Title: Ghost Parade
Developer: Lentera Studio
Release Date: October 31, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Aksys Games
Ghost Parade is the debut game for new developer Lentera; unfortunately, even with beautiful art and a rich foundation in Indonesian folklore, this title falls short with its gameplay and head-scratching development choices.
The story begins with Suri, a schoolgirl who misses her ride home from class. She decides to take a shortcut through a mysterious forest to get back home, and her journey into the spirit world begins. Along her travels, she will run into ghosts, spirits, and creatures that can accompany her and assist her with new abilities. The ghosts themselves are straight from Indonesian tales and is one of Ghost Parade’s most active elements.
It’s so rare we see this represented in video games and inspired me to read up on all the folk history behind each ghostly encounter I came across. Even dozens of NPCs are nods to creatures from Indonesian legend. Sadly the overall story in which these characters live isn’t that interesting. Think Ferngully, Avatar, or any other environmental centered narrative, and you have a pretty good idea where this game is going almost from the start.
The art and design kept even the darkest of folklore colorful and cute. Characters and environments are presented in a beautiful painterly style. It’s too bad; some of the animations diminish this presentation as they can look mildly wonky. There are some downright gorgeous hand drawings shown during an exposition drop later in the game. I wish this style were more prevalent, and it honestly makes me sad knowing most players will miss this because they probably won’t get to that point of the game.
The music is another high point of the game. Each track is hauntingly melancholy and atmospheric, setting the mood perfectly. However, the same cannot be said of the sound design. The most blatant offender is Suri’s attack cry. You will hear this more than anything throughout the game, and it immediately gets old. Another awkward sound you’ll listen to frequently is Suri’s death moan. If you live with others, be prepared for the skeptical “what are you doing?” question to come up when this sound is heard time and time again. Luckily there is an option to turn the sound FXs down so you can play without hearing Suri’s repetitive yells.
The gameplay is generally a Metroidvania. The land is broken into different sections that you will explore and backtrack. The games of this genre make backtracking exciting and have something new happen with each visit; Ghost Parade fails to do this. The layout feels more like padding, and repeat visits can feel tedious. You also aren’t given many incentives to explore.
You never come across significant items that are of much use when you venture down a particularly tricky section. It’s always a treasure chest that contains rewards easily obtainable just by defeating regular enemies. At worst, sometimes your exploration comes to a dead end, or in one scenario, sends you through a mini obstacle course to get back to where you were so you could continue the game. Because of this, it feels like you are punished for exploring. After this became an apparent trend, I used the map to avoid anything outside the main story.
The map is another issue. It does not have a dedicated button, which seems like a massive oversight for a game that asks you to rely on it so much. There are even buttons on the controller that a map could be assigned to. Instead, the developers decided that it would be best to put it in the pause menu. When you’re there, you then have to select “map,” then the map screen has an animation which then takes you to the overworld map, then you have to choose the part of the overworld you are in, then the specific section within that selection where you are.
It might not seem like a big issue, but when you are doing this time and time again, it gets very frustrating and made me appreciate games that do this so seamlessly. I also ran into some issues with the map and where it was telling me to go. Unfortunately, there is an error that occasionally highlights the wrong areas of the map to advance the story. For example, late in the game, I had no idea where to go, and the map was telling me to defeat a boss I already fought. I went there, puzzled about what to do. Turns out, sometimes the game just does that. It’s a huge issue and makes playing even more frustrating.
Other control issues are baffling, as well. Selecting ghosts is another chore. Instead of having ghosts in the menu like everything else, you have to drop an item with your d-pad then choose the item you drop to take you to the ghost menu. You can only select three ghosts at a time, but there is no clear cut way to select the ghosts you want.
I was never able to figure out how to assign which ghost I wanted to which button. Even on your play screen, it gives you no listing of what ghosts will activate to your controls, so you have to play a guessing game and hope you assigned the ghosts in a way that works for you. This whole process became so frustrating after my 5th ghost I found I didn’t switch them out anymore because I didn’t want to mess with controls and accidentally use a ghost I didn’t want to at a crucial moment. This whole system seems counterintuitive to the entire idea of having 30 ghosts to choose from and bummed me out that such an opportunity was lost.
Besides these primary issues, there are controls as floaty as the ghosts that follow you but are by no means horrible, especially with a bit of trial and error. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell were ledges stop as they don’t always line up with the environment art, but this wasn’t a constant thankfully. As difficult as the game may seem, there are numerous save points, especially in more challenging areas, and I never found myself without stat-boosting potions or elixirs, so even the trickiest of areas were eventually overcome.
I feel like Ghost Parade had so much potential, especially with such rich lore, dazzling art, and moody, ethereal music. It’s a shame that gameplay and layouts are enigmatic and laborious. With maybe a patch or two, some of these significant issues can be sorted out.
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