Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review
Posted by Kim Wild
Trick or treat?
When Shu Takumi broke away from the Ace Attorney series to create a new game for the Nintendo DS, there were many who wondered whether anything else could ever live up to a certain Phoenix Wright and his long succession of adventures. Fans of his work and point-and-click adventures have no need to worry as Ghost Trick is a tantalising endeavour that proves to be his best production to date.
You play the role of Sissel, a ghost who has been separated from his body after becoming a murder victim. Completely absent of any memory of who he is or what has happened, Sissel must embark on a quest to rediscover his identity with the aid of the people he befriends, including a suspicious talking lamp called Ray. However, being without a body is incredibly inconvenient, so the only way in which to travel is by accessing the ghost world, where every object has a core that can be latched onto with a move of the stylus, and phone lines are the only way to access another location. You can also interact with those who have died so you can discover how they met an untimely end and then 'rewind' to four minutes before that person's demise in order to prevent it.
Accessing the real world enables Sissel to perform 'tricks' that involve manipulating objects to set off a chain of events. For example, early on in the game, a young girl with her dog are both about to be assassinated by a hitman and both deaths need to be prevented. By moving the girl's headphones into the water she can't listen to her music, and craftily manipulating an object to roll underneath the sofa will cause the dog to follow it, therefore leading them both out of harm's way when the assassin arrives. It's not all about murder, despite the obvious obsession with death: some puzzles can be as simple as trying to get a telephone to a young girl so she can speak to her father and sneaking a prisoner past some security guards.
Everything about the world has the animé style that you would come to expect from a game of Shu Takumi's pedigree yet it is in the animation that injects personality into its characters. Every scene is vibrant with life: the flamboyant walk of the white coated detective, the panic dance of the security guard and the ballet style movement of the park attendant all enhance the humorous script and make watching as engrossing as participating. Although there is plenty of dialogue to enjoy, it never outstays its welcome, focusing more on informing the player while being a source of entertainment. Even the soundtrack is an auditory treat, with a flair for jazz and the dramatic, constantly changing to fit the scene or characters that star within them.
What makes Ghost Trick such a delight to play is that the storyline and puzzles are intricately woven together. It always makes perfect sense as to why you need to reach the next room or access a phone line to reach another location. The script is expertly written, not only by expressing the trademark hilarity that the author of the Ace Attorney games is renowned for, but by managing to guide you on your way to the next puzzle. Failure to rescue someone in time is handled brilliantly by well-placed dialogue that hints as to what you should be doing without entirely giving the game away. This is also the case when a puzzle has been partly solved before time runs out, with the characters informing you when you're on the right track. It's impossible to get stuck without any room for progress – Sissel will chip in with a comment if you've missed an opportunity to perform a certain trick and it's just a question of hitting the rewind button to start again. Solving a dilemma after several different approaches is always fulfilling and has that feeling of satisfaction that few games ever achieve.
It may have a few issues towards the end with some of the puzzles requiring a few leaps in lateral thinking (particularly when controlling multiple characters with different abilities) but Ghost Trick is a perfect showcase of what the Nintendo DS can accomplish with the right design. With around fifteen hours of gameplay that keep you compelled to play until the end in combination with a storyline that continues to surprise, Ghost Trick may be crammed full of tricks but is most definitely an absolute treat.