Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review (PS4) – A beloved Nintendo DS gem is brought back to life as Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective makes its PlayStation debut. Is this restored classic a trick or treat to play? Find out in PlayStation Universe’s PS4 review.
Capcom’s own resurgence has seen increased confidence in revisiting its back catalog (just not Dino Crisis for some reason). Whether that be remaking all-time classics, reviving flagging series, or bringing lesser-known gems to a fresh audience. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective has been stuck in the past for 13 years.
Effectively, and ironically, dead to a whole new audience. Its release on Nintendo DS and later, mobile, meant it looked set to be left behind as a cult hit one-off.
But as noted, Capcom is on a roll, and what better time to give Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective another shot?
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review (PS4) – All Treat
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective opens with a spirit named Sissel awakening to discover his physical form slumped dead on the ground in a junkyard. A mysterious second spirit shows up and gently guides Sissel through his recent transition to the land of the dead. Sissel initially has no memory of what happened to him, which the mysterious other spirit assures him is normal so soon after death.
Sissel and the other spirit are not alone in this situation, however. A young red-headed woman is checking on Sissel’s physical body when a spindly hitman shows up and clearly doesn’t want to risk any witnesses.
Ghost Trick’s visual style was always striking, but the remastered upgrade makes it pop. If you’ve never laid an eye on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective before now, just a few seconds in the presence of its vibrant style will do more than enough to grab your attention. Ghost Trick creator Shu Takumi’s Ace Attorney franchise has always been noted for its distinct look.
So it probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective also stands out. The work done by artist Koki Kinoshita is fantastic. That key image of Sissel’s corpse with its backside aimed at the heavens alone tells you exactly what kind of tone we’re dealing with here. A visual strength many would envy.
During the opening moments of the game, the other spirit teaches Sissel about the powers his own spirit form has. In other words, the titular ‘Ghost Trick’. Sissel can enter the spirit world to stop time and move between objects. He can then possess them as long as they are in a close enough vicinity. Once he possesses an item, Sissel can manipulate it in some way.
The earliest example is possessing a crossing gate and knocking the would-be assassin’s gun from his hand, allowing the woman to escape temporarily. The hitman still ends up catching the mysterious woman, however, and shoots her dead. In the space of 10 minutes, Ghost Trick has already sent the player on a rollercoaster
Sissel has the ability to travel back in time four minutes before a person’s death by inhabiting their body. He first does so for the red-headed woman and has to navigate his way back to the area her fate was seemingly sealed. The Ghost Trick mechanic is explored further here as the player must figure out how to get back up to the scene of the soon-to-be double homicide.
Each object Sissel possesses can of course be manipulated, so using this knowledge the traversal becomes a two-dimensional physics puzzle that culminates in a smart combination of a blender and a flag that eventually leads to the change in the woman’s fate.
From there, with this woman seemingly the only connection to Sissel’s own forgotten life, he decides to follow her and try to unpack the mystery of who he is and why he was killed before his spirit fades into nothingness in the morning.
The colorful characters complement the story so much in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. I was captivated by every little nugget of information or clue to the unfurling mystery of Sissel’s death and why it happened at all. But it succeeds because it feeds off the eccentric and charismatic cast.
As Sissel struggles to reconnect with his former life, he meets characters seemingly connected with it with the same fresh experience as the player. We’re both supposed to know these people, but the novelty of the setup works in its favor.
A Spirited Effort
The jump from the Nintendo DS’ two-screen layout might well rankle anyone who obsessed about Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective back in the day, but I can’t say I really noticed anything jarring about the single-screen switch. Sure, a novelty of the original game is lost, but Ghost Trick’s true strengths don’t have to lean on that one gimmick to work.
So what we get is a different, but absolutely functional version of a previously portable game. All the relevant HUD bits and bobs just appear on the same screen now, which doesn’t manage to interfere with the important action onscreen.
If you weren’t especially keen on the text explanation-heavy ways of the Ace Attorney series then I can’t see Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective being particularly endearing to you either. It has a lot of information to get out of its system, especially in those opening moments.
It’s worth persevering with though because there’s a wonderful game to enjoy that draws you deeper into its mystery as time goes on.
Capcom’s decision to perform a Ghost Trick of its own could yet lead to a successful revival for Sissel and company. And if it doesn’t, so what? A whole new audience gets to be sucked into a novel murder mystery filled with heart and humour.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is available on PS4 on June 30, 2023.
Review code generously provided by publisher.