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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective review: Spruced-up spectral sleuthing

Capcom’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective first came out on the Nintendo DS in 2010, coming from the same minds that directed the much-beloved Phoenix Wright series. Phoenix Wright eventually found its way to ports on other platforms such as the Switch, and in 2023, Ghost Trick is doing the same. This game comes to the Switch and further platforms, offering polished visuals, new music, and a wealth of other features. It helps that the core gameplay loop is also just plain interesting and intriguing as we help the main character solve the mystery of their own murder and unravel a conspiracy that shakes the very society around them.

A ghost of a chance

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective starts out on a rather dour note. You play a pointy-haired, smooth-talking man in a red suit. There’s just one problem. He was killed and is now a ghost. On the bright side, he discovers by way of another ghost that he is gifted with the Powers of the Dead, allowing him to manipulate non-living objects, as well as going back to the past of other freshly deceased people and changing their fate through his abilities.

These talents come in handy as he quickly finds himself having to save the life of a female detective known as Lynne from a nefarious hitman. Unfortunately, you see her get shellacked right away, but after watching the events play out, you then get a chance to go back and twist them. After saving her life, Lynne becomes aware of and teams up with the ghost, who we come to know as Sissel, and the two of them work together to not only solve who killed Sissel, but also who tried to kill Lynne and a larger mystery involving major police and political figures.

The team that crafted Phoenix Wright already had quite the pedigree for compelling mystery storytelling back in 2011 and it shows in Ghost Trick. The game’s story might be a bit dreary in that it deals with ghosts, murder, conspiracies, hitmen, shady politicians, and more drab subject material, but it’s presented in such a colorfully vibrant and comical way that it manages to be charming without making the heavier elements cheap. It helps that this game has seen a full visual upgrade that smoothed out its characters, backgrounds, and action, making every character speaking and acting their part through the game’s events really pop.

Adding to the fun is a newly arranged soundtrack that brings higher quality music to the game’s story, spread across 37 arranged tracks and one brand-new one. The soundtrack is a delightful blend of silliness and intensity that suits Ghost Trick’s rollercoaster of mystery quite well. That said, for those who feel more comfortable with the original music, that’s here too and you can change it in the options menu whenever you feel like it.

Spiritual hopscotch

One of the most interesting parts of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective lies in Sissel’s abilities as a ghost. From the moment he dies, Sissel can move his spirit between non-living objects in close proximity to each other, even going as far as to manipulate some of them, depending on the object. If it’s a spotlight, Sissel can turn it on to distract someone. If it’s a fan, he can jump into the blades and use the rotation to get to a further object. Finally, if it’s a working telephone, Sissel can trace the locations of callers and move between the phone lines to discover new locations. The catches are that Sissel can only move between valid objects that are close to one another and he can’t animate any being that was once living. He also sometimes can’t travel through phone lines that aren’t active. This creates interesting restrictions as well as the potential for fun chain reactions.

In many cases, the player’s purpose is to help Sissel move between and manipulate objects to either gain information or prevent someone’s untimely demise. As such, scenarios often play out in semi-real-time where Sissel must stop a murderer before they carry out their plan. If you can’t navigate and operate the necessary objects to stop a murder, it goes on as it was originally supposed to and you have to start over. Thankfully, if you manage to reach a point where the original situation changes, you can buy time for the victim and open new options to stop the murder.

In one case, I had to keep a sniper from shooting Lynne through a window, which required going through an active phoneline to the location the murderer would shoot from. I then had to utilize spotlights to scare them away from their shooting spots and lead the murderer to a place where I could strike back at them with a piece of the environment. The results were smashing, but the path to solving the matter was also smartly arranged and fun to discover.

The only thing I’m not fond of in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is how much you must backtrack if you make a mistake. There is no lack of opportunities to make the wrong move to a stray object and leave yourself stranded where you can’t go back to another object to help the victim. These matters require you to reverse time and start over. It’s slightly alleviated by the fact that if you change a person’s fate, that acts as a checkpoint you can go to instead of the beginning, but there were quite a few times where I felt it tedious to have to repeat actions in the correct order to get to the spot where I could fix my mistakes.

While I also like Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective’s story and gameplay, I also feel like there isn’t a lot going on make this a compelling return trip for those who’ve been through the mystery before. The upgraded visuals and music are impressive, but some of the only “new” content in the game is the inclusion of concept art and behind-the-scenes materials, as well as puzzle challenges that were only available in the smartphone version of the game. If you’ve been through Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective before, the paint and polish is really all that’s new to see, even if it’s an intriguing mystery.

If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again

This new version of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was a surprising delight to see out of Capcom. We’ve seen plenty of the Phoenix Wright games make a return, but Ghost Trick is quite the interesting spinoff. It offers a compelling narrative, a rather fun mystery-unraveling and time-twisting gameplay loop, and solid original and arranged soundtracks to accompany the journey. It doesn’t add much in the way of new content to visually and aurally upgraded package, but if you’re looking for another romp, or your first, through Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, then this is an fantastic way to go about it.


This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital copy of the game supplied by the publisher. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is available on June 30, 2023 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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