Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (Wii Ware), Mobile Phones
Adventure, Visual Novel
October 11th, 2005 (DS); January 11th, 2010 (Wii Ware); May 24th, 2010 (Mobile)
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups; the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are not their stories. These five stories are those of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Through these cases you step into the shoes of the defense in this wacky, off-beat courtroom game.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney follows the young rookie defense lawyer Phoenix Wright as he takes on his first case. His mentor and boss Mia Fey shows him the ropes of the Japanese Judicial system just in time for him to save his hapless friend, Larry Butz, from a false murder conviction. From then on Phoenix's determination and tenacity will guide him through cases rife with conspiracy, betrayal, and lies. As the player, all of Phoenix's skills are at your command as you fight for the innocent and expose the guilty in cases that are close to Phoenix's own heart.
As a visual novel, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is based entirely off animated sprites and backgrounds. The character designs are all very fun and well drawn with characters ranging from a slick stereotypical cowboy to a rather "bouncy" secretary. Even Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey have very distinct designs and animations that are fun to look at.
Backgrounds are no different. From courtrooms and law offices to movie sets and public parks there are few places you don't see. And although the backgrounds aren't super detailed, they are easy on the eyes and function well within the game. Because part of the game play also incorporates the backgrounds don't be surprised to see them change as the cases progress.
In addition to the expected courtroom drama sounds, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney's collection of sound effects are a decent addition to the game. Most of the effects are gavel pounds, juror whispering and the occasional gunshot or bludgeoning noise. Because the game was released on Gameboy advance in Japan then 'ported to the DS for the American release it's easy to see a possible cause for the sometimes unconvincing sound effects in the game. And while the effects are far from horrible the fact remains better sound quality is capable of a DS title.
One thing that does stand out is the music. The music starts out like any typical mystery or courtroom drama but as you begin to make breaks in the case and witness testimonies begin to fall apart the music gradually gets more exciting. The turnabout music is one of the best songs in the game and really adds that extra excitement to the situations. After playing through this game I actually tried to find the game's soundtrack several times, just so I could listen to some of the tunes whenever I pleased.
There two distinct kinds of objectives in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. First is the investigation. Talking to your defendant and doing legwork to places like the scene of the crime, police department, and interviewing witnesses are all crucial to building your case. Conversations with people are pretty straight forward though to inspire cooperation from more obstinate parties may require presenting items or evidence. While at a scene you can also examine your surroundings. Poking around is a great way to find hidden pieces of evidence that can be used in the courtroom or in your chats with others.
Once youíre confident with the evidence and statements you've gathered you'll be able to move on to the trial. One thing that is not immediately clear and may confuse players is that the justice system is very different from our own here in America. In Japan you are assumed guilty until proven innocent. So when it seems like the defense has a lot more pressure upon him to prove his clients innocence that's the reason. The prosecution is usually in charge of presenting witnesses and their testimonies are everything. As Mia Fey tells you, "Lies always beget more lies", and exposing the lies in witness testimony is the key to proving your clients innocence. It always helps to have a plan however presenting irrelevant evidence will put you closer to losing your case.
Ace Attorney applies the investigation and trial formula to all four of its main cases. Just when the story seems to close you get a bonus mission not on the original Gameboy Advance version of the game. This case takes full advantage of the touch screen as well as adding several new elements. Ema Skye, a budding forensic scientist, joins Phoenix and brings a couple forensic tools to help. Of them luminol can be used to detect blood on surfaces that have been cleaned and aluminum powder is used to dust for fingerprints. Also new is the ability to examine evidence from any angle. These improvements to the bonus mission would have been excellent game play inclusions earlier in the game, but better late than never right?
The game, as Iím sure you can tell so far, is largely based around the characters that you meet in the cases. Interacting with clients, prosecutors, detectives, witnesses and even friends make the game play continuously appealing.
I won't lie, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney can be difficult at times. Sometimes guessing around is your only recourse. Where this would be a bad thing in some games I think the difficulty is a very good thing in Ace Attorney. The challenge to think critically and examine facts and evidence is often its own reward. Several times I found myself doing a little victory jig as Phoenix slaps his hands down on the desk, points triumphantly and shouts "OBJECTION!"
While you can replay cases after you've cleared them they are noticeably easier the second time around. Although the humor never loses its flavor overall there is not much incentive to replaying the game.
That being said I would have loved to see a kind of challenge mode, or harder difficulties made available after clearing the cases. With DS card space as an issue though, I'm not surprised extra difficulties were not included.
Repetition is very typical of visual novels and adventure games so if constantly evolving game play with multiple modes is your thing this game may not be for you. Those seeking an intelligent yet humorous adventure/visual novel with a great cast of instantly memorable characters and challenging game play need not look any further. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is perfect evidence that new IP, nostalgic game play, and can make a great game. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case!