Ghost Trick

Video game, 2010

As a big fan of the Ace Attorney series of games, I’ve looked forward to playing Ghost Trick, a new property by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi, for a long time. And it was quite a while into playing Ghost Trick that I was still viewing it through the prism of Ace Attorney. There are a lot of reasons for this beyond the fact that they have the same creator. Not the least of which is because they are both the same type of unique game. A “visual novel” (which is, let’s be honest, just another way of saying “comic book”). What this means is that for the vast majority of the time you’re playing Ghost Trick, you’re simply reading. The beauty of this genre, or perhaps just the way Takimi treats it, is the way it marries story and gameplay. Only by paying attention to the story, and anticipating the story, can you determine the correct course of action. Many people find this unappealing, preferring the arcade style thrills of Mario Kart, Fruit Ninja, or Call of Duty. That’s fine. Although those things make a fine distraction, there’s nothing like a good story. And that’s not to say that there’s nothing visceral about Takumi’s games. The man knows how to dole out clues to a mystery better than JJ Abrams ever will. The answers, and new questions, you’re given are paced out at near perfect intervals. Close enough in proximity to each other to be rewarding, and not so far apart that it feels artificially lengthened. Okay, the third act may be guilty of that. And the beginning of the game holds your hand for way too long. But! For the most part you’re following a loose trail of crumbs, realizing where it leads right along with the protagonist. This, combined with crazy characters and unique dialogue-centered sound effects, are the tantalizing special sauce on Takumi’s works. (Sample dialogue: “Fool! Don’t you know women are can make themselves appear thin through fashion! To this day I still don’t know how much my wife really weighs!”)

But all of this could be said about Ace Attorney as well. And while Ghost Trick doesn’t have the “crazy Japanese lawyer” weapon in its arsenal (a tough gimmick to top, to be sure), it does have a number of strong qualities that has me seriously considering if it’s even better. Most notable is the art. The totally unique, lush animation is striking from the moment you see it, and a pleasure to drink in for the entire length of the game.

In addition to differentiating itself from Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick actually improves on its predecessor’s formula in a number of ways. One shift that I really appreciated is from the court room to the scene of the crime itself, and in progress at that. The fact that you’re present at the time the crime itself is being committed gives the proceedings a sense of urgency, excitement, and danger that Ace Attorney’s sterile courtroom setting just can’t compete with. Ghost Trick also magnifies Ace Attorney’s dichotomy of dark themes wrapped in a silly package. Death, although it rarely ends up sticking, is a real thing in Ghost Trick. The fact that you’re seeing it happen to excitable, talking Pomeranians and big, chicken-loving galoots only makes it more disturbing.

Ghost Trick’s biggest problem is the video game cardinal sin of making players sit through the same dialogue tree multiple times, although its interface attempts to circumvent this. Tough to avoid for a video game that most of what you do is read and involves time travel. This is likely to make it even less appealing to people turned off by its basic mechanics.

I’m most interested in Ghost Trick as a feat of storytelling. Regardless of the story itself, which is practically beside the point, I’m interested in the ways it tells its story. I think Takumi is a master of finding fresh, vital ways to make his stories engaging, and I’m endlessly entertained by them.

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