Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Preview – Preview

We had early access to the PS4 version of the demo.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a murder-mystery puzzle game from Ace Attorney writer and director Shu Takumi. Originally released on Nintendo DS thirteen years ago, it serves as something of a sister game to Ace Attorney, featuring much of the same humor, style, and charm. Any fan of Ace Attorney’s story should feel right at home here, though what sets this game apart is its unique focus on manipulating in-game events in the style of a Rube Goldberg machine, setting off chain reactions of objects knocking each other over, hitting buttons to activate devices, and generally getting in the way of any hapless villains or bystanders around the scene of a crime.

If you’ve already played Phantom Detective on DS, the new remaster (which I played a demo of on PS4) is pretty unremarkable. The original’s touch screen controls are simple enough to map cleanly to an analog stick, and the game made so little use of the system’s dual screens that I had to look up old videos on YouTube in order to remember just what that second screen was even doing in the original game. This is a pretty straightforward port with few upgrades besides HD visuals and the option for a rearranged soundtrack. It’s bare-bones, but the game’s simple cel-shaded style lends itself better to higher resolutions than some other recent games that suffer a poor AI-upscale.

If you’ve never played Phantom Detective, then this port is a perfectly good way to do so, and I highly recommend you do so. The game stars Sissel, a recently-deceased man who discovers he has strange ghostly powers that allow him to possess objects to move them around and disrupt the environment. He can jump between nearby objects, but his limited range means that you’ll need to find clever ways to manipulate your surroundings in order to get where you’re trying to go.

Just moving around and generally haunting the place isn’t all Sissel can do though; he’s also able to possess the body of anyone else who is recently-deceased in order to rewind time to four minutes before their death and change their fate by performing a Ghost Trick. Each death scene is a puzzle that must be solved in order to manipulate the right objects at the right time in order to indirectly save someone’s life. The solution is rarely straightforward: you can make a rolling cart slide across the room, but you can’t defy physics and make it float where you need it to be, so you’ll need to cleverly figure out how to jump between multiple objects just to get around.

Since these puzzles take place in a scripted period of time, it’s not enough just to know where you need to go; you’ll also need to pay attention to the actions of the characters in the scene to be where you need to be when you need to be there. This setup adds a lot of tension in figuring out the right timing before it’s too late, though occasionally this can lead to you being forced to just sit and wait for the characters to reach the correct part of the script when you’ve already figured things out.

The most notable feature of Phantom Detective—which holds up just as well in HD—is the high quality of its character animations. Every character is animated with a ton of charm and personality that went above and beyond in making use of the limited hardware capabilities of the original DS version. A lot of big, showy movement was necessary to convey character on such a small screen, and that talented work looks just as good on a big screen at twice the frame rate. It’s the same quality that we’ve come to expect from the 3D-animated Ace Attorney games, and in fact all character animators named in the original game’s credits went on to work on Ace Attorney at one point or another, making it clear how influential this game was on its sister series.

The demo I played is now publicly available on Switch, PlayStation, and Steam. If you haven’t played Phantom Detective and you’re even a little curious about it, you should absolutely play this demo. It’s been over twelve years since I played the original game on DS, and I’m still impressed by it to this day. I’m looking forward to updating my vague decade-old memories when the remaster finally releases, since every memory I do have of this game tells me it’s one of the best and most unique narrative games I’ve ever played.

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