I haven’t been playing my DS much lately. Really, the only portable games I’ve EVER poured much time into (outside of Custom Robo) were the Pokemon games (I just hit the 200 hour mark on my Diamond cartridge), and recently..I’ve lost any drive to play those. And thus my DS has lain dormant.
The Ace Attorney series has always piqued my interest, primarily because of its apparently quirky nature, and rather unique premise. Recently I decided to pick up the first entry in the series, and was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had playing it.
For those who haven’t heard of it, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a DS game where you play as a rookie defense lawyer as he defends innocents from being wrongly convicted.
The game is separated into five cases. While there is an overarching plot and a recurring cast of characters, each case features its own self-contained story. The first case is fairly short. It’s Phoenix’s first actual trial, so he’s guided by his mentor and boss, Mia Fey (a famously skilled defense lawyer) through the process, which serves as the game’s tutorial. From there, Phoenix goes on to investigate other cases, usually uncovering a whole lot more than he bargained for in the process.
This is, at it’s core, a text adventure. You can play the game exclusively via touch, using the bottom screen to sort through evidence, advance conversations, and choose dialogue choices. Like in a visual novel, locations are represented solely by static backgrounds, and characters you converse with show up as semi-animated sprites sitting against those backgrounds.
Each case is composed of two different segments: investigation and the trial. Each case begins with an investigation, where you go out and try learn more about the situation and given incident, as well as gather evidence which you can later use to prove your logic in the court. You’ll converse with various characters and examine scenes for evidence and information. This doesn’t sound fun, I know, but it is.
Following the investigation phase is the court trial. Here, the prosecution will call witnesses to the stand to report what they know about the incident. You defend your client by cross-examining witnesses, carefully examining their reports and pointing out anything that contradicts evidence you have in your possession. Along the way, Phoenix will slowly unravel more of the truth, and start to throw out conjecture, which you have to prove with evidence.
The challenge in Phoenix Wright comes from the amount of logic and deduction often required to point out contradictions. The game will sometimes hint at them, but you’re more frequently left on your own to put two and two together. Each case is more convoluted and complex than the last (I had some trouble following the details of case five), so it’s easy to get left behind when characters start theorizing, much less actually be ahead far enough to know a bad witness report when you see one. It actually runs a lot like a case in Detective Conan/Case Closed.
The puzzle aspects of the game are all well and good, but what I found to be its biggest strength was the simply excellent writing and cast. For one thing, this is one wacky court. After having enough of their reports blasted to pieces by contradictions, witnesses will literally have a mental breakdown (one even starts banging his head on the wall repeatedly), in a hilarious manner. The judge, while generally capable of keeping order in the court, always seems to be behind the curve, and requires many things to explained to him. Edgeworth, your rival and the primary prosecutor, often has a hell of a time getting his own witnesses to respect him (in particular, he has trouble getting them to introduce themselves, and they often hold evidence without telling him). Each character introduced to you has a humorous side, from Angel Starr’s bottomless supply of box lunches (which she insists on handing out even while serving as a witness in the middle of a trial), to Detective Gumshoe, who is capable and friendly but somewhat intellectually lacking. If nothing else convinces you of this game’s humor, consider the fact that you get to cross-examine a parrot.
In the graphics department, the character sprites are really the best thing you have to look at in this game, so it’s a good thing that most or all of the characters are unique and have interesting senses of fashion. The music can be surprisingly epic at times, particularly when you point out a contradiction and press witnesses. There’s no real voice acting, but each lawyer has a sound byte for when they yell OBJECTION!! (or HOLD IT!! in Wright’s case) to point out contradictions and make accusations. Sound effects are used to fantastic effect here; from von Karma’s signature finger snap to the wince-worthy effect that accompanies crushing logic, it’s amazing how exciting a game where you play as lawyer can get.
I tried, but this is a difficult game to describe. Take that as a sign of its addicting uniqueness. The episodic style of the game (in addition to the ability to save pretty much at any point) makes it easy to take in the experience at your leisure. For a game that requires you to do a lot of creative thinking, it’s very linear though. There’s always a right and wrong dialogue choice, and there’s no way to proceed until you’ve gotten all the vital clues you can for the moment. On the plus side, this means it’s impossible to miss out on crucial evidence. But on the other hand, it can also underwhelm the experience, and lead to complete halts in the action until you figure out what you’re supposed to do next. The game’s strict linearity isn’t really a flaw in my eyes, but it does eliminate almost any replay value the game may have, since after one playthrough you’ll already know all the choices to make and all the contradictions to point out. One could argue the writing and characters alone merit one or two more runs (I certainly would), but that may be a bit of a stretch for some. But this game is most certainly worth anyone’s time and money, for the sheer amount of humor and brilliant logic to be had. An 8.0/10.