I recently wrote about coming to the 3DS ten years late and how much I love it now, but the decision to choose it in the first place was motivated by my desire to play just one game. I am a well known Ace Attorney fan since I played the trilogy collection in 2019. I wasted no time getting my hands on the other games, and it has become my favorite game series very quickly.
This led people to tell me about Ghost Trick, designed and written by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi. Ghost Trick, my friends would say, is not just a good game or a great game, it is one of the best. Almost flawless. By nature, that would make me suspicious, but when I was finally able to play Ghost Trick on a borrowed 3DS, I was fascinated.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective tells the story of Sissel, who wakes up in a junkyard only to find that he is dead, which is made evident by his body lying on the ground in front of him, ass up (a scene which became the fantastic cover of the game). Just seconds after this shocking discovery, he comes across a desk lamp that tells him to save a young girl from certain death at the hands of a murderer, after she has already died. To do so, you can own different elements: at first I own a bicycle to guide it along a power line by its handles. It’s too risky to say more about Ghost Trick without spoiling it, but if you’re not intrigued by the prospect of, and I have to repeat myself, going back in time to undo a death like a bicycle, I don’t. I know what to tell you This is not even the most ridiculous thing that happens in this game.
Ghost Trick made me think about the commonalities between Shu Takumi’s games. After all, people were absolutely sure that I, an Ace Attorney fan, would like Ghost Trick, and this idea had to go beyond the fact that they were both created by the same person. Something that comes from the same developer does not guarantee that you like it. I think it’s fair to call both games comedy games, in the way that they are intentionally funny.
But for me, comedy games are not the same. Point-and-click comedy games, or any game inspired by LucasArts legacy, create comedy by pointing out their ridiculousness to the player. Characters will recognize that their actions, other characters around them, even the entire setting, are inherently strange. Then there are games like Saints Row or Borderlands, where the character recognizes the comedy, but is also a part of it, resulting in a kind of supercharged mood. Most games are inherently ridiculous. That’s partly where the discussion about the narrative responsibilities of games comes from: if I acknowledge that nothing in a game is real and that everything is comically exaggerated, should references to real-life people and events really matter? (The answer is yes, by the way, but that’s a different article.) Games immerse you in fantastic worlds and hope to immerse you by taking even the most unlikely circumstances very seriously.
Ghost Trick and Ace Attorney fall into a category of their own: They acknowledge the ridiculousness of their set-up in LucasArts’ deadpan style, but they also take it very, very seriously. They’re incredibly serious and full of high-tension moments where you have to decide matters of life and death, and you defuse those situations with a pair of headphones or by calling a parrot to the stand.
This approach creates a fun paradox: By all accounts, you have to be prepared for something ridiculous and unpredictable to happen, but you’re still in shock. In Ghost Trick, Takumi does not solve mysteries with a deus ex machina, a sudden device hitherto unknown to you, which he has placed on the scene, ready to reveal its meaning when the time comes. The whole story is a bunch of threads that will eventually connect, even by very incredible means, and that made me feel like coming up with something so unlikely you could never guess is as great a feat, if not more, than to come. with a plausible explanation for a shocking revelation.
Even more than Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick anchors certain mechanical restrictions in his narrative, making it strangely believable: Ghosts can traverse phone lines, for example, but only if those phones have electricity, a restriction that naturally limits their playing area. Many things are too heavy for ghosts to move because … they are heavy and would already be difficult for people with bodily bodies to move. Little rules like that make the gaming experience more interesting. This basically comes down to finding a way to get around a room by owning items, but it also makes sense. And that’s even without thinking about the effort he must have put into designing rooms and the elements within them from a ghost’s perspective: what elements don’t feel out of place in an interior, and if I were a ghost, constrained by the pop- culturally well established fact that I can only move things a few inches, how would I use them? The thought processes behind Ghost Trick’s design decisions are so thorough.
Speaking of ridiculous, we have to mention the Ghost Trick animations. The characters were created in 3D, then rendered in 2D sprites, and I haven’t seen anything quite as fluid as this before. Shu Takumi has said that the clearly cartoonish way the characters move is, of course, intentional, like the little Michael Jackson dance that Inspector Cabanela does when he walks into a scene, or the way the Attorney General He tries eagerly to retrieve the telephone receiver after being surprised. According to Takumi, animating in this way can elevate games above actual performances, as these are actions that feel more natural in an essentially made-up space.
Many games go a different path: Watchdogs: legion offers you hyper-realistic London to inhabit like grandmothers who beat people with their bags, in Yakuza I hit the gangsters near the chicken skewer stand in Osaka that I used to visit. on the weekends. These games embody the strange thrill of doing something forbidden in what appears to be a real place. Yakuza is actually similar to Ghost Trick in the way it employs comedy: Kiryu, more so than Yakuza: Like A Dragon, the protagonist of Ichiban, will acknowledge being asked to do strange things, then do it anyway, and with taste.
There’s a certain magic to that approach: Ghost Trick made me want to believe in ghosts, simply because it made believing seem so easy. It didn’t give me a hero that exists in a period of time that I know of or, indeed, anything else that existed, but it made something incredible seem believable. Perhaps I am surrounded by forces that I cannot see that are trying to help in small ways, just like the people I can see. It’s a pretty fantasy, born of me playing a game that doesn’t shy away from simply asking “what if?”