Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – Making the Most of Being a Ghost

You’re on the ground. Your face buried in concrete. You hear a yell–a scream. It’s a woman. You can hear the nervous shuffling of her boots move away from you, replaced by the authoritative clacking of likely-expensive suede shoes. A sound of swiping through the air, and the clicking of a gun–it’s loaded.

“So long, sister”.

You try to move. But your body denies you. There’s no strength in your legs. Then, inexplicably, you’re able to see yourself on the ground. And you realize:

You’re already dead.

If all this sounds like the premise for a murder mystery story, you’d be exactly right. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective isn’t a game about reaching the flag at the end of the level, or racking up the most headshots. Instead, Ghost Trick spins a yarn about how you ended up on that cold floor in the first place–a means of which isn’t quite of this world.

System: Nintendo DS
Published by: Capcom
Developed by: Capcom
Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
Number of Players: 1
T for Teen: Mild Language, Mild Violence

What’s Awesome About It?

1)Unique, Intriguing Game Mechanics

Being a ghost, the main character, Sissel (the guy in snazzy red suit), is afforded with two special powers only capable by those not restrained by a body, namely:

1) The ability to inhabit objects and use their inherent functions (otherwise known as a “ghost trick”).
2) Travel back four minutes in time, before the victim’s death.

A typical scenario in the game is one in which you find a character who has met their untimely demise, who then asks you to save them using your ghost tricks in exchange for a lead on your character’s identity. What ensues is something not quite unlike a Rube Goldberg machine , in which you manipulate a wide range of items which, when used correctly (and timely), you’re able to save the would-be victim. It’s a very unique approach to a puzzle game; one that’s great at getting you to use your brain because it’s “ghost tricks” are founded in real-life logic. If you move a ball down a slide it will slide down and shoot out the end of it; if that ball hits a tree with an apple dangling out of it the apple will fall down, etc. It’s an easy concept to wrap your head around because if you’ve ever used any of these objects in real life you’ll know exactly how to use them in the game (which the game takes advantage of by presenting you with some pretty intensive set pieces). It’s very rewarding.

2) Absolutely Absorbing Mystery Tale

The story of Ghost Trick occurs over the course of a single night. Your task (more like, your only option) is finding out exactly what went down in the junkyard that night before morning, at which point if you’re unsuccessful you’ll vanish, without ever discovering the truth. Ghost Trick reads like a bonafide Thriller page-turner–every minute you find yourself discovering another shocking fact about the plot, the characters and they ways in which they intertwine to paint a picture of how you came to be an amnesiac, ghostly version of yourself. You won’t want to put the game down until you discover the truth! (Note: The game is rated T, but really, there isn’t anything objectionable in here that would prevent me from giving it to a 10 year-old, for example.)

3)Wonderful, Hilarious, Human Characters

If the plot sounds a little heavy on the drama, don’t worry–one of the absolute best aspects about Ghost Trick is that it manages to tell it’s story without ever taking itself too seriously. This is in large part due to some of the most charming, relatable characters I’ve ever seen in a game. Special mention has to go to Missile (the dog on the bottom of the page). If you’ve ever wondered what a pomeranian would say if it could talk, Missile answers that question . He’s adorable, and yet, characteristically loyal–just like a dog ought to be. All in all, there’s no bad egg among all the characters. Good or evil, you’ll grow to love them all by the game’s end.

4)Fluid, Has-To-Be-Seen-To-Be-Believed Animation

Being developed for the Nintendo DS means that Ghost Trick isn’t technically impressive, but that hardly matters when the game looks this good. Using a technique called “rotoscoping”, in which the movements of live actors are traced over by animators, the animation in Ghost Trick is amazingly fluid and surprisingly lifelike. Don’t believe me? Allow me to let Inspector Cabanela change your mind . Every character moves with this fluidity, lending a great deal of personality to each.

What’s NOT So Awesome?

1) Little Diversity in Gameplay

When I mentioned that Ghost Trick was much like a video game version of a page-turner, I meant that in pretty much every sense of the phrase. The game is very text heavy. It almost seems inappropriate to call it a ‘game’ due to the fact that the majority of your time spent with Ghost Trick will be reading. Of course that’s par for the course as far as adventure games go so there’s no real issue there (just thought I’d mention that for those unfamiliar with the Adventure game genre). The problem that arises from this is that there is very little variation in the game’s mechanics. You have your ability to posses and use objects, but that’s pretty much all you can do. This problem is alleviated a bit by the sheer variety of unique objects you can interact with (and no two scenarios using these objects are ever quite the same) but for those expecting the game to feed you new techniques every so often will be disappointed. You do receive a new ability late into the game, but it would have been nice if you had access to it earlier. Not a gamebreaker by any means whatsoever, just something to note.

2) Fairly Short

Another problem inherent with the Adventure genre, Ghost Trick is not the longest game. Again with the comparisons to thriller novels, you could probably expect to finish the game in about the same time it would take you to finish a moderately-sized one. And again, just like a book, read it once and you don’t have much of a reason to play it again. In its defense, this is a key part to what makes the game’s story so engrossing; it’s relatively small scope and length allow it to tell a very concentrated, effective tale, free of any meandering or filler content. And if you’re the type who likes to read your favorite books over again anyway, this shouldn’t even count as an issue.

The Verdict

NINE Fearless Pomeranians Out of TEN

I’ve definitely played (more then) my fair share of games, but never anything quite like Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. You’ll come for the awesome premise, but stick around for the wonderfully charming characters and the incredibly absorbing tale they tell. If a family-friendly, video game version of a Thriller novel sparks your interest, you’ll have a blast with Ghost Trick.