Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is one of those games that I have been harping on others to play for ages. For well over a decade. So, at last, I have this fresh opportunity to say that if you somehow have still not played Ghost Trick yet, there’s never been a better time to do so. Shu Takumi and CAPCOM have resurrected the Nintendo DS cult favorite on modern platforms in this remastered version. And while there are imperfections to the game’s new lease on life, Ghost Trick remains the utterly unique, earnestly recommendable experience it was thirteen years ago.

The soul of Ghost Trick‘s appeal lies in its innovative take on the adventure game format. Being a spirit, the main character Sissel can’t take any objects with him. Thus, your “inventory” consists of whatever you can access on-screen. Each scenario throughout the game’s chapters is a meticulously crafted setup. The driving challenges of saving various characters from ignoble ends play out like manipulating Rube Goldberg machines or sometimes competing against such setups already put in motion. But even during scenes that aren’t based around the urgency of death aversion, the game can turn simple acts of traversal and exploration into engaging puzzles of mechanical messing about.


Being based on masses of moving parts and operating as they do on specific sequences of events means that the death-prevention puzzle sections can result in a lot of trial and error as you test item behaviors and figure out the proper order of operations the game wants from you. The hard four-minute time limit on the death sequences and several cleverly placed fate-change checkpoints means you never have to worry about restarting and trying things over. But it can still become repetitiously frustrating if you get stuck on the wrong track. The game’s mechanics means that Ghost Trick isn’t simply reliant on passive puzzle solving; it also demands some decent reflexes at points.

The writing is generally pretty good about having dialogue nudge you in the right direction without bluntly giving away puzzle solutions, so once you do hit upon the correct path, the “A-ha” moments ring as satisfying. In contrast, the lack of death-motivated urgency does mean things can occasionally drag during the sequences of traversal and investigation. But these are all few and far-between nitpicks amongst just how cleverly constructed the puzzle systems of Ghost Trick generally are. The game introduces a few new mechanics and types of scenarios as it progresses, showing off the sheer variety of what can be done with its concept in ways that will have you wishing there were more puzzles to play through even after the story hasn’t overstayed its welcome.


Being an adventure game, and one from Shu Takumi , who redefined the genre and its marriage to visual novels in the Ace Attorney series, the story of Ghost Trick is going to be the other half of its recommendable draw. And on account of that, there’s little I can specifically say about it. I cannot tell you what happens in Ghost Trick. Not just in the sense that review embargo restrictions prevent me from expounding on details of the game’s plot past a certain point, but also because, similar to 13 Sentinels after and before it, Ghost Trick is a game with a story that becomes all the more electrifying upon its first playthrough based on you having as little knowledge of what happens in it as possible. Suffice it to say that the game’s plot begins as a murder mystery with a couple of clever spins from its baked-in gameplay mechanics, and from there, flies off into some wild places. It’s a tale tensely paced out over an especially eventful night where people just cannot stop getting killed, featuring competing criminal conspiracies, an extremely good boy of a Pomeranian pup, and a whole bunch of chicken dinners, for some reason.

Similar to Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick manages to stay rather upbeat in its storytelling even with all the murder. It’s particularly helped in this case by the main gameplay loop revolving around preventing those murders after they’ve happened. There’s an overall positive tone to the ideas of people making decisions that let their fates work out well after all is said and done, though some of the later plot twists and how they escalate that concept might push things too far for some players. Just know that things get even more absurd than they did in Ace Attorney, a series that already featured ghosts and conversations with animals. Ghost Trick quickly becomes a real page-turner of a plot, with several occurrences in the later chapters eliciting some out-loud “What?!” reactions. Whether that’s worth the full price of admission to the game when that story can be beaten in a couple of afternoons and invites little replay value, that’s a value proposition you’ll have to make your own call on. But if you ask me, Ghost Trick‘s puzzles and plot are worth playing through at least once.


That’s why CAPCOM making this modern-platform remaster available is so appreciated, even if the jump to the HD era has somewhat softened Ghost Trick‘s presentational impact. The game’s updated graphics take the DS iteration’s teeny-tiny sprite-styled 3D models and blow them up into full high-definition textured takes, apparently running on the RE Engine, of all things! They hardly look bad, but it immediately sticks out on a full screen, as what was once a charming stylistic decision on the Nintendo DS is now apparent as a holdover from an older, smaller game. You catch imperfections with clipping, inconsistent movement, or details that noticeably flip from side to side. At least on the Nintendo Switch version played for this review, there can be noticeable artifact and upscaled blurriness on some of the character textures and the backgrounds.

Un-docking and playing the game in handheld mode may be more recommendable. Observing these tiny, detailed, directable dioramas on the smaller screen they were originally conceived for and using touch-screen functionality in this form brings things closer to the novelty that defined the DS original. But a selectable filter for the visuals would have also been appreciated, similar to the choice between original and arranged soundtracks. I can report that the tunes of Ghost Trick remain as impressive at immersing you in the game’s vibes as ever, at least. The “arranged” versions of the songs don’t even mess with much of the fundamentals of Masakazu Sugimori’s soundtrack, which seems mostly based on making them sound richer and layered, coming out of proper speaker systems.


Those songs are all unlockable to listen to in a gallery, alongside a few other extras CAPCOM has included. A few in-game achievements have been added to pursue, which can add replay value to some of the chapters. There’s also an art gallery, which is impressively robust, letting us see stuff like concept designs and a ton of Takumi’s cute little doodles of characters. However, there is one mostly frustrating inclusion, as the game’s menu teases you with some unlockable “Ghost Puzzles” waiting after the end of the story. You’d be forgiven if you, like me, expected these ‘Ghost Puzzles’ to be some additional challenges using the game’s mechanics, uncoupled from any story context. So imagine my disappointment when, upon completing the main game and unlocking them, it turns out that all they are is, in fact, a set of disposable sliding picture puzzles.

For all the smaller disappointments and imperfections dotting this release, they still can’t hold back how cool the core experience of Ghost Trick remains. Even thirteen years on, there has yet to be another adventure game like it, the twisty logic of its gameplay and sheer outlandishness of its story still holding it all up. If you’re an Ace Attorney fan, this makes a perfect companion to the modern re-releases of those games that CAPCOM keeps pumping out, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it as well. It’s Takumi at some of his wildest. But apart from those associations, any fan of visual novels or adventure games owes it to themselves to give Ghost Trick a look. It’s a game that people who played it thirteen years ago have never forgotten, and this is a great chance to find out why that is.


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