Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review
Another thrilling mystery from the Ace Attorney team, with the added bonus of stopping murders.
It starts with a murder. Yours, to be precise. You wake up as a ghost one night in the role of Sissel, a snappy dresser with wonderful hair, who has no memory of his former life. Quickly Sissel learns that his life is not the only one in danger and he only has until dawn the next day to figure who killed him and why. Fortunately, Sissel has the ability to manipulate the objects around him, but will this be enough to crack the case?
It's been a long time since master storyteller Shu Takami burst onto the scene with the Game Boy Advance classic Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but now he's back, with an all-new tale to tell. The difference this time around is that it's not set in the courtroom.
As with its spiritual brothers in the Ace Attorney series, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a very wordy game. For a DS title, it's got possibly one of the longest scripts going, as each chapter provides its own mystery that needs solving, as well as adding an enormous chunk to the overall mystery of the game. Luckily, as with anything written by Shu Takami, the dialogue is a total joy to behold. Cast members come alive through the subtle differences in their speech patterns and the always-brilliant character design to a spellbinding degree. A particular favourite is comic foil Lynne provides an excellent backbone to Sissel's metaphysical discussions, bringing the comedy double-act so dearly loved in the Ace Attorney franchise in a new direction.
Backing up the marvellous writing is some of the best character animation ever seen on the DS. Every single character has their own unique way of walking and interacting with other people, from the flamboyant poses of Inspector Cabanela to the panic-stricken dancing of the Prison Guard. Even the singular appearance of the police chief is livened up by an amusing animation, and it all combines to form a world of humorous and bizarre immersion.
Happily, there's also a heck of a lot more gameplay in this tale, thanks to Sissel's excellent titular Ghost Tricks. Because Sissel can only possess objects within a certain range, you often need to get smart about how exactly you move around. One early chapter sees you quickly learning the ropes by unfolding a bed, rolling a tire down a ramp and using a gust of breeze from a fan to your advantage. Items are displayed on the top screen, along with the specific way that they can be manipulated. The tough part is figuring out how to use that to your own advantage.
The real meat of the game is the task of preventing the unnecessary deaths of Sissel's companions. Any time Sissel enters a new area, there's a good chance that he has just missed a murder or an accident or possibly both. This presents Sissel with the opportunity to go back in time to four minutes before the death and try to figure out how to stop it from happening. The earlier chapters ask very little of you - move item A so that item B never connects, and so on - but later chapters revel in forcing you to race against the clock, often squeezing your efforts into those final few seconds in order to make a last minute adjustment. It's an intense experience that will sucker you in completely and make you think about a huge number of things simultaneously.
While the game is a cracking successor to Ace Attorney and a worthy title in its own right, there are a number of minor complaints. The game has a habit of holding your hand far too much when it doesn't need to, before dropping you in the deep end and forcing an irritating amount of trial-and-error into the harder sections. It's also a bit of a shame that the plot - so carefully constructed, so brilliant and so damn mysterious - goes completely bonkers for the final third of the game. It's not as distracting as, say, the final case of Trials and Tribulations, nor is it as annoyingly drawn-out as the finale of Ace Attorney Investigations, but it does derail the reality of the story up until that point.
In summary, Ghost Trick will be loved by anyone who enjoyed the Ace Attorney games. It's also a lot more accessible, thanks to the increased presence of actual gameplay instead of hours of dialogue. In short, it's a fun, satisfying game with a compelling mystery and some fantastic characters.
Easy menu system, even easier gameplay mechanics. You're mostly left to figure it out by yourself, but you're never punished for taking your time.
Outstanding character design, flawless animations and beautifully designed arenas.
Mostly the same repetitive 'tension' music. You'll be bored of hearing it, but the character themes are a joy.
The best mystery story you'll experience all year. Bold, confident, funny and more engaging than you'd expect.