What would you do if, upon waking up, your memory was gone, you were floating around in non-corporeal form and what could well be your body was lay right there, lifeless? This is exactly what happens to the lead character in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and is the premise for one of the most unusual mystery adventures on DS. The basis of the story is to undertake an investigation into various murders, including your own, manipulate objects to move around numerous locations, and eventually change the fate of those met along the way for the better.
As with the Ace Attorney series, Ghost Trick takes a simple idea and builds it up by interweaving a mesmerising tale into the finished product that keeps players guessing right to the latter stages of the journey. Are you really called Sissel? Have you seriously just died at the hands of a freshly appointed detective? Why are you able to manipulate inanimate objects, talk to other dead people, and rewind time to four minutes before their demise? Ghost Trick has a habit of creating plenty of extras questions before the first few have even been answered, yet skilfully latches onto the imagination and keeps reeling you in, balancing out the intrigue masterfully with brain teasing object manipulation and even swapping of item locations later on.
The first two main aspects of Ghost Trick that really hit players, though, are how stunning the soundtrack is, as well as its impressive graphical prowess. Fans of the first Ace Attorney release that were enamoured with its musical score, and the amended permutations of it for future releases, will be pleased to know that Masakazu Sugimori is back on-board for Phantom Detective, offering up some fantastic tunes that challenge the Phoenix Wright classic themes, sounding instantly familiar, as well as mixing in a whole host of truly memorable ditties that are set to become instant classics amongst fans the world over. A brilliant soundtrack can help lift up a mediocre release, yet in the case of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective it merely adds to the overall superb quality of the product.
The same goes for the gorgeous animation, with the amazingly fluid movements of characters thanks to the highly detailed 3D models that were created by the designers and then shrunk down to fit onto the tiny Nintendo DS screen, whilst maintaining the clarity of each character and the personality of the locations visited. Ghost Trick is an absolute delight to see in motion, and the smoothness throughout makes it one of the best visual experiences on the Nintendo DS. Capcom and the development team have really found a way of exploiting the power of the DS without blowing all the processing power on large 3D polygons. If its approach is to be likened to anything, it bears some resemblance to the classic Another World or Prince of Persia games, or even the more recent Rooms: The Main Building from Hudson.
As mentioned previously, the lead character, Sissel, is dead and now possesses the ability to jump into the ‘core’ of certain inanimate objects and manipulate them. However, his spirit is only able to jump over a certain distance, meaning that not everything around an area is instantly accessible. Therefore, there are many instances where, for instance, Sissel will have jumped into the handle of a fridge, and its door must be opened in order to extend his reach to the next item, which could well be the pedal of a bicycle, which can then be ridden along so that he can leap into something else. This is how the pattern continues, and it is integral to how the story progresses, since there will be times where Sissel can latch onto the ‘core’ of a recently deceased being (animal or human) in order to talk with their spirit and then jump back in time to four minutes prior to their passing.
This is where the player becomes a hero(ine), causing slight changes to the past setting in order to divert fate's path somewhat. It could be a case of blinding an assailant temporarily with a flashing light, or helping a victim escape by hiding from plain sight. There are so many different scenarios, all extremely inventive and creative enough to engage the player each time. There are definite ways to 'fail,' but Ghost Trick encourages the replay factor, sometimes even pushing gamers towards what may appear to be the most obvious route, yet is in fact a path to failure, all for the sake of learning key facts that were otherwise unknown. Sometimes covert operations are the key, moving around a location to get close enough to someone and listen in to their conversations. The script has been constructed in such a fashion that players will regularly want to avoid succeeding just so the complete picture can be uncovered.
During the general puzzle mode, players are given the luxury of taking their time, pacing themselves as they progress through a level, trying to eavesdrop on conversations, jump into phone lines to uncover new areas (travel can only be done via telephones that are active - broken ones are a dead-end), and make changes to situations. Play can be switched between the ‘normal’ and ‘ghost’ world, the latter of which freezes the action during the fate-changing four-minute rewind sections where the objectives must be completed in a set amount of time. However, it is not always a mere race against time, since certain alterations to the timeline can only be instigated by waiting until the exact moment, then setting off a chain of events and watching as the scene unfolds before your next action is required. Should any of your attempts in these sections be met with doom, it’s always easy to rewind back and try again as many times as you like.
There are variations to the theme as well to keep matters fresh, such as the chance later in the game to take control of another spirit with its own special trick of switching items with the same shape (a tennis ball with a large boulder, for example). Between the initial aim of working as a Phantom Detective to determine who murdered you, picking up on the moralistic theme of saving others and eventually teaming with others to bring down the main evil of the tale, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective serves up a delicious story, an gripping puzzle mechanic, gorgeous visuals and a stunning soundtrack. Capcom and Shu Takumi truly deserve to see massive success with this new project.