Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review – The Spirits Within

Capcom's cult classic returns with crisper visuals, a rearranged soundtrack and more while still delivering on its story and gameplay.

Posted By | On 27th, Jun. 2023

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review – The Spirits Within

When you talk about underappreciated titles that slipped through the cracks over the years, especially in the Nintendo DS era, several titles come to mind. Radiant Historia (even after its 3DS re-release), Elite Beat Agents, Meteos, Lunar Knights – everyone has at least one title from that era that they’d love to see in the present day and age. However, one of the more niche titles is probably Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Despite a strong critical reception at launch, it sold poorly with Capcom even singling it out as contributing to low sales in that fiscal quarter.

Nevertheless, it became a cult classic, and after all these years, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is finally being re-released for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. The best part is that Capcom didn’t just see fit to port it as is with a few bells and whistles. It remastered the visuals into crisp high-definition with never-before-seen details. All the tracks have also been lovingly rearranged by The Great Ace Attorney composer Yasumasa Kitagawa, while the interface is revamped to fit everything onto one screen.

"Right off the bat, Ghost Trick does a great job establishing its characters. Each one is brimming with personality."

There’s more to discuss, but the real question is: Does the story, characters and gameplay, lauded for all these years, hold up by today’s standards? The good news is, yes, mostly.

At its core, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a mystery. You play as Sissel, who suddenly “awakens” to a murder. More specifically, his murder. At the crime scene are an assassin and a mysterious woman who Sissel fails to save. However, thanks to the help of the mysterious Ray (portrayed by an appropriately bouncing desk lamp), he’s able to gain special powers known as Ghost Tricks. These allow Sissel to possess different objects and manipulate them to achieve different results.

There are some caveats, though. Sissel has a limited range for reaching objects and can only possess non-organic things (so manipulating corpses is a no-no). However, if he interacts with a victim’s “core”, he can converse with their soul and rewind four minutes before their death. It’s through these circumstances he learns about the mysterious woman named Lynne and embarks on a journey to save her life. Meanwhile, Sissel seeks to know more about his death and the mysterious events seemingly coming to a head that night. He only has time until morning, though, lest his soul disappears.

Right off the bat, Ghost Trick does a great job establishing its characters. Each one is brimming with personality, whether it’s Sissel who deftly balances being laid-back and inquisitive to playing the straight man to the more bizarre happenings of the world. Lynne is bright-eyed and energetic, if a little headstrong, but also earnest and keen to pursue justice.

Ghost Trick Phantom Detective_02

"In terms of gameplay, Ghost Trick is pretty much one-to-one with its Nintendo DS iteration, except without the second screen."

Then you have Missile, the dog, who proves overenthusiastic when trying to protect his unassuming mistress Kamila but is also underpowered (being a friendly Pomeranian and all). You also have Cabanela, an SIU detective who looks after Lynne while swaggering about in the most exaggerated yet stylish way possible. These are but a handful of the colorful cast that you’ll encounter, and they’re all incredibly fleshed out.

Even the minor characters like “Near-Sighted” Jeego, “One Step Ahead” Tengo, the detectives, the over-dramatic prison guard Bailey and more are delightfully memorable. The remastered visuals help in this regard, significantly adding to each character. It even brings out the best in backgrounds, as you can discern all of the little bits in the Junkyard or the superintendent’s office, among others. The frame rate bump also helps, with animations looking incredibly smooth.

Character portraits are also excellent, but given the extensive dialogue, it would have been nice to see them animated more. They have different expressions (via separate images), but you won’t see any moving mouths or blinking eyes in real-time. These are minor details, but they would have added more to the conversations. On that note, given how sharply written and well-paced the story can be, voice acting would have been a tremendous addition. Unfortunately, there isn’t any (unless you count Missile’s barking), and while not detracting from the core experience, it still would have been great.

In terms of gameplay, Ghost Trick is pretty much one-to-one with its Nintendo DS iteration, except without the second screen. In each chapter, you’re moving about the environment, passing from one object to the next, either learning about your next objective or preventing death. Sometimes, extensive manipulation is required to reach places – like activating a table fan and a blender and then possessing a flag raised by the opposing air currents (somehow). You also must be quick at points, jumping from one object to another in a limited window to progress or trigger an event.

"Completing challenges is required to unlock some of the extras like illustrations and music tracks. It provides something extra to do if nothing else, but they have little to no impact on the main game."

Fortunately, time stops when entering the spirit world, so there’s enough opportunity to plan your route. Preventing deaths means going back in time and altering a character’s fate, receiving hints (and hilarious conversations) with their spirits. Some chapters have multiple steps in this regard, and as you change fate, you gain more time. Checkpoints are also created so you don’t always have to rewind to the beginning of a chapter.

Some chapters can be very straightforward in their solutions, while others – like manipulating lamps to reposition an assassin – are a little more complicated. More mechanics are added as you progress, and the odd puzzle or three will frustrate you, necessitating a rewind to the last checkpoint. It’s not the worst thing in the world – you must go through all the dialogue again, but at least there’s a way to fast-forward it. Still, it can be annoying, since you must redo steps, regardless of whether you’ve discovered the solution or not.

The other downside is that each chapter has only one real solution for progressing forward, so there’s not too much replay value. Challenges accomplished by doing certain things are available to address this. For example, in Chapter 4, you can venture through the telephone line to the Chicken Kitchen in search of an assassin. Getting there yields no results, but you’re rewarded for your curiosity. The game oddly doesn’t specify the conditions for completing a challenge, even when it’s unlocked.

Completing challenges is required to unlock some of the extras like illustrations and music tracks. It provides something extra to do if nothing else, but they have little to no impact on the main game. As for the music, the rearranged tracks are very good and retain that retro vibe while still sounding crisp.

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"Even with its nags and quirks, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a great experience. The narrative is genuinely enthralling, deftly mixing tension and levity, and the characters are a blast."

Of course, the classic versions courtesy of Masakazu Sugimori (who also composed a brand new track) are also available. Other than that, the Ghost Puzzles from the iOS version are also present, if for no other reason than to ensure this is the “definitive” version of the game.

Even with its nags and quirks, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a great experience. The narrative is genuinely enthralling, deftly mixing tension and levity, and the characters are a blast. The gameplay is intriguing, with some fun mechanics, even if the experimentation factor is limited. The revamped visuals and rearranged soundtrack help bring it alive, adding even more to an already charming experience.

It’s still the same game, and I can’t help but want a sequel that further builds on these mechanics and explores them in brand-new ways (perhaps on a larger scale). However, for now, Ghost Trick is worth checking out, whether you’re a new player or a fan of the original.

The PS4 version of the game was reviewed on the PS5 using its backwards compatibility feature.


THE GOOD

Fantastic aesthetic which looks exceptionally good in HD. Animations look even smoother thanks to the higher frame rate. Rearranged soundtrack is sharp while maintaining the spirit of the classic. Strong narrative with well-written characters. Possession and puzzle mechanics still feel very solid, even after all these years.

THE BAD

Some puzzles can still be frustrating in their trial-and-error, especially when you need to rewind to previous save points (which disrupts the otherwise great pacing). Not much replay value after finishing the story. Additional features like Challenges and Ghost Puzzles don't add much.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective isn't looking to overhaul what made the original version so memorable. It offers sleeker HD visuals and rearranged music while retaining the same great music, writing and characters. Some of the newer features feel superfluous, but the game's core is still strong.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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