It's a haunting good time!
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is the newest game from Shu Takumi, creator of the popular Ace Attorney series. At the risk of making heretical statements, Ghost Trick outshines these previous efforts as a triumph of storytelling, gameplay, and presentation. From start to finish it cannot be put down, and years from the hardware's release it utilizes the Nintendo DS's core functionality as if the system were built for it.
In Ghost Trick you play as Sissel, a man who woke up to find that not only has he been murdered, but that he's also forgotten everything about who he is and how he was killed. Now a free-floating spirit, he encounters another restless soul residing in a desk lamp. The spirit, who calls himself Ray (short for "Ray of Light"), points out another murder victim, a young woman named Lynne. Ray tells Sissel that if he wants to solve the mysteries of his life and death he needs to save Lynne, because she is the key to unraveling the mystery. More importantly, he has to do it tonight because at dawn his spirit will disappear forever.
That's you in the chair. Dead.
Each chapter in Ghost Trick involves Sissel saving the life of someone connected to the mystery of his identity. To do this, he must determine both how the victim was killed, and how to save them. Being a ghost does have some advantages, as he is able to go back in time four minutes prior to a body's death in order to change their fate.
Sissel can enter "Ghost Mode" by clicking a button on the touch screen. In Ghost Mode, time stops and he can move between objects within a limited range of his current position. He can also communicate with the spirits of the dead, or those of people he has saved from death earlier. Outside of Ghost Mode time progresses, but he can use his "Ghost Tricks" to interact with the item he is possessing, making the item perform a specific action (turn on a light, open a door, roll a ball, etc.). Each move he makes changes the narrative of the victim's final minutes, and can buy him some time. If time runs out he fails, and as a result the victim is killed, he then has to rewind time again and start over.
Sissel moving in Ghost Mode. He is going to turn on that siren and be a nuisance.
The entire game is a series of environmental puzzles. Sissel always knows what the final objective is, and understands how the victim was killed. It's his job to use his powers to change the environment to alter the victim's fate. One puzzle tasks him with preventing a sniper from killing Lynne, which he does by using lights to illuminate the various places the sniper uses to hide and forcing him to the only secluded spot remaining, under the heavy payload of a crane. One flip of the crane's control levers and the assassin isn't a threat anymore.
The DS works perfectly with the game as all controls can be executed using only the stylus. The only actions to perform are either drawing lines to move Sissel, or clicking an on-screen button to make him perform his Ghost Tricks.
Despite the similar objectives and limited number of tasks Sissel can perform, the game never feels like it has outstayed its welcome. It waits until just before all possible ideas seem to have been exhausted to introduce new mechanics. Each puzzle requires critical thinking and proper timing to successfully evade the impending danger. As the game progresses it continues to offer new and exciting challenges, and each resolution feels rewarding and serves to whet the appetite for further challenges.
That said, it would have been nice if some of the levels presented more difficult challenges. The majority of the puzzles are rather straightforward; however, the handful that require a lot of observation, planning, and thought are the most exciting to solve.
Ghost Trick's story blends well with its gameplay. A ghost story is the perfect vehicle for a game about manipulating an environment to solve puzzles. At the heart of Ghost Trick is the mystery of Sissel's identity. In seeking to discover who he is and why he died, Sissel discovers that he is just part of a much larger and more troubling conspiracy. Yet, the story manages to feel cool, absurd, and have a keen sense of comedic timing, all while maintaining dramatic intensity. Each twist of the plot is well-crafted, the pacing is quick, and the overall quality of storytelling is a testament to the skills of Shu Takumi and his team.
The visual style features animation reminiscent of rotoscoping techniques, resulting in movements that seem impossibly smooth for the DS. The game features dancing security guards, festive walks, moving backgrounds, and other elements that show off the title's accomplishments in animation. The art itself relies on bright, cell-shaded visuals and they look fantastic. It seems as if colorful pop art has sprung to life with some of the most organic movement in gaming, and the net effect is that of undeniable coolness.
His dancing is amazingly fluid, and situationally inappropriate.
The audio design is equally well executed. Like the Ace Attorney titles, the music is tense and dramatic. The effects sound right, such as hearing the sound of a door being unlocked, the knob turned, and it finally opening. While it features no voice work, players will not miss it.
The game features no multiplayer mode, but it does clock in at about 12 hours, and it is infinitely replayable. Players can select their favorite chapters from the main menu if they desire.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a rare title. Its inventive and addicting gameplay was clearly built in such a way as to place maximum value on the DS touch screen. A compelling and engrossing story was constructed around these gameplay mechanics, and an attractive and unique visual style was created to display such a game. However, the best thing to be said about Ghost Trick is that there isn't much negative to say. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is an absolutely amazing title.