many situations, especially near the end.
Now that it has been established that Ghost Trick is, in fact, a fantastic game, there’s just onequestion to answer: why didn’t it sell?
The worst part about GhostTrick’s failure to move copies was that it was met with almost universalacclaim. The reactions of critics andconsumers were overwhelmingly positive, and I haven’t met a single person whodidn’t love, or at least enjoy the game. The real problem lies with the way that the game was covered. Outside of a few sites such as Destructoid,very few gave the game much coverage outside of previews, a news story or two,and the review. Because of this, notmany people had the game in the front of their minds. An even worse offense is on the part ofCapcom. Very little was done to promotethe game, and when it came out, it was almost impossible to find. Once I had my mind set on buying it, I had tosearch all over before I finally gave up and went to the out of the way localGamestop. According to some others I’vebeen in contact with, I’m not the only one who has had this problem. This severe lack of supply and availabilitywas probably one of the final nails in the coffin of Ghost Trick’s sales. Quite apity, too.
I didn’t write this to complain about the way Ghost Trick sold poorly. I didn’t write this just to review it,either. Instead, I wrote this simply totell you about a great game that you may have missed. If you have, I highly urge you to go out andbuy it. You won’t regret it.