Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective on the Nintendo DS has solid gameplay
- Interesting story, excellent animation, well-localised dialogue is actually funny
- Some levels involve more waiting than puzzling, cutscenes are unskippable, story gets preachy toward the end
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a quirky adventure-puzzler from Capcom luminary Shu Takumi that boasts a charming sense of humour and a unique, if sometimes frustratingly implemented, gameplay gimmick.
Calling do-overs is usually the last resort of a sore loser, but the main character in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective has plenty to be sore about in only the first three minutes of gameplay: Shot dead in a junkyard for reasons unknown, with absolutely no memories to clue him in.
Fortunately, Sissel (who doesn't remember his real name, either) has the mystical power to call "do-overs" in a way that takes him back four minutes in time before a person's death. Using magical "ghost trick" powers in the past, he can possess objects and manipulate them in a way that off-sets the chain of events leading to a person's untimely end. The only problem is, he cannot work his own magic on himself -- and nearly everyone he comes into contact with over the course of the game winds up dead at one point or another in connection with some big mystery that ultimately lies at the heart of his own death.
The premise sounds silly -- especially if you try to articulate it to somebody on public transit who asks you what the game is "about" -- but once the story gets going, Ghost Trick gets pretty exciting, and the solid gameplay backs it up. Each "chapter" involves one to three "ghost trick" puzzles where Sissel must move objects in order to reach an objective or trigger an event that reveals another tantalising clue, plus several explanatory cutscenes introducing him to new characters in the plot. Nearly everyone Sissel meets is somehow a part of the big mystery, and most of them have well-written dialogue that keeps things interesting -- even when you have to repeat a puzzle or six.
That's the thing about calling do-overs: you usually have to repeat yourself. Many of the more advanced puzzles in Ghost Trick after about Chapter 5 require you to either fail completely or come right down to the wire to find the right timing of events in order for Sissel to execute a life-saving ghost trick. Even then, an early mistake in your puzzle-solving might blow an entire sequence of events and you'll have to hit the hourglass icon to reset the puzzle back to the beginning -- which gets old if you've worked yourself into the same dead end of a puzzle more than twice. This is probably Ghost Trick's worst weakness: Unlike the Phoenix Wright games where you can rely on the process of elimination, or the Professor Layton games where you can pay for clues, Ghost Trick puzzles have only one solution -- and until you find it, you're doomed to fail a puzzle over and over again.
For example, a life-saving puzzle late in the game forces you to sit through all four minutes of a dialogue-heavy sequence and doesn't offer you a way to solve the puzzle until the final second -- which you might miss because when the scenario timer started flashing "3-2-1," you hit the hourglass icon before it got to "0," which is where the game finally offers you the solution. Patience isn't a virtue we associate with gamers, but Ghost Trick expects you to have plenty of it.
Fortunately, the game only has about three hair-pulling puzzles where you might find yourself rage-quitting (remember to save before you do; skipping cutscenes isn't an option), and if the mystery hooks you like it hooked me, you'll stick around until you figure them out. The conclusion the plot hurtles toward you may not be one you saw coming (I didn't), but the satisfaction of getting there cancels out all the tufts of hair you ripped out along the way working out the tougher puzzles.
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