Allow me to simplify this review right away: Ghost Trick is designed and written by Shu Takumi, the creator of the Ace Attorney series. If that fact made you go “Ooooh” then Ghost trick is for you! If not, get a load of the following words in order to decide whether to buy this game or not.
At the start of Ghost Trick, you are dead. My condolences. But don't worry, you live on as a disembodied spirit! Having your consciousness suddenly ripped from your body has not done any wonders for your memory, which has vanished. As compensation, you can now move between inanimate objects and “trick” them, making them perform a simple poltergeist-style action. You can also contact the souls of the recently-dead and turn the clock back to 4 minutes before their death and contrive a way to prevent their demise, changing the present. This ability to save people from death provides a big chunk of the game’s puzzle solving situations, with the remainder filled with a quest to discover who you are and why you died before dawn breaks and your soul is dislodged from the physical word.
Ghost Trick shares many of the positive points you can attach to the Ace Attorney series, in particular the characters. All of the characters, even those who show up briefly, feel well realised and fully fleshed out - it is no overstatement to say that over the course of the game you come to empathise with them and become invested in their unfolding story. The story itself is similarly engaging - a well-told yarn spun out from the characters and setting that moves along at a decent clip, supplying gameplay in well metered doses.
One particular smart move the game makes is that the plot is broken down into manageable chunks - fifteen or so chapters with a well-defined objective. This is good for a portable title, where longer or more complex storylines tend to be forgotten in-between play sessions and can lead to confusion or abandonment of the game. The start and end of each chapter also provides a helpful “Previously on/next time on” blurb that keeps you up to speed with events as they transpire and maintains tension. One important thing to note is that the entirety of the storyline is doled out in text. Lots and lots and lots of text, some of which repeats due to the time-rewinding mechanic. If you find visual novels taxing, then you may want to steer clear as you might well end up skipping all the text and then being confused as to how to progress.
My favorite thing in Ghost Trick, and arguably the best part of the game as a whole, is the animation. All of the characters and interactive objects are presented in a rotoscoped style, akin to the original Price of Persia, or Another World. These animations manage to look wonderfully fluid and detailed even on the small Nintendo DS screen, something which is incredibly important as many of the puzzles in the game require precise timing, and the crisp animation greatly helps with this.
Solving puzzles and manipulating Rube Goldberg machines comprise the core of the gameplay, and for the majority of the game makes for good fun. Sadly, there are a few puzzles where the solution is highly arbitrary, even after the game starts giving you hints out of pity. Other irritations include puzzles that require split-second timing where failure wastes the prior 5 minutes of set-up, or when the game turns into an exercise in uninformed trial and error.
There are other confounding elements of Ghost Trick, some of which may feel familiar (and equally unwelcome) if you have played an Ace Attorney Game. The storyline has a tendency to meander in the middle act, introducing elements that will become important later on with very little initial setup or motivation to pursue them. The game also tries to present the illusion that it is open-ended, but is in fact very strictly rail-roaded onto one exact set of solutions and progression path where any error can force you to restart. This railroading is particularly irritating when you can already see the next three steps the game is going to ask you to undertake but instead forces you to do things in a particular fashion. These two issues often combine to make the middle third of the game a chore to progress though.
There is even a forced stealth section of the game in the dark - who the hell thought that was a good idea? I will readily admit that I resorted to using a walk-through for that section of the game simply because I got fed up of trying to figure out the timing when I could only see a twenty pence piece sized portion of the screen. One final annoyance is at the very climax at the game when it suddenly reaches out to hold your hand as if it were a tutorial, robbing the moment of much of its weight and the player of any sense of accomplishment.
All in all I enjoyed my time with Ghost Trick - it was just the right length and contained a pleasant mix of puzzles to keep me interested the whole time, even with its infrequent bone-headed missteps.The characters, design, and setting were all well constructed and enjoyable to interact with and none of it outstayed its welcome. It also contains the world's greatest Pomeranian as a character, which can’t be a bad thing.