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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective review: a glorious remaster that's still to die for

Turning back the clock

Sissel discovers he cannot read in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, with the RPS Bestest Best logo in the corner
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom

Over a decade on from its Nintendo DS release, there's still nothing quite like Ghost Trick. In this smart murder mystery detective game from the creator of Ace Attorney, you play the recently deceased amnesiac Sissel as he attempts to piece together his own demise. Who killed him? And why? And what's the deal with these newfound powers he has to turn back time and manipulate inanimate objects in his vicinity? That definitely wasn't in the ghostbusting 101 manual. Alas, he doesn't have long to find out, as he'll cross over to the afterlife in the morning. Thus begins a frantic night of whodunnit puzzling at its finest, with director Shu Takumi showing us exactly what he's made of outside the courtroom dramas he built his name on.

In some ways, it's a shame Takumi was never granted another Ghost Trick-style recess outside the legal trappings of his Phoenix Wright games. This is a tale that delights in the twists and turns of Western crime fiction, adopting the Columbo school of showing us the (plentiful) murders as they happen, before challenging us to 'solve' them by turning back the clock and changing the victim's fate. Alas, Sissel's time-bending powers don't stretch too far, capping out at four minutes before the moment of death. Within those four minutes, which play out in real-time and are tracked in this 2023 remaster by an hourglass on the side of the screen, Sissel must perform his titular ghost tricks - possessing, manipulating and jumping between objects to move around the scene and gently prod fate in a different direction.

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In isolation, these so-called tricks might seem like tame parlour fare. Turning on a fan. Opening the door of a fridge. Rolling a tyre a short distance around a junkyard. Add in the fact that Sissel can only spirit jump over quite short distances, and it's hardly the Haunting Of Hill House. But when these tiny sleights of hand are combined into a domino roll of cause and effect, the magic of Ghost Trick becomes clear. That fridge, for example, will open to reveal a blender, whose blades will catch the rope of a flag being blown by the nearby fan you just activated, allowing you to hoist yourself up the pole and climb further into the upper echelons of the junkyard. Suddenly, you're within spitting distance of saving the life of the last person who saw you alive - a young police detective named Lynne, whose fate seems to be inextricably linked with your own.

A police detective looks at a deceased Sissel in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Sissel comments on Lynne's slow running away in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom
The world of the dead in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
In the ghost world, Sissel can jump between blue object nodes to perform his tricks, but he can only jump so far - that searchlight, for example, would be out of reach from his current spot on the flashing police light. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom

The turn of Ghost Trick's puzzle pledge never quite makes it to a full-blown prestige, admittedly, but the scenarios Takumi's cooked up here (including one set in an actual chicken kitchen) are brilliant fun. Its beautifully animated cast of ne'er-do-well crime lords, upright police lackeys, overbearing mothers and dancing detectives (not to mention Lynne's charming Pomeranian Missile) are just oozing with charm and charisma, and the tight, deliberate pacing of their exaggerated movements infuse their otherwise static scenes with a life all its own. They're certainly every bit as memorable as the line-ups you'll find in Ace Attorney, and when they've been spruced up to a full 60fps, they've also never looked so damn good.

Timing is everything in Ghost Trick, and working within the strict constraints of that four-minute murder window gives each scene a frission of tension. Wait too long between jumping from fan to flag, for example, and you'll have to wait until the fan powers down again before a second attempt, costing you precious seconds in an already pressurised environment. Most of its puzzles do require a bit of forethought and planning in this respect, and the challenge comes from grasping the ins and outs of a scene at a glance. Fortunately, you're afforded plenty of concessions to figure things out within those four minutes. Time will freeze when you enter the world of the dead to shift between objects, and a separate pause button can do the same when you're back in the land of the living to perform your tricks. Objects will instantly telegraph if they have a trick attached to them as well, and checkpoints are established when your tricks move the needle enough to 'change' someone's fate as you work towards completely 'averting' it.

A chef pours wine onto a chicken from a bottle perched on top of his head in a kitchen  in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom
Inspector Cananela rides a bicycle in a junkyard in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
A policeman discovers a locked room murder in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
No matter whether they're a lead or support character, everyone in Ghost Trick is beautifully animated with their own unique quirks and mannerisms. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom

In truth, jumping between object nodes on keyboard isn't nearly as intuitive as using an analogue stick on a gamepad, although you can opt for mouse controls to drag and drop Sissel's spirit as well if you want to hark back to its original touch controls. In truth, though, the mouse is fiddler than it needs to be, requiring you to click your current node before extending Sissel's spirit in your desired direction. There's no easy 'click anywhere and get an instant stretch toward your mouse pointer' here, and when your fingers are already glued to Q and E to swap between worlds, I often found it quicker and easier to simply fudge it with WASD controls than to constantly move my mouse into position.

The timer until death drops to three seconds in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Some death scenes really come down to the wire, giving you just three seconds to perform your final tricks. It's edge of your seat stuff. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Capcom

Thankfully, this is the only (very minor) blemish in an otherwise spotless remaster. You'll swear the rearranged music is exactly how it used to be until you compare and contrast the new and old tracks in its dedicated music player, and both its character art and colourful scenery scrub up wonderfully at 4K. Sure, it's a bit of a shame its scenes haven't been extended to fit our more modern 16:9 monitors, instead sticking with their original 4:3 aspect ratio, but honestly, it's really no bother. Ghost Trick is a game that feels perfectly calibrated to its native screen size, and I think the impact of its choreographed character beats would be lost with all that extra space around the sides. And before you ask, no, nobody's touched the fonts. Capcom knows better than that.

It's just such a delight to have Ghost Trick back on modern platforms. For returning players, it's a chance to revisit one of Takumi's best and most lively mysteries, while newcomers get to enjoy one of the finest puzzle games of the last two decades. There's still nothing quite like Ghost Trick, and that makes this resurrected remaster all the more worth saving.

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