Title: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Release Date: June 30, 2023
Reviewed On: PS4
Genre: Mystery Adventure, Puzzle
Niche cult classic revivals are always exciting since overlooked projects have the opportunity to gain the limelight fans have always yearned for. And no new release fits this notion quite as snugly as Capcom’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Penned by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi, the game’s original DS launch did not perform strongly, resulting in continuous doubt regarding if the IP would ever resurge. And now it has, and for all modern platforms to boot, so it’s time to give this supernatural mystery adventure another look, seeing if it has stood the test of time.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective features an initially nameless protagonist who soon discovers his name to be Sissel. He has been shot and is now dead, lingering as a ghost, though suffering from amnesia. However, he quickly gains a relatively firm grasp of his current circumstances, learning that he will completely vanish soon and can possess and manipulate inorganic objects. He uses this skill alongside the ability to rewind four minutes before someone’s death to save the life of a nearby lady caught in the crossfire, Lynne.
Then, following these events, Sissel finds himself invested in learning the truth surrounding his murder and a seemingly related national conspiracy with a certain murder case at the center of it all. The sheer premise is captivating enough, providing a thrilling hook that never loosens.
As for the gameplay, Ghost Trick can be seen as a pseudo-visual novel with puzzle elements, requiring players to overcome various timed challenges. The primary gimmick encompassing this gameplay loop is Sissel’s ability to possess objects, meaning you must piece together how to traverse environments, using people’s possessions and behaviors to your advantage.
It’s a pretty clever collective idea making excellent use of the unconventional premise presented here. Plus, the sometimes timed nature of these puzzles isn’t as stressful as it appears since time stops while you are in the midst of deciding what to possess. Granted, it’s not like this entirely negates the tension since knowing the “tricks” you can do with the objects you come across is equally as paramount; it is only possible to figure out what object actions do as time progresses.
Ghost Trick’s setting is also standout from a gameplay standpoint, thanks to the implementation of a fast travel of sorts. A tangentially related ability to Sissel’s capability to possess objects is how he can travel across phone lines. New locations can only be acquired if a phone call occurs between two spots.
Still, it aids in establishing an impressive sense of connection, given how the title’s narrative takes place throughout a single night. In essence, there’s a simultaneous openness and linearity with Ghost Trick’s progression, bolstering its simultaneously compact and worldly scale.
Thankfully the puzzle design, while occasionally frustrating, is usually satisfying to understand. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, Ghost Trick will likely take a good bit to get comfortable with. Although the controls have been translated well, at least on PlayStation, there won’t be any vexation on that front. The crux of the gameplay, the line connecting Sissel to objects’ cores, has a moderate speed in response to inputs, with no worry regarding overshooting or such.
Of course, the heart of Ghost Trick is in its writing, which shouldn’t be surprising when considering Takumi’s Ace Attorney series. And just like many of those games, a stellar tonal balance is struck with the graveness of the story and character interaction. When thinking about Ghost Trick’s narrative, the natural assumption is to believe the title has a depressing, hapless ambiance. Yet that isn’t exactly the case. There are plenty of moments of lighthearted banter that never overstay their welcome, thereby keeping the plot’s seriousness in check while never letting it become all-encompassing.
I don’t blame someone who thinks the concept of joking around as a murdered protagonist to be offputting, but it just manages to work with flying colors. The members of the cast all have their eccentricities that, while admittedly unnecessary in certain moments, jibe with Sissel’s straight-man nature. He’s a terrific protagonist you quickly find yourself rooting for, amplified by his personal stakes in the large-scale struggle he finds himself contending with.
One last feature worth pointing out is the Extras menu, housing a music player and illustrations alongside bonus slider puzzles if you’re into that sort of thing. These inclusions don’t up the roughly dozen-hour playtime by much, yet this ensures the succinct story isn’t impeded by additional, shallow gameplay hours. You’re getting a rich, dense package here that you shouldn’t let a brief estimated playtime rob you of.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a must-play mystery adventure that sticks the landing with its gameplay design, compelling mysteries, and character writing. The soundtrack is also quite catchy. If you’re someone who missed out on the game’s original DS release, then you owe it to yourself to give this remaster a shot, especially if you’re an Ace Attorney fan. I’m thrilled Capcom decided to give this title another chance, so here’s hoping it excels this time around.
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