Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) – Review Repost

Ace Attorney - CoverFor those that miss text adventures or LucasArts style games, or like anything offbeat, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attoney for the DS is definitely a fun, strong plot and character-driven game that can fill the niche with some pretty good brain-teasing puzzles.

Phoenix Wright, simply, is one of those odd Japanese games, based weakly on their classic dating sims, that has been translated to English and brought onto the DS platform. In Phoenix Wright, you play as Phoenix, a just-off-the-bench defense attorney on his first 5 cases in court, defending the innocent of murder charges. The game is set in the near future, where the justice system has been radically revises as to have all criminal court cases take at most 3 days, thus requiring a significant burden of proof on the defendant. As the player, you have to work your lawyer-y skills in court to disprove witnesses’ testimony with evidence and information that you collect, and prevent the prosecution from overruling you. The game, while based on the idea of Japanese dating simulations, feels that it has strong comedic influences from the Adult Swim show, “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” in that shouts of “Objection!” and “Hold it!” stand out like the cartoon onomatopoeia effects from Batman, key points are punctuated with fighting sound effects, and the bumbling attitude of Phoenix, though the game’s plot is still (mostly) firmly grounded in reality. I think it’s more that stateside, without the popularity of Harvey Birdman, this game would have had little chance to succeed without a major media push, but with it, the game can easily become popular by word-of-mouth.

Ace Attorney - ScreenshotGameplay: A-
Plot: A

There are 5 cases that you take up; the first one is pretty straight forward and rather short, but the others are multi-day affairs, so don’t take the game as being short from that first case. The cases break down into the setup and crime (again, all of which you see as the player), then an evidence gathering stage, followed by the courtroom drama; there are then several iterations of the evidence and courtroom stages until the trial is completed (again, 3 days at most), followed by the epilogue for the case.

During evidence gathering, you can examine locations for evidence, clues, or other pieces of information that may lead to additional witnesses and locations using a cursor-style approach on the DS touchscreen; you can also talk with specific witnesses, presenting them out-of-court with the evidence that you’ve collected to learn more. Most of this is done simply by selecting which option you want from the screen.

In trial, you generally will start by examining the witnesses’ testimony sentence by sentence, allowing you to press on any point and hoping the witness drops a hint, or you can try to present evidence that counters the testimony. Pressing a witness usually doesn’t hurt your case, but if you present the wrong evidence at the wrong time, that’s one of 5 strikes against you; getting all 5 strikes loses the case in a Guilty verdict and you’ll have to start over (from that day, at least, as long as you save the game at all provided points)

Handling evidence gathering or the trial isn’t too hard in terms of puzzles – as long as you look and examine the evidence and consider what’s been said, it’s hard to make too many wrong terms. When a key detail must be provided in court, you’re usually given more than enough hints from your assistant, the judge, or Phoenix’s thoughts to point to the single piece that will work. In that aspect, the game could be called rather easy. However, this builds up through the game, with the last couple of cases having some of the leaps of logic that was common in Infocom or LucasArts SCUMM adventure games. But, really, I think much of the gameplay here is not due to the challenge of the game, but simply doing what is needed to drive the well-written and highly amusing dialog and plot forward, which is the core of this game — effectively an interactive movie with a lot of laughs.

The main characters are well written, including the minor one-off characters. Phoenix is by no means perfect as a human being or a lawyer. His main advisory in court, Edgeworth, is a swarmy, cunning prosecutor that easily gets on Phoenix’s nerves, though they share a childhood bond that plays in on later cases. The main players in one case are quite unique, one being a lady that seems to be a dimwit until you get her angry, another being a suave characters with rather unique language skills, and yet another one that appears to have been pulled of fanboy AOL chat rooms. There’s a lot of times that the dialog made me laugh out loud, something I don’t find in games that much.

The dialog is by no means static. While you have to “listen” to everything that is said, the screen jumps back and forth with good blurring effects as in cartoons to jump between the conversations with characters. The characters, all drawn in an anime style, are mostly stills though they blink and move their mouths when speaking, and have several various emotional depictions, all helping to make the game feel more dynamic. The screen also flashes when an important fact comes out, or shakes as Phoenix gets more nervous, helping to put you into his role. The only nit here is that you have to wait for the dialog to type out and display fully before proceeding; it’s certainly necessary to have to read all of the dialog but I wish I could have increased the speed (It does help that if you proceed along an already-read dialog path, you can zip that along, but you have to take it at pace during the first ‘read’). It also helps that the translation of this game from the Japanese was given the leeway to make the English version work as well as the Japanese version; there’s one character who’s given a decidedly Southern drawl and refers to others as “yanks”, which would have been simply changed to having the character come from Osaka as is commonly done in dubbed anime titles. There’s just a hint of Japanese culture in the game (the popular culture discussions and food choices) but as it’s set up, it could be set in any big city, so having a strong knowledge of Japanese culture isn’t necessary to enjoy the game either.

An additional note on the speed of the text display; as mentioned, once you’ve gone through a specific conversation, you can fast-forward through it. However, if you happen to fail at the court and need to restart at the last save, you will still have to go through all those conversations again at their initial speed. There’s some rather long courtroom sessions that you need to be very careful to make sure that you don’t err too many times, otherwise, you may have to go back and play through 2hrs or more of the game to fix it.

The plot is also well done. The cases all seem to be real possibilities, with strong motives, as well as lots of intrigue and blackmail. The cases are weakly tied to another; a unique murder weapon in one case proceeds to reappear in a second case, and the unique-ish of this weapon appears again in yet a third case, helping to keep continuity in the game. Characters and tidbits from past cases get reused, and there’s a strong sense of continuity and character development through the cases.

The controls at least at first don’t seem to heavily use the DS; the dual screen with all the dialog-action on the top half and options and controls on the bottom work great, and while the game is designed for the use of the stylus or touch screen, you can do all the same actions with the traditional controls. The last episode of the game was specially added for the DS and takes advantage of a few of the DS’s features (such as the 3D engine and required use of the stylus, or using the microphone to blow into as to blow fingerprinting dust away); while it feels like the last episode is quite different in many aspects to the rest of the game and more a quick add-on, the use of the features of the DS could easily be built into a followup game, and this episode also features one of the most detailed cases in the game.

Ace Attorney - ScreenshotGraphics: A
Sound: A

The graphics are mostly all animated images, though the last mission uses some 3D parts, and works well. It’s a very clean interface and makes the game quickly accessible. Sound works well, with a very good soundtrack that follows the mood of the action. There’s not that many sound effects, but they are used appropriate when needed.

Length/Game Value: A-
Replayability: C

The game is quite long for something as simple as this interaction boils down to, maybe about 30hr of total playtime. A good 90% of that is working through the dialog sections, so if you are looking for an action game, this is definitely not it. However, for those that like plot-driven stories, this game does an excellent job of sucking you in and having you work through a single case. It very much helps that the auto-sleep feature of the DS is there, allowing you to play the game at any break that you can. Obviously the cases themselves don’t change on replay, so unless you let the game sit for a long enough time to forget the basics, it’s hard to consider replayability a strong feature.

Overall: A-

Overall, if you’ve like plot-driven games comparable to LucasArts or Infocom adventures, or at times comparable to a legal drama for entertainment purposes, Phoenix Wright is a sure hit. With the only flaw being the inability to speed the dialog display along and the consequences of that, the game is fun and yet challenging at the same time, and sure to give you a number of laughs along the way. As a last note, this is probably the only game that I would feel comfortable playing on the DS in a busy location (a bus or plane), since you’re not madly tapping or using the stylus wildly (like in Kirby or Warioware).

3 Responses

  1. You ignorant how can you say that phoenix wright popularity is thanks to harvey birdman, i have watched the show wich i enjoy very much, and they are different, phoenix stands out for its own.

  2. Is this gonna Kill You? No i Dont Think so !

  3. when did this game come out to the US? if it didn’t yet, when is it coming out? this looks like a very interesting game and i want to buy it. PLEASE I NEED HELP

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