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Wright: Ace Attorney
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.