From the same mind that brought us Phoenix Wright and the Ace Attorney Investigations series arrives Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a puzzle/maze/adventure game starring Sissel, an amnesiac ghost with some interesting powers. Mostly Sissel can possess inanimate objects and perform a simple “trick”, like unfolding a deck chair, turning on a lamp, or throwing a switch. He can move from object to object via their “cores”, but he can only reach out a limited distance to reach the next core, which is where the maze-like elements of the gameplay kick in as you try to figure out how to gain access to the objects you really need to manipulate.
Of course, having a limited reach for his core-hopping would make for a fairly boring adventure, as Sissel would either be limited to a small area or be forced to hop from object to object just to cross a street. Fortunately Sissel can travel much faster by possessing phone lines, but there are a couple of hitches. The first is that you have to already know the phone number of where you want to go; Sissel’s amnesia has emptied his mental Rolodex, so you will have to “trace” an active call in order to go anywhere. Once you have that you can hop from phone to phone as the opportunity arises. The second restriction is that only currently-active phone lines can be traversed while Sissel is in the past.
You see, Sissel’s final power is to rewind time. By possessing the core of a freshly-slain corpse (less than a day old), Sissel can view the four minutes immediately preceding their death; then you get to try to avert their fate by using his powers to prevent the incident. Anyone that has been saved in this manner retains their memories of that averted fate as well as their core (living individuals do not normally have one visible) and is able to communicate with nearby ghosts through it. In this manner Sissel slowly accumulates a group of colorful individuals linked by fate that will ultimately reveal the truth about Sissel’s own murder, but not without taking some wild twists along the way.
As might be expected from the creator of Phoenix Wright, the cast of characters is diverse, quirky, and memorable — both the heroes and the villains. Unlike the Ace Attorney games (with the possible exception of the Miles Edgeworth title), however, these characters are also very well-animated. The stylized look of the game comes alive when the characters move (especially a certain white-coated investigator), and everything is accentuated by some great background music.
But even with the fun and engaging game play, developed characters, and solid sound, the true strength of Ghost Trick is the story, which stands a strong chance of being remembered at the end of the year as one of the Best of 2011. As every chapter unfolds, things just get more complicated, and surprising new elements are introduced just when you think you’ve got everything under control. The difficulty increases naturally, but you’re never really in any danger of losing since Sissel can always keep rewinding time until you discover the correct sequence to progress. The later chapters can be quite devious, including a few that can literally only be solved in the last second.
The whole experience is quite a trip, and even though it is ultimately a short ride, that doesn’t make it any less fun. The “one more chapter” impulse is strong with this one; you’ll find yourself consuming it in the span of a couple days at most — and then wanting so much more. Hopefully we’ll get more, but until then be sure to pick this one up — and avoid spoilers at all costs!