With Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens less than four months away you can’t throw an IP packet on the Internet without hitting an article or video on the movie. That is a fairly impressive longevity for a series whose first movie came out thirty-eight years ago. The cultural impact of the series is undeniable. If you ask people what films were written by George Lucas, then Star Wars and Indiana Jones will surely come up on most everyone’s list. But I have a fondness for Willow, which he also wrote, and has largely been forgotten by all but a small group of fantasy fans. I think that while Willow might be a flawed movie it still deserves to be remembered. Just because a creator is popular does not mean all of his works get an equal amount of attention. It turns out that even if a work is excellent, a rising tide does not raise all ships.
When you go to Waku Waku +NYC I’m sure a good deal of you are going to ask Keiji Inafune about one of four things: Mighty No. 9, Red Ash, Kickstarter, or Mega Man. In many ways those projects can be seen as his Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I feel that Keiji Inafune has a Willow under his belt. That is when he was the Executive Producer on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. So after you played the Mighty No. 9 demo and got your Red Ash questions out of the way, you might want to ask him about this overlooked classic.
The plot of Ghost Trick revolves around the recently deceased Sissel. He dies in the middle of the night and it seems to have scrambled his brains, so he can remember his murder but the “who, what, when, where, and why” have vanished from his memory. In fact he can’t recall much about himself other than his name. He quickly learns from another ghost that he has until sunrise to find out who killed him and why. As a ghost Sissel has three main powers: The ability to possess inanimate objects and manipulate them, the power to possess corpses, and ability to travel back in time four minutes in hopes of saving anyone he has possessed. He then has to use this tool set to save others and learn the truth of both his life and death.
The interesting limitation is that, being a weak ghost, Sissel can’t jump too far. This means he has to jump from object to object to save the last person he leaped into like he was Dr. Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. A simple example of a puzzle in Ghost Trick might be saving someone from being killed by a bowling ball. The bowling ball is on a high shelf so it is too far away to interact with directly. Sissel might start by jumping to a power cord for an air conditioner. He then turns on the air conditioner to open up an umbrella. He can jump into that umbrella and then bump into a jar full of marbles which knocks it over. He can then jump from the rolling marble to a precariously placed bust. Then if he times the fall of the bust correctly it can hit into the bowling ball so it does not hit the person he is trying to save. If he goes down a dead-end path or misses the timing of any of the chain he can rewind time and try again. This leads to Sissel creating complex Rube Goldberg devices to save the people capable of discovering what happened to him.
You thought Sam Wheat had it hard.
I think the game has a triumvirate of strengths that really made it stand out. First of all, the writing was fantastic. It had some really snappy dialog, vibrant characters, and some amazing plot twists I would never dare spoil. Suffice it to say, the journey (especially the ending) is well worth the trip. The second was a very innovate set of gameplay mechanics. The puzzles really take advantage of the very unique but intuitive power set of our poor ghost. It makes the game feel very fresh and special. Lastly, it just has colorful and fluid animation. The bright colors, memorable character designs, and expressive rotoscoping make the game striking and impossible to forget. It is a powerful combination that really makes it a game that stand alone in the best way possible.
Much like Willow I feel Ghost Trick never got its time to shine despite the fact there was so much to love about both of them. Then again, who knows? As Mighty No. 9 has shown us, the world of Kickstarters has opened up a new avenue for neglected and overlooked ideas. Maybe Ghost Trick will get the second chance it deserves.
Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!