Death is a sign of failure in many games; it is the punishment for failing to complete the mission that the game has laid out in front of you. By contrast,†Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective†embraces death, and does so to the point that the entire game is based around the death of Sissel, the main character.
Thatís right, youíre dead. Right when the game starts.
I know, I know, itís tough to accept. Let it sink in for a bit.
Ok, now that youíre dead, the fun really begins. It turns out that, after Sisselís death, his spirit awakens, but he is completely unaware of who he is, how he died, and why he died. Sissel decides to investigate his death to figure out all of these details. However, he is told by another spirit who inhabits a desk lamp that he must find out the secrets of his death by dawn, or he will disappear from this world without ever knowing the truth behind his murder. Fortunately, Sissel has a few tricks up his sleeve: Ghost Tricks.
If youíve ever wondered how it feels to play as a ghost, wonder no more. As a new member of the afterlife, you have the ability to possess certain objects by jumping to them with the stylus. Your ďjumpingĒ range from object to object is limited, so you must use the objects given to you strategically to make your way from point to point. Many of the objects you possess have a certain action that you can perform if you manipulate them with your Ghost Tricks. Since you are dead, you canít control the action in front of you directly, but your Ghost Tricks let you affect the world around the action. In the Ghost World, time is frozen, so you have a chance to calculate your movements, but in the real world, time flows normally. This helps create plenty of tension when someoneís life is on the line.
The main event of†Ghost Trick: Phantom Detectiveís gameplay is saving someone from their imminent death. During Sisselís quest to find his identity, he will stumble upon the dead bodies of other humans (and creatures). Rather than leave their corpses to rot, Sissel has the ability to move backwards in time, up to four minutes before the death of the aforementioned victim. It is here that most of the challenge in†Ghost Trick†lies, as you must find a way to prevent the victim from dying, which is a daunting task for a ghost with no body! Some of these will require simple movements between objects, but as the game progresses, you will be tasked to jump from object to object, manipulate them properly, time your movements to access new areas, solve brain benders and build elaborate machines out of objects in the area, amongst other things, all while youíre on a strict time limit to save the once-dead victim!
A couple of issues hold back an otherwise excellent gameplay system. Since this is an adventure game, there is one prescribed path throughout the plot. This means that there is only one solution to each puzzle, which can get frustrating if you are close, but not following the exact solution to the letter. Also, this means you cannot solve puzzles with multiple methods; it would have been fun to build different contraptions to solve the puzzles, for instance. Additionally, for the majority of the game, jumping between objects and manipulating things is the core of gameplay. This can get grating to some people over the length of time this remains constant. Near the end, there is a big (and well-needed) shakeup to the traditional methods, but it would have been nice to have had that addition sooner.
Adventure games like†Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective†tend to be light on gameplay, so the story behind the game is of critical importance. Creator Shu Takumi, best known for his work on the†Ace Attorney†series, weaves another spectacular tale that combines both the realities of life and the absurdities that are his trademark. Itís counterintuitive to think that a game about death would be so humorous, but†Ghost Trick†pulls it off with aplomb, mixing humor with drama in such a way that neither feels like it is detracting from the other. Some parts of the story line can be deduced by the player beforehand, but many story elements are likely to catch the player off guard, particularly during the gameís thrilling climatic chapters. A suspension of disbelief is certainly required at times, but as the game even says early on; "We're talking about the powers of the dead, here. It doesn't have to make sense."
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective†juxtaposes 3D character models with 2D backgrounds to create a splendid visual appearance. The characters themselves act out the way you would expect them to based on their personalities; peppy, extravagant characters move gracefully with a pep in their step, while more serious characters will have more rigid movements. The majority of conversations occur with 2D representations of the characters Ė par for the course in this genre Ė but some lines are spoken out as speech bubbles above the 3D models, particularly during those death-altering gameplay moments. It doesnít sound like much when I describe it right now, but during the game, it really does add a layer of suspense to an already tense situation.
Speaking of tense, the audio does a great job of setting up each scene. The background music during those four minutes is a quick, catchy, but dramatic piece of music that gets faster as you progress through the segment, culminating in a panic-inducing warning song as the final seconds tick off the clock. Outside of that, the music does a good job of matching what is going on in the story. So you can expect a less stressful time during a general investigation, or when one of the security guards shows off his dancing skills.†
Value in an adventure game can be hard to calculate. Because there is only one way through the plot, after your 15-20 hours of adventuring are up, the story is completed, living little incentive for another playthrough. However, if you just want to play a certain scene and relive the specific moments, there is a scene select mode that lets you access any scene that you have completed. While there isnít much of a reason to replay the game, the wild ride it takes you on that first time more than makes up for it.
After experiencing†Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, I can safely say that I have never experienced the afterlife quite like this. Sisselís quest of recovering his identity took me through twists and turns every step of the way, while granting the satisfying power of manipulating the world around me. It is a spectacular tale of connections between characters and how these connections can transcend even the plane of existence.†Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective†is definitely worth your time and money.