I was instantly drawn to The Outbound Ghost for one single reason: it reminded me of Paper Mario. The beloved RPG series has taken quite a turn lately, but many are still nostalgic for the charm and simple brilliance of the first two titles especially.
One such person is Conrad Grindheim, an indie developer based out of Switzerland. The original Paper Mario games are clearly an inspiration for Grindheim, as The Outbound Ghost wears its influence all over its sleeve. Coupled with that nostalgic purview is a tale of death and redemption told through the spirits of the recently departed.
With a blend of comedy, introspection, and Paper Mario, it sounds like an odd blend that could definitely work. And often it does, yet The Outbound Ghost unfortunately makes quite a few missteps in the execution.
Wanna hear a ghost story?
Despite its cheery exterior and colorful graphics, The Outbound Ghost dips its toes quite often into the gloomy and somber. Though that’s to be expected when your characters are all ghosts. You’ll control multiple protagonists throughout the game, each with their own storyline and backstory to uncover.
However, in addition to the actual dialogue often feeling sloppy, I never felt that everyone’s motivations and actions really made that much sense. Often the story felt manufactured solely to create conflict without being natural. That’s compounded by all the walking around you’re doing in between cutscenes, which makes getting through things a slog.
The foundation is solid, yet the finer details are lost under its own scope. In particular, the pacing can feel incredibly off. Between the four main chapters, some can last around three to four hours and others can be as short as twenty minutes. That’s not even mentioning all the backtracking, which brings things down to a crawl.
In the spirit of games past
It’s immediately obvious where The Outbound Ghost’s main influence lies. The game borrows the look right from Paper Mario, specifically The Thousand-Year Door and The Origami King.
This may just be my love for Paper Mario talking, but I absolutely love how Outbound Ghost looks. Everything from the lovely environments to the way the characters are drawn just looks divine. And while the game doesn’t mimic the paper character concept directly in its story, it still makes for some wonderful visuals.
It’s a simple art style, yes, but that minimalist approach not only adds to the charm, it helps us understand this supernatural story a little more. You can look at any character and get the impression of what they’re like just from their expressions and color palette. It makes the game a treat for the eyes, even in the depths of its underwhelming story — or the gameplay.
The frustrations of death in Outbound Ghost
Unfortunately, most of the disappointment I found in Outbound Ghost comes with the battle system. It also borrows some Paper Mario elements like the Action Commands system (where you can press a button when launching an attack when performing an attack). Yet it’s far more mechanically in-depth, more like a traditional RPG. There’s plenty of spells, status conditions, and other special maneuvers to consider here.
However, here too I found the game struggling under its own weight. There’s a TON of party members to pick up, all representations of human emotions which can be customized with Figments that grant new abilities or stat changes.
All interesting stuff. But with so many skills and customization at my fingertips, I often felt overwhelmed trying to form a party. Perhaps that’s why I struggled initially, or perhaps it’s the combat feeling less polished and balanced than it should be.
While Outbound Ghost had a ton of potential, it doesn’t come together as cleanly as it should. Thanks to some combat issues and an underdeveloped story, the game really only has its art style and level of charm to fall back on. We can only hope that Grindheim goes on to bigger and better things, as despite its flaws, this game does indicate solid talent.
Review code provided by Digerati.