I’m a huge fan of the detective genre, and I’ve partaken in many series, movies, and video games due to that. One of my favorite series is the Ace Attorney games by Capcom. They’re fun, wacky, and can be incredibly deep, and I love replaying them. The person behind that franchise, Shu Takumi, made another detective game back in 2010 for the Nintendo DS, then to Apple’s iOS shortly afterward, and now, it’s gotten a modern-day remaster that I got to enjoy on Steam. As my Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review will attest to, it’s a worthy remaster if you’re willing to indulge in some flaws and frustrations.
Game Name: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Platform(s): PC (Steam), Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 30th, 2023
So if you haven’t seen the trailers, here’s a brief rundown before I dive into everything. You play a character named Sissel, who is dead. Definitively. They are 100% dead, and you are the remaining spirit that exists within the mortal plane. How is that possible? That’s a spoiler for later. But when you “awaken” in your spirit form, you have no idea who you are, how you died, and what in the world is going on around you. What you do know, thanks to a “friend” named “Ray,” is that you have “The Powers of the Dead” and can use them to manipulate objects.
Your “fate,” as it were, is tied to a young woman named Lynne, who was right near you when you died. The problem? She dies minutes after you do. But that’s where one of many “tricks” comes in. Specifically, you have the ability to rewind time to four minutes before their death. That gives you a chance to save them if you’re clever enough. That’s arguably one of the biggest things this game tests you on; your cleverness.
Through Sissel, you’ll move around via inanimate objects, manipulating them and hoping to pull off specific events. For example, in the open mission, you’ll move a sign to trip up a gunman so that Lynne can bolt away. Other times you’ll need to basically set off a “chain reaction” of events so that a character can do something or set up a path for you to reach another part of the map.
While there is a “greater mystery” via the narrative, the more immediate “mysteries” you’ll battle are how you’ll solve the problem in front of you to do a certain task or “avert the fate” of a dead person. Trust me when I say…it’s not as easy as it looks. But many of you will appreciate that challenge as you work around the room and see what you can to make things work. Then, when things go your way, you’ll get that feeling of accomplishment.
Adding another “problem” to Sissel’s task is that he has until dawn to figure out the mystery of his death and save a lot of lives in the process. Admittedly, that’s one of the cleverer aspects of this story. Every “chapter” takes place within the span of about 30 minutes or so within the world. With each one you pass, you can feel the tension growing for Sissel and the other characters as he isn’t the only one trying to “get things done tonight.”
That’s another strong element of the game, the overall narrative, save for a few elements, is very compelling. There are numerous characters that, not unlike the Ace Attorney franchise, bring layers and twists to the story that make you wonder what is going to happen next.
An excellent example is Inspector Cabanela, a lead detective who calls everyone “baby” and moves around like he’s the reincarnation of Michael Jackson. You’ll get an immediate “read” on him, only to have it changed multiple times in the game due to the unfolding plot, leaving you wondering who he really is and what side he’s really on. I appreciate these kinds of characters because even I was fooled at one point, even though I did see the truth before it was fully unveiled.
Other characters like Lynne, Detective Jowd, the prison guards you meet, and more all have a fun personality to them that brings their world to life, and many of them have fun interactions with Sissel. Not the least is a dog named Missile who…well…I won’t spoil too much. You need to learn some of this on your own, ok?
I do want to give a special shoutout to the game’s music. Just like Ace Attorney, the game has some incredible beats that’ll help you “feel” what’s going on at times and keep you entertained even when you’re trying to figure out the solution to the next puzzle.
One thing I do want to note in this Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review is that the remastered graphics do look good most of the time, and you can tell that Capcom used the modern system/PC upgrades to help make scenes smoother or flashier when appropriate. They didn’t full-on overall the character models, as they wanted to keep things familiar to those who remember the DS or port versions, but you can see they’re more detailed than before. Plus, the animations that you cause or see with the characters are very smooth.
Easily one of the coolest visual aspects is the scene transitions when you do things like “rewind time” or use a phone line to get to another location.
The worst part about the graphics though is that you could argue they didn’t do enough. For example, in Lynne’s model, you can’t see her mouth 90% of the time. Second, there were multiple times when characters were moving across the screen, and there would be this odd kind of stutter or blur in the models that made them lose focus in an unnatural way. It didn’t happen all the time, but you noticed it when it popped up. Speaking of popping up…
It’s very, VERY rare that I ever have to talk about the text in a video game review. But for this Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review…I’m making an exception. I don’t know how things looked back on the DS with the text, but when the text bubbles (that you can see in the picture above) popped up, my eyes went wide in the worst way. I not only hate these, they literally hurt my eyes looking at them! It looks so out of place, and then when you get to other ACTUAL conversations, the text looks fine! I would love to know the person that approved this text font because…they need to be talked to.
So was that my only “real problem” with the game? Well, no. While the gameplay loop can be fun, it can also be incredibly frustrating. Timing and precision are vital elements here, and when you do something out of order or mistime a step, you’ll have to rewind to certain checkpoints and do them all over again. Furthermore, there are puzzles where you have to make INCREDIBLY COMPLEX things happen. In one of the later chapters, you have to get a bottle of medicine from the floor to a man’s desk so he doesn’t die. But the process to make that happen was so intricate and numerous in steps that I’m shocked anyone could do it without a guide. And yes…I had to use a guide for many puzzles because I couldn’t figure it out on my own. That’s not good, and it may happen to you often.
Plus, there were times went the “next step” wasn’t apparent, like needing to transfer Sissel’s soul to a drop of water or lighting a rat on fire so it could help light a candle and more things like that. Again, some of you will like the challenge, but others will want to get through it as fast as possible, so you hopefully don’t need to deal with such things again. Not to mention, there were MULTIPLE times when I got tripped up on the controls and kept having to rewind because I made a wrong move or had to balance two spirits at once and kept having them go to the wrong spots.
There’s also an issue with pacing in the title. There are 18 chapters overall, but not all chapters are equal. There were multiple chapters where nothing but talking sections happened and minimal movement on Sissel’s part. While some chapters can go 30-40 minutes, most were no more than 20 minutes at best. The game as a whole was around 10 hours for me, but you can easily go faster depending on how quickly you make it through the puzzles.
As for the narrative, while it was multi-layered and had great twists, it did get incredibly convoluted at the end, where several big twists occurred. One of them being…
…I’m about to spoil the big twist. You might want to leave now…I’m serious. I’m about to do it!!!
Sissel…is a spirit of a dead cat. Yep, really. I’m really not sure how to process that, but it definitely made things feel hollow for me at the end. Also, there were elements in the ending that made me confused because certain questions weren’t answered properly. Including how “Ray” was able to randomly do certain things in the end or why Sissel had the “perfect powers” to help save the day many times over. As you all have likely experienced, a bad/rough ending can lead to you not wanting to experience the story again…and that’s kind of where I’m at. That’s a huge contrast to Ace Attorney, where I WANT to play them over and over again because the journey and destination are both great.
Finally, there were some choices within the dialogue and character designs that were…questionable, such as how numerous male detectives seemed to have a crush on Lynne for no real reason outside of her being a woman or a prisoner design that was…well…suggestive as heck.
So where does this leave my Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review? Well, if you like deep narrative mysteries mixed with clever puzzle-solving, you’ll probably like this game. But if you don’t like getting frustrated with puzzles or not having any hints to guide you in meaningful ways, then this game might not have enough for you to like it. So not, unlike a magician, it’s up to you to decide whether this game is a “good trick” or a bad one.
Review Disclosure Statement: A copy of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was provided to us by Capcom for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Ghost Trick Phantom Detective Review
Ghost Trick Phantom Detective is a worthy remaster of a DS game you might not have tried before. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like a challenge, you might want to give this title a shot, especially if you enjoy a good mystery.
- Worthy Mystery
- Unique Gameplay Mechanics
- Fun Cast of Characters
- Puzzles Can Frustrate
- Controls Can Trip You Up
- Story’s Conclusion Might Be Divisive In Player’s Eyes
- Ghost Trick Phantom Detective Review