Ghost Trick is what you’d get if the film Ghost met Groundhog Day. Directed by the creator of the Ace Attorney Franchise, Shu Takumi, Ghost Trick makes death a puzzle you can play over and over a la Edge of Tomorrow. The core mystery at the heart of the game is your main character’s death. Who killed the red-suited Sissel right before the beginning of the game and why?
A Dashing Enigma
“A dead guy and a detective joined forces to find out the truth behind them both,” sums up much of the story. Divided into eighteen chapter with a colorful cast, the fates of all the characters are interlinked and one bad decision has had a ripple effect across ten years in multiple people’s lives.
What makes Ghost Trick so unique is that it takes what would normally be a horror themed element, that of ghostly possessions, and turns it into a core game mechanic. Sissel can take possession of objects and interact with them to perform his eponymous “ghost trick.” Through these interactions, Sissel engages in puzzles that are like one massive Rube Goldberg machine, usually with the intent of saving someone’s life. Sissel’s physical reach is limited, so that many times, getting to the right position is the key to solving a puzzle. This means engaging with the environment and using random objects to move Sissel. It’s fascinating how the combination of opening a drawer, turning on a fan, or moving a cart can drastically change a person’s fate.
There’s a lot of super complicated deaths in the game, whether it’s Detective Lynne getting crushed by a massive chicken after a police officer crashes into the restaurant when the bug he’s listening to goes haywire, or the minister of justice dying from a heart attack because he gets a threatening phone call about his daughter but can’t reach his medication in time. Fortunately, Sissel can rewind time to four minutes before someone’s death, at which point he can watch what happened, repeat, and try to avert their fate. Thought bubbles give clues as to what he should do next and the game is generous with its continues as Sissel can repeat a sequence as many times as he wants. He also has the ability to jump to different areas by tracing phone calls.
The gameplay is a bit linear as there’s only one road to averting death. For example, in the sequence where you have to save the Minister of Justice from his heart attack, Sissel has to make sure to possess the jug of water, jump to the ceiling fan when the minister raises it to his head. “Ghost tricking” the fan causes papers on his desk to get loose and fly away, which Sissel has to possess at the right time, or else he’ll miss the opportunity to get to the right spot. From there, a combination of getting a globe on a suit of armor while dropping a plank and bottle in right order to make sure the armor can hit the medicine bottle back to the minister was one of the parts I struggled with most because it demanded so much precision.
Then again, no one said being a ghost is easy.
Fortunately, the music is awesome and makes each sequence a joy to play. The animations perfectly convey each character’s personality, whether it’s the breakdancing Inspector Cabanela, the chillingly calculated assassins trying to take out Lynne, and the quirky guitar player and curry connoisseur in the prison. The controls feel intuitive and each chapter provides impactful plot twists that had me hooked. I couldn’t wait to find out what in the world was going on, both from a supernatural perspective and from a whodunit one as well.
All of their lives seem unconnected at first, so it’s fascinating to explore how tenuous the thread is that links them. Sissel, who at first seems like the only thing he cares about is solving his own mystery, grows throughout the game and realizes there’s more at stake than questions about his own identity. He helps people who’ve lost hope, like Jowd, a police officer who’s to be executed that night as he’s been accused of killing his wife. Detective Lynne is convinced Jowd is innocent and proving that is a big part of the narrative.
Each of the characters carries the burden of an unspeakable sorrow, dug out by Sissel’s ability to jump into their brain. One movable object made stationary, one immoveable feast moved, and the trajectories of their lives are changed. The ghost’s impact is subtle, an accumulation of seemingly minor events, resulting in a surprisingly big culmination that pries loose confessions. That sort of power is enough to even get another nation’s governments involved, while seemingly trivial decisions open up routes that have massive ramifications and result in literal life or death.
The game can be grim with its murders, but with repetition, the murders feel more and more surreal. Detective Lynne, who is the first person who Sissel saves, gets killed multiple times, to the point where she kids about it and her spirit is excited to uncover the truth behind her many deaths. Animals aren’t spared either, though they have more agency to change their fate than many of the humans.
The overfriendly pomeranian, Missile, becomes a playable character after gaining a whole different suite of ghost tricks. It doubles the ghost tricking possibilities as you jump between the characters. These interlinked sequences are some of the best, and also frustrating, parts, as I tried to figure out what order I needed to carry out the tricks. Escaping a sinking submarine while jumping between Sissel and Missile and also rescuing two people was one of the most tensely clever sequences in Ghost Trick.
While the ultimate explanation for the supernatural powers gets a scientific explanation I didn’t feel the game needed, the twisted labyrinth of how each of the character’s metaphorically ghost tricked each other’s life into its current form was fascinating. Inspector Cabanela accused an innocent man, Yomiel, of a crime he didn’t commit. This man, in his desperation, escaped to a park where a young girl happened to be playing. Another detective, Jowd, pursued Yomiel. That young girl, Lynne, has her life saved by a meteorite that kills Yomiel but also grants him supernatural powers. And so on until we find out that the Sissel isn’t who we think he is and you’re part of a decade long time cycle involving a ghostly lamp and a regret that unexpectedly haunts one of the characters involved.
While the meteor may have fueled some of the powers involved, it’s how the characters obstinately seek for an elusive truth that helps the convoluted tragedy unravel. In the end, each of them finds a peace to put their ghosts to rest, one trinket at a time.