It’s a G-g-g-ghost!

While my relationship with the traditional, PC style adventure game genre is contentious at best, there have been a sizably number of adventure games that don’t quite fit that mold, but that do definitely scratch an itch for me. Most of them are for the DS. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective may be the best of the lot.

Ghost Trick is very obviously made by the same people behind the Ace Attorney series. They share a dark yet whacky tone, flitting seamlessly from slapstick to grimness. While Ghost Trick is about people being murdered and trying to unravel a conspiracy that has ended the life of numerous people, the characters spend a lot of time joking around. It can be jarring at first, but after a few minutes the tone becomes easier to read. It is certainly helped by some of the best writing in the video game industry.

Most adventure games lose me because I’m never quite sure of my goals. Oftentimes being able to sole a problem requires knowing well in advance that problem exists. Ghost Trick’s unique play systems avoid this problem. While the sorts of puzzles the player faces are largely the same, Ghost Trick presents players with a focused, limited set of options and leaves the player to solve it from there. It is probably easier, but it doesn’t necessarily feel easier. It does a great job of making the player feel like they’ve passed a humongous, difficult trial, whether they have or not.

The closest thing to a problem I can point to is something entirely subjective. I do not like the cast of Ghost Trick as much as the cast of Ace Attorney. I only bring it up because many of the characters have direct analogs. Sissel is not much different from Phoenix, Lynne is much like Maya, etc. It really isn’t a problem, just one way that I liked another, similar game better.

Ghost Trick is a great game. Plain and simple. This is the kind of game that made the DS the best video game system. It is a mostly unique, wonderful experience. Play it.

Laaayyytooonnn!!!

Professor Layton has ruined me for adventure games. I know that Layton’s games aren’t quite classic adventure games, but the differences are why I love Layton and why I am indifferent to most of the genre.

In most adventure games, the developers have to go to extreme lengths to incorporate the puzzles into the game world. The games are intricately designed to give the player the tools needed to solve their problems and to make sure that each of those tools has a believable reason to be there. In the end, I find that it generally hamstrings both the puzzles and the stories the puzzles are propping up. The story is forced into situations that allow the player to solve puzzles and the puzzles are forced to fit into the general milieu. No puzzles involving ray guns, because ray guns don’t make sense. The story needs you to go in this storage closet because you have to have a screwdriver later. It may only be a problem to me, but the delicate blending of story and puzzle usually leaves both unsatisfying.

The Professor Layton series gets around this problem by flatly ignoring it. You solve puzzles because that is what the game is about. Brainteasers and the like. The story of is there because it is the most entertaining method of delivering those puzzles. The good Professor’s cases are always charming, at least somewhat due to his world’s fascination with puzzles. Instead of building the puzzles into the story, though the fourth game has done this a couple of times by the halfway point, Layton merely has characters offer them to the player as challenges. Sure, this crazy old bat has the information you need, but she’ll only give it to you if you solve her puzzle. What the puzzle is doesn’t matter at all to the story. The stories in Layton games are always charming pieces of fluff. They occasionally hit a strong, moving character moment, but rarely is there anything exceptional.

But the puzzles are invariably better than those I’ve encountered in actual adventure games. Solving a Layton puzzle is so satisfying. The game presented you with a challenge and you overcame it. In regular adventure games, when I finally stumble upon the solution, my reaction is usually vague anger. It is either so ridiculously circuitous a solution that I hate the game for thinking it up or stupidly easy, but frustratingly obtuse. Either way it is no fun.

I’ve played enough Layton games now that I know I can never go back to the old games. I’m sure I’ll try them out occasionally, because I can never leave well enough alone. I’m sure adventure game purists will scoff at my missing the point for hating adventure games for what makes them great. The only thing I’m not sure of is my continued access to future Layton games. I can only hope that unlike every other game I like, Professor Layton has been financially successful here in the states and they keep being made. But that is just me being grouchy and pessimistic. At least the Layton movie is being released here next month. I’ll have to buy that.

The Adventure is Over (for now)

Playing a pair of games last week, 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors and Touch Detective, made me finally realize that I don’t like adventure games at all. It took me a long time to come to this realization because point-and-click adventure games seem like something I would really like. They are a combination of reading, which I greatly enjoy, and puzzles, which I also greatly enjoy. Combined like they are in most adventure games, though, somehow makes them both less appealing.
At first I thought I just needed to learn the methods, the syntax, of the genre to enjoy it. Listening to the terrific episode of Retronauts about adventure games led me to believe this was likely the case. So I fought through games like Syberia, Beneath a Steel Sky and Lure of the Temptress. While I found the stories enjoyable for the most part, I thought the solving arcane and baffling.

I did play some adventure games that I likes, but they were all somewhat different than the traditional genre entry. The Phoenix Wright games, while they have enjoyable characters and plots, have much simpler and straightforward puzzles. Never are you presented with a problem that you can’t solve at the time you encounter it. The series goes out of its way to make sure you have the tools to solve all of its problems. Then there are the Professor Layton games, which divides the puzzles entirely from the adventure game parts. The puzzles are also more brain teasers more than environmental hurdles. Zack and Wiki have more traditional styled gameplay, but broken up into easier to digest discrete stages.

My first problem with “real” adventure games is that the puzzles are so sprawling that I have trouble identifying the puzzle. I know that is part of the solving of an adventure game, but I often find it needlessly obtuse. Such is the case for much of Touch Detective. I feels less like I am solving problems and more like stabbing wildly at crazed leaps of non-logic.

My other big problem is that they don’t let you skip steps. (I know this one is all on me.) Once I figure out the solution, the games don’t just let me put in my answer and go. I still have to go through the motions of solving it. This is what is supposed to be fun about these games and it annoys me. When I know the answer I don’t want to do the problem anymore. Noting this has helped me realize that adventure games are just not for me. And that’s okay. The genre shouldn’t change so that I (and people who feel the same as me.) can enjoy it. That would ruin what the fans of the genre like. There are certainly things that could be improved, but I’m more than content to just accept that this is a genre I don’t enjoy.