Every so often a game appears that really surprises you. It makes you wonder how gameplay so simple and simultaneously complex hadn’t been done before that moment. Maybe even think how there could be a game with a story both heart-wrenching and genuinely funny, or even how a game with such a dull premise could be so exciting and addictive. Ladies and gentlemen, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is all of these things and a whole lot more.
Released in 2001 as a Japan-only game for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, the first Phoenix Wright title was warmly received in Japan. They loved the constant battle of David versus Goliath with the player controlling the titular attorney attempting to prove that his, sometimes painfully, guilty-looking clients were acting innocent by exposing lies in the prosecution’s case. It sold very well, and was ported in 2005 to Nintendo DS in all regions.
The port to the DS added significant new features to enhance the gameplay. The microphone could be used when significant evidence was found to expose a lie in a testimony. I must admit though, for a portable game, there are quite a lot of places that shouting, “Objection” would be frowned upon. As well as this, the touch screen made the basic interface of the game significantly more immersive and user-friendly. But with all this change, there were no changes to the game itself, it kept it’s subtle charm, and the biggest addition was another case added to the end.
Phoenix Wright’s basic premise is a courtroom drama. Set mostly in the courtroom you, as Phoenix Wright, have to defend your clients against the prosecution’s always well-constructed cases. This is done by cross-examining the witnesses brought forward and exposing inconsistencies in their testimonies using evidence. I know that all sounds boring but the challenge is it is never easy and encourages you to study each piece of evidence and each part of a testimony, just so you don’t miss a vital detail.
To ramp up the difficulty in each courtroom environment, the player is given five exclamation points that represent their health. Each time you misstep, or show incorrect evidence (which will happen a lot), the Judge will penalise you by one of them. If you lose all five points, the Judge will automatically declare your client guilty and it’s game over.
The other part of the game requires exploration of the crime scenes, gathering evidence and talking to witnesses. Sometimes the witnesses won’t share vital information until you show them a precise item to get a reaction, leading to a similar strategy as inside the courtroom. The only difference being that in these parts, you don’t have lives.
The thing I find most impressive about Phoenix Wright is the fact that each case is a standalone story, but they all tie together in an overall arching plot that is tied together at the end of the game. Even more impressive is that the two sequels (Justice For All and Trials and Tribulations) are not only the same, but the entire trilogy ties together as well by the end of the third title as a good example of great story-telling.
I think the story aspect is helped by the fact that, in Phoenix Wright, the characters are all completely insane but brimming with charm and personality. Some of my personal favourite moments from the game involve your interactions with the other characters. Whether it be your TV-obsessed spirit medium partner, Maya Fey, or the hapless police officer, Dick Gumshoe, Capcom have successfully made a game in which the characters really grow on you. Furthermore, all of the cases are so complex, that I think in most cases I didn’t even see the solution coming!
I really cannot recommend this title, and it’s sequels, enough. They have kept me totally engrossed from beginning to end, and there is something very satisfying about finally finding the weakpoint in a testimony after hours of trying. Also, what’s more, with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 5 (the fourth title was Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney) on the horizon there has never been a better time to catch up on the attorney’s adventures up until now.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and it’s two sequels are all currently available to buy on Nintendo DS, as well as to download from the Wii Shop Channel. Also, for those who prefer it, the first game is actually available on iOS devices too from the App Store. With so much availability, there’s really no excuse not to play this game. If you like your games challenging, engaging, with buckets of charm and a great sense of humour, then this is your kind of game.
Have you played Phoenix Wright? If so, what do you think it?