There’s this idea in the gaming industry that games can make anything fun. The Harvest Moon series makes farming fun (although I tried Harvest Moon and I found it to be kind of boring, Papers, Please (review forthcoming) shows that, yes, even being a border patrol officer who spends all day doing paperwork can be fun.
And then there’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, which has taught gamers that, yes, being a lawyer can be fun.
This is one of those series that my friend has been into for so long but which I refused to try because “You play as a lawyer? My brother’s a lawyer and his work is BORING!”
I just want to go back in time to when I said that and smack myself.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could probably best be described as a hybrid of an adventure game and a visual novel. You play as rookie defense attorney Phoenix Wright as he investigates crime scenes and metes out justice….in court! The game is divided into five cases (four cases that were part of the original game plus a fifth case that was added to the DS remake after the first three games in the series were released). In each case, a crime has been committed and its up to Phoenix to prove his client’s innocence (you know, in court).
Gameplay is divided up into two distinct segments: the Investigation phase and the Trial phase. During the Investigation phase, Phoenix investigates crime scenes, gathers evidence, and talks to witnesses. Basically the sort of thing you would find in any detective story. I should note that you can quick save whenever you want (in case you need to go in the middle of some lengthy dialogue) but the game lets you save normally at the end of each individual trial and investigation phase.
The game changes a bit when you get to the trial phase. During the trial portion of the game, witnesses are called to give testimony. During your cross-examination, your job is essentially to point out the contradictions between their testimony and the evidence you’ve collected. You can either press a witness for more information (by pushing the button or yelling “Hold it!” into the DS’s microphone) or object (“OBJECTION!”) to the statement and present evidence to back up your claim. Be careful, however, if you present the wrong evidence at the wrong time, the Judge will penalize you, if you screw up five times, your client gets a guilty verdict and the game automatically ends. The most difficult part of this game is figuring out when it’s appropriate to submit which piece of evidence (for instance, submitting the record of a blackout to prove a witness wasn’t hearing a TV at the time of a murder). Sometimes you will get options to press further or answer questions posed to you by the judge or the prosecution.
The game’s strongest point is probably its cast of characters. To say they’re “colourful” is a bit of an understatement. You have Phoenix’s friend, Larry Butz (yes, the localization team went to town with character names) who has a bad habit of getting into relationships with models that don’t work out, to Phoenix’s assistant, Maya, a spirit-medium in training who is his mentor’s younger sister, to
sexy beast snappy dresser Miles Edgeworth, a prosecutor who serves as Phoenix’s main “opponent” in the game, to witnesses like Redd White, a CEO (of Bluecorp) who would just like you to know how splendiferous he is. There are a ton of characters in this game, and each one manages to be memorable in some way. The trial segments can be very tense and there are plenty of unexpected twists. At one point I was literally biting my nails with nervousness wondering how Phoenix was going to bluff his way out. All things considered, it’s not a very difficult game, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for a wild ride filled with courtroom antics. There’s a great deal of genuinely funny moments as well, particularly Phoenix’s constant inner monologue. Some of the characters’ “angry” faces (particularly when a witness finally snaps) can be kind of creepy though (Wendy Oldbag’s was of particular note for me, it’s the eyes, definitely the eyes).
I didn’t have very many gripes with this game, but one major one is that the game is extremely linear, which I suppose makes sense, since if you don’t collect all the evidence you’d be screwed during the trial portions. It’s also pretty short, I finished the first three cases in couple hours, though the fourth and fifth cases (especially the fifth) are longer. The music also tended to be a bit repetitive, although there were some tracks (particularly “Cornered!” and “Telling the Truth” that I really liked). At times it seems like the game gives you too many hints, while at other times the cases seem to require slight leaps of logic, and sometimes Phoeniz knows where the case is heading, but the player might not have figured it out yet. Also, for those of you who are concerned about epilepsy triggers, the game can sometimes get flashy (particularly when a witness has a breakdown or Mike Meekins gets excited during the last case).
Overall, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is short but sweet. Despite it’s linearity, the quirky cast of characters and a heaping helping of courtroom drama kept me hooked, and now I’m just wondering when the postal worker will come with the next game. If you like your adventurey/visual novel games with a murder mystery theme or you just want some anime-style graphics with your courtroom drama, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a great game despite being criminally short.