The year is 1986 and Miami has found itself struggling against gangs, drugs, and the AIDS epidemic. One person per day is found murdered and hundreds go missing, overwhelming local police departments. Many of those people are never found, disappearing without a trace. Consuelo "Chelo" Martínez tracks down those ghosts to uncover the truth behind their disappearances. Ghosts of Miami tells the story of Chelo's sleuthing as she solves cases and makes a name for herself as a lady who can get things done.
I had a chance to play through the demo of Ghosts of Miami this week and found myself really impressed. I'm not one who typically falls in love with visual novels. The limited degree of interactivity and the stylistic rut many fall into generally loses my interest. Not so with Ghosts of Miami.
Developed by Pillow Fight, the team that made a name for themselves with 2015's We Know The Devil, Ghosts of Miami drips with 80s style. The dream pop art exudes charm and personality. While backgrounds have an ethereal, dream-like quality, the principle characters come alive. Their various facial expressions and poses render the cast instantly endearing and eye-catching. The animated opening alone demonstrates how much life Pillow Fight poured into Ghosts of Miami. There's a really passionate core to the game that its visuals thoroughly succeed in conveying.
While style certainly contributes to the tone of Ghosts of Miami, writing remains the lifeblood of a visual novel. It needs to hold up to scrutiny. On that front, the title stands strong. Chelo herself presents a compelling protagonist as a sleuth who can take more morally ambiguous jobs because she lacks even a Private Investigator designation. The player feels her frustrations, insecurities, and fears via her dialogue or internal asides. The well realized supporting characters showcased in the demo pull their own weight, too.
While the game itself will follow Chelo over the course of five cases, the demo only shows a part of her first case. She's hired by her landlord, Mrs. Woon, to find Grace Woon, her daughter who has been missing for two days. This first case proves to be an important one for Chelo, both because it could make or break her reputation, but also because it is her first case after quitting her gas station job and she really doesn't want to go back there.
After setting the scene, Ghosts of Miami allows players to choose which lead they would like to follow up. The catch is that each lead takes time - Chelo only has time to visit three locations throughout the day - morning, afternoon, and evening. Do you go to Grace's favorite childhood spot? Check out her sketchy boyfriend? See if you can track down her best friend? Or do you put all that aside for now and see what your screw-up of a brother is up to this time? While visiting locations, players typically encounter new characters who can prove helpful, resistant, or clueless depending on the circumstance and the approach players choose to take.
Like many visual novels, players will encounter helpful (or possibly distracting) love interests while solving mysteries. Players can rebuff these romantic advances to focus on work or blow off work to spend time with their new romance. Be warned! Spending too much time with those amorous connections could lead to disaster.
The Ghosts of Miami has been Greenlit on Steam and it's definitely worth a look, especially if you're in the market for a different kind of game to spice things up in this year of great games. The full release of Ghosts of Miami is coming up sometime this summer. It will be available in English, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese. Pillow Fight is also working on additional accessibility options like screenreading, text-to-speech, and gamepad controls.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ghosts of Miami. The demo felt incredibly refreshing with its overpowering charm, stylish aesthetic, and well written dialogue. It made me want to spend more time in its world and characters over the course of just one in-game day. Keep an eye on this one.
You can download the demo from the Ghosts of Miami website.