Director: Shu Takumi
Console(s): Nintendo DS
Rated: T for Teen
Phoenix Wright, known by the Japanese as "Gyakuten Saiban: Yomigaeru Gyakuten," is a cult hit DS game ported from a Gameboy Advance "visual novel." It tells a story in which the player may choose who to talk to, and at times what to say and do, but it progresses on its own path most of the time. This results in a lot of reading and not a lot of action, hence the term visual novel. (This is often seen in hentai or dating sim games)
You are Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense lawyer walking into his first ever case. Helped by his mentor Mia Fey, Phoenix must learn the skills needed to win court cases and prove his clients innocent. You will play through four levels from the original game, in which you can examine crime scenes, question witnesses, and collect evidence. There is also a fifth case designed specifically for the Nintendo DS, which uses touch screen investigation tools to find blood traces, fingerprints, and more. Phoenix meets friends and foes along the way, such as Mia's younger sister Maya, the dim-witted Detective Gumshoe, and ruthless prosecutor Miles Edgeworth.
Being that this is a visual novel, the plot is naturally the most important aspect. And this is the key to Phoenix Wright's success. It writes a serious and intelligent plot with unforgettable characters and an unexpected amount of humor thrown in. This is like reading a good book. What makes it even better is the ability to control said book. It also maintains a steadily rising level of difficulty, forcing the player to think more and more for each case.
While this game does not require the same level of smooth control that, say, a first-person shooter needs, it still does its own job well. The touch screen integration in the DS makes what was already an easy-to-use control scheme into something truly streamlined. No instructions are even needed, since the touch screen takes care of everything. Want to examine the scene? Simply tap the "Examine" button. Want to find and present evidence? Scroll through the pages, tap the evidence you want, and hit "Present." The touch control almost completely eliminates the need for scrolling through choices that you do not want to find the button you want to press.
Nevertheless, this control is not perfect. Because of the fact that each area you go to is just a background with you looking at it at a fixed spot, you need to select each scene you wish to go to. When selecting a different place to move to, sometimes you will find that there is a confusing heirarchy that determines where you can go from each place. (To get to the Evidence Room, you must go outside the Police Station, then go to the Guard Office, and then into the room) Also, since there can only be 4 places to choose from each time, there are sometimes areas that do not show up at all unless you go to a certain spot.
As you might guess, Ace Attorney is not a graphics-based game. However, that does not mean that it is not visually appealing. The game blends painted and colorful backdrops with anime-style, well-drawn and designed characters. (all 2 dimensional of course) They look crisp and vibrant on the screen, and each one is designed with such a vivid creativity that it is impossible to confuse any two. There are a few 3D sections in the last case, and these are definitely good looking, with fairly natural looking motions and designs. Music in the game is simple, but is very effective for its ability to stop, start, and change dynamically at the right moments, increasing the impact of many scenes.
Finally, Phoenix Wright, however interesting on the first playthrough, is not a game created for replay value. While the game pulled quite a few hours out of me, (I'll put it this way, I got Zelda a month before it and I was still playing this until nearly 2 months after I had beaten a 60-hour game of Zelda) it is still only good for one time. I will probably never play this again, since I already know the answers to all of the problems in the cases.
Most hardcore gamers will dismiss Phoenix Wright out of hand. It is more of a choose-your-own story books, and less of a traditional game. However, for those who have put their time into the title, this game is a really fun experience. Capcom has combined the intriguing plot of a good mystery book with the interactivity of a video game and the absurdness of an anime. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a great example of when games can show true intelligence and good writing.