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T (Teen)



October 12, 2005


- Amusing characters 
- Excellent writing 
- Deliciously over-the-top sense of humor
- Superb plots



- Very little replay value



Review: Trace Memory (DS)

Review: Nintendogs (DS)

Review: Syberia II (PC)



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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Score: 8.9 / 10


I never pictured myself enjoying a game about lawyers. Even at their most intriguing, legal dramas like CSI are pretty much joyless affairs - they might be good, but they're hardly what I'd call fun. Enter Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, who has a bit more in common with Harvey Birdman than John Grisham. Phoenix Wright doesn't concern itself with legal mumbo jumbo. Instead, it takes all of the inherent intrigue associated with murder cases, adds a ridiculously over-the-top sense of humor, and comes out with an outstanding adventure game.


phoenix wright ace attorney review          phoenix wright ace attorney review

As the game begins, you take on the suit and tie of Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense attorney fresh out of law school. Your job is to defend accused murderers who, despite having mountains of evidence against them, are most likely innocent. The story is told in five different cases, each usually consisting of several days. While the first case acts as a tutorial and finishes up in about half an hour, the rest are far longer, often lasting between three and five hours each. 

Each day is cut down into two different segments. The first are the investigation sequences, where Phoenix & Co. investigate the crime scene in order to find evidence and question witnesses. The locale is viewed from a first person 




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perspective on the top screen, andthe bottom screen hosts the options to Move, Examine or Talk. Although the game can be played entirely with the directional pad, using the stylus is a lot more intuitive, especially when trying to pick out bits of scenery to investigate. Other than this, the game only really takes advantage of the capabilities of the DS in the final chapter, which features a 3D inventory and some interesting scenes with finger print dusting.



The other segments take place in the courtroom. Here, the foundation of the case is laid out, and you listen to witness testimonies regarding the murder in question. Your job is to find holes in said testimonies. By picking apart minute details of their every word, you can find a direct contradictions with some piece of evidence in your inventory. In the beginning stages of the game, finding these fallacies is pretty easy, although they ramp up in difficulty as the game goes along. There are also sections where you'll need to answer specific questions or point out specific areas in a photograph, but these are the only parts of the game where you can actually go awry. If you present the wrong piece of evidence too many times, you automatically lose the trial and need to restart from the beginning of the day.

Obviously, this isn't quite based on any real legal system. There's no jury, as all verdicts are handed down directly by the Judge. Much like Mario refereeing in Punch Out!, the Judge isn't entirely impartial, and tends to let your opponents buck the system as they see fit. Of course, that makes it all the more challenging to prove your client innocent. Though it might irritate people who want true legal simulators, but it makes sense both in making the narrative more
interesting, and quickening the pace.


phoenix wright ace attorney review          phoenix wright ace attorney review

Actual trials are usually muddled in mounds of red tape and obscure legal knowledge. Capcom has taken the concept of a courtroom battle and elevated it to exhilarating levels that I didn't think were possible. The defense and prosecuting attorneys aren't merely suits with expensive educations, they're presented as warriors fated to opposing sides due to their
professions. Each objection is a swift strike with a sword, the whole trial playing out like an elegant, duel of wits. Accusations are delivered with dramatic close-ups complimented with speed lines, while the camera pans back and forth between prosecutor, defender, and judge. After you repeatedly find holes in testimonies, the music ramps up in intensity, eventually exploding. This keeps up until the witness breaks down, complete with the visceral sounds of
wounded flesh. It's just as satisfying as delivering a Shoryuken to M. Bison right as you're both down to mere slivers of health.

The catch is, it's all scripted.

Like most adventure games, Phoenix Wright is linear to a fault. There are rarely any dialogue trees or multiple courses of action. Sometimes the game is particular to a fault -- if you present a piece of evidence at the wrong time during the testimony, you're still penalized, even if you're on the right track. Unfortunately, that means there's very little in the way of replayability.

But in the end, that might be okay -- Capcom has created an incredibly memorable cast of bizarre characters you'll definitely want to revisit down the road. Phoenix is the straight man, a relatively normal guy who wonders why everyone is so insane. His partner is spirit medium-in-training named Maya, whose enthusiastic demeanor provides an amusing foil to
Phoenix. Miles Edgeworth is the devious prosecutor, a ruthless villain who somehow becomes emininently likable as the game proceeds. All of them are intertwined in one way or another, and their connections only deepen as the storyline progresses. The game is also full of colorful whackos, ranging from the l33t-speaking otaku Sal Manella, to the angry security guard Wendy Oldbag, to the dim detective Dick Gumshoe. The bizarre naming conventions should clue you in to some of the humor in Phoenix Wright, but there are plenty of laugh out loud moments that don't depend on silly puns. The story quickly shifts from goofy to serious without warning -- if the beginning of the second chapter doesn't shock you, then nothing will. Almost all of this is due to the stellar translation -- you almost wouldn't know the game was originally in Japanese, as the writing feels shockingly natural. 

Phoenix Wright is one of those games that I dreaded playing because I knew, at some point, it would have to end. Phoenix Wright is known as Gyakuten Saiban in Japan, a series which began on the Gameboy Advance and has currently spawned three installments. This DS game is a remake of the first, and one can only hope that Capcom sees fit to translate the rest of them. After all, this is the closest that anyone has come to emulating Konami's digital comic masterpiece Snatcher. As it turns out, adventure gaming isn't dead. With the recent releases of Indigo Prophecy, Trace Memory, and now Phoenix Wright, it turns out the poor genre was just resting.


- Kurt Kalata

(October 27, 2005)


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