Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (2012)

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a cute little trick of a game with a fast pace and a charming story. I call it a “trick” because it stylishly disguises its actually fundamentally traditional point-and-click gameplay by way of its attractive visual style, which gives the impression of being a classic 2D action game, and a few features such as freezing time.

This game gets by on the strength of its plot and characters, both of which are first rate. It truly feels like a story someone wanted to tell, and a labour of love. Every character has life and feels unique and real. There is a central mystery at the heart of the story that continues to grow in scope and complexity, and continues to develop in satisfying ways. It keeps one hooked like an old fashioned serial.

The story begins with your character’s death. You quickly learn that the dead have special powers with which they can go back in time and save others recently departed. In the one night that your character will have in this world before he moves on to the next, he will hop from death to death, undoing them in the hope of learning his own identity and how and why he died this night. His story becomes tied in with the stories of others, and a bigger picture slowly emerges through many many twists and turns. The story rushes at breakneck speed, and is a lot of fun all the way through. It ends at just about the right time to keep us enchanted all the while, such that we did not even notice that the gameplay was not actually as innovative as it seemed (maybe just a little bit shorter would have helped with this).

Strongly recommended to adventure game fans. A gem.

Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

I think the Ace Attorney series is dead. The first three were great, the third being the high point, and the fourth (Apollo Justice) managed to squeak by with the help of a lot of innovation, but the 3DS entries are shambling corpses. This review will focus specifically on Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I’ll also be reviewing this game as a Phoenix Wright game rather than as a Professor Layton game, as I contend that this is what it truly is.

The Good

This title takes innovation to new heights, with new puzzle-solving gameplay and a bizarre fantasy setting. The setting is so weird and unprecedented in a Phoenix Wright game that it buys a little bit of interest with it. The story drags and doesn’t really start developing until right near the end, but when it finally does, it’s fairly interesting, and it actually left me with stuff to think about. Even the ending itself drags on for two or three twists longer than necessary though — one of which was so meaningless and superfluous it almost feels like a joke twist, if such a thing could be. (I’ll spoil it because it’s so stupid and unimportant — “A character has cancer!” and five minutes later, “Oh, it’s cured!” Just end your story, guys.)

The Bad

Sometimes you have to present evidence in court that does not contradict the witness’s testimony, but merely relates to it. This is also a problem I noted in Dual Destinies, and to me it destroys the fabric of the game. It’s like… what are we doing here. In Phoenix Wright, we present evidence that exposes contradictions. That’s what holds the whole game together. This is how you have to design your courtroom puzzles, else they’re not really puzzles, just guesses.

The Professor Layton-y non-courtroom puzzles are all very easy, with a few exceptions.

The Ugly

The characters. This is the deathblow. It’s the quirky characters that make these games memorable, and in this game they are all beyond terrible. This is especially the case with our central character, whose totally uninspired name “Espella Cantabella” pretty much tells you the story. Everything in the game hinges around her, and she has less than zero personality. I cannot think of a single character trait with which she could be described. The same holds true for the prosecutors and even Layton himself.  It just makes the game lifeless. None of these people are interesting in the least.

Also, the game oddly glorifies suicide. It occurs twice in the game and is invariably presented as something noble. Very strange and uncomfortable.

The Verdict

I can’t recommend this game to anyone. For a Phoenix Wright fan, it’s just too long, takes too long to get to the point, and isn’t entertaining enough along the way. For a Professor Layton fan, these puzzles won’t challenge you. I’d say give it a miss, but you might enjoy it for the story if you can tolerate very bland characters.