Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review
If you had one night left on Earth, how would you spend it? Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective recommends solving your own murder. Honestly, if given the chance, I’d do the same thing. Especially if it involved cool puzzles and time travel. I’ve never done actual detective work, but I’m guessing it’s pretty boring by comparison. Originally a Nintendo DS release, Ghost Trick has found new life on modern consoles. While I had some misgivings about the puzzle design, I’ve since been converted.
At first, I was frustrated. It felt like the puzzle solutions were arbitrary and obtuse. Inanimate objects were meant to interact in seemingly random ways. And yet, closer inspection revealed a more nuanced design. It turns out if you pay close enough attention, even the silliest solutions make a certain level of sense. Once I started attacking these puzzles with the express purpose of saving someone’s life, more of the pieces fell into place. I’m deliberately avoiding specifics, of course. It’s more fun when you figure it out yourself, you know? Every stage is meticulously crafted, and every impossible puzzle has a solution. It’s a heady mix of frustrating and satisfying that I can really get behind.
Many Mysteries to Solve
The story is simple enough. You’ve been murdered, and you’ve got a single night to solve said murder before it’s too late. Your memory is mostly gone, probably because of the dying you just did. It’s a convenient plot device that makes every scrap of information incredibly valuable. Simple stuff like your name and occupation become colossal revelations. This helps make every step of the investigation feel more tense. On the other hand, the dramatic pacing is hampered when everything is such a big deal. It’s one of a couple reasons I preferred shorter sessions of this game.
As much as I enjoyed playing Ghost Trick, I found it hard to do so for long periods of time. There’s a time-limit mechanic that wore me down fairly quickly, and kept me from relaxing for long. On balance, this is a good thing. You’re never bored, and the tension stays nice and high throughout your playthrough. I’m just an anxious gamer, it turns out. I need tiny islands of safety within the larger game experience, so I’m more comfortable with venturing into darker waters, so to speak. In other words, I took a lot of breaks while playing through Ghost Trick.
I mentioned this in the preview, but this game looks awesome. The old DS visuals have been cleaned up and smoothed out. Characters that looked jagged and weird are now stylish and sleek. Facial animation is still extremely minimal, but bodies move with fluid grace. Everyone is more expressive, more alive. The soundtrack has been jazzed up as well, but that feels almost too natural. I can’t really envision this game sounding any different than this. On the other hand, I can’t overstate how different the graphics feel. The devs did a terrific job bringing Ghost Trick into this generation.
Super Slick Visuals
One thing I never acclimatized to was the repetition. Solving a difficult puzzle means sitting through a given sequence of events multiple times. This is a totally normal thing in video games in general, I know. But there’s something about your role being more passive that makes it almost unbearable. You feel so helpless watching things play out once again. Your only hope of escaping this loop is to find that one magical action, that singular step that changes things. Like the rest of the game, this elicits a blend of elation and despair. I just found the waiting to be the worst part by far.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I can’t talk much about the story itself. But I will say that I found it fascinating. Since you know almost nothing, every new piece of info feels revelatory. Plus, the narrative takes some crazy turns. Again, no spoilers, but this isn’t quite an ordinary murder mystery. A game like this, with a heavier emphasis on story, needs a strong plot. Thankfully, Ghost Trick delivers on that front.
A good mystery should hook you right from the beginning. Solving your own murder is a juicy hook, to say the least. Better still, there’s a fascinating narrative beyond that elevator pitch. The mechanics are unique and engaging, the graphics are slick, and the writing keeps you plugged in until the very end. While I wasn’t a perfect fit for the puzzle design, that’s alright. Players more interested in a tense experience will find a lot to love here. I still appreciated the mix of frustration and elation, even as it burrowed into my brain. If you’re looking for a unique, puzzling mystery, definitely give Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective a shot.
***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Super slick visuals
- Engaging mechanics
- Well-written narrative
- Puzzles get frustrating
- Better in short sessions
- Timed element drove me crazy