Monday, December 31, 2012

Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay, it only took my little finger to blow you away

I just finished playing through Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a DS game released by Capcom in 2010 and in the US in 2011. It's the brainchild of Shu Takumi, the guy behind the Ace Attorney series.

The idea is that you, alas, have died, and now you're a ghost with no memory of who you are or why you were killed. You have the ability to interact with the world by manipulating certain objects, and you can also, by inhabiting dead people's bodies, travel four minutes into the past and use your powers to prevent them from dying, generally in a Rube-Goldberg-ish fasion.

What unfolds is an intricate story of discovery that keeps you guessing right to the end, though not in a way that feels unfair or arbitrary. It's shot full of well-done humor--particularly involving an enthusiastic pomeranian whose life you save and who in turn helps you--and it's ultimately a very memorable and moving story about redemption and second chances. I think it's going to stay with me like few videogame stories have. Something this effective is, to put it mildly, a rarity in a videogame, and it's enhanced by the use of very unusual, stylized anime characters whose unique mannerisms and ways of moving are extremely well-animated. The gameplay is really nothing like that of Ace Attorney games, but if you like them, you'll surely like this too. I like them, and I think this is better than any of them. Nowadays, there's also an iOS version, so if you don't have a DS but do have an iphone or whatnot, you can still give it a try.


 One thing that really struck me is how utterly alien the game's attitude toward violence is to the American one, as promoted by our insane gun culture. One major plot point in the game concerns a police detective who lets a suspect escape. He chases the guy into a park where a young girl is playing; the suspect takes her hostage with a gun to her head. As it happens, before anything more can come of this confrontation, the suspect is killed by a freak accident; in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that nobody would be likely to blame him for taking violent action to save the girl, he blames himself (if the accident hadn't occurred, he reasons, he would have shot the guy), and years later, he confesses to another murder of which he's innocent and requests the death penalty, thinking it's what he deserves. When it comes time to go back and change the past, it's not good enough to just prevent the accident; it's necessary to save the girl so that the suspect won't end up dead by any means.

 Not that I believe there are absolutely no cases where deadly force is justified, but this attitude is quite striking, and undoubtedly a hell of a lot healthier than the NRA's insane idea all citizens should instantly transform into John McClane when confronted with a psychotic with an assault rifle. Even if you could actually do that (protip: you couldn't), it's horrifying to just contemplate the psychic damage you would suffer just by becoming that kind of person, let alone actually doing such a thing. Long story short: our cultural norms could really improve if we based them more on quirky Japanese adventure games. Probably not hentai games, though.


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