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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - DS Review

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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

DS | Capcom | 1 Player | Out Now
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21st January 2011; By Patrick

Death is a common thing in most video games. Whenever you lose a life, or fail to complete certain requirements, you must start over. However, Capcom is changing this perception with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. The game starts off with your character, Sissel, being shot and killed by an unknown party. When Sissel wakes up, he finds that he can’t remember anything. Who is he? Who killed him? And most importantly, why was he killed? Ghost Trick follows Sissel’s adventure to regain his lost memories, and help other people in the process. However, at dawn his soul will vanish forever, meaning he has a very short time limit to do everything in.

    The game is divided into 18 chapters, spanning over a dozen locales and featuring 33 unique and vibrant characters. Characters include a detective named Lynne that keeps dying, mistress Kamila and her dog Missile, and a shady group of blue-skinned assassins. Since he’s dead, Sissel cannot interact with any of the characters that are in the realm of the living, but once a character enters the realm of the dead, he can move over to their body and speak with their spirit.

    The main challenge of the game is tied to the central feature: traverse the environment by moving between objects cores via the stylus. Being dead, Sissel can only possess items in the realm of the living. He cannot move long distances by himself though, as he has a very short range to move. However, this is where his “Ghost Tricks” come into play. Certain objects can be “manipulated” to get them to move in a direction or interact with other objects. For instance, if he possesses an object on wheels, he might be able to ride it as it rolls around. If Sissel possesses a dead body, then he can travel back in time four minutes before his or her death, and try to avert their fate.

    Most puzzles in the game are designed in this manner - using well-timed movements and manipulations to prevent someone’s death, usually to get more information on your own death. Not every chapter has a death, however. Some are simply moving back and forth to communicate between various parties to progress the story, though these chapters are few and far between.

    The story is the main driving point behind the gameplay, but that does not mean that the gameplay is any less important. Later on in the game (specifically in Chapter 14), you start co-operating with another spirit that has different powers to yourself. This spirit can switch the location of any two objects that are facing the same way and have the same basic shape, but they cannot manipulate objects directly. In Chapter 9, you have to sneak a character past several guards that will shoot him on sight. You’ll need to search out and make use of hiding spots in the dark (you can see things in normal lighting in the Ghost World) to lead the character past the guards. It’s moments like this that make the ingenuity of the manipulation feature shine through.

    One flaw with the gameplay, however, is difficulty. The aforementioned chapter, Chapter 9, is incredibly difficult when compared to earlier in the game, and the game does not continue to be this hard -- only towards the end does it return to being difficult. Players will get frustrated occasionally, but the only punishment for failure is being forced to turn back time and try again. Hints will periodically become available, however they never spoil the fun of solving the puzzle or the rush that you experience when the message “Fate Averted!” appears on screen.

    The soundtrack is very compelling and evenly spread out the whole way through. While only two or three songs are at risk of getting stuck in your head, the whole soundtrack follows the flow of the game very nicely. Some songs are re-used, but there is nothing wrong with hearing Inspector Cabanela’s bouncy theme or the fast-paced achievement song more than once. 

    The graphics take a different approach to any other game on the platform. When a character speaks, a still image of them shows up with the facial expression they’re making. However the charm of the game is during scenes where nobody is talking, and the sprites move fluidly through the world. Not only is this impressive the whole way through, the game seemingly pokes fun of the fact that it’s not on the 3DS. One scene shows a waitress in the Chicken Kitchen sliding sideways into an elevator - except it doesn’t show any movement at all, as the elevator door closes around her. This is just one of many examples where the light-hearted humour accompanies the animation style, something that’s prevalent throughout the entire game.

    The story took me about 10 hours to complete on my first try, though admittedly I had already completed the first eight chapters through the Japanese release last summer. The game’s narrative, while understandably linear, is very compelling. While stopping one night to go to sleep, I found myself picking up my DSi less than 30 minutes later to find out what happens next. Sadly, once you do complete the story, there is nothing to pull you back. After a while, once you forget the puzzle solutions, there is definite replay value. Upon completion of the game, you’ll unlock a nice journal feature to see all the updates for every character and location. But other than that there’s not that much fanfare for the ending; the story ends on such a perfect note that I can’t see a sequel happening, either.

    In conclusion, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a DS game not to be missed, regardless of how close we are to the release of the Nintendo 3DS. Its visual style separates it from any other game on the system, its story is charming and unique, and the gameplay mechanic is amazing and addicting. Even at a full price of $35, you cannot go wrong with Ghost Trick.

28/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 10/10 - Moving between objects is very smooth and easy, always room for new objects and new tricks, puzzles created masterfully
Presentation 10/10 - Fluid graphics style and pleasing to watch, soundtrack used perfectly throughout the game
Enjoyment 5/5 - Brilliant story, perfectly paced over 18 chapters, new ability thrown in once gameplay starts getting old
Extra Content 3/5 - About 10 hours in length, nice journal feature included once you've completed the game, extra character is a blast, little replay value

Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by Patrick
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