I can finally add another game to the short list of video games I’ve actually beaten — Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective! (Do yourself a favor and try NOT to look this up on Wikipedia and spoil yourself.) A good friend recommended this mystery/puzzle game for the Nintendo DS a few months ago. You play from the perspective of a man named Sissel who was apparently shot dead just moments ago and has become a ghost. The freshly deceased Sissel has no memories of who he was or why he was murdered. He learns that as a ghost, he has special powers that allow him to interact with the real world in certain ways. Sissel also has the ability to turn back time to four minutes before a person’s death where he can use his new “ghost tricks” to manipulate objects to try and change the victim’s fate. Sissel’s goal is to solve the mysteries of his identity and his murder before his soul disappears at dawn.
The gameplay mechanic of Ghost Trick involves possessing different inanimate objects and animating them. You might open an umbrella for example, or roll a ball across the room. The “puzzle” of each scene is to observe what the characters do at different moments and determine which objects need to be activated in order to change the outcome of the scenario. This can include distracting characters with sudden noises or movements, getting key objects within a character’s line of sight, or even setting up elaborate Rube Goldberg machines to achieve your goal.
But in my opinion, this game isn’t really about the gameplay. The puzzles of what to do in each scene aren’t particularly challenging (your options are fairly limited) or satisfying, and the narrative takes up a disproportionate amount of the game. If you’re looking for a game to “play,” you’ll just find yourself getting frustrated as you tap tediously through the dialogue and then fly through the actual gameplay.
What this game is about is storytelling, and it might best be approached as an interactive story rather than a game. The characters are quirky and extremely likable, the dialogue is fresh and fun, the mystery is complex and very compelling, and the story is heartwarming. This is all complemented by the punchy art style and expressive animation (which is so fun to watch, you almost don’t need another reason to check out the game).
So why is Ghost Trick a video game and not a movie or novel? I asked myself this question several times as I played through, and by the end I had come to the conclusion that a video game is the best format for telling Ghost Trick‘s story. The visuals make crystal clear what would be a very confusing jump between the game’s 30 different characters in written form, while Sissel’s lack of a physical form and possession of objects would have been difficult to portray on film. And I don’t think the ghost trick actions would really make sense in any non-interactive format.
If you’re interested in a fun and entertaining (but still thought-provoking) mystery story with interactive elements, definitely give Ghost Trick a try! It’s available on Nintendo DS and iOS devices.