Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Publisher: Capcom/Developer: Capcom
Why would anyone want a book when there’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective? Books don’t have 2D rendered sprites of hand drawn 3D models, you could have animation by flipping through the pages quickly but it would have to be an absurdly huge book to be anywhere near as cool. You would definitely drop a book that big on the bus and lose your place; drop a Nintendo DS on the bus and it’ll snap shut and save your place internally just because it loves you so very much. The point of this ludicrous opening paragraph is not that books are rubbish, but just that Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is really really good.
It starts off with a murder; a detective called Lynne stumbles across a corpse in a junkyard, before a hitman bursts onto the scene and shoots her down for unknown reasons. After an enchanted lampshade informs the ghost of the discovered corpse (that’s you) of your “Ghost Tricks” it’s up to you to use these tricks to save Lynne. The catch is that you have no memory of who you are or why you were killed tonight; and Lynne is your only potential lead on unlocking this mystery before your time runs out at dawn.
That probably all sounded fairly straight and narrow before the stuff about ghosts and the enchanted lampshade cropped up didn’t it? Ghost Trick comes to us from Shu Takumi, best known as the creator of the also slightly insane Ace Attorney series, and those familiar with his work will see his fingerprints all over this outing too.
It’s hard to discuss the story in too much detail as even the smallest piece of information could have 100s of spoilers attached to it, but Takumi games often have really “out there” nonsensical plots. This is sometimes too much for some gamers; a lot of people especially get grumpy about the Ace Attorney series regular inclusion of spirit mediums into the plots, but Takumi gets away with it because he grounds everything with the characters.
Takumi views his characters as the foundation of the craziness not crash test dummies that the craziness just happens to slam into, and as nuts and convoluted as Ghost Trick gets you’ll come out of it remembering the people more than the events. The ending of this game really doesn’t work for some people, but gosh darn it, it’s such a pleasant ending and so wrapped up in this worlds own logic it’s impossible to hate despite how silly it is. A lesser game wouldn’t get away with it; fortunately Ghost Trick is anything but.
As the comparison to books at the start and this review’s absolute refusal to discuss (or ruin) core plot points might imply, the main event of Ghost Trick is the story but this isn’t just an interactive novel, there is gameplay afoot. You spend the game moving around with your “Ghost Tricks”, these allow you to hop a short distance between inanimate objects and manipulate certain objects, such as chiming a clock or swinging a pendulum. Much more spectacular however, is the ability to communicate with recently deceased spirits and rewind time back to four minutes before their death.
The core element of the puzzles in this game are these “four minutes before death” sequences, where you have to toy around with objects in a room to avert someone’s fate. It’s a clever mechanic in how the designers choreograph a death sequence, sort of as a “what if” scenario and give you limited tools to change it, as it also gives your ghostly spirit an excuse to actually communicate with all the other characters in the story. The one downside to it is it does mean basically everyone in the plot has to die at some point as part of one evening’s events, Lynne especially is a bit reckless as you’ll be saving her about six times in the game, you really get the feeling that as soon as your spirit fades away at dawn all these clutz will trip over their shoelaces and all die in one big pile and it’d all been for nothing.
Anyway, the actual puzzles are fairly trial and error in nature, but that’s not the smarmy criticism that it sounds. What the game does is give you situation and a whole bunch of toys to play with, you’ll probably spend your first attempt playing with them and getting everything wrong, but you’ll figure out what to do. Time is frozen when moving around in the Ghost World, and you rewind to the start as many times as possible and the game is never a douche about it, stuff just goes wrong in Ghost World sometimes. Solving a puzzle in Ghost Trick is more like completing a Sudoku grid than solving a crossword clue, you keep clawing away at it until eventually you get all the pieces in the right place and it all becomes obvious.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a beautifully presented story full of heart and spirit (hey this was a joke thanks for reading). Anyone who likes adventure or story-based games but gets frustrated at the structure of classic PC point n’ click ones should really love this, and anyone who is a fan of Ace Attorney or Professor Layton will be all over this as well. Whether you like, love or hate it, it’s guaranteed that you’ll never forget it.
Reviewer: Matthew Leslie