Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is all about second chances, so it’s apt that the Nintendo DS classic has gotten a second wind – and about time, too. The puzzle-solving mystery adventure was a delightful charmer when it first released in 2010, carving out a beloved, distinct identity like no other in the niche space.
After all, describing the experience doesn’t come easy. Hailing from Ace Attorney series creator Shu Takumi, the game bears the same quirky overtones as its legal-focused counterpart, but stands on its own with a clever, intriguing blend of elements involving a murder investigation, rewinding time, possessing inanimate objects, talking to dead people, and preventing deaths.
The endeavour presented an exciting, fresh challenge then, and it’s no different now. Capcom’s latest remaster retains all that offbeat appeal, playful wit, narrative polish, and brain-wracking fun from the original, and wraps it nicely in a new, shiny coat of paint that guards strongly against the occasional crack.
Starting out in media res, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective follows an amnesiac spirit named Sissel as he struggles to uncover his identity and manner of death. Aiding him on the journey are abilities called “Ghost Tricks”, which work differently for the select few hosts. In Sissel’s case, he’s able to travel between objects within a certain radius by possessing their cores – labelled in blue – and animate them to perform actions that open new paths or affect the characters around him. For instance, possessing a wheel will prompt the ‘roll’ command and grant access to new areas, while pushing a tray of donuts causes a character to move into a new position.
Much of the story is driven by Sissel’s unearthly power to manipulate corpses and objects. In this state, he can turn back the clock to four minutes before a character’s death, use his Ghost Tricks to alter the situation, and ultimately nudge fate in a different direction. Time freezes when he hops from one target to another, with players able to swap between the Ghost World and Land of the Living, where everything flows normally, at will.
Alone, these sleights of hand may not add up to much. It’s almost always a mundane affair, from turning on a fan to lighting up a candle, but when the pieces start to come together, the magic of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective becomes crystal clear. The puzzles aren’t necessarily easy, either, despite the straightforward gameplay controls – timing holds the key to success here, and that can affect how players perform in the race against the clock. Sometimes, you’ll have to wait things out; other times, you’ll need to set up and trigger a domino effect in the final three seconds. Miss the silver of opportunity, and it’s game over.
Fortunately, the failing-and-restarting rhetoric plays nicely into the Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective experience. The challenge stems from understanding the ins and outs of a scene at first glance, which more often than not, leads to one, two, three or more attempts at connecting the dots. It’s a captivating study in trial and error that doesn’t frustrate as much as one might expect, culminating instead into a rewarding, satisfying resolution. The discovery process is an ingenious way to bring everything together as well, since Sissel’s ability to rewind time sets up the perfect logic for retries and judgement lapses to blend into the plot. Suffice to say, there’s plenty of planning and strategising to go around.
More impressive is the amount of attention it carries. The game brings an intuitive touch to its puzzle design, only displaying action prompts when needed. It’s a nice little feature that saves players from examining everything in their path, especially when the sequence involves some wild, highly-creative solutions (Ace Attorney, anyone?).
Since it’s a remaster, some niggling issues from the original have naturally wormed their way here. In its less exciting, slower-paced moments, the wait for something to happen feels a little lengthy, while gameplay can grow repetitive at certain parts. In all fairness, Sissel does gain another ability later, but that only comes near the end stages of the game. The lack of a second screen also makes it slightly more difficult to track the selected object than before, particularly when activating the aforementioned late-game trick.
The overall satisfaction may vary depending on the platform, too. On the Nintendo Switch, the occasional dragging clumsiness – where Sissel’s spirit doesn’t extend to the desired direction – is easily solved by interacting with the touchscreen, which offers a neat workaround. In the absence of this convenience on the PS4 and Xbox One, the joystick allows for more accurate navigation as compared to the mouse’s fiddler nature on PC.
These are but minor gripes that go easily forgotten and buried under the narrative weight and visual revamp. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is at its best when players head into it blind, and the less said about the story, the better. In line with Takumi’s flair for the dramatic, the sleuthing adventure inherits the trappings of Ace Attorney, resulting in delightful plot twists that make as much sense as they confound. It’s a delicious odd experience that cannot be accurately put into words, shared only between those who have played and enjoyed the process.
This quirkiness carries over to the game’s roster of colourful characters, and they have never looked better. From the flamboyant Inspector Cabanela and enthusiastic go-getter Lynne to best boy Missile, the remaster’s added polish breathes new life into their designs. Cabanela, in particular, is a standout with his confident strutting animation and smooth, over-the-top dance moves.
Even the side characters are filled with personality. Each of them displays distinct behavioural cues and traits – there’s a line chef who sings and goes ‘la la la’ whenever he cooks, while a prison officer breaks into an awkward, hilarious dance under stress – and revisiting them in HD certainly brought back many fond and nostalgic memories. These moments are often bolstered by skilful displays of humour that range from amusing banter to smart-mouth retorts, depending on the parties in the conversation or interaction.
Where some things change, others stay the same. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective offers a choice between the original and rearranged soundtracks (both of which are great head-boppers, by the way), but sticks with the 4:3 aspect ratio from its Nintendo DS days. Although it’s a bit of a shame that the scenes haven’t been extended to fit the more modern 16:9 configuration, the format serves as a nice little nod to its charming retro roots, so no complaints there. A potential issue for console players could be the look of the font on the big screen, however: Capcom has kept the original font, but there are moments where it becomes just a little unsightly.
A 12 to 14 hour masterclass in sleuthing fun and narrative immersion, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is an unforgettable, delightful whodunnit for both returning fans and newcomers alike. For the former, the familiar elements are a comforting sight, promising a warm homecoming back to the world of corpses, inanimate objects, and everything in between. No worries for those late to the game – this latest remaster is proof of its status as a timeless classic, which means it’s never too late to enjoy one of the finest, more unforgettable puzzle games in the past two decades.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is available on the Nintendo eShop for US$29.99.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Some things never change, and for Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, its charm continues to live on in its eclectic, endearing cast, gripping mystery-solving, and interesting genre-blending presentation. The game is a gem like no other, and this resurrected remaster only serves to reinforce its worth.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 9.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10