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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) artwork

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) review


"The concept of Phoenix Wright is simple: you are a lawyer. Or, to be more specific, a defense attorney. Your job is to save your client from conviction--they're always innocent of the crime--and invariably find the real perpetrator, who is always caught during their own testimonies declaring the defendant's guilt. The game becomes predictable in a hurry. But it's entertaining, it has some inspired moments, and there's no other game quite like it. Until Phoenix Wright 2 is released, that is. "



The concept of Phoenix Wright is simple: you are a lawyer. Or, to be more specific, a defense attorney. Your job is to save your client from conviction--they're always innocent of the crime--and invariably find the real perpetrator, who is always caught during their own testimonies declaring the defendant's guilt. The game becomes predictable in a hurry. But it's entertaining, it has some inspired moments, and there's no other game quite like it. Until Phoenix Wright 2 is released, that is.

Phoenix Wright is basically two games in one. Half the time, it's a riveting courtroom drama, full of suspense, dramatic screen flashes, goofy facial expressions, and a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor. The prosecution calls up a witness, and it's your job to point out contradictions in their testimonies by presenting incriminating evidence to the appropriate dialogue window. Should you present the wrong evidence, or present it to the wrong part of the testimony, the judge will penalize you by removing one of five exclamation points in the corner of the screen. Should you lose all of these, the judge throws out all the evidence you've presented so far and gives the defendant a guilty verdict. Even if you're on the verge of winning the case. Even if it's already been determined that there's no way your client could have committed the crime. Real-life lawyers would get the runs after seeing some of the courtroom activities in Phoenix Wright.

If you ever lose a case, a major problem of the game arrives with more weight than a go!@#$! Snorlax. You're sent back to the beginning of the trial and must slowly scroll through the extensive banter between the characters and solve all the testimonies all over again. There are never any opportunities for deviating from the game's set path; even when given a choice of what to say next, there's one clear-cut right answer and the rest are wrong. There is no way to speed up the scrolling of the text upon first reading it, either, so be prepared for a solid ten to fifteen minutes of sifting through the endless dialogue you've already read before. After completing the game's five cases (each one longer than the last), that is it for Phoenix Wright. No unlockables, no sidequests, no alternate paths to try out, nothing. This is quite possibly the least replayable game on the planet.

Phoenix Wright follows an intricate plot, with the events of a mysterious "DL-6 Incident" being woven throughout the game's first four cases. Through many encounters with wacky characters, revelations of backstories, and frequent plot twists, the events of this mysterious incident eventually come to light. It sounds like the perfect recipe for an engaging plot. And sometimes, it is.

But there's a problem. Phoenix Wright's storytelling is far too heavy-handed. Whenever someone brings up a noteworthy plot point, one of the characters will remind you for the 100th time about the details of said point. Whenever a plot revelation comes to light, there's always several seconds of reaction shots of various characters in the courtroom, followed by someone going "WHAAAAAAT?!" or "How is that possible?!", followed by a lengthy explanation, as if the player is too stupid to read between the lines a bit. You'll grow tired of it well before you reach the end of the game.

Yet, despite my gripes, Phoenix Wright works. And it works well. In the courtroom, anyway. What would be a glacially-paced interactive book in any other game is made into hearty entertainment here, thanks to some key design choices. The music that plays whenever you make a crucial objection is the most exciting song ever composed. The facial shots whenever a character makes a key point are rounded out nicely by an anime-style rushing background. The camera pans from the witness stand to the opposing lawyers give a tense, close-knit feel to the events of the court. And I don't think enough can be said about the sheer wit of the game's dialogue--whenever the game isn't shoving the plot down your throat, it's making an amusing quip that's sure to bring a smirk to your face. Phoenix Wright's courtroom scenes contain an energy that is duplicated by few other games, and they're reason enough to play the game.

And thank God for that, because the other half of Phoenix Wright--the investigation scenes--are pretty dull. You wander around to various locations, each represented by an animated still, and search around for clues. These segments quickly devolve into examining every possible part of every area for the item or event that will move the events of the game forward, which becomes tedious faster than you can say "OBJECTION!" Sometimes, you'll meet up with characters, who will reveal information to you only if you present the proper piece of evidence to them. Sometimes the required item is obvious; if it's not, you'll have to present every item in your inventory to him/her until he/she talks. The investigations lack the intensity and excitement of the courtroom segments, and most of the time, you'll find yourself itching to get back to the trial and away from all of the clue meandering.

And that's Phoenix Wright. You'll like being in the courtroom a lot, you'll be wondering when the investigation portions will finally end, and the good memories will (hopefully) outweigh the bad. Phoenix Wright's success comes not from thoroughly sound design, but the philosophy that you'll emphasize the "love" part of your love/hate relationship with the game. And it works. It's not a spectacular game, but it works. If being an anime lawyer sounds intriguing to you, give it a shot.

Rating: 7/10

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (August 17, 2006)

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