Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
by Polly



You are dead.

Game Over


Welp, that was certainly the shortest game ever! And the shortest review!

Alright, smell ya fuckmos later!

Overall:














Okay, Polly, they get it. It's not even a funny joke, now make with the words that people aren't going to read! No need to rock the boat here.

No, but seriously, that's the entire plot and premise for Capcom's Ghost Trick, the latest project headed up by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi.

You see, you're Sissel, a mysterious red-suited man who has somehow ended up booted violently from this mortal coil. His spirit awakens in a dark junkyard unable to remember how he died, who killed him, and most importantly, who he even is. He has until daybreak to figure out the answers to all these questions before he finally fades from this world.

Luckily, Sissel won't be alone in his journey toward self-rediscovery, as he's immediately aided by a possessed desk lamp, and soon after, a rookie detective with whom he may share a few interesting connections. Unfortunately.... She's also been killed... Well, shit! Nobody's gettin' off easy in this game.

Good thing Sissel quickly learns that he can communicate with the spirits of the recently departed and rewind time to four minutes prior to their deaths in order to try and prevent it. Once he's saved someone, he'll be able to communicate with them in the real world, and hopefully recruit them to help him on his one night journey of super mystery adventures. But things can't always be that simple, and as the night wears on, all individual stories that couldn't feel more unrelated to one another begin to wrap themselves around each other, providing one of the most fresh and entertaining stories gaming has seen in quite some time.

I'll refrain from saying much more about the story, because it's just too damn good to be spoiled, and is much more worthy of being experienced for yourself. Later in the story, a few eye-rolling supernatural elements get revealed that may turn some off initially, but one can quickly gloss over them when they remember that the main character is already dead and interacting with other spirits. I'll close out the story portion of this review by saying that this is a story and brand Capcom should have the good sense to just put down and leave alone. Everything in Ghost Trick ends up resolved with no questions needed before the final credits roll, creating a nice stand-alone package that stands up on its own so well that no more needs to be said. But, who am I kidding? It's Capcom and they'll whore out just about anything, regardless of how much sense it makes or how much of a slap in the face it may be to a game or franchise's credibility.

Helping pull it all together is an excellent localization effort and characters that are nothing shy of memorable. The writers have clearly outdone themselves here, packing the game full of personalities that you'll find yourself drawn to and genuinely caring for. Where the Ace Attorney series managed to get by on outrageous caricatures made up almost solely of stereotypes, even Ghost Trick's most flamboyant and unbelievable cast members have just the right mix of wacky and realness that makes them entertaining and able to carry a fairly serious story all the way to its end.

While Ghost Trick owes 50% of its success at telling a great story to its writing, the other 50% comes from its phenomenal graphical presentation. Some of the background assets and objects can come off as a bit bland and aren't all that impressive, but Ghost Trick's flat and angular character artwork and in-game sprites seal the deal, creating a style that's endlessly fun to gawp at. Using what looks to be a mix of rotoscoping and some light 3D modeling (it's honestly hard to tell if they're drawn or modeled), Ghost Trick's characters spring to life in ways the Ace Attorney series honestly has no way of competing with. Every character in the game has their own unique animations for walking and running, and an even greater set of signature animations that make them all immediately identifiable and charming as all get out. It's impossible to not be amused and captivated as characters act out their scenes, and any new character's introduction is always something to look forward to. Take that, RPGs with talking heads and boring text boxes. You just got blown the fuck out of the water by a dead guy and a Michael Jackson'esque dancing detective!

Ghost Trick's audio, on the other hand, I found to be a bit on the unimpressive side. Maybe it's just my own taste here, but not a lot of the game's soundtrack really jumped out at me, nor did it seem quite as memorable as many of the immediately hummable tunes from the Ace Attorney series. Masakazu Sugimori is listed as Ghost Trick's sole composer, and did work on the first Ace Attorney game, but the music here seems to only suit the moment and provide something to listen to other than the text crawl. None of the music is flat-out bad, it's just...there, which is kinda disappointing when you consider Capcom's legacy for churning out really great earwormy audio.

Getting back to Sissel's perplexing dilemma, what's a spirit to do to unravel his own mysteries when he has no physical body with which to influence events in the real world anymore? With precious little time to figure out the circumstances of his own demise, Sissel quickly learns that he has the ability to perform the game's titular "Ghost Tricks," which allow him to possess and interact with various inanimate objects in order to get around and accomplish goals.

Ghost Tricks are the core gameplay mechanic, and you use them to solve each elaborate scenario's puzzles, which, more often than not, are largely inspired by Rube Goldberg Machines. For the uneducated swine, this means using overly-complicated means to to perform a very simple task. Since Sissel is just a ghost only able to possess simple objects, most of the game's puzzles involve setting several small objects in the environment into motion to create the desired outcome.

The mechanic is as simple as entering ghost world to grind the flow of time to a halt, drawing a line on the touch screen to the object you want Sissel to possess, and then exiting ghost world to manipulate the object if it has a specific function. Since Sissel can only travel a short distance in the ghost world, a majority of your time will be spent jumping to and from various objects to get around, and manipulating others so that he can.

As the game progresses, you'll be asked to get even craftier with the system, and sometimes the feats the game wants you to perform are just plain bonkers enough to make you wanna pull your hair out. A lot of the puzzles will require intricate timing, forcing you to start and stop time again so that Sissel can get around to accomplishing the task at hand, and other times you'll be using objects in ways you'd never have even thought of until you set the whole scene into motion and just start playing around with things. This heightened amount of player involvement is really what makes Ghost Trick stand head and shoulders above the Ace Attorney games. You're not just arguing semantics in a courtroom, barely "winning" by the skin of your teeth, and trudging through those awful investigation sequences. In Ghost Trick you're actually impacting peoples' lives with your own actions. And, well, it's a hell of a lot of fun to do, and you're rewarded with a real sense of accomplishment when you finally crack a particularly difficult sequence of events you had to set into action to make something happen or save someone's life. Other than having to repeat a scenario from generously placed checkpoints, and maybe having to re-read some dialog again, there's no real penalty for failure. At any time during a puzzle, you're always welcome to jump back to the previous "Fate Averted" checkpoint, or rewind the full four minutes entirely to try something new from the tippy-top.

The system isn't without its quirks however, as there are a few puzzle solutions that really are a bit obtuse, and some that just don't feel like they were as tight or clear as they needed to be. Helping someone escape from a prison undetected, and another where Sissel must help get a dying man's medicine to him are the chief offenders that are sure to frustrate many players on their first time through. On top of that, as is the same with the Ace Attorney series, there's only ONE way to complete each scenario, and once you've solved it, there's not a whole lot of reason to wanna do it again. This unfortunately means that once you've played through Ghost Trick once, there's really no reason to ever go back to it. This game seems perfect to have had some kind of extra challenge scenarios, or maybe a Layton-esque weekly download puzzle to help bolster its replay value a bit, but the fact that it's all over the first time you've completed it should in no way deter you from wanting to see it through at least once. Like I said, the Ace Attorney games are just as bad in this department, and most of us played through those.

With the DS finally on its way out to make room for the upcoming 3DS, I guess we can consider Ghost Trick to be one of the little handheld's final masterpieces. There's absolutely no doubt that if you own a DS, you really need to own this game. If you've found yourself tired of or completley put off by the Ace Attorney series and its hum-drum "going through the motions" gameplay, story, and characters, then I'd highly suggest giving Ghost Trick a whirl for something truly unique, engaging, and refreshing.






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