Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

We’re all familiar with the concept of dying in a video game. You start the game alive and, at some point, you die, putting you back to a checkpoint, save point, or whatever. But in Capcom’s latest DS title, Ghost Trick developed by the Ace Attorney team, this formula is disrupted. How exactly? Well, at the start of the game the main character, Sissel, is already dead. Obviously you can’t be sent back to the latest check point since there was nothing before it! Instead, you’ll continue throughout the game as a ghost. A Phantom Detective!

Story

 As mentioned before, the entire game takes place from the perspective of Sissel’s ghost. To stack on top the fact that he is dead, his soul now has amnesia, preventing him from remembering who he was and exactly why he was killed. Thankfully, a helpful talking desk lamp gives Sissel some insight on the situation, revealing that he is special. Not only can he move across objects in the environment,  he can also posses certain objects to manipulate them. More importantly, Sissel has access to some minor time traveling skills. If he posses a dead body, he can rewind time back to four minutes before their death. Sissel can combine these two abilities to save lives, by preventing their deaths altogether. And even if he fails, he can simply rewind back to the previous four minutes before death to try again. The one catch? The desk lamp informs Sissel that, by dawn, he will disappear forever. 

Using these skills, Sissel sets out to solve the mystery behind himself. Throughout his journey he comes across plenty of unique and colorful characters that Ace Attorney fans will feel right at home with. Despite a rather serious underlying plot, the title doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll find plenty of puns, jokes and word plays throughout the dialog that will keep you chuckling the all the way through. Expect plenty of plot twists and turns throughout the adventure. Once you think you’ve solved one mystery, something else jumps in to throw a wrench into your theory.

Gameplay

While Sissel has the ability to time travel, gameplay is based on the ability to manipulate of objects in the environment. Sissel has a certain reach that he can use to move between objects. Once arrived at the objects, Sissel has the ability to perform a “Ghost Trick,” which usually results in turning on an object, knocking it over, shaking it, etc. The entire game basis its puzzles around this, but later on there are a few other mechanics thrown in to add some variety.

Where Ghost Trick really shines is in its puzzle designs. Often when a puzzle initiates you’re not entirely sure what to do. As you start messing around with objects, you will find out they react in certain ways. Often it may not initially seem like the actions you are performing will help solve the task at hand. But as you play more with the environment, you may see how two events connect, helping you solve the puzzle. It’s all about triggering a sequence of events that will prevent the death. But it doesn’t feel linear as you are exploring each environment and its mechanics.

But just because Ghost Trick is a puzzle game doesn’t mean it is a laid back experience. In many cases, players have a time limit to complete a puzzle. The only instance when time isn’t flowing is when you’re moving from object to object. You’ll find yourself scraping for every possible second you can salvage. Players also have to be hasty in catching key events in a puzzle. If you’re currently possessing a book on a shelf and a piece of paper floats by, you need to quickly move to the paper. In some cases, if you don’t act fast enough, you’re stuck. Thankfully if you do fall under the time limit, miss a key moment or have any other error,  rewinding back to the beginning of the puzzle is only a tap away.

Repeated rewinds causes some repetitiveness though. If you already know how to solve most of the the puzzle with the exception the last section, you have to perform a sequence of events over and over again just to get to that section. Once at that section you may only have a few seconds to figure out what you need to do and how to act. If you don’t figure it out within that time limit, prepare to start over again. This is somewhat remedied  by a checkpoint system, but in some cases there’s still quite of bit of retreading old ground. Rewinding time is essentially the equivalent of “Game Over.” But the nature of puzzle games and the added time limit make the repetitiveness much more prevalent here.

Presentation

Ghost Trick is a beautiful game in many ways on the Nintendo DS. The art style is colorful and is not afraid to use colors that many other titles shy away from. This experience is only enhanced by the gorgeous animations the each character has. They’re extremely fluid and are expressive, even though the models themselves lack detail. But the lack of detail is mainly due to the model’s size, not so much that they look bad. The models look great and prove to be some of the better models on Nintendo DS. Some more specific details, like the facial details, are absent thanks to the small DS screen, but the title uses character portraits to provide more expression.

Ghost Trick’s sound track keeps a fun upbeat style that falls in line with the visuals, characters and dialog of the world. You’ll find plenty of stand out tracks along with a fantastic theme for the title. When the timer is ticking during certain gameplay sections, the tempo of the music is changed to match the urgency.

Lasting Appeal

While Ghost Trick feels open ended at first, with you exploring the environments to figure out combinations to solve each puzzle, the game is actually very linear. Each puzzle has a set way to solve it. Once you figure it out the first time, have fun solving the puzzle again the exact same way. This is something that’s inherent to puzzle games though. The title rounds out to about ten hours, which feels just right, not overstaying its welcome or undercutting its content. Other than some notebook entries that you unlock throughout the game that has information on each character, there’s really nothing else here outside of the main story.

Conclusion

Ghost Trick is a fantastic title that any fan of puzzle games should play. Using the environment, the title gives you a sense that you’re paving your own path, while still keeping things very linear. To accompany you alongside the adventure are some extremely colorful characters, complete with entertaining dialog. Round out the package with some excellent visuals and a superb soundtrack and you have yourself one of the best DS games on the market. Aside for some extremely minor nit picking, there isn’t much to knock the game down for.

If you’re a fan of the Ace Attorney series, puzzlers or are just looking for a great DS game, definitely pick up Ghost Trick.

Score: 9.5

Pros:

  • Unique and colorful characters
  • Lots of chuckle-worthy dialog
  • Puzzles that feel open ended, even if they’re linear
  • Silky smooth animations stacked onto an already excellent presentation

Cons:

  • Repeating puzzles can become quickly repetitive
  • Little replay value

3 thoughts on “Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review”

  1. I just beat this game today, and I really enjoyed it. It’s not particularly long and like you said, I have no real desire to replay it (especially now that I know what happens in the story), but it was certainly novel while it lasted. The characters are all interesting and unique, and they do a good job of juggling all the little mysteries you have to solve while keeping you intrigued on what it all adds up to. The puzzles can get a little repetitive (they wait a little too long in the game to introduce a new gameplay mechanic) and I feel the unskippable explanations were sometimes redundant, but it’s a definitely a solid game, and I recommend it.

    1. You can skip through the explanations or any repeated dialog by holding down the stylus on the touch screen. Was originally going to complain about it till I was like “OH, I can just do this!” lol

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