Ghost Trick and Japan’s Not-So-Fantastic Four

September 28, 2011

Why Ghost Trick’s Timer Counts Down from Four Minutes Instead of, Well, Any Other Number

I finally picked up Ghost Trick. No, not on the DS. The first two chapters of the game have been free on the Japanese iTunes store since December of last year. And it’s about time I checked it out because I adore nearly every game Shu Takumi touches.

Ghost Trick offers a unique concept that’s simultaneously grim and charming. The main character, Sissel, is murdered while trying to save a woman from the same fate and then continues to try to protect her and stop the killer from beyond the grave through “ghost tricks,” which involve setting off Rube Goldberg-like chain reactions by possessing nearby inanimate objects. However, poor Sissel’s not successful—on the first attempt, anyway. But with his newfound powers, he can turn back time by four minutes.

Four minutes. It’s certainly not a typical time limit. Why not five? Or up the anxiety and just make it—duhn, duhn, DUHN—one?

Well, there’s a reason. It’s a pun. (No Shu Takumi game would be complete without at least a handful, or you know, one every other cut scene.)

In Japanese, the number four (四) is pronounced a couple different ways depending on the context: yo, yon or shi. The last one on that list is important because with that pronunciation, four becomes the American/English equivalent of unlucky number 13. Four is considered a foreboding number (HAH, puns) because shi shares the same pronunciation as 死, or death. Like any superstition, fear of the number four isn’t overbearingly prevalent in Japanese culture, but it occasionally appears in smaller ways, like a hotel elevator not having a button for the fourth floor or avoiding giving a gift that comes in four different pieces.

So placing Sissel in a life-and-death situation where he only has four minutes is not only a nail-biting premise but an ominous word pun. But let me warn you that this is all my own speculation and guessing, even though I doubt four minutes was just an arbitrary number the developers chose.

Way to go, Ghost Trick. I knew I would love you in any language.

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