By Tyler Trosper / November 7th, 2017
|Title||Ghosts of Miami
|Release Date||August 22nd, 2017|
Ghosts of Miami is a game in disguise. Behind the bright colors, Bryan Lee O’Malley-esque character designs, and upbeat tunes is a gritty detective story that holds little back. Digging deeper into the game, however, leads to frustrating design choices. Let me explain.
The story follows Consuelo Martinez, better known as Chelo, as she looks into missing persons cases. She performs her investigations in 1980s era Miami, which is very evident by the emphasis on neon colors and constant referral to President Reagan. Not only that, but many of the cases revolve around hot topics from the time, such as cocaine abuse. The game also dabbles in topics that are relevant today, such as immigration. The fact that Ghosts of Miami subverted my expectations with such real-world problems behind such a cartoony exterior is truly one of its main highlights. The level of research inserted into the story further enhances the world of the game. The plot is further complemented by a diverse cast of characters. From Chelo’s stern landlord, Mrs. Woon, to Jed the drug dealer, even the game’s side characters are brimming with personality. As a visual novel, Ghosts of Miami works by complimenting a fleshed out and colorful world with an equally likable cast of characters.
Ghosts of Miami is a visual novel, though it doesn’t fully know what kind of visual novel it is at times. Sure, Chelo is investigating up to five missing persons cases, but she also must balance having a relationship on the side. The game’s cast is very diverse with a range of personalities, giving you five different characters to romance. Who will you choose? Luci Escobar is Chelo’s long-time friend whose family dabbles into legally gray areas, Janet is a cross-dressing king of the stage, Ethan is a kind and helpful paramedic, Richard is an older gentleman with mysterious motives, and Tala is a 19-year-old who is a fan of Chelo’s old high school band. Each character is relevant to the game’s story and plays some kind of role, though more so when they are romanced. However, what do you emphasize: your job or your relationship? If you focus too much on your relationship, you could miss out on valuable clues to your investigation. On the flip side, if you focus too much on your investigations, your love interest might not be happy with your choices and give you an ultimatum. Depending on your choices, you might not unlock the final case.
But here’s where the game falls apart a bit. Throughout each case, you build up a collection of clues and suspects to ultimately lead you to a final scene where you solve the case. However, most of the cases you can’t really fail. If you make the wrong choices, either the person you are looking for pops up on their own or you somehow still find the missing person anyway. The case will say “unsolved” but you will still have solved it in the eyes of the story. This occurred in case three, in which the story said Chelo found the person, but the game still said I didn’t solve the case. However, most solutions should be straightforward if you spent enough time investigating the right places. Whether you solve the case or make the wrong decisions, your actions feel almost irrelevant to the overarching story.
The save system doesn’t really help either. Ghosts of Miami only allows for one save, and it happens automatically when you choose to quit the game. It reminds me of the Phoenix Wright series, except it worked for those games because the story was very linear. For a visual novel that has multiple routes to choose from, having such a save system just leads to a lot of text skipping. In that case, a skip feature would have been very much appreciated, but that too is missing from the game. Unfortunately, I did run into a glitch in case four when, while talking to an NPC named Angelique, I quit during a choice and the screen it was completely black when I loaded my save, leading me to start the entire case over. At least you do not have to completely start the whole game over when you need to go back to a specific case; just pick which case you want to start over on and you are done. However, with your choices affecting multiple cases, a more robust save system would have been appreciated.
The look and sound of Ghosts of Miami work hand-in-hand to bring out the 80s feel. As mentioned, the artwork is full of bright colors that contrast the dark nature of the story. The art style is reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics or perhaps more like the diverse cast of Steven Universe. Even the bright backgrounds with blurry details are charming in themselves. The sound as well is full of techno beats reminiscent of what you’d hear in an 80s cop drama. The animated opening fully demonstrates this TV show feel. With the art and sound direction, the game clearly shines.
Ghosts of Miami is a good visual novel. Despite the bright colors and upbeat soundtrack, the game delves into pretty heavy subject matter. However, where it fumbles is exactly where Chelo fumbles in her career: balancing a detective game with dating sim elements. With a better save system and the ability to skip text, completing the game 100% would feel like less of a chore. A single playthrough can take eight hours or less, each case running around an hour and a half or slightly longer. However, the game will take longer if you try to achieve all six endings. Ghosts of Miami is a charming detective story held back only by its inability to put everything within the player’s control. You can grab the game on Steam for $14.99.
A copy of the game was provided by the developer.
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