With three titles already out in Japan, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney finally makes its appearance in the U.S. This first title in the series was originally created for the GBA, but has been updated for the DS. In this quirky game full of murder, mystery and humor, the player takes on the role of rookie lawyer Phoenix Wright (a.k.a. Nick), who defends the wrongly accused in a series of dramatic and entertaining cases. Armed only with his powers of deduction and any evidence he can find, the player must piece together the truth and uncover the real culprit.
The game contains five cases, each being unlocked only when the previous case is solved. Cases begin with an introduction to the story and characters involved with the murder, including how Nick ends up as the defense. Gameplay then takes on one of two forms: Investigation or litigation.
A case usually starts in the investigation mode. This is the same as playing a text RPG. The top screen displays a first person view of what Nick sees, while the touch pad displays all of the player?s choices.
The player seeks out evidence and information regarding the case. Some times, the player has to accomplish a side quest, such as finding a kid’s missing baseball card to get him to talk. There is a lot of reading involved, but the outrageous characters make it interesting and often funny despite the serious nature of your task.
There are four options during investigation mode: Move, talk, examine and present. Move brings up a list of available locations to visit. Examine allows the player use the touch screen to select something in the background he wants more information on. By doing this, the player uncovers evidence or triggers an event. Occasionally, the player will have to solve a puzzle after examining something, like entering the combination to a safe or piece together a broken vase.
Some locations have a person Nick can talk to by selecting talk and choosing a topic. It?s helpful that all the characters have easy to remember names like “Jack Hammer” or “April May.” If you miss something, or want to review what was said, the player can always choose the same topic again.
Any evidence the player finds is entered into the “court record,” which serves as the player?s inventory list. From the court record the player can peruse documents or take another look at any evidence he?s found.
If the player wants to show a piece of evidence to someone, he can choose present. This serves several proposes such as hearing the person?s opinion of the item, or trying to scare them into talking with an incriminating item.
After all of the evidence is gathered, the litigation mode begins. Here, the player?s crime solving abilities will be tested. Witnesses take the stand and testify against your client. After reading through the testimony, the player can begin his cross-examination by scrolling through the testimony again, pressing for more info where he needs it. To prove the witness is lying, (or just plain wrong) the player must match part of the testimony with a contradicting piece of evidence. Phoenix will then shout “Objection!” and explain a contradiction such as: “There is no way you could have seen the crime, because this receipt proves you were at the bar during that time! Isn’t that right, Mr. Guilty!” You?d be surprised by how satisfying rubbing the truth in a liar?s face can be.
Since the witness will often cover up a discovered lie with several others, the player will have to find several contradictions before the witness gives up. Once that happens, Phoenix gets to go on the offensive. The judge will ask several questions about what really happened on the day of the crime and the player must answer from up to three choices. A wrong choice will make the prosecutor come at you with his own contradicting evidence. The player may even be called upon to point out what is wrong with a picture or video. Presenting the wrong piece of evidence or making a bad choice angers the judge and earns you a strike. After five strikes, the case is lost. Make it through all of the witnesses and the player will have either won the case, or he will have to return to the investigation mode to dig deeper.
The graphics are detailed but lack animation. Characters change pose or expression every so often, but that?s it. The characters have slight mannerisms that you can read to know if they?re lying.
Sound plays an important role in telling the story. Though the mood frequently shifts between farcical and emotional, the music changes with it smoothly. It especially shines when closing in on the end of a case. The tension I felt when cross examining the final witness made my pulse rise. Sound effects are generally cartoony, but they help to illustrate character reactions. The best sounds in the game come when a prosecutor or Phoenix shouts out “Take That!” or “Objection!” A fun feature that is unique to the DS version is the ability to shout those lines into the microphone instead of hitting a button to present or press in court.
The fifth case is also exclusive to the DS version and it utilizes more of the DS’s capabilities. Using the touch pad, the player can dab powder onto objects and blow it off with his actual breath to reveal fingerprints. Evidence can also be rotated on the touch screen to allow the player a three dimensional examination of it.
Though there is no replay value, there is a lot to enjoy, as the player will spend hours pondering the clues even after turning the system off. What also increases the value is the lack of games that can give the player a similar experience.
If you have a short attention span or are easily frustrated, then you will probably have trouble playing through this game. The cases get difficult quickly. However, if you?re looking to test the power of your logical and imaginative thinking, I recommend Phoenix Wright to you.
I only hope that enough Americans will appreciate Mr. Wright so that we can get our hands on the other two titles in the series.
I rest my case?