Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
By Zach Patterson Wednesday, 17 Jan 2007

Phoenix Wright represents what essentially was a large gamble for Capcom in the current video game industry. Phoenix Wright is a bit of a throwback adventure game that you do not see much of anymore. It is the type of game that is usually left to Japan and the US is left oblivious to its existence. However, for whatever reason, Capcom brought the text heavy adventure-lawyer game to the States and we are all the better for it.

The lure of a game like this is not the flashy graphics (all still frame anime portraits that change based on the current text of the character, similar to that of Trauma Center), intense skilled based gameplay (it is essentially choosing from options displayed in front of you and clicking on context sensitive areas on a pre-rendered backdrop), but instead lies with the clever (and sometimes goofy) dialogue and ingenius (if sometimes ridiculous) plot lines that occur related to the crimes committed. Phoenix Wright has 2 types of gameplay: the evidence collecting/witness interview part, and the courtroom trial part. Both actually manage to be quite entertaining, as you slowly meet both allies and enemies, and all the characters have a certain charm to them that helps flesh out an identity for them and give you an affection for some even. The evidence collecting/witness interview phase is definitely a laid back, informational stage, where you need to take in a lot of character’s responses to questions and pay attention to the surroundings. These actions usually end up recurring in court at some point and almost all information will relate to your case somehow, even if it isn’t completely clear. The courtroom phase is rather tense and calculating, since this is the only part of the game you can “lose”. You are given strikes, and if you mess up too many times, you lose the case. So when you are put on the spot to present evidence or object to a testimony, you need to be sure it’s correct.

While the game is quite excellent, if simple in its design, a lot of the beauty of this title comes from the combination of the music and mood presented. The music, by Akemi Kimura, is simply excellent and fits the areas used to perfection. Winning in court is ridiculously triumphant musically and when you are on the ropes it is intensely dramatic. Somber victim flashbacks are slow moving introspective numbers, while cheery characters get upbeat, carefree tunes. Much of it is presented in a chiptunish style, and this style works quite well overall. This is definitely needed, because there is no character movement, aside from a small bit in the DS-exclusive 5th chapter. The game really makes you appreciate the artist involved, as you actually look forward to seeing new backgrounds to areas and different expressions on characters faces by doing certain actions. I can’t remember the last game I thought to myself “YES I AM GOING TO SEE THIS CHARACTER’S PORTRAIT LOOK VISIBLY UPSET IF I CHOOSE THIS OPTION” but it’s true.

As I mentioned earlier, the writing is superb and really carries this game throughout. It has a very dry sense of humor at times, while other times it is definitely more obvious and slapstick. However, the stories are very well written, and many of the individual cases tie into each other eventually in creative ways, as well.

If I had to fault the game for anything, it is that sometimes there is just too many crazy turnabouts in court (especially in later cases) and it causes the trials to go on forever. At times, it feels like you are essentially going nowhere with a case because you end up replaying the same set of circumstances over and over and some new drama comes up and you have to address that before you can get back to the real case. Also, at times, the investigation phase can leave you without any clues as to who to talk to and where to go next. Finally, one small gripe is that the anime portraits in general are well done, but sometimes the same reactions over and over again get tiresome and frankly seem kind or irritating when the character has the “I’m angry” face for something that isn’t that big of a deal. Some more portraits for the characters would have been great.

In general though, the game is truly an excellent adventure game that may not appeal to everyone with its slower pace and distinct sense of humor, but is worth the time and investment to find. Despite a lack of any replay value, it is definitely one of my favorite DS games available.