Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

by on March 9, 2011

Game: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom (Nintendo in Europe)

Available on: Nintendo DS, iOS (Reviewed on Nintendo DS)

What do you do when you wake up to find you’ve been murdered? Do you go on to whatever afterlife there is waiting for you in the great beyond, shrug your shoulders and just think “Hey, when it’s your time, it’s your time”? If your name is Sissel and you’ve awoken with the “Power of the Dead” then moving on just isn’t an option for you, you’re going to find out what happened to you and you’re going to find out before the night is through. Mostly because you’ve got no choice.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a Nintendo DS game where the player gets the opportunity to play as a ghost, possess objects, manipulate them and mess with the people that just happen to have their lives still intact. Sounds like a good concept doesn’t it? Is it a good game though? That’s what we’re here to find out.

STORY: The story begins with your death. You play as Sissel, a man found dead in a junkyard on the outskirts of town, and you are tasked with finding out why you’re in the state you are. What did you do wrong? Who killed you? What the hell is going on?!

Eventually you find out that you have the power to manipulate objects in the world through the use of your “Ghost Tricks” and these become increasingly handy as you set off on your quest to find the answers to numerous questions you’ve got darting around your head. Along the way you will meet characters that you’ll end up having to help, either by saving their lives (by rewinding time to four minutes before their death), or by using the objects around the world and manipulating them to help them solve their particular predicament by themselves. You are a ghost after all, it’s not like you can just tell them the answer.

The story weaves around a little, as murder mysteries tend to do, but the main point of the story is never too far away. Just like any good murder mystery novel, the game performs well when it comes to keeping the player involved throughout, making sure they come back night after night or simply whenever they’ve got 5 minutes spare.

GRAPHICS: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective has some of the most visually stunning looks in a DS game. At first glance there’s nothing particularly impressive, for the most part it looks like your standard tap-the-screen adventure game, on the same level as the Phoenix Wright series of games. However, once the characters on the screen start to move, that’s when you notice the difference. The animations given to all the characters and elements in the game world are so fluid that it’s like nothing else on the DS! You’ll find yourself repeating the same series of moves just to get that one guy to dance again because the animation is so funny whilst being utterly beautiful at the same time.

The rest of the game is made up of sprites that are crisp and just what you’d expect from a game of this genre. The design of the characters is right along the same street that you’d expect from Japanese developers with big eyes, big hair and just a little bit of sheer madness thrown in for good measure. The graphics are good on the whole but it’s really the animations that set Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective apart from the rest of the competition.

SOUND: When talking about a Nintendo DS game the sound quality is very rarely something that you’ll take notice of. In fact, due to where most of these games will be played (in bed or travelling), a lot of people won’t even have the sound on while playing. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is no different. The sound achieves it’s goal in the sense that it creates tension in the parts that need it and gives a sense of narrative throughout the main story of the game. However, playing the entire game without any sound at all wouldn’t take away from the game in the slightest. All of the dialogue is given to the player in speech bubbles so there wouldn’t be any missed story cues and most, if not all, of the subtle nuances of character interaction are given to the player in other ways as well as audibly, such as the character’s sprite shaking when they’re shocked at something.

GAMEPLAY: The main gameplay mechanic that you’ll use throughout your time with Ghost Tricks: Phantom Detective is the ability to possess everyday objects and manipulate them. You can do this in order to solve puzzles, get to the other side of an area or even change the fate of someone who might have otherwise died. Not everything in the game world can be manipulated though, that’s where the puzzle aspect of the game comes in. You might be required to get to the other side of a large room but there’s seemingly nothing you can possess between you and your target area, making it appear that you can’t get there just yet. You may, however, be able to possess a toolbox and get carried to the place where you need to be in order to solve the puzzle by a passing worker.

This is what Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is like for the entire game. It’s a game mechanic that when done badly, can get old pretty fast, but here you’ll find yourself trying to manipulate seemingly mundane objects just to see what the reaction of the characters in the room will be. You may make a note fall on the floor and they will look at it with confusion, turn the blender on though and watch them hit the ceiling. That’s where the fun lies. Watching the reactions of the people in the living world as you manipulate objects around them. Add to that the satisfaction of solving a difficult puzzle and you’ve got yourself a pretty addictive little title on your hands.

The other main game mechanic, and the one you’ll find most helpful while playing the main storyline, is the ability to rewind time to four minutes before a specific person’s death. This is used in order to save a person’s life so that Sissel can get information from them to help him solve his own murder. On top of adding to the story, this also gives the game a unique gameplay mechanic, and one that’s quite fun to play. The main point of these sections, which are played like large puzzles, is to change the fate of the person who died. Basically to stop them dying. You accomplish this the same way as before, possess everyday objects, manipulate them and hopefully change things enough so that the event that caused the character’s death in the first place can be averted. At this point a new future is created for the character in question, one where they don’t die. Which is generally preferred by all those around them.

LONGEVITY: With only one way to solve all the puzzles in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective there’s not much in terms of longevity. Once the player has gotten to the end of the game and solved the “Mystery of Me”, as the game calls it, the mystery as to why Sissel was found murdered in a junkyard in the first place, there’s not much in there to entice a player back. That being said, that charm and quality of the game will probably get people coming back at a later date, when they’ve almost forgotten all of the twists and turns, to play through the story again because it’s fun, witty and just a good game all round.

VERDICT: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is the perfect type of game for the Nintendo DS, it’s a fun game that can be picked up for minutes at a time while waiting for a TV show to come back on, or you can lose yourself in the game’s world for hours at a time. However long you’ve got to spend on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, it will keep you occupied and you’ll find yourself itching to get to the next piece of the larger picture. Just like a good book.

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