For a long while, finding a decent adventure game was an adventure within itself. With Halo becoming the world’s most popular game, the demand for titles in which the players is tasked with investigating an area with a fine toothed comb while slogging through a books worth of text had simply diminished. You would have been hard pressed to find a customer for a game where the action could only be found in words. The release of Capcom’s first US entry into the Phoenix Wright series was the first step in changing all of that. Phoenix Wright is an Ace Attorney, it says so in the title of his game, and he’s on a crusade for justice.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’s 20-30 hour tale puts you into Phoenix’s shoes as he fights desperately for his first win in his rookie case and builds his reputation as a reliable defense attorney until his final confrontation with the toughest prosecutor in Japan.
You’ll be spending a good amount of your time in Ace Attorney investigating crime scenes for evidence, interviewing witnesses for clues and pressing the next button to advance the story forward in an attempt to get your client a not guilty verdict. While investigating, you’ll basically be highlighting and examining various items inside of different rooms for anything out of place or suspicious and at times it can be as dull as it sounds. Much of the investigation aspect is relegated to clicking everything in the room until something gets added to your evidence inventory.
The other side of investigation is found in interviewing witnesses and suspects. This is done by navigating dialogue trees and presenting specific pieces of evidence when appropriate. This half of the gameplay is the game’s weakest point as for the most part, there is only one right way to successfully collect everything you need. Errors are abundant as it’s easy to overlook a tiny pixel in a crime scene that contains a key piece of evidence, or to navigate a series of areas the wrong way, preventing you from meeting a key character. The game’s saving grace and where it truly shines, is when you make through the investigation and enter the court-room arena.
Once Phoenix gets a chance to face off against his various prosecutor rivals, the game hits its true stride. This is where the player gets to use his own talents of deductive reasoning to make a case for his client, ultimately leading to a not guilty verdict. The player is tasked with using his own evidence, alongside the trial’s newly provided evidence to patch together a scenario clearing the defendant of the charges. With objections flying all over the place, and assumptions changing drastically at the turn of every minute, it’s easy to get lost in the proceedings. The best quality about this aspect of the game is that it is truly up to the player to figure everything out. Your success is based on your ability to patch together a story based on the evidence, and your main obstacle is how well you can think outside of the box. The game does the minimal amount of handholding possible and at times you feel like a true genius when you discover which fact or which piece of evidence is the one to present.
The quality of the text is of the utmost importance in a text based adventure game, and for the most part, the script in Phoenix Wright is top notch. The dialogue is smart and witty and is rife with a variety of jokes, some about pop culture, some are innuendo and some are just obviously funny. Almost all the characters are memorable in one way or another, and the anime style portraits of them animate really well. Unfortunately, the only voiced dialogue in the game are the “Objections!” and the “Hold Its!” but I suppose it makes for a greater impact when you actually do hear them yell the phrases.
It should be noted that Ace Attorney is a port of a Game Boy Advance game, and as such the DS functionality is minimal. With the exception of the final case, which is a bonus exclusive to this version. Overall, the lack of functionality doesn’t help or hinder the game in any significant way, so it really isn’t a big deal.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a resurrection of the adventure genre. It’s representative of everything that made those titles great, and it’s a fresh take on them at the same time. Phoenix’s tale is one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who doesn’t need to shoot something to feel satisfied by their gaming time.
Sharp character sprites help the animations convey emotions pretty well.
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Fantastic courtroom sequences are bogged down by sluggishly paced investigation segments.
The music is great fan-fare, but there's no voice and the tunes don't push the hardware.
No real reason to go back and replay cases.
A fantastic resurrection of the adventure game genre.