Review – The Outbound Ghost
There’s something incredibly appealing about adorable RPGs. Nintendo certainly managed to capitalize on this concept, with the Paper Mario games becoming huge global hits, particularly the first two in the series. The unique and much adored paper sprite art design was something previously unseen in any other RPG at the time, which made it more appealing for a wider audience base. Since then, several other games have borrowed its aesthetic and tried to recapture its glory, with Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling being a noteworthy title. Now we have The Outbound Ghost from Conradical Games attempting to stake its claim in the paper RPG market. Was it able to be a (paper) cut above the rest, or did it crumple beneath the weight of expectations?
The Outbound Ghost starts off with you playing as an amnesiac ghost on the outskirts of a town called Outbound. Completely devoid of all memory, you venture through the town only to discover that everyone else is also dead. Apparently, a serial killer murdered almost everyone, while a poisoned water supply claimed everyone else. You eventually learn about another ghost, Adrian, who’s suffering from amnesia like you, so you make it your mission to talk to him to about what’s happening to you both. Unfortunately, Adrian wants nothing to do with you, which leads to you and some new acquaintances chasing after him in search of answers.
The premise sounds intriguing, but sadly there’s not much more to it than that. Almost the entirety of The Outbound Ghost is going from place to place on a wild goose chase for answers about who you are and what happened to everyone else in Outbound. While you do eventually get a little insight into who your starting main character is, most of the questions in The Outbound Ghost are left unanswered after a rather abrupt ending.
You might expect a game that’s centered around an entire town becoming ghosts after being murdered or poisoned to be a somber affair, but that’s not the case in The Outbound Ghost. Strangely, hardly any of the spirits you’ll encounter seem to be even the slightest bit upset about being deceased. In fact, most of them will make jokes about how they no longer have to worry about certain annoyances of day to day life, now that they’re no longer among the living. Considering the art style (which I’ll get to later), I can understand why the characters were given more nonchalant personalities, but it definitely detracts from the severity of the situation.
Aside from the lack of story, one of the biggest issues in The Outbound Ghost is exploration. There are quite a few locations you’ll visit throughout your journey, and each area is huge. This might sound enticing, but the world itself is surprisingly empty. Most of what you’ll find are other ghostly NPCs (usually with only one line of dialogue), enemies, or crafting materials. There aren’t that many secrets to discover, but the few present are usually pretty obvious and easy to find. They typically reveal themselves after either lighting or snuffing out torches, or digging at specified sites. You won’t have to scour each area in search of hidden artifacts in The Outbound Ghost.
The majority of what you’ll encounter in The Outbound Ghost are enemies, which are called “Apparitions” in this game. Whenever you run into an Apparition, a turn-based battle will commence. Like Paper Mario, The Outbound Ghost features a party-based system, only here your allies are called “Figments”. As you’ve probably surmised, Figments are various figments of your personality. You’ll unlock each one after defeating them in a boss battle by touching specific gravestones. Each Figment comes with their own strengths and skills, and can be swapped out at any time in between fights.
You can also upgrade their skills with new abilities called “Aspects”. Some Aspects will be learned automatically when leveling up, while others can only be learned through tomes that can be found throughout the land of Outbound. Aspects can offer a range of abilities and status buffs, ranging from new moves to increased power and defense. While playing around with different combinations of Figments and abilities are engaging at first, combat feels tedious after about the halfway point.
The difficulty settings are also unevenly balanced. There are random insane difficulty spikes in the Medium and Hard settings, but almost no challenge whatsoever in the Easy setting. Thankfully, there’s no punishment for being defeated and battle and you’ll be able to try again immediately with no penalty. I’d still recommend playing it on at least Medium, with the understanding that some enemies will take a few tries to figure out how to get past.
Even though the gameplay is disappointing, the same cannot be said for its visuals. The art design in The Outbound Ghost is fantastic, clearly taking its inspiration from Paper Mario. Each character sprite has its own unique design, looking like stickers set against vibrant 3D environments. It also makes use of dramatic lighting effects to further enhance its beauty. Other aspects of The Outbound Ghost might be lackluster, but the art design certainly isn’t.
The sound design is another strong aspect of The Outbound Ghost. There is no voice acting, but the sound effects are appropriately cutesie. The soundtrack is wonderful as well. There are many different locations to visit within the huge world, each with their own specific theme. Some of the tracks are incredibly catchy and will have you humming them long after you’ve shut off the game.
I wanted to like The Outbound Ghost, I really did. There’s clearly a ton of love behind its development, especially in the art and sound departments. Unfortunately, its story is completely underdeveloped and ends without much of it being resolved or explained. The combat is fun at first, and encourages creative combinations of Figments and their Aspects, but it does start to feel repetitive after a while. Perhaps if more content is added later it’ll be worth the journey, but as it stands right now it feels as hollow as its ghostly inhabitants.
The art design is by far its strongest feature, taking clear inspiration from Paper Mario. Each character sprite has its own unique design, looking like stickers set against vibrant 3D environments.
A turn-based RPG with a variety of movesets between numerous playable characters called “Figments”. Combat is fun at first, but feels tedious after about the halfway point. There’s also surprisingly little to interact with or discover in the world.
The sound design is wonderful, with the soundtrack providing each new area with its own unique theme and dramatic battle music throughout.
The story seems intriguing at first, but doesn’t develop much past its initial shallow plot. Many questions are left unanswered when the game abruptly ends, and a hefty portion of it feels like a slog to get through.
Final Verdict: 6.0
The Outbound Ghost is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of The Outbound Ghost was provided by the publisher.