What would you do if you woke up one day to discover that you were dead? That's the basic premise behind Capcom's upcoming DS title, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Created by Shu Takumi, the same mind behind the popular Ace Attorney series, Ghost Trick is a noir-styled mystery that has you racing against time to save others as well as solve your own murder. You have to act fast because once the sun rises, your soul leaves this world forever.
As a member of the recently deceased, you have little memory of your past, but you can still see and hear what is going on in the land of the living. Your ability to interact with the world is limited. You can move an individual item here or there, but only by possessing it. You cannot interact with items directly, the way a living person can. The net result is that each level is a sort of puzzle, albeit puzzles that have more in common with fancy Rube Goldberg machines than traditional questions of logic.
For our demo, we got a look at the first level of the game, right after being murdered and passing into the afterlife. It seems that a pretty girl has stumbled upon our corpse and now Jeego, the nearsighted assassin with a shotgun, is going to kill her for getting in the way. Our first mission is to save her.
The initial tutorial went through the motions, showing us how the main character could lift a gate to knock back the assassin or distract him by causing noise with a violin. All was well and good for the first minute or so, but ultimately, Jeego won out and the girl was doomed. Ah, but not to worry, as there is one extra "ghost trick" that you have up the proverbial sleeve, and that is the ability to wind back time four minutes whenever you come across the recently deceased. Figure out how to save the person, and he or she can avoid death. Screw up and they still die, but since they are freshly dead, you can always rewind and try again.
Solving each puzzle is a matter of timing and knowing which item to use. In the early levels of the game, you will need to use most of the available items, but as things progress, more and more red herrings, or useless items, will be available on the play field. Sure, you can use them, but they won't actually be of assistance in solving the immediate puzzle.
You learn about the story through conversations and events that happen in the real world, but all of your core interaction is done in the ghost world. This red-hued environment makes it easy to see where you can — and can't — go, as well as reveals what action each item can perform. Your movement is restricted only by distance. Ghosts can jump from item to item, but they can't jump that far. In order to reach more distant items, you'll need to create a path. Urgency in the game is a result of the timer. When you rewind time, it doesn't stop; it keeps moving forward. This means that when you jump back four minutes, you have four minutes to figure out how to save whoever just died. Time passes whenever you are in the real world, but it pauses while you are in the ghost world.
As an example, the first real puzzle in the game had us start at a mannequin and then move to a fridge. From there, we open the fridge door, which results in a blender dropping out. We close the door and go to the blender. From there, it is a hopscotch over to the flag and then to a fan. We turn on the fan and quickly hop back to the blender before possessing the flag as it starts to raise up (and therefore catching a ride to the upper area). At that point, a bike is in reach, which leads to a lever that releases a wrecking ball. The wrecking ball is still too far away, so it's time to possess a ladder and move it next to the street light. From the light, it's up to the wrecking ball and then into the claw that is holding the wrecking ball. Finally, possessing the claw, we are able to open the claw that dropped the wrecking ball onto the assassin … and that is the simplest puzzle in the game.
Successfully saving someone from danger results in a "Fate Changed" message, which is akin to a checkpoint. The person in question may die again in the near future, but it will be because of a different danger. That just means another puzzle to solve.
We didn't get to delve very deep into the game or see the full cast of characters, but for a first look, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective has us intrigued. Because it is designed with the DS in mind, the game looks quite good on the small screen and makes excellent use of the stylus. How it ultimately performs will be dependent on the quality of the puzzles, though with Takumi-san at the helm, we're not too worried. He struck gold with Ace Attorney, and Ghost Trick looks like it is on track to be an engaging follow-up. Plan on entering the nether realm sometime this winter.
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