Matt Keller
02 Apr, 2006

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Review

DS Review | Objection!
Hundreds of games are released in Japan each year that never make the trip across the Pacific. One of the more successful titles to have suffered this fate was the Game Boy Advance’s Gyakuten Saiban (loosely translated to "Turnabout Courtroom"), which also spawned two sequels. Thankfully, the game’s developer Capcom has seen the opportunity to release an updated version of the game for the Nintendo DS, what with the audience’s expectation of more unique titles and all. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is the result and, despite being somewhat simplistic in nature, is an enjoyable adventure game with a solid premise and an excellent script.

Players take on the titular role, a young defence attorney straight out of law school – it just so happens that the first trial in the game is also Phoenix’s debut, which gives ample opportunity for his boss, Mia, to give gamers a brief tutorial and a helping hand on some of the stickier situations that arise in the courtroom. Each of the game’s five cases is also packing investigative sections where Phoenix has to gather evidence and testimony in order to find his client not guilty. These portions give rise to a lot of the drama and plot twists that are commonly associated with popular television shows such as Law & Order, as well as providing ample opportunity for a bit of back story on Phoenix and the rest of the crew. The game's cast is one of its main strengths - there's a big variety in personalities across the board, from oddball characters like Larry Butz (remember, if something smells, it's usually the Butz!) to serious, but troubled characters like Miles Edgeworth.

Phoenix Wright is only a rookie, so he needs all the help he can get.

It’s rather difficult to approach Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney as your standard sort of videogame, because it’s extremely text-heavy and there’s not a whole lot of action. However, the game excels by offering up five intriguing cases packed to the brim with twists and turns that’ll constantly keep players on the edge of their seat. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the quality of Phoenix Wright is the translation job that's been done by Capcom Japan – the game’s script is surprisingly well-written, with plenty of sharp wit from both the defence and prosecution, and a lot of moments that’ll induce gut-busting laughter (usually from some of the…rather eccentric witnesses that take the stand). It is, quite possibly, one of the best game scripts written to date.

Each of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’s five cases can be split into two sections: the investigation, and the trial. Each case will also have an introductory scene that will establish a victim and a suspect – the latter of which will be Phoenix’s client in the case. Your clients will be “guilty, until proven innocent”, meaning that you’ve got to find all of the evidence, and discover contradictions in witness testimony and the prosecution’s case in order to win the day. The game takes a lot of liberties in regards to the way the legal system operates to make things a little more fun – for instance, a lawyer would not be allowed to sneak into a crime scene to gather an extra bit of decisive evidence, but you’ll be allowed to in this game (usually due to Phoenix’s developing relationship with Detective Gumshoe).

Exchanges between Edgeworth and Wright provide for some of the game's more tense moments.

The investigative scenes usually involve Phoenix and his sidekick going to the scene of the crime, and attempting to get evidence. These parts are stylus driven, usually requiring close examination of several areas, and talking to witnesses, and drawing testimony or further evidence out of them (by pressing them on certain points, or presenting evidence at an appropriate time – this can be a slow and painful process in the latter cases). The final case gives players much greater level of interactivity, with fingerprinting and UV equipment for detecting finger prints and bloodstains. Eventually, the game’s linearity will kick back in, and it’ll be time to go to the courtroom.

The courtroom proceedings in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are based more around the civil law system, rather than the common law system in use in Australia and the UK. As a result, the judge is much more involved in the case. The judge in the game is often a source of humour; due to either his ability to be easily swayed by witnesses or from what could be interpreted as senility. The judge will ask the prosecution (usually Miles Edgeworth) to give an opening speech, before presenting his first witness. The prosecution will run the witness through their account of the events, after which the player will have a shot at finding holes in the witness’ testimony.

Mia gives you good advice early in the game about pressing witnesses on each part of their statement, which is the best place to start. When you have found a contradiction, you can raise an objection, either by touching on the button, or by holding Y and yelling “Objection!” into the microphone (which is much more fun than it seems). Be careful, as the judge will only tolerate 5 incorrect objections through the case. Each case is increasingly difficult, with the first case being totally basic, and the final case having more drama and twists than the last three years of Home and Away and Neighbours combined.

Witnesses such as monkey-boy and old bag here provide plenty of laughs, too.

Perhaps the only downfalls in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are the overrunning linearity of the experience, and the fact that the game has very little replay value. Now, the first problem can’t really be helped due to the nature of the experience, and the second, while a major problem in some of today’s games, isn’t really that bad given that the game takes a good 15-20 hours (variance depends on your cunning) to complete, but it will still stick in the back of your mind throughout the experience. The length of the case increases with each act, with the final one being the length of the first four put together.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney adopts a manga style for the majority of its artwork, which suits the setting of the game to a tee. The game doesn’t have much in the way of animation, but the crafting of the characters and backgrounds is very pleasing to the eye. Some of the recycling of character portraits can get a little silly, such as the bellboy in the second case showing up to the trial in uniform, with lunch tray in hand. Fortunately, this is made up for by some of the excellent conveyance of emotions when certain witnesses are caught out (particularly the pink haired lady in the second act). Sound isn’t too prolific during the course of the game, with a fairly easy going soundtrack that gets a bit more dramatic in the court battles. Voice acting is limited mainly to the cries of “Objection,” “Hold it,” and “Take that,” by members of the defence and prosecution, but it’s something you don’t get sick of, even after 20 hours of play.

We’ve always been a little sceptical about developers’ claims of new and exciting game types on the Nintendo DS, but Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is really one of those that offers something different (even if it is a port of a game not released here before). Capcom has really delivered with Phoenix Wright; it’s a well-scripted, genuinely funny and truly unique adventure game, and one that all DS owners should investigate immediately.
The Score
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a truly wonderful adventure game, thanks largely to an excellent script and memorable cast of characters. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
Nice review Matt. Is this game coming to Australia ever?
8 years ago
Well, it was on release schedules until just after Christmas - Luke tells me that Nintendo is in charge of distribution for Capcom's Nintendo-based software in Australia now (used to be THQ) - so it's up to them if it comes out.

There's a chance it may not - the game didn't do well in the US, but did reasonably well in Japan. Note that the Japanese version has full English support (I used it for this review). There's no difference between the versions, either, so if you're not afraid to import, it'll probably be your best bet to get a copy, unless reprints get issued in the US (which I think happened 10 days ago, I could be wrong).
8 years ago
Great review Matt.

This is a bit OT, but I bought Hyper the other day. While the feature article are great their reviews are total crap. Their BLACK review is conversation between Cam and Daniel talking about how the game is different from a preview build they played and reads more like a thesis on game design, than a review. There's no positive comments in the whole thing and yet they give it 74. It's fine to talk about that kind of stuff, but it needs to be a small part of the review, not the whole thing. And a conversation as the review format... I think they need to read more about why New Games Journalism is crap.

Anyway the point being I knew nothing about Phoenix Wright before I read your review and now I feel I know enough to decide if I want to buy it or not, so thanks icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
^ New Games Journalism is fine, but it's no good for deciding whether you should buy a game or not.
8 years ago
Is this game out in Australia yet? I heard it is quite hard to find in USA.
8 years ago
I loved the copy I imported from Japan (It came with an English language Mode), I'm wondering if the localised to English edition has any additional features that would encourage me to buy.
8 years ago
ooo! a court case game! never thought i'd see this!
actually, big pete has it. But i never got around to playing it, as i was busy playing everything else ^^"
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