At first look, Phoenix Wright looks to be an incredibly boring court room game. How wrong we could possibly be for ever even thinking that. With a very intense influence from Japanese culture, the game brings a world of deception and punishment unlike we’ve ever seen before. If you have what it takes, you may just be able to prove everyone wrong.
You take on the role of Nick “Phoenix” Wright, a rookie defense lawyer under the employment of Fey & Co. Law Offices. Your superior happens to be Mia Fey, and she is more or less your mentor in becoming a full-fledged defense attorney. Through trial and error (no pun intended), you will have to work your way through five grueling murder cases in order to prove that you are indeed the next top cheese in defense law. Your job in this game will make Johnny Cochran’s look easy for how tough it can get sometimes.
But of course, be prepared, the prosecutors you will end up facing are ruthless to the core. You will end up facing three in total, but each will do and say whatever they can possibly think of to achieve that guilty verdict they are shooting for. You will have to maintain your wits and wisdom as you press witnesses, investigate crime scenes and ultimately prove contradictions in court. That is the only way to save your clients.
As you begin the game, you are presented with some nice conversations between yourself and Mia Fey, your boss. Apparently you are heading into your first major defense trial, and you are especially nervous. Mia’s little sister Maya, a spirit medium in training, also tries to help you in trials throughout much of the game. Nevertheless, while your first trial may be your sort of tutorial and not exactly difficult, it still makes you think.
You must defend a childhood friend in Larry Butz. He apparently is one of those people with some of the worst luck in the world. Always at the wrong place at the wrong time and getting blamed for anything that goes wrong around him. Heck, people even have a saying for him, “If something smells, it’s usually the Butz.” That doesn’t exactly bode well for your friend as you prepare to help prove his innocence, but at the beginning it almost seems hopeless. You will have to pay attention to witness testimony and the evidence presented in order to show who’s really in the wrong here.
This trial is indeed an excellent way for you to get into the game and maintain your interest. The trial itself is hardly long and there’s not too much that will overwhelm you. The evidence is minimal and there’s the perfect number of witness testimonies that you’ll hardly feel bombarded. Simply take things one at a time and you will be just fine.
One of the great things about Phoenix Wright is the ease of learning how the game works as a whole. The first trial as stated before is your sort of “in-game tutorial”. It’s not exactly difficult, just as long as you pay attention and have a good knowledge of your evidence. You should come out with an easy first win. You will learn how witness testimonies, cross examinations and evidence showing works. Unfortunately one of the bigger aspects of clue discovery, crime scene investigation, doesn’t begin until your second case. Thankfully, the game also helps teach you how that works as well, but it’s really not difficult. You simply utilize the touch screen as the crime scene is shifted to the bottom screen, and you drag a targeting reticule to areas of interest. You also have your four main actions on the touch screen when you’re not doing anything in Examine, Move, Talk and Present. Those are all you’ll ever need, and becoming familiar with their usage couldn’t possibly be simpler. Just an overall easy game to learn, as anyone can really play it.
The anime/manga art style, especially from Japan, has always been thought of as “unique”. Well the case is obviously no different here. Phoenix Wright is driven completely by an anime style graphics presentation, with some of it looking like it may be from a comic book as well. Everything about the looks of this game is surprisingly impressive, and rather authentic for the most part as well. The attention to detail in all the game’s aspects is very well-balanced.
All the characters you encounter in the game will definitely leave a mark on you. Every person is very unique in their own special way. Whether it may be their personality, their clothing or just how they present themselves overall; it’s all unique. The only negative aspect in all this is some characters will be presented in an extremely stereotypical fashion. That can lead to some players having ill feelings towards the developers for having some stupid bias towards a certain gender or profession. Detective Gumshoe seems to be one of those “I’m intelligent when I really only need to be” type people. He’s not really “stupid” per sue, but he’s not the brightest bulb in the closet. Then of course you have your female personas who are highly sexualized. Now since you can only see the upper bodies of everyone, it’s obvious what that “feature” is.
With all these unique personalities come the countless humorous moments in the actual court room. Actually, these moments can really occur both in and outside the court room, but the funnier ones are actually during trials. But what is being mentioned here is how characters actually react and quite literally “mutate” when a) they are caught telling a lie or b) you say or show something that makes them rather angry. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see an angry person have shark teeth? How about an older lady who looks possessed by the devil? We also can’t forget about the man who literally seems to rip himself apart when caught in a lie. Whatever it may be, you will probably find yourself both laughing and extremely creeped out when witnessing things like those aforementioned.
Another neat feature about the graphics in Phoenix Wright are all the still image “cut scenes”. At the beginning of each case episode, many times throughout trials and sometimes during witness questioning outside of court, you will be treated to these. These are more or less the game’s attempt at showing off some of the DS’ 3D capabilities. They aren’t exactly presented in 3D, but just watching them can almost convince you of such. But just what are they for exactly? Well they can be for a lot of things really. Some will help push the plot forward. Some will explain certain “possible” scenarios in and out of court. Then some will show definitive sequences of what actually happened to cause the whole case to begin with. Whatever they may be, they are nice to watch and will definitely help the game’s overall presentation.
Finally we have the game’s environments, which more often than not will turn into your CSI scenes. Another incredible aspect of Phoenix Wright is all the great environments that you will encounter. You have five cases to solve in total, and each will bring you to an extremely diverse amount of areas. This can be anything from a TV show production studio to various law offices and even the normally off limits areas of the local police station. In these areas you will encounter countless pieces of useful case evidence as well as the numerous people that will offer helpful information so you can solve your problems. The most impressive feature about these environments is just how much of it you can actually examine. Even the tiniest things that you may not even be able to distinguish can be evaluated for what they are. More often than not that is exactly what you need to do in order to snag the most important evidence for your cases.
So to sum this up, Phoenix Wright is definitely one of the most impressive games for the DS in terms of graphics so far. It’s not a 3D game, as all of what is presented is in an isometric view. But the anime/manga style presentation is very unique, elaborate and just fun to interact with. The characters all have their own unique personas and ways to make the game more enjoyable. Plus what could better than seeing an angry witness show off some nasty shark teeth? Nothing really. Really the only slightly disappointing aspect was the fact that you can really “examine” your evidence much further than the surface. Most if it is just simple information that you would find in it, so it’s really a good and bad thing in terms of convenience. So if you’re looking for a DS game that will keep you immersed in the game because of its looks, be sure not to look past Phoenix Wright.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney also boasts a very impressive amount of quality musical scores and truly eccentric sound effects. When you’re actually in a trial defending your client, the music does an incredible job of keeping the action interesting. It can also really make things heat up at times. When you listen to a witness testimony, you hear a default score used throughout the whole game. Yet somehow the theme sounds like it would be played during an actual law-based show so that is a very good thing.
It’s also very exciting when you eventually begin presenting evidence that proves contradictions in witness testimonies. Especially when it’s getting down to the wire in terms of uncovering the actual truth, the music will gradually increase in dramatic effect to make it almost seem like an all-out riot is about to ensue.
Music also plays a very unique role when you question witnesses and investigate crime scenes outside of the court room. There are a handful of generic themes that you will get to listen to when questioning certain witnesses. However, some people actually have their very own theme to accompany their onscreen presence. Such characters like Detective Gumshoe and various others that you meet near the end of the game really have some great sounding background music to present their “personality”. More often than not though, when you can see various female characters on the screen when passing through an area, it’s a very kooky theme that will probably make you think of a giddy girl.
Oddly enough, the sound effects are what really capture the essence of this game in terms of just being plain weird. Anytime that someone is either insulted or proven wrong with evidence in or out of court, you will hear a very painful sounding *SNAP*. It’s quite humorous too, because it’s with that sound that you see the most hysterical facial expressions you probably ever have. Other things you may hear in the court room are actually normal. This includes lawyers hitting their hands on their particular table, the judge using his gavel, as well as the various things that can be shouted out. This includes the phrases “Hold It!” and “Objection!” While it isn’t exactly your voice that you hear, it’s very cool to be able to use the microphone like that.
However, the one string of sounds that you will hear rather frequently throughout the game is what makes it really feel like a law-based game. Anytime you visit an area outside of court that carries some significance in helping you find more clues, a small message will display. This is basically the current date and time, and where you are. This message appears and sounds as if an older typewriter is actually writing it on your screen. This is how older law shows on TV used to do it in terms of showing where actors were, so that is indeed a very creative idea.
So truly, the music and sounds deliver one of the most unique experiences to date on the Nintendo DS. Strange they both are indeed, but that is what the whole atmosphere of the game is anyway. It may carry a rather serious tone in terms of the crimes being committed, but the music and sounds help keep a level of loose tension. Sure the action during the game can be dramatic and very tense, but that doesn’t mean the actual atmosphere always has to be that way. Really the only thing that could be criticized is there being more of it. Instead of having the generic themes, have different music for everything. It could definitely be possible, so it’s not completely out of line to wish for it.
Now while how you actual play the game is an area that suffers just a bit in overall quality, Phoenix Wright is still one fun game. Even though you’ll end up doing pretty much the same thing the whole time, using the gameplay mechanics in all the different scenarios is very entertaining. To help it along though, the last two scenarios offer a little more for you to do in terms of actually utilizing the DS’ features to solve cases.
So let’s start with how the game works outside of the court room. You can go anywhere the game will allow you to, and use the four main functions of the touch screen to gather your materials. You can Examine, Talk, Move and Present. Examine brings up a target for you to move around on the touch screen and you simply tap the Examine button to have the game show or tell you whatever it may be. Talk obviously has you enter conversation with whoever may be on the top screen in front of you. This can be anything from learning about the case itself to actually pulling vital information from them. Move allows you to “move” from one location to another, imagine that. Then Present allows you to show anything you may have in your Court Record to a witness outside of court. That is actually very important as most of the time it will be the tool you use to get most of your important evidence.
Now for the actual court room, there’s some similarity and quite a bit different with how all the controls work. In court, you can perform four different actions as well. There is Press, which is more or less trying to pull more detail out of a witness’ testimony. You also have Present again, but when you actually go to show evidence with this, you’ll end up saying “Objection!” The same goes with Press, as that action is coupled with the phrase “Hold It!” You simply have to be careful to present relevant contradictory evidence, you will receive a penalty. You have five total, so you have a lot of room for error, which is slightly unrealistic. Then to utilize the DS’ microphone in an entertaining fashion, you can actually hold Y and say either phrase depending on what you may desire. Now unfortunately it won’t actually determine whether you said the phrase or not, it simply reacts to the sound of your voice and nothing else. So if you say anything else besides those two phrases, it will still work.
When it comes to actual witness testimonies, they work in pairs in terms of how you interact with them. The Judge will always ask the witness to present their testimony, and that’s when the game shifts to such. The witness will deliver their testimony, and you read it as you tap the touch pad to make it progress. Afterwards, either the Judge or the opposing prosecutor will speak a brief phrase. Then it’s your turn to do the Cross Examine. Now this does actually make things a little awkward, as law would never work this way in court. But because this is a videogame, there really isn’t anything that could be done to get around it. In your cross examine, you go through the witness’ testimony yet again but this is when you are able to Press them or Present contradictory evidence.
That is in effect how you go about solving cases and proving that your clients are innocent. You actually know that before each new scenario begins because that’s how the game works. You personally know Phoenix Wright’s client is innocent, but you have to use Wright to prove that. That is where all the questioning of witnesses and examination for evidence at crime scenes comes into play. At any time during a witness testimony while you are cross examining you notice a slight or obvious contradiction, you bring something out to prove that. Now of course that won’t always immediately break them down and have them confess, you’ll have to work harder than that. Many times witnesses will change their story by “elaborating” on something they may have either “forgotten” or “mistook”. So trials won’t end the moment you present a little piece of contradictory evidence, because the story will progress much deeper than that.
This is in effect why trials (especially the last two) are a fair good length of time. Sometimes brand new situations will arise from testimony and evidence in court, which will cause the trail to go on for days on hand. At times, things you never thought you would experience happen to pop up, which has the judge require both you and the prosecutor to do further investigation into the matter. It can be rather tedious at times indeed, but it just adds to the whole law-based atmosphere the game is trying to convey. This isn’t just an “end your trial in five minutes every time” kind of game. The story is there for a reason, and you will have to work rather extensively to get through every trial with definitive proof.
The only aspect of the game that can be rather frustrating at times is not knowing exactly what you have to do next or where to go next. Phoenix Wright is a completely linear game, but it’s linear in a very unique fashion. There is just no branching of any sort, as the story will never change because you can’t progress unless you do what is needed. So if you happen to miss a minute detail in a certain crime scene that you needed to examine or you didn’t receive a small bit of information from someone, you won’t get anywhere from there. You have to complete all prerequisite tasks before being able to move onto something new, and if you’re slightly lost, it can take a rather long time for that to happen.
It can also be slightly frustrating to not know what to do next in your current trial. Especially during the cross examination of any kind of witness, if you are unable to spot a contradiction right away, this will eat up some time. Then to make things a little more unrealistic, you can actually sift back and forth between the statements made in a witness testimony just to find a small statement made that isn’t exactly true. Sometimes you actually have to press a witness hard enough to finally bring out a contradiction, and that can be a pain as well.
Nevertheless, even with the game being linear and not knowing what to do next sometimes, Phoenix Wright is a very fun game to play. It certainly is one of the most intuitive titles for the DS thus far, and Capcom has a lot to be proud of with it. It really does feel like a law game, but just how it’s presented will hardly bore you or make it uninteresting. The story is definitely strange, but that’s how it was meant to be. If it weren’t for working with a young girl “spirit medium” or various females who have rather exaggerated physical characteristics, or even those really strange characters, it simply wouldn’t be the same. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to interact with a witness who spoke entirely in “1337” (leet) talk? Well, in this game, you actually can in rather eye opening detail. So if you really want a fun game for the DS, Phoenix Wright is most definitely something to look for.
One of the more surprising aspects of Phoenix Wright is how it fools you. After one particular case, you get to view a rather lengthy sequence of a number of characters you have met that will talk about how they feel towards you. This lends you to believe you have completed the game. But lo and behold, after the last person is done with what they have to say, you are presented with more.
The final case is very…very long. That is no joke either, as it may actually take you two real days (or even more) to actually get through the entire thing. It’s a very intense and tragic murder case that will throw you through a whole lot of loops, and even more once the trail is finally finished. Once you are relieved after seeing the final celebration, you are treated to a very nice ending sequence. While the credits are rolling and you hear a very nice and relaxing musical theme, you witness more people you’ve interacted with a lot saying random things from the game. Some seem like they’re talking to you at that present time, and some statements seem to just be from past moments. But nevertheless, it’s a very nice way to end the game, and leaves you very satisfied when finished.
When it comes to replay value, Phoenix Wright has a fairly good amount. The game will run you a minimum of 25 hours or more, because the story and all five case scenarios are just that long. The story alone is so intriguing and immersive that you will find yourself not wanting to put the game down even after you turn it off. It’s just like an excellent book in which you really want to know what happens next, so you will be tempted a fair bit to continue playing it even after you don’t really want to anymore.
But really, it’s not without good reason. There are so many twists and turns in the plot that you’ll have your head spinning like a zombie’s. It’s all just very surprising, especially near the end, that you’ll want to continue as often as possible. Now unfortunately since nothing in the plot or sequence of action throughout the game ever changes, there’s not a whole lot to come back to once finished. Sure if you want to experience the awesome story again just for the sake of it then more power to you. But after you beat it, you will know pretty much all the answers save a few minor details here and there. So that makes playing it through a second time not nearly as worth as actually coming back on a consistent basis to get through it once. However, it really is just that fun, so playing through a second time isn’t totally out of question.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is indeed the right game for the Nintendo DS. It’s especially strange too, considering Capcom is known far more for their Resident Evil, Mega Man and Devil May Cry franchises. Phoenix Wright is actually an already existing franchise in Japan, but obviously it’s never had any kind of presence here in America. Even more surprising is Capcom has already announced a sequel to this game, which is indeed a great thing for us. Being able to experience everything in the game all over again with new crime scenarios is something to definitely look forward to. The anime/manga style of graphics is very appealing, even to those that may tend to prefer a more realistic approach. Then you have the music and sounds, which are overall downright strange, but very fitting considering the game’s story and atmosphere. The gameplay may not be perfect and somewhat frustrating at times because of its uniquely linear features, but it still allows you to have a ton of fun with it. It may not be exactly worth going through a second time, but some will feel the motivation to do so. So simply put, if you thought law couldn’t be a fun game concept, think again. Capcom proves it’s possible in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS.