Game Preview - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detectiveby Christopher Farris,
It's been well over a decade since Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective possessed the Nintendo DS. The adventure game from Shu Takumi (the same creative mind behind the DS mainstay Phoenix Wright) proved to be a solid cult hit in its time, and now, with a remastered release set for June, it has the potential to find new life on a wide range of modern platforms. CAPCOM was kind enough to grant us access to a playable preview build of the remastered Ghost Trick, allowing us to get an idea of how this revitalized version of the game might turn out.
If you haven't played Ghost Trick before, the beginning is an arresting intro to its concept: You are dead, there is a girl who is about to end up dead as well, and so you'll need to use your ghostly powers of possessing objects (termed "Ghost Trick", natch) to try and save her. The opening chapter is effectively a tutorial on the game's mechanics, as your mysterious main character is taught how to use his powers by an even more mysterious mentor in a fellow ghost possessing a desk lamp. That's a giveaway of the quirkiness to this game's plot and progression, expected if you're familiar with any of Takumi's other oeuvre, as in the aforementioned and equally offbeat Phoenix Wright.
In practice, this means that Ghost Trick is a kind of adventure game where, rather than picking up and using various objects to solve puzzles, you instead become those objects to manipulate them in situations. Also, there's a dynamic element to much of the poltergeist-powered action, since trying to save someone from meeting an end as ignoble as yours means you're dealing with a time limit. The scenes in which you operate unfold like little mini-movies, with characters playing out in staged side-view setups while you choose your own and their adventures by interacting with any objects in the environment that happen to be handy. The opening stage is simple enough to navigate as a concept communicator, but as early as the second level, several more moving parts and tightly timed elements are introduced. And if you played through Ghost Trick back in the DS days, you know that both the puzzles and the plot only escalate in complexity from there.
Being a remaster rather than anything approaching a full remake, it means the mechanics and progression of this refreshed Ghost Trick stick reliably close to the original. One question with rereleases of games that were previously DS-exclusives will always be the controls: These are games that tended to be built in mind with multiple informative screens and touch-based inputs, and Ghost Trick is no exception. The remastered game finds some simple, smart ways of tackling these design challenges. The gameplay screen maintains the same aspect ratio as the original, keeping the field of view that was generally built in as a mechanic anyway, with the extra real estate on the sides now used to display things like the timer.
This preview build being on PC through Steam meant the availability of mouse controls that could most closely emulate the old tap-and-drag touch-screen controls, which is appreciable. But the real surprise is the game's new controller support. Despite not being originally intended to be played this way, Ghost Trick feels astoundingly snappy moving our Phantom Detective around with the analog stick, using buttons to briskly possess and activate objects. Some of the more reflex-based challenges in segments felt a little easier this way than they did with the "intended" mouse controls. That's great news because it means that anyone who has long been curious about the game ought to have a great experience finally getting to play through it, regardless of whether they choose mouse controls on a PC version or a controller on a console.
So generally, this feels great, about as good as the old Ghost Trick you might remember without going back to the actual DS version. Where the remaster's merits might be a little more debatable is on the visual front. Keeping things as close to the presentational framing of the original means that between things like text size, buttons, and other indicators, it's apparent you're looking at a blown-up portable game a lot of the time. The backdrops (which include their fair share of possessive objects) don't seem to have been available at the highest resolutions CAPCOM might have desired for a full-screen rerelease like this, having quite a bit of fuzz and blur to them. Perhaps that's preferable to things like the recent Persona 3 Portable rerelease and its AI-upscaled backgrounds. It also allows the character models to pop a bit better against them, though those are their lateral moves.
The characters in the DS-original Ghost Trick felt like something of a stylistic marvel, being tiny 3D models brimming with expressive personality and animation. Seeing the characters in all their full-size glory somewhat diminishes the novelty of some, now simply appearing as nice-looking cartoony character models, still animated well. While it is admittedly neat to finally be able to make out the actual faces on the character models, I'll still be wistful for the original's vibes of teeny little moving, manipulatable dioramas. Such is the price of platform progress, and at least I can still return to the DS original if I want that experience. And hey, the remaster also offers the option of playing with either the original version or a newly arranged take on Masakazu Sugimori's soundtrack.
Those are ultimately minor misgivings about the style for what's otherwise shaping up to be an excellent update for a game I think everyone ought to play through at least once. Just this first hour or so of gameplay provides a taste of all the complex chaos that Ghost Trick's story will get up to (which, much like Phoenix Wright, prominently features an adorable, very good dog named Missile). It means that newcomers can be assured they're getting the close, authentic Ghost Trick experience when the full remaster launches on June 30. It should be worth it if you've ever been curious to see what the game's about, even as I also urge you to avoid looking up anything about its story before you get to play it for yourself. Trust me on this one: this game goes places.
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