With the spooky season underway, now is the time of ghouls and goblins while scary games like Amnesia or Outlast start coming out to frighten all the little children of the internet. And sure they’re terrifying and interesting games to play, but how about a good murder mystery once in a while? One that makes you feel like a regular Sherlock Holmes as you solve puzzles and link clues together in a unique spider web of lies. Say hello to Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective!
Developed for the Nintendo DS and iOS in 2010 by Capcom and written by the creator behind the Ace Attorney franchise, Shu Takumi, this little gem has become a cult classic among gamers.
Ghost Trick Origins
A combination of a point-and-click adventure and puzzle soaked in a juicy murder mystery full of twists that even M. Night Shyamalan would not see coming, Ghost Trick is a game I can not recommend enough. Even when you think you know what’s going on, there’s one extra curveball you will not see coming that somehow makes perfect sense.
In Ghost Trick, you start off dead, staring at a man who has just been shot lying in the dirt. A girl in a yellow jacket stands by, held at gunpoint by a mysterious blue-skinned assassin. In a flash, you wake up as a spirit with no memory of who you are or why you were killed. But through the help of outside forces, you learn that despite the lack of limbs, you have a special talent to manipulate non-living things. A “ghost trick” as it were.
These tricks of the dead are simple and intuitive to use. With just a simple click or flick depending on what platform you play on, you can jump between different objects and interact with them to change the fates of those around you. Combining an old blender with a fan can lead to an easy mode of transportation. Turning off certain lights can lead a sniper to his doom as he searches for a safe haven to take his shot. Even just the simple act of listening in on a phone conversation opens up new pathways to explore as you zip around multiple locations.
The biggest gimmick of this game is the ability to time travel via the use of cores. When someone perishes, their body leaves behind a glowing core that our ghostly protagonist, Sissel, can interact with. Not only does it allow communication with the unfortunate victim, but it allows him to break reality itself and return to the time 4 minutes before this person’s death. From there the game begins a series of trial and error related puzzles which involve you using your “ghost tricks” to change fate and save a life.
Luckily the game is quite generous, never giving you the risk of a permanent game over and offering small hints when needed. Even amidst the gameplay, with a simple button press, you can jump between the “real world” and the “ghost world”. This pauses the 4-minute timer to give you a moment to breathe and strategize.
The focus on saving these different characters is fueled by Sissel trying to work out who he is and why he was killed. And he doesn’t have long to figure that out as he learns from a talking lamp. He has until dawn to hunt down all these answers before he disappears forever. Now that doesn’t offer up much help, but our deceased pal is determined to find out. Even if it means going back in time over and over again, saving as many lives as he can to make that happen.
The game itself is fairly short with 18 chapters of differing levels of difficulty. Each level is based on saving a life thus changing fate and allowing Sissel to discover more about himself and the events that lead to his demise.
Meet the Characters
His biggest clue and the most frequent damsel is Lynne, a rookie detective with a passion for chicken and a desire to see justice done. This poor girl ends up dead regularly due to having an unexpected target on her back. This leaves Sissel having to save her on multiple occasions. The game mocks her ineptitude in finding unique and dumb ways to die as much as the player. Yet in the end, her clumsiness and continuous need to be rescued does serve a purpose. Because she, in turn, is the key to solving the main mystery of the game. We are told this early on but it becomes more paramount the further we go how. There is more going on than meets the eye.
Outside of Lynne, there is a unique and colorful cast of characters you come to know and love. The most prominent and easily the fan-favorite is Missile. He is a spunky Pomeranian pup being raised by Lynne and her adoptive little sister, Kamilla. Making a different appearance from his role in the Ace Attorney series, while much smaller and less addicted to hot dogs, this happy go lucky ball of fluff ends up becoming a valuable ally as well as a source of entertainment and smarts. He gives fun hints on what to do when needed and has a pivotal role in the storyline.
Animations & Music
The animations themselves are fun and quirky. From Inspector Cabanela’s extravagant dance routines to the simple movement of Beauty’s idle stance. Seeing as Takumi is known for creating unique and visually distinct characters, it’s no surprise that everyone who is important to the story stands out. Outside of maybe the generic guards you see littered about, no two faces and looks are the same. They even threw in a Phoenix Wright cameo in a way without actually putting Phoenix Wright in the story, though Takumi has talked about combining the two series in the future if the opportunity allowed.
The soundtrack, composed by Masakazu Sugimori (another veteran of the Ace Attorney franchise) is a real bop. Each track is well-paced and adds a sense of mystery to the game. The music is so smooth and jazzy in its performance that you can’t help but rock out as the story unfolds.
The presentation of this game alone is a hidden gem. Ghost Trick has entertaining gameplay, beloved characters, lovely animations, an earworm of a soundtrack, and a murder mystery story you can’t help but sink your teeth into. The first few chapters of the game are free-to-play on iOS right now too. If you are a fan of Phoenix Wright or old point-and-click games, this is the game for you. Step into the world of Ghost Trick and enjoy some light-hearted spooks before the crack of dawn.