Review – Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (Xbox One)

Ghost Trick was, bar none, one of my favorite games for the Nintendo DS. Clever, engrossing and amazingly compelling, it’s one of the few titles that I played where I forsook anything else on my DS for a period of weeks. Normally I can toggle between multiple games to help my dopamine receptors fire on all cylinders at all times and guarantee gaming fatigue in a matter of days, but this was different. I wanted, nay, needed to play Ghost Trick and find out everything I could about this game. When you get hooked this hard, it’s tough to identify the shortcomings or weirdness that might otherwise be offputting, because it’s being overshadowed by how much is just right.

Ghost Trick Lynne

You frigging said it, Lynne.

Ghost Trick has recently gotten a new, remastered lease on life, allowing players on all major consoles to experience the abnormal happenings of Sissel, a character who wakes up finding himself dead. In a very short amount of time, Sissel discovers that he is amnesic, can manipulate inanimate objects (to some degree), can travel through time to four minutes before a death (just not his own) and that he’ll vanish into the great hereafter when the sun rises. Rather perturbed by the finality of everything he’s just heard, Sissel begins an incredibly long, strange journey among a massive cast of eclectic characters to find out the truth. Why was he killed? What’s with this detective whose investigations seem to be costing her life again and again? And does any of this make sense, or do we just need to accept it as it comes?

Ghost Trick is equal parts visual novel and puzzle game, with the former being highly entertaining and the latter being extremely tricky to master. Given a window of only four minutes (which is arguably subjective), you need to move your ghost energy around the room, interacting with some objects to create disturbances and variables that will change the outcome of the murdered victim.

Not everything can be used, and not everything is clear. Raising a crossing gate, for example, might surprise someone unsuspecting, knock an object clear, or simply move your spiritual energy closer to another object that can be utilized. Sissel has a limited range, so you need to be able to make a pathway from one spot to the next in order to best link together events and ideas in order to create the ideal ending.

Ghost Trick

The blender, the true hero of the junkyard.

This entire concept is a weird and wonky thing that has its good and bad moments. On the one hand (the negative side), it’s often frustrating to move from place to place in order to attempt some kind of interaction. Using your “ghost energy” to transfer between objects does freeze time, but you have multiple occasions where you need to freeze at the exact moment in order to have a clear path; miss it, and you need to wait for another opportunity or, worse, start the whole thing over. That’s if you can figure out the clear path in the first place, which becomes progressively less clear and logical as the chapters move on. Granted, this is to increase the difficulty of it all, but, at times, it can feel like it’s purposely trying to trip you up.

In that same vein, this is one of those moments where veteran Ghost Trick players will really feel the pangs of loss from their beloved dual screen version. It made sense to be able to quickly drag your specter between active points in order to flow, fluidly, from one side of the game to another. Relegating those same motions to joystick work, but it feels distinctly different. There’s a higher chance of mis-aiming and going to the wrong spot, which, thankfully, is only a minor annoyance and not something that totally ruins the game. Yet it’s simply not the same, and that can be a point of pouting when you get into the minutiae of what works and what doesn’t.

Ghost Trick Time Sequence

This animation sequence was such a welcome blast of detail every time it happened.

But understanding you can’t simply tape two televisions together and will it to be the giant DS you want is the first step into finally just enjoying this remaster of Ghost Trick, and there is so much to celebrate within. First and foremost, the remastered graphics are positively gorgeous. As much as I enjoyed the pixelated originals, having every aspect – from character portraits to the various backgrounds – redone in stunning detail is phenomenal. It gives such a better picture of how Lynne, Missile and even the weird chicken restaurant owner look. It gives vibrancy and allows everyone to pop on the big screen in a way you simply couldn’t enjoy previously.

These updated graphics give more agency to all of the idiosyncratic actions, tics and mannerisms that make the roster of Ghost Trick such an offbeat and memorable one. Detective Cabanela never had such exaggerated movements as he does with the power of current generation systems supporting him. Jowd’s outfits and larger-than-life form feels even more present. Even Ray, the mysterious lamp that helps you out in the beginning, treads dangerously close to Pixar territory with his smooth jumps and minor motions. It’s little things that I knew I loved, but I didn’t know how much I did until they were given a fresh sheen of animation and paint.

The cutest Munchausen by proxy you could ever want! Cheers!

And yes, maybe activating some of the Trick sequences can be an awkward state of affairs at first, but, after you get used to the controller, it’s a joy to put things into play. Ghost Trick can best be described as a Rube Goldberg machine with murder as a penalty for inelegant execution. There’s trial and error that’s purposeful, not only in letting you explore the world more but in giving you hints as to what might happen in the future. You can figure out pathways and actions that don’t make any sense now, but maybe in a few minutes (or in a few chapters) it’ll be a lifesaver. Once you piece together how you can use object A to manipulate subject B into accidentally dropping C and sealing D’s fate, you’re drowning in alphabet soup with a smile on your face.

You said it, “Ray.”

This only further extends to the telephone system within Ghost Trick. You collect phone numbers, the only way you can fast travel to different areas, and those areas might not even be of importance until much, much later. But it always opens up a new interaction and a new area to explore, and this is where you get into the meat that really makes the whole journey sing. If this was just a series of clever and crazy contraptions, you can get The Incredible Machine for a couple of bucks and have the time of your life (or The Incredible Toon Machine, which is even better). Yet the characters and the world of Ghost Trick are something that goes beyond a simple explanation of “Lynchian” or “Swery-adjacent.” It becomes so much more than that.

Without spoiling too much, there a distinct moment in Ghost Trick where the tone and trajectory of the entire game changes in the wildest way, and it’s prone to give you whiplash the first time around. What started out as something goofy and slightly occult turns complex, science-fiction driven and grimly serious. You are introduced to aspects of the world around you that you had seen the whole time but never processed until someone tells you, point blank, what is happening, and then your entire worldview is changed. The fates of Sissel, Kamila, Lynne and a host of others all hinge on your race against the clock, and, in spite of some continual injections of humor, the stakes become almost comically high without diluting their importance.

Speaking of which, I do wish that Capcom had figured out how to scale the portraits and text bubbles when they appear in this remastered edition. Having them fill up the entirety of a DS-sized screen made sense so that they were legible and you could tell who was talking. Having them conquer my 43” television with a MASSIVE portrait of some blue-faced schmuck was jarring each and every single time. Thankfully, I love this game and the characters, I respect the lack of voicework, and the one liners (even the heavy, devastating lines) hit at the right speed, so the formatting is forgiven.

Way to brag, Missile.

On top of that, the remastered score also lets players appreciate the soundtrack that was constructed for this bizarre murder mystery. Fully orchestrated and digitized with love and care, you never really noticed how amazing and atmospheric the music was until the new soundtrack hits. As much as I love the original, Yasumasa Kitagawa (who was also responsible for the Megaman X Legacy Collection soundtracks) puts a metric ton of love and attention into honoring the first iteration and making this new version his own. Capcom also did everyone a solid by giving players the option to toggle between the two soundtracks at will, so enjoy that to your own degree.

Ghost Trick is a game unlike anything else, and it simply continues to delight and enrapture, years later, far removed from the console where it started. If I could, I would develop my own 4K, dual screen handheld to cram this game onto, but I have no money and no talent, so here I am. Instead, I am imploring fans from all walks – the visual novel crowd, the detective crew, the Pomeranian fanatics – to come and take this ride. It’s charming, it’s complex, it’s lovingly crafted and it honestly surprises me that Capcom gave so much care to a game that seemed to slip under so many radars. It’s only till the sun rises, though, so make haste to take your time. You may only have one chance to find out the truth.

Graphics: 10

There was every opportunity to create some kind of horrible, glossy reminagining of what the characters looked like, and, inexplicably, we got upgraded, well rendered, AMAZINGLY animated sprites, portraits, backgrounds and objects. I couldn’t be happier. 

Gameplay: 8.0

Jumping from node to node takes a bit of getting used to, and toggling the time freeze with the shoulder buttons at the drop of a hat can take a few swings, but it’s the best interpretation of a touch based game system to controller yet.

Sound: 8.5

A funky neo-noir take on the entire mystery soundtrack, the remastered version is a strong nod to the original without trying to outshine it, and you can toggle between the two at any point. Glorious.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Each chapter is perfectly encapsulated for single serving exploration or to binge several at once. Characters are memorable, exciting and vibrant. I cannot stress how important it is to experience this game blindly. Wonderful.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on XBox One X.

A copy of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was provided by the publisher.