Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
When it was announced that Shu Takumi, the writer of the absolutely fantastic Ace Attorney series had decided to move onto another project to create something different, I was absolutely gutted. Ace Attorney has been my favourite series available for the Nintendo DS and part of this reason was because of its brilliant design and writing. That being said, the games weren’t without their own little flaws and these kind of brought the overall experience down. Well, now that we’ve got Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, not only am I certain that I can live without Takumi writing something that isn’t Ace Attorney, but that it’s probably, without a doubt, one of the best DS games, nay, the best games I’ve ever played.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective takes place in an unnamed town during the present day, and opens straight into the action. A man named Sissel wakes up to find that he has died – and also can’t even remember who he was, why he’s dead or what predicament he was in to actually die. Involved in the murder, however, was a detective named Lynne and a mysterious blue skinned assassin. Sissel eventually discovers (thanks to a talking desk lamp named Ray) that he must solve the mystery of his murder before sunrise as that is when Sissel’s soul will disappear, and the chance to discover the truth will vanish too. Sissel also carries the ability to retrace a murder victims steps four minutes before their death, and manipulates objects in an attempt to change the victim’s fate and bring them to life. As Sissel saves more and more people, players will find that there is a huge conspiracy at hand that that even he may have played a part in it too. I’ll leave the synopsis at that though, the less you know, the better.
The greatest thing about Ghost Trick is that the characters are all just so likeable, even if they’re meant to be an evil character. Specific tunes play when characters appear and these different components come together to create the perfect “personality” for the characters despite having no voice acting at all. The characters all have such over exaggerated animations that adds an element of quirkiness that you’d expect from characters in the Ace Attorney series, but even better done than it’s predecessors.
The story is developed in a way that manages to be more than simple but never seems to be too convoluted, unlike some moments in the Ace Attorney series. There was never a point in the game where I wanted to actually stop playing, unless there were physical/biological reasons (such as sleep or something as mundane as going to the toilet). The writers of this game have written it in such a way that players will almost always want to continue playing to uncover the plot points that have been left open by the story. There’s never anything too outlandish in the context of the game’s universe, and the story always stays relatively grounded. You’ll even be happy to know that pretty much all of the questions you’ll have throughout the game will be answered by the credits.
All of this atmosphere and style is greatly attributed to the game’s artistic direction. Ghost Trick utilises a rather unique artistic direction in which the characters are modelled and animated, and then shaded in to create an almost cartoony sprite-like look, similar to something we saw all the way back at the DS’s launch in Project Rub. The animations are very realistic and lifelike and most of this technique is the reason Ghost Trick looks so damn good. Despite the characters being modelled differently to the game’s very detailed backgrounds, Ghost Trick still manages to look naturally composed. It’s nice to see the backgrounds are so detailed and yet don’t complicate the viewing by looking overly crowded. Each character has their own unique way of moving, and the way that they move adds so much to their character too. It’s just so well presented. Character portraits don’t move that much during conversations, but still exude personality.
The crux of Ghost Trick’s gameplay involves moving around the environment using inanimate objects and then using said objects to change the fate or outcome of someone who is about to be murdered. There are several rules that Sissel makes quite obvious. Firstly, he can only reach out a certain length, and if unable to must “create” a path to his goal. A crude example would include possessing a door knob, then opening the door to make the door knob closer to the target, creating a path. The second is that he can only possess inanimate objects, not people or corpses.
Finally, Sissel can travel long distances through the telephone system, but only once he knows the phone numbers to said places. The way that the developers have thought out these interactions is superbly done and is quite clever – if you’re ever stuck and work something out it’s never going to be something that you wouldn’t have thought of, but rather something you would’ve felt a bit stupid for not working out earlier.
The main “game” parts of the story are the scenarios in which Sissel must travel back in time, four minutes prior to a victim’s death, and somehow change events to avert the potential victim’s fate. During the four minutes, players are shown how the death carried out, then required to possess certain items to change the victim’s fate as the four minutes play out again. The way the game plays is very intense, as players will be running against the time for the most part to save their victims.
When in “Ghost” mode, Sissel can move between objects that have a “core” (i.e. that are highlighted) and time stays still. When in normal mode, time progresses and Sissel can manipulate objects or create “tricks” that can either create new paths for Sissel or change the way a certain character reacts. For example, Sissel will try to stop the murder of a girl by making her hide before the murderer barges in – to solve this problem he will possess and “trick” a bowl of donuts so that the donuts fall out of the bowl, go under the couch and makes the girl crawl underneath just at the right time to avoid the murderer. During these sequences players will be presented with speech bubbles with key phrases from the conversation prior to the victims death to let them know how much longer they have to go (along with an hourglass on the top screen too, of course). It all works quite well and adds a sense of urgency that makes this puzzle text adventure much more exciting than you’d think, mixed in with a bit of the fate changing elements of the popular Final Destination movies, but a bit more light hearted.
The beauty of this gameplay component is the way that the developers have managed to incorporate the notion of timing your tricks with the actual actions in game. It’s possible to trick an item earlier (or later) than you’re meant to, and thus the trick has no effect on the victim’s fate. What’s great, though, is that the game does give hints along the way but these hints never really make the game too easy. It’s a healthy balance between finding out what to do for yourself and being told what to do. Similarly, there is no real penalty for restarting the sequence, and points where you change the victim’s fate but have yet to prevent their death act as checkpoints too. This is a great time saver as it lets you skip past parts you may have done once and not wanted to repeat – it ensures a great sense of pacing.
I’m also happy to report that the game doesn’t fall victim to some of the ridiculous turnabout logic that previous Ace Attorney games suffered from, and in fact the game is a lot more straightforward since everything is laid out visually – reducing the chance for confusion. I’d still like to stress that it never steps into impossible territory, nor is it ever too easy. It’s really, just right.
The tension and personality of the characters is not only reflected throughout the game’s visual elements but also through the use of the game’s soundtrack, which is, simply put, amazing. Utilising the same style of music you’d find in Ace Attorney, but slightly tweaked, the developers have managed to once again inject so much personality into their characters by having some quirky themes to go along with their appearances. It was so enjoyable to hear certain music towards the later stages of the game and know a certain character would appear, and associate that music with them – the music personifies them by the time you’re finished. Fast paced and upbeat tunes play during major reveals, dark and menacing music plays as ulterior motives are exposed. The soundtrack for this game is composed almost perfectly and really adds to the game’s major sequences. Sound effects associated with certain character actions are also exaggerated but also quite humorous. All in all the game’s soundtrack is perfectly composed to provide a great experience.
Ghost Trick’s main story will last players anywhere between 8 and 12 hours, and thankfully the game never really gets old during that time span. The game feels very complete, and upon completion players have the options to revisit and play any chapters. Similarly, upon completion players can read through dossiers to clear up any points they may have missed during the actual story. While there is no post game content, for a game of this kind, the amount of content provided is very substantial and a complete package.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is without a doubt Shu Takumi’s best work, and surpasses everything he’s done on the Ace Attorney series without question. It’s also, surprisingly, the best game I’ve ever managed to play on my Nintendo DS and as such I believe it deserves no less than a perfect score. There is absolutely nothing I can fault with this game, everything has managed to just fall into place perfectly. The gameplay is great, the story and characters are easy to follow and loveable respectively, and the experience doesn’t feel compromised nor does it leave questions open. A game that you absolutely must play.
Amazing artistic direction, great detail in environments and unique animation techniques make Ghost Trick one of the best looking games on the DS, as well as one of the unique.
An amazing game in the puzzle genre. The idea of possessing normal objects and manipulating them in interesting ways to change ones fate is executed flawlessly here. The game never gets too hard, too easy or too outlandish either.
An amazing, eclectic mix of dramatic, slow and intense tunes makes Ghost Tricks soundtrack very engaging. Music adds an extra layer to characters and intensifies the dramatic moments during the game.
Ghost Trick is a rather lengthy adventure game at around the 10 hour mark for the average player, and despite having no post-game content it does feel rather complete as a package. Some players may be left wanting more.
I went into Ghost Trick with absolutely no idea of what I would be getting, although I was rather sceptical it would not live up to previous Ace Attorney games, largely conceived and developed by the same mind. Thankfully, I was proven wrong and Ghost Trick is probably now one of my favourite DS game. |
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