Why ‘Ghost Trick’ Is the First Game I’ve Finished in 2017

It’s not new, it is clever, and it’s held off ‘Yakuza 0’ and ‘Resident Evil 7’ for my game time.

by Mike Diver
Feb 2 2017, 8:00pm

January was pretty great for new video games. Gravity Rush 2, Resident Evil 7 and Yakuza 0 represented the big three, I suppose, and I've at least started all of them. Of the trio, it's Capcom's newly suited and sort-of-rebooted survival horror release that I've gotten furthest into the guts of—I'm a few scares from the end, but I can feel it approaching, with more menace than a balding beer-gut swinging a shovel.

But I have (started and) finished one game in 2017. And it's a Capcom title, too, albeit a very different one from the chills (and occasional chuckles) of last month's Louisiana-set fright-fest.

At the end of 2016 I finally wrapped up the point-and-prod puzzler Hotel Dusk: Room 215, on the DS (as played on my 3DS—what a wonderful time machine Nintendo's handheld can be). I'd been slacking, paying it little attention, distracted through the year by Persona 4 Golden on my other portable platform of choice. My 3DS got a little lonely, rather unloved in comparison to its shinier Sony cousin-cum-competitor. 

But this year, I'm resolving to press on with the many DS titles I've bought but never played over the past few years—starting with Ghost Trick. And what a terrific game it is to start a year of reDScovery with. (And no, I make no apologies for that kind of wordplay. I'm British. We're raised this way.)

This is Lynne. You'll be seeing a lot of Lynne. Sometimes she's well. Other times, not so much. All art courtesy of Capcom.

In short, 2011's Ghost Trick (released on iOS a year later) is a puzzle game where you, playing the spirit of a deceased [redacted for spoilers], move from object to object as the living move around you, sometimes manipulating said things so as to cause a reaction. This could be to alter the path of a bullet, encourage an imprisoned rock star to stick an "all clear" note down a prison lavatory, or drop a chandelier on an erotic fiction writer.

Later, more impressive powers, possessed by other (equally deceased) characters, come into play. But for the most part, you're restricted to short-distance transitions between positions and basic on/off interactions with car alarms, suitcase locks, desktop lamps and the like. Your character—red suit, ridiculous hair—can time travel, too, back four minutes from any other character's moment of death, in order to alter events and avoid that outcome. Constantly, progress is achieved as much through going backwards on the spot as it is forwards onto an all-new scene of intrigue.

It's not how the game plays that kept me hooked, though, but its surprisingly complex and compelling story. I'd play it on the go, of course, but also at home. In those rare hours between coming in through the door and crashing into bed, I wasn't firing up the PS4 to explore more of Kamurocho's family-friendly and rather-less-savoury attractions in Yakuza 0. Rather, I was flipping my 3DS open again and picking up where I'd left off on disembarking the train.

I so rarely finish games, but Ghost Trick snagged me. If I was playing something else, I was thinking about where I'd left it, and how high the stakes had become.

Because, let me tell you, Ghost Trick tells one heck of a tall tale, as unbelievable of exaggerated characters as it is uncommonly affecting at its core. It is, essentially, an anime-styled point-and-click-ish twist on the plot of the Patrick Swayze-starring Ghost. Your character begins the game having just been shot, murdered, and immediately sets about finding out what's happened. Who killed him, why, and while we're at it: Just who is he, anyway? Along the way, he becomes a caring, protective presence for a young detective, Lynne, keeping her safe when he can, and undoing tragedy when it's already caught up to her.

From a junkyard laboratory to a sinister submarine, via crazy conspiracies and crashed meteors, lost children and hyperactive Pomeranians, there's so much at play in the plot that keeping up can be a task. Which is why you don't put the game down for too long, so as to never lose touch with where any particular thread is heading. Do so, and the game's power is compromised. The puzzle side remains excellent, but without meaning, your ghostly moves are just parlour tricks.

That such an eccentric collision of story elements not only mostly coalesce, but come together in a manner that has you genuinely caring about the outcomes of these (so wonderfully animated) 2D characters, is incredible to behold. I never saw so many of its twists coming; but when they did, and the dust had settled, every new development fitted perfectly into the established facts. Come the end, I felt the slightest lump in my throat. Which I was not expecting from a game that presents itself, on its box, as a puzzler first and foremost, and an emotions-tickling adventure as an afterthought.

This is Missile. You'll like Missile. You can't not like Missile. And more than that, you'll need his unique abilities to finish the game.

The game's director, Shu Takumi, is best known for the Ace Attorney series. Now, I've not played too many of those games—I'm still only the one case into 2016's Spirit of Justice, which didn't even directly involve the series creator himself. But I'd be amazed if any of them resonate with me quite like this, creating what I suspect will be forever memories of my playthrough across the past few weeks.

Perhaps it's because of the parent-and-child(-like) relationship that develops as the chapters tick by, something I can easily relate to (because, y'know, dad stuff). Maybe it's the unshakable enthusiasm of a supporting character—oh sod it, spoilers, it's the dog, Missile, who's amazing—that keeps me smiling through the game's (threatening to be) bleakest passages. It could be that so-smooth animation, evoking memories of Delphine Software in its prime, which keeps me tapping away with my stylus. Whatever the secret ingredient of Ghost Trick, or multiples thereof, it worked.

I so rarely finish games. Something else comes along, and moves the game I was playing to one side. Repeat two or three dozen times across a year, and so accumulates a snapshot of my own so-called pile of shame. My games cupboard is the very picture of the incomplete many beside the seen-through few. Ghost Trick snagged me, though, and how. If I was playing something else, I was thinking about where I'd left it, and how high the stakes had become.

Portability and practicality were factors, of course—no need to wait for the wife's shows to finish on the TV before playing. But more than that, it's just a fantastic video game that both revels in its medium, presenting interactive entertainment that can only exist in this format, and layering on top a surprising, touching, unique story that knots and stretches and takes wild leaps into the unlikely, but never comes undone. Even right at the end, when it's revealed that [definitely redacted for spoilers].

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