There are a handful of games that I find it difficult to talk about, because my calm, collected journalist demeanour gets overtaken by my extremely over-enthusiastic inner fan.
I can’t tell you how much I adore Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, because I’ll legitimately get too emotional about how utterly brilliant it is, and if you ask me to tell you about the Glitzville chapter, I might cry. You could pay me One Thousand British Pounds to give a talk on how Fantasy Life is a game so exceedingly wonderful that it’s an actual crime against humanity that it’ll never have a true sequel, and I’d have to give you a refund because I’m too busy banging on Level-5’s door and pleading with them to sign my petition for Fantasy Life 2.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is also one of those games. I can’t put into words how much joy this game brings me. And now it’s on iOS, so that means I get to play it again, and my partner is going to have to deal with me sobbing over the animations and the existence of Missile the dog for the next couple of weeks. But, nevertheless, here I am, writing a Memory Pak on the first time I played Ghost Trick. Wish me luck.
(Please imagine one of those wiggly dream transitions here. I can’t add those to an article because it is made of words and apparently we don’t “have the budget” to make the words wiggly, and also “that’s not possible, Kate, please stop asking”.)
The year was 2011, and I was at university in the south of England. It was my first time living away from home, and I was an irresponsible young idiot with a student maintenance loan and absolutely zero sense. And there was an HMV just fifteen minutes’ walk from my flat. I would spend hours browsing its pitifully small game selection in the back corner, surrounded by rolled-up posters of the boy band du jour, trying to find something good to spend thirty quid on.
(I’d like to say I’m better with money these days, but my unplayed Steam backlog says otherwise.)
I spent so much at HMV that I ended up with something like ninety-thousand points (seriously) on my HMV loyalty card, which I promptly spent on a one-year subscription to Official Nintendo Magazine (which I would later end up working for, so I probably got my money back in a roundabout way). The lads at ONM would steer my purchasing decisions, just as my teenage subscription to Kerrang! would tell me which emo band to idolise. One fateful day, they reviewed Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi’s new game, Ghost Trick — and I was sold.
Thirty quid later, it was mine. I’d lie on my godawful prison-cot bed in my overpriced one-room student flat, tapping the tiny DS screen to direct Sissel, the ghost of the title, as he tried to figure out all the murders that kept happening.
Now, presumably, most people reading this have played Ghost Trick, because once you’ve played a game like Ghost Trick, you want to read other people talking about Ghost Trick. But, for those who haven’t: Ghost Trick is a detective-ish story-adventure game in which you wake up dead — but then find out that you can rewind time, possess objects, and interact with those objects to change the course of events. You end up using that power to save people (and one dog) from death, in order to unravel what happened to you — and who you are.
In true Shu Takumi style, the game is full of incredible plot, twists, turns, and, as I’ve already mentioned, Missile the dog, who was originally in Ace Attorney. More than that, though, Ghost Trick has a fantastic sense of style, which does impressive things even within the limits of the DS’s graphical capabilities. The animation is sharp, dynamic, and memorable, even ten years (oh my god) after its initial release. Hang on, let me grab a gif, because writing about animation is like dancing about architecture, as they say.
Every now and again, a game will come along with such a unique visual style that it seems obvious. Ghost Trick conveyed a lot with its goofy, expressive characters, and though some of its areas were busy with objects (they had to be, because jumping from object to object is the main mechanic) it never seemed cluttered or unreadable. Each scenario that Sissel has to solve is weird and wonderful, from a chapter set in a chicken-based restaurant with a dangerously heavy roast chicken chandelier to a complex stealth level set in a prison full of strange people. Every single level is a beautiful Rube Goldberg machine of chaos and surprise, and I want more.
Oh dear, I’ve reached the part where I’ve run out of ways to talk about how good this game is. I’ve used “incredible”, “fantastic”, and “impressive” already! That’s ALL the good words, and even then, they don’t accurately convey how this game left its stamp on my heart. You know when you start playing a game, or reading a book, and then when you look up, it’s suddenly two days later and you’ve been in a fugue state that whole time? That’s Ghost Trick for me.
Sometimes, you know when your life is forever changed. I’d love to say that Ghost Trick was one of those moments, but you know what? I didn’t even know what I had at the time. Sometimes, that realisation dawns on you, slowly, over the course of ten years, as you desperately try to recreate the feeling of the first time you ever played Ghost Trick. If I ever win the lottery, which would be pretty impressive considering that I’ve never bought a lottery ticket, then you can bet I’ll be giving all my money to Shu Takumi and his team, and begging him to just keep making games forever.
Is it cheating to say that the entirety of Ghost Trick is a formative gaming memory for me? Oh, probably. But I made Memory Pak up, so I can do whatever I like. I want everyone to experience the sublime perfection of Ghost Trick, and the rollercoaster drop you get after finishing it and realising that nothing, nothing will ever feel like that. At least, until Capcom can be convinced to make a Ghost Trick 2.