This ghost hasn’t lost its tricks
There really aren’t any game designers out there like Shu Takumi. The Capcom veteran responsible for creating the Ace Attorney series understands like few other designers what makes a good mystery and how to design mechanics that deepen the player's connection to that mystery. I adore the Ace Attorney series with all my heart, but it is a little-known standalone DS game that I’d consider Takumi’s magnum opus. And after thirteen years of waiting, the game has finally returned in a definitive, polished-up version. For those who are already familiar with this game’s tricks, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective on Switch is the perfect version to relive its twisting tale and vibrant characters. For those who are new to the experience, something truly special awaits you.
Usually in games, death is pretty much the end, but with a death is where Ghost Trick begins. You play as Sissel, a recently departed soul with a bad case of amnesia who died in a junkyard at night. As a ghost, Sissel possesses–pun intended–the ability to control the world of the living by performing his ghost tricks. These tricks can impact objects in the world to spin, whirl, fold, twist, turn on machinery, and much much more. Your goal is simple: find out how and why you died. Unfortunately, your only lead seems to be a detective named Lynne, who herself is the target of a hitman, and she just died as well. Sissel’s spirit, however, is able to travel back four minutes before her death and use his trick to alter Lynne’s fate. From there, the story twists and turns as you slowly learn more and more about strange events and deaths taking place all over town. Ghost Trick is full of great scenes that make its world come alive (yes, this one too).
Gameplay in Ghost Trick consists of two segments. On the one hand, there are the discoveries, as I call them. During these moments you are using your ghost powers to traverse rooms and obstacles to find certain people to interact with or learn more about what is going on in the story. As a soul, you can trace a line, either by using the touch screen similar to the DS-version or by moving the joystick between your soul and the core of another object. Once you’re in the other core, you can leave the Ghost World and trick the object. For example a foldable ladder can be extended, an umbrella can be opened, or a bell can be rung. Most of the time, this will attract the intention of people around the scene, and present new routes for you to get to your destination. Here you will learn more about the characters and the way they interact with others and the world around them. This knowledge comes in handy when dealing with the bodies.
Ghost Trick really turns into a detective game when Sissel comes across a dead body. Being able to turn back the clock to four minutes before that death took place, and with the ghost tricks at your disposal, it is possible to prevent a death from happening and change that individual’s fate. The game truly comes into its own during these moments when you are, in real-time, learning about how the death happened and how it can be stopped. Each death is set up like a Rube Goldberg machine, where the individual pieces can be tricked to change the outcome. At certain points you’ll change the fate of the person involved, causing the scene to shift significantly and open up new paths. The game is entirely linear in its solutions but the combination of the ticking clock while solving the death shifts your approach every time. Using that knowledge is key to learning how each murder can be prevented.
But the puzzles aren’t the only thing that made Ghost Trick a cult hit; its heart truly lies with its cast of eclectic characters. These range from Lynne’s incredible optimism and determination, to probably the greatest animal sidekick in all of video games in the form of Missile. As you encounter more and more of those involved, you start to see the connections between the characters and how Sissle relates to them as well. Even for those who only appear for one or two scenes, their animations and writing just sell the character immediately, such as Inspector Cabanella’s wild dancing motions, the way Missile jumps around, and how the Junkyard’s superintendent communicates with a pigeon. The music is also a suspenseful fusion of jazz and electronic beats that do a great job of communicating the situation Sissel finds himself in. It’s definitely not as tense or diverse as the Ace Attorney games are known for, but it’s a well balanced soundtrack that has some great tunes.
Ghost Trick is a phenomenal experience for first time players, but this remaster is a little bit barebones for those who might be hoping for some new chapters or stories. The game has a great unlockable art gallery that is a treat for those who are big fans of this game. There is also a jukebox that has both the original and the new arranged soundtrack. The real new piece of content here is a puzzle mode, where you simply solve a set of sliding puzzles in a grid of several sizes. There are some in-game achievements that can be unlocked by playing these, but don’t expect any new substantial content. I like some of the UI changes that have been made, but really whether you’re playing the original DS release, the mobile port, or this new remaster, you can’t go wrong with any version of this game. The biggest advantage here is that the game just looks a whole lot shinier in HD and that it is just great to have Ghost Trick back for new players to experience for the very first time.
Replaying Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective really cemented my feeling that this is still one of best mystery stories ever told in the medium. The gameplay is inventive and makes every trick feel surprising and new, while reinforcing the idea of how objects relate to each other. But it’s the cast of Ghost Trick that has remained endearing after all these years. Finding out what happened to Sissel, how Lynne is involved, and how everyone on this one strange night is connected: that story just feels like something that cannot be told in a television series or movie, but truly stands on its own as a game. It is no surprise to me that Shu Takumi apparently often revisits this game to reflect on how he has grown as a designer. If you’re already familiar with this game, you won’t be missing out on any meaningful extras by skipping this release, but if you are new to Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective it is a must play. It is one of those games that doesn’t need a sequel or prequel but is a perfectly self-contained story that truly hasn’t aged a day. I couldn’t be happier that Ghost Trick has been brought back to life one more time.