Gaming on a Timer

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – Impressions

This post contains minor spoilers on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective’s plot. You have been warned.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
box art.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a 2011 (in the EU/US, at any rate)  NDS game by Capcom, developed by Shu Takumi of Phoenix Wright fame, in which you take the role of the titular “phantom detective”, a recently deceased man named Sissel. It’s premise follows Sissel’s adventures as he attempts to solve the mystery of his murderer’s identity, by utilizing the eponymous “Ghost Tricks”, his unexplained ability to manipulate objects as a spirit.

The concept, while not entirely original, is delivered through a story that’s unique and robust, managing to keep the player’s interest in seeing it unfold. The game’s opening scene does a good job of setting the stage, with recently-deceased Sissel discovering his abilities to travel between objects by “possessing” them and manipulating them, such as opening cupboards or swinging desk lamps. A mysterious presence called “Ray” acts as the game’s tutorial, by tutoring Sissel in his recently acquired abilities throughout the first chapter.

Game’s interface during
“ghost mode”.

Said chapters form the game’s narrative, with each giving a clear goal for the player to follow; this turns out to work well as a pacing device, as the game enjoys a tight narrative with excellent set pieces and masterfully implemented characters, locations and music. The story itself in particular is very well said, with a few particular plot twists that (despite a slightly overdone tone) help bring the experience up from an average “whodunit” mystery to a gripping murder mystery.

Gameplay-wise, the game’s unique selling point (object possession and manipulation) is structured as a series of linear puzzles, in which the player must usually work out a route to a specific set of objects, where manipulating them advances the plot in some significant way. Most of these advancements are centred around preventing certain characters from dying, by means of experiencing their final moments (specifically, 4 minutes before their death). The player might, for example, be tasked of preventing a person’s death from heart attack by bringing their medication closer to them, or prevent a car crash by viewing the circumstances surrounding it and counteracting them in some way.

Linear to a fault, presumably
due to the game’s premise.

This is where the game’s greatest strength also becomes it’s greatest shortcoming; the rigid structure it follows helps the pacing and atmosphere remain at their highest throughout the experience – however, this also means that due to all of them having a solitary solution, the replay value becomes non-existent (not to mention that the trial-and-error method could be annoying to some). Combine this with an average of 6-8 hours of gameplay, depending on how much the player likes to experiment with (what amounts to) red herrings, the puzzles being usually clear-cut (at least up until the final three acts) and for the most part, having easy to figure solutions and you get a very short game that for some people might not be worth the asking price.

Vibrant colours that accentuate
the characters.

Special merit is due to the game’s graphics, with character animations in particular being smooth and enjoyable to view, while the colour palettes used often work to accentuate them from the rest of the world, much to the visual benefit of the game. In general, the use of bright colours gives the game a comic book feel that, strangely enough, works to enhance instead of detract from the atmosphere created by the story. The characters are thus rendered memorable, an impression aided by the effort done to give them all distinctive traits and mannerisms.

The soundtrack also deserves mention, as it does a good job of reinforcing the chapters’ action and pacing; in particular, the “urgent” set pieces, aided by the soundtrack, offer an exhilarating feeling seldom found in similar games. Character themes are in themselves functional, if uninteresting, content in taking the back seat while exposition and character development take the forefront of the game at those points.

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Ultimately, the game boils down to a superbly executed puzzle-adventure with a unique take on death, some truly unpredictable plot twists, well-developed characters and a great combination of smooth graphics – memorable soundtrack.

The only downside comes from the game’s rigidly linear nature and short duration; depending on your mileage, this could be a deal-breaker in purchasing the game. 
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