Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

"The only thing this lunch lady is serving up ... is lies!" -- Phoenix Wright, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/PhoenixThinking.thumbnail.jpg)

[b]Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney[/b] is a game about lawyers and trial proceedings and the dead possessing the living. You cross-examine a parrot. You search for a mysterious sea monster. You bribe a ten-year old fanboy with trading cards. You do all these things and more in the name of justice and due process, of defending the innocent and preserving habeas corpus, and of paying your friend back for something he did in the fourth grade. I sound like I'm setting up a joke. But I'm not.

Modern science cannot explain how a game about an attorney got to be this good.

But good it is, and as a connoisseur of fine gaming experiences, you would be foolish to pass on it. In ten years, when the DS is replaced by the UltraDS or the DSMarxistCoup or whatever, I guarantee that Phoenix Wright will be memorialized as one of the ten greatest games of the system. I know those are strong words. Hyperbole, even. But this point-and-click game is worth the possible abuse of the English language.

In Phoenix Wright, you play the eponymous rookie defense attorney as he blunders, bungles, and bluffs his way through his first five court cases. You are not alone; assistance comes from the brilliant (and impossibly buxom) attorney Mia, her Miss-Cleo-in-Training sister Maya, and one over-enthusiastic detective named Dick Gumshoe. With their help, you act as both detective and defender. Each case features an investigative phase, where you speak to witnesses, gather clues, and examine crime scenes; afterwards there is a trial, where you cross-examine witnesses and present evidence, in an attempt to exonerate your defendant.

But this is not your average courtroom. The trial law in Phoenix Wright is straight out of Ally McBeal, and the proceedings resemble the climax of Chicago, minus the strange hats. Court cases are thrown out after only three days; the defense never presents witnesses; and, of course, evidence you steal from a crime scene is completely legal. In a lesser game, this absurdity would overpower the experience. In Phoenix Wright, you suspend disbelief, even despite yourself, because you are too absorbed in the farce. (Don't worry; the real criminal is always sniffed out in the end.)

For an episodic game, there is alarming narrative consistency among the cases. The first four cases, ported from the Gameboy game that never appeared stateside, tell a self-contained story, while the fifth, specifically designed for the DS, advances the themes presented in the first four. You see the same characters, frequent the same haunts, and repeatedly return to the same secrets in order to peel back layers of a dark, seedy history.

The game plays like an anime, but in the fun, over-the-top way (not the tentacles and demons way). Phoenix resembles Roger Smith from Big O in more than just appearance, and everyone is optimistic in the face of certain defeat (except, amusingly, the hero). There's a genuine innocence about the game, despite the murders and bloodshed; there are good guys and bad guys and it's your job to determine which is which. The dialogue is good-natured but ribald, the graphics are crisp but slightly exaggerated, and the characters are unapologetically likable. If you're in the mood for a game where you run over prostitutes and beat up cops, this isn't it. If you're in the mood for a game where the police have a mascot, and it's a dancing, mechanical badger, well, then, perhaps you're in luck.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/Gumshoe1.thumbnail.jpg)

Unlike Metroid Prime Pinball, which utilized the dual screens of the DS effectively while ignoring the rest of the handheld's capabilities, Phoenix Wright masterfully employs the entire system. You play the game primarily by stylus, which means that the touch screen feature, which was so tangential in games like Metroid Prime Pinball and Castlevania DS, is finally relevant. You use the stylus to navigate menus, investigate crime scenes, interrogate witnesses, scrutinize court evidence, hunt for fingerprints, and reveal pools of dried blood. Additionally, to make an objection or to press a witness, you may optionally scream "Take That!" and "Hold It!" into the microphone (though, I warn you, this will earn you strange looks from passersby and dogs). Even the two screens become vitally important, as you view testimony on the top screen while, on the bottom one, you scan your inventory for the evidence that contradicts it.

My favorite use of the DS's unique capabilities is fingerprinting, which appears in the fifth case. With the stylus, you dump a bunch of white dust where you suspect there might be a hidden fingerprint; then, you literally blow the powder away. As in, you huff and puff on the touch screen and microphone until the dust is gone. That, I think, is truly clever and innovative. (However, it is also dangerous, for I spent so much time blowing on the DS, almost passing out from over exhalation, that I think I've developed asthma).

Another excellent feature of Phoenix Wright is that you can save the game at any point--even mid-sentence--and shut off the system. When you return, you resume precisely where you left off. Since this is a long, complex game, requiring much conversation, the ability to save at will (rather than having to replay huge chunks of court cases) makes for easier gameplay.

And this truly is a long game. I must have clocked thirty to forty hours (although your mileage may vary, depending on how much time you waste fingerprinting things). The fifth case is as long as the previous two cases put together. I enjoyed the length, and although this is not a game you could replay immediately after you finish it, I felt I got my money's worth. Thirty dollars for the same number of entertainment hours isn't half-bad.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/Objection1.thumbnail.jpg)

The adventure genre is a bit of a lost art these days; with all the focus on 3D gaming and bigger/better/brighter graphics, nobody seems willing to give the old point-and-clicks a chance. But some mechanics are universal, even if they've been forgotten. Phoenix Wright plays well and it feels well. Indeed, it reminds me of Déjà Vu, a brilliant, under-appreciated title released back in the Stone Ages (that is, 1985). This game is joy in pixilated form. I can't imagine a better title to resurrect the adventure genre.

In the end, however, all my fuss is just sound and fury. What really matters is that in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, you can scream "Objection!" at a sleepy and confused parrot. For these are the moments which make life worth living.

[i]Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney[/i]
Official Site
Release Date: October, 2005 (DS)
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Comments

I just have to go on record as saying that that Objection! graphic may have just sold a DS (and a game). Nice review, Kat.

There are so many great elements in this game and fantastic little touches. I absolutely love how the music ramps up as you're cross-examining the witness, gathering urgency as the glaring contradictions start poking holes in their testimony and they hover ever so closer to a breakdown. Just. Awesome. Or when you call a witness up on their testimony and slam your hands down on the desk. It just really psyches you up in an 'I've got you cornered now biatch' way. I think I'm going to start doing that at work.

You have to give me the day off because SLAM! I've got overtime coming to me!

And it's been a while since a game has made me laugh so much (and by laugh, I mean that in the whole hearted sense, not in the cringing at the oh so bad dialogue sense). It's a fantastic adventure game; any fan of the genre should pick this up without any hesitation: it's that good.

Plus, I hear that there are 2 more Phoenix Wright games in Japan: I can only hope we'll eventually see those over here.

The more you talk about the DS the more i want one.
How many time will it take before i sucombe.

I only heard good thing about this game.

Thanks Katerin - this is the first game in forever that I think I actually want to play. My gamer-self has been in full retreat for about a year now, bowing under the pressure of my hobbies and my writing...is she due for a comeback?

*spoiler*
If you do play this dont let the idiot laws get to you. Its just a game is what I kept telling myself when they told me that there was a statute of limitation of murder is 15 years?!!?!?! On the other hand all other laws are explained by its the future ohhh!

As eclectic and unconventional as this game seems to be, it's a testament to Katerin's skill that I feel very nearly as though I've already played it. Excellent review of a most trying subject.

Sounds like a hoot, a game I really think I'd enjoy, but alas, no DS for me, at least not in the near future. Good job on the review, once again, Katerin! Hope your lung capacity comes back better than ever. I can see myself doing the same thing, going overboard with the dusting for prints, that's just such a neat feature.

KaterinLHC wrote:

...you literally blow the powder away. As in, you huff and puff on the touch screen and microphone until the dust is gone.

That's...that's brilliant. (Is the touchscreen really that sensitive?)

Also, I second everything Fletch and Lobo just said. Masterfully done, dear Kat; if it weren't Black Friday, I'd consider running out and getting a DS right now.

That's...that's brilliant. (Is the touchscreen really that sensitive?)

I would think it's the built-in mic that handles that aspect.

Thanks for all the compliments. everyone. Now, in the brief minutes I have in front of the computer:

Lobo wrote:

Excellent review of a most trying subject.

I revoke your privelege to use puns.

Certis wrote:
That's...that's brilliant. (Is the touchscreen really that sensitive?)

I would think it's the built-in mic that handles that aspect.

I think this needs some clarification. Yes, i'm pretty sure that it is the mic that handles that blowing effect (like the balloons in Mario Kart). But I didn't know that at the time. I thought it was the touch screen, so I huffed and puffed and blew my house down to get that powder off the screen. It doesn't really matter, though; you can aim at the touch screen and it's still pretty effective.

I get to play lawyer and get paid for it, although the only dust I blow is the dust off my keyboard.

Don't you have paralegals to do that for you?

Don't you have paralegals to do that for you?

I was going to say something inappropriate about what paralegals blow, but thought better of it.

Lawyeron wrote:
Don't you have paralegals to do that for you?

I was going to say something inappropriate about what paralegals blow, but thought better of it.

Thus proving my theory that lawyers are never any fun

Great review of a great game, Kat. I, too, was completely struck by Phoenix Wright when I played it. When I finally cracked open the wrapper on that game after finishing Castlevania for DS, I, quite simply, could not bring myself to stop playing. I piled 30-40 hours on the game as well, many times in 5 and 6 hour stretches, and in a week's time, no less. It became like a second job, only fun and addicting.

My favorite aspect of the game was definitely the larger than life characters. I loved the exagerrated animations and facial expressions of all the characters, and my favorite character was definitely Chief of Police Damon Gant. His gaudy orange suit and endless hair-twirling had me captivated with his character during every scene he was in. The sound effects and music, which dynamically change in response to the happenings in the game (i.e., up-tempo when drama is afoot, melancholy during sad bits) are genius as well.

Adventure games truly don't get much better. I hope everyone goes out and buys this game, because I want to see more of them!

The second episode made me all tear-eyed. I'm such a baby. Also, I didn't expect to react in this way to this game.

I never really considered playing this game until your review; now it's on my Christmas Wish List! Nintendo is always focused on creating innovative games that utilize their consoles' capabilities, and while there might be other game systems that make cooler-looking games, no one comes close to the gameplay of Nintendo's games (such as Mischief Makers for N64; anyone remember that game??)! I'm a loyal Nintendo fan forever because of this! Kudos to you for the great review, and I'll be experiencing Phoenix Wright's courtroom antics soon...

Excellent review, and now I'm even more torn. Should I get Advance Wars, Castlevania, or Phoenix?! Aaargh. I can't believe how exciting the DS is right now.

I have all three, and they're all great, but for me the winner is no question: Castlevania. It's the best 2D Castlevania since Symphony of the Night, and you could even argue that it's a toss up between those two. It's jam-packed with items, enemies, and extra play modes. The music and graphics are top notch for a hand held. I absolutely love it.

Phoenix Wright, while nothing like Castlevania, is a close second for me.

Katerin wrote:

it reminds me of Déjà Vu, a brilliant, under-appreciated title released back in the Stone Ages (that is, 1985)

Wow. Somebody else played that game? I loved it-- seemed very edgy. I'm hoping that the rumor of a $99 DS in December comes true-- if so, I'll be obliged to pick one up. This game will probably be the first one I'll pick up. Well, this and Mario Kart...

Update: ok, now this thing is really getting on my nerves. They made one fatal mistake with the interface: being unable to speed up through conversations and being forced to read things at 1/5th of my reading speed makes me want to hurl the DS into a wall. Talk about forcibly extending gameplay time. That's the cheapest, crappiest way yet.

You can speed through conversations you've already read, shihonage. Just hold down the X button, or hold the stylus on the -> button. I know it won't speed up the new conversations, but if you've already played through a part, and you screwed up and now you have to do it again, it certainly makes a difference.

*edit: Poppinfresh, Deja Vu is the greatest game of the 1980's. I wouldn't be surprised if playing Phoenix Wright made you want to bust out the old cartridge and give it another go.

KaterinLHC wrote:

You can speed through conversations you've already read, shihonage. Just hold down the X button, or hold the stylus on the -> button.

I'm aware of that and it doesn't help for the vast majority of the time, when what I am reading is in fact new text.

shihonage wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:

You can speed through conversations you've already read, shihonage. Just hold down the X button, or hold the stylus on the -> button.

I'm aware of that and it doesn't help for the vast majority of the time, when what I am reading is in fact new text.

Well, then maybe you just need to slow down and savor the dialogue. Y'know, sip it like good wine or bad beer :).

KaterinLHC wrote:

Well, then maybe you just need to slow down and savor the dialogue. Y'know, sip it like good wine or non-Belgian beer

fixed!

Who needs sensory deprivation techniques or painful torture in this enlightened day and age ?

Just put a terrorist into an empty call. Then give him some speed. Then give him a Nintendo DS made out of titanium, with Phoenix Wright hardcoded into it. You'll get his confession in less than 5 hours, mixed with him breaking down and crying about the "evil letters of slowness".

Damn shihonage, I'll bet those Infocom classics gave you seizures

Shihonage, how much speed are you on that waiting less than a second for a box of text to fill up is considered "painful torture"? I think you need some Belgian beer, pronto. Dejanzie, hook him up, would ya?

KaterinLHC wrote:

Shihonage, how much speed are you on that waiting less than a second for a box of text to fill up is considered "painful torture"?

I understand you love the game, but get some perspective please.

Not having the most basic features like the ability to speed up text or turn off the annoying elevator music during interviews, in this day and age is a major design flaw. I have a legitimate beef with this flaw, and trivializing it with the "hey crazy dude go relax and have a beer" line is uncalled for.

C'mon Shihonage, I was kidding. Didn't my profuse use of smileys give you enough of a hint? No need to get all huffy.

Of course you're raising a valid objection. I thought that was obvious. (Then again, I also thought my humor was obvious too).