Objection! Hold It! Objection!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is really nothing new in the world of point-and-click adventure games – it doesn’t break any new ground, but it does have four things going for it. Phoenix Wright is portable, a game about a lawyer, accessible to everyone, and it’s just a great all-around adventure game. Let’s separate the people who should pick this game up right away. Do you only play World War 2 shooters? Are you incapable of playing a turn-based game? Is it impossible for your brain to process actual thought patterns? If you answered yes to any of those questions, Phoenix Wright is not for you. If you didn’t, and that should be all of you if you’re reading this, you should go snag Phoenix Wright right now.
Phoenix Wright is a deceptively simple game. Wright takes on a series of cases and gathers evidence and then defends his clients. If you’re going into Phoenix Wright expecting some kind of super-accurate law simulation – all three of you – will be disappointed, as our friend Mr. Wright’s world has some pretty odd law procedures. This certainly doesn’t detract from the game, and much like CSI or Law and Order, the fact that one man does it all adds to the drama all the more. Our good friend Phoenix starts the game as a newbie defense attorney working under Mia Fey, his, er, boss. Whenever something smells, it’s probably the Butz – and the Butz, Phoenix’s friend since childhood, starts off the game accused of murdering his girlfriend. It’s all a setup, of course, as a burglar who believes that she’s out of her apartment barges in and ends up in a situation where she’s dead. It’s Wright’s job to get his friend off the hook, and that’s how it all starts. PW’s story is very dramatic and the dialogue is excellent with a sharp edge of wit. There are a few typos and grammar goofs, but it’s nothing near the level of say, Lunar DS, and ends up being relatively minor.
Like any good adventure game, you’ll see several major players from trial to trial and they’ll all come out with their own unique personalities. From the relentless Prosecutor Edgeworth to the oblivious Detective Gumshoe, all of the characters provide their own unique view of the world. You’ll get attached very quickly, and will be expecting to be called ‘Pal’ long after the game has ended.
Wright’s drama is backed up by one major aspect of the game – the sound. That doesn’t mean that both the sound effects and the music are something spectacular. Phoenix Wright is a remake of an older Japanese GBA game, Gyakuten Saiban. The sound effects that are there, like the shouts of “Objection”, “Hold It!”, or the noise of the Judge’s gavel hitting the stand are well done, but they are certainly few and far between. There’s no voice acting aside from the short outbursts, but it doesn’t draw away from the charm of the game. The music, on the other hand, is spectacular. Despite being purely 16-bit, Masakazu Sugimori has done a great job creating a score that holds the dialogue and mood up perfectly.
On the other side of the coin, the graphics in PW are passable at best. With four of the five missions hailing straight from the GBA iteration of the game, the graphics are mainly still images. While there are slight animations, they’re nothing major. They do show the characters’ moods well enough, while everything is completely over-the-top, as it should be. The environments are detailed enough to see what you need but don’t go much further than that. Even though everything is simplistic, it all works together to create an impressive mood in the game. The two screens really aren’t used to their full capability, and the touch screen support isn’t truly necessary until the last mission, which was specifically created for the DS.
Gameplay in Phoenix Wright is split up into two major portions: investigation and trial. In Wright’s world, every trial can only go on for three days, so it’s up to you to take down all the evidence and get your man – or woman – off the hook. Wright’s world isn’t America, though, and it seems no one has heard that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone works against Wright and his clients, and the Judge will call Phoenix when he makes a false objection, but will go easy on a witness who is found to be blatantly lying. So it is in his world, and while it’s not totally realistic, it does create a much more entertaining game.
During the investigation stage, Phoenix Wright plays out like many other point and click adventures. It’s a jumble of picking up items and talking to people while finding the right items for the right people to get other items for other people. It’s all rather linear – if there’s nothing new, there’s something you missed, and you can never ‘lose’ anything in the investigation stages, a standard for the genre. Everything is capable of being done without touch screen controls – that is, until the last mission. Even with that, though, the controls work perfectly, and there’s not much to improve on when the next DS installment hits. Once you hit the last mission – which is a doozy – the player must manipulate and examine evidence through rotation, construction, and other means. It’s a unique way of taking care of the evidence and shows that the point-and-click adventure genre can live on with the Nintendo DS. (This is a hint to LucasArts – I want to see Day of the Tentacle DS!)
The other portion is the more interesting portion: the trial itself. The investigation portion simply exists to line up ammo and evidence for one purpose: point out inconsistencies and contradictions in a testimony and tear that witness a new one. You go about this in two ways, by ‘pressing’ a statement during a cross examination, where more evidence is revealed or a particular statement is clarified. This can be done by tapping the ‘press’ portion of the touch screen or by holding a button and yelling “Hold it!” or “Objection!” into the microphone. While it’s a lot of fun to yell at the DS, it’s not by any means necessary, so if you’re playing on the bus, you’re safe. The other way is to present evidence, and this ends up being the key most of the time. When a contradiction comes up, just throw down the evidence that shows what’s what and the trial continues on its way. Beware, though, if you press the wrong thing too much, or present the wrong piece of evidence at the wrong time five times, it’s game over for Phoenix and he’s got to start over at the beginning of that day’s trial.
While there are many pieces of evidence that might be relevant to a particular statement or a contradiction may exist over several statements, Phoenix Wright is steadfast in when and where you should present the right evidence, making the game a bit more linear than it should be. All-in-all, though, Phoenix Wright ends up winning my heart with its charm and overall presentation. The characters are certainly lovable and the stories are far from boring. It’s certainly different than most games out there, and anyone who’s into this sort of quirky thing will love the game. The nice thing about Phoenix Wright is that it’s accessible by anyone. It clocks in at about 15 hours through all five missions and only ends up being really difficult during the last two missions, although the curve leads right up to it. If you’re not just playing WWII shooters, pick up Phoenix Wright: you won’t be disappointed.