The Nintendo DS is still, 18 years after its triumphant release, the second best-selling console of all time. Everyone had a DS, which likely contributed to the lasting appeal of its most popular franchises.
Despite developer Akihiro Hino retiring the eponymous protagonist, the phenomenal Professor Layton series saw regular releases for more than a decade after its debut; the Mystery Dungeon series saw its second American release in the form of the DS spinoff, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, which spawned its own still-running series of dungeon-crawling RPGs; and, of course, the Ace Attorney series beginning with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney remains a massive juggernaut – but few know about its creator’s later (superior) title.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was developed by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi as his follow-up to what he intended to be the final Ace Attorney title. The game follows Sissel, a dead man who wakes up in a junkyard with no memory of his life or death. What follows is a series of puzzles that Sissel can solve by possessing objects in his immediate area and briefly rewinding time.
Ghost Trick stands apart from Ace Attorney in a few important ways. The Ace Attorney series, for all its legendary status on the DS family of consoles, never found much to do with the hardware’s infamous touchscreen, having been originally developed for the DS’s touchscreen-less predecessor, the Game Boy Advance.
In contrast, Ghost Trick was imagined from the ground up with the DS’s strengths in mind, and Takumi’s creative instincts make better use of it than nearly any other game in the console’s history. It also has a significantly more coherent story than any of the Ace Attorney games released before it, ditting the episodic structure of its sister series in favor of a more conventional mystery structure where every clue feeds into the story at the center. It’s not just Takumi’s follow-up to Ace Attorney – in nearly every way – Ghost Trick is an evolution.
There’s one other distinction between Ghost Trick and Ace Attorney – Ghost Trick didn’t make very much money. Infamously, shortly following the game’s release, it plummeted in the Japanese sales charts and never made a dent in the United States.
Despite rave reviews, Ghost Trick’s Publishers, Capcom, did not see it as a cult franchise in the making but rather as the game that nearly cost them their financial relevance in its release year. Any hopes for a follow-up to the game were handily dashed, and Shu Takumi was shuffled back to his old position to direct yet another Ace Attorney game.
Takumi’s last mainline Ace Attorney game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney borrows a lot from Ghost Trick. It has the most cohesive narrative of any game in the series, and it makes some use of the DS touchscreen (although nothing that approaches what Ghost Trick accomplished). It’s a sensible follow-up, both to its immediate predecessor in its own series and to its creator’s last original effort. It’s a great game – one of my favorites, actually – but it isn’t original. It isn’t Ghost Trick.
Since Ghost Trick’s notorious failure, Capcom still hasn’t given up on the little DS game that couldn’t. There will likely never be a sequel and Shu Takumi is still working on the Ace Attorney subseries, but in 2012, Ghost Trick was ported to iOS, alongside a free demo, and in the decade since then it’s received consistent updates to keep it playable on modern hardware. Ghost Trick as a series is dead, but in some small corner of its publisher’s efforts, it’s not gone. It’s not a corpse. It’s a ghost.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a freshman studying games and animation at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her @gendertoad.