"Throw out every rule and procedure of the criminal justice system. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a clever DS graphic adventure that forgoes the tedium of writs, motions, and the chain of evidence in favor of timely investigations and more expedient trials. Proceedings here are limited to three days, juries are nonexistent, and the accused is always presumed guilty. All that stands along a defendant’s path to a life sentence are a bloodthirsty prosecutor, an addlebrained judge, a handf..."
Throw out every rule and procedure of the criminal justice system. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a clever DS graphic adventure that forgoes the tedium of writs, motions, and the chain of evidence in favor of timely investigations and more expedient trials. Proceedings here are limited to three days, juries are nonexistent, and the accused is always presumed guilty. All that stands along a defendant’s path to a life sentence are a bloodthirsty prosecutor, an addlebrained judge, a handful of goofy witness, and one Phoenix Wright, defense attorney at law.
Naturally, Phoenix is about the only one trying to keep his client out of prison, and he must use his keen sense of logic and dogged determination to do so. The determination is necessary when our hero steps into the field for detective work, the logic for courtroom tussles. When a witness takes the stand, he’ll provide easily digestible segments of testimony, usually five of six sentences at a time, and only careful cross examination will uncover fabrications. As the brains behind Mr. Wright, you must constantly press the witness for more detail, look for inconsistencies in the statements, and search through the evidence to find contradictory information. These actions are performed either by tapping options on the bottom screen or yelling commands like “Objection” into the surprisingly discriminating microphone. (Repeated outbursts of “Rutabaga” went unrecognized.) After each and every lie is laid bare the truth of the real culprit is uncovered, and only then will the full-bearded and empty-headed judge declare Phoenix’s client “Not Guilty.”
However, a favorable verdict is not guaranteed. If you present irrelevant evidence too many times, the gavel will come down squarely on the defendant’s head. The first case serves as a simple introduction, but the remaining four are well-constructed puzzles with plenty of pieces; you have to be completely engaged to find the correlation between the accumulated data and a particular statement. The most challenging moments occur when you have to detect inconsistencies within photographic proof; it really requires an eagle eye for detail. Still, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes. The compact testimonies and cursory descriptions of clues maintain a maximal pace with a minimum of unnecessary confusion. There’s certainly no need to keep your own piles of notes. Plus, each item in the court record usually sees only one use in the courtroom, which narrows the possibilities as the end of a trial draws nigh. The difficulty is reminiscent of that faced by Encyclopedia Brown, or whatever other detective stories the whippersnappers are reading these days.
But two minute mysteries, these are not. A single courtroom session can stretch up to an hour, and each trial contains several. In addition, Phoenix will actually spend more time on the street collecting clues and coaxing information out of potential witnesses, actions once again chosen through the touch screen. Unfortunately, the detective sequences include heavy hand holding. There’s no way to veer off track or overlook important facts; the game won’t advance until you click around and around to cover all the vital plot points. Phoenix Wright is an investigative machine, and you’re just along for the lengthy ride. Conscientiously absorb all the dialogue and a case can last half a day, though thankfully you can save and quit at any time.
At least it’s an enjoyable journey. All the supporting characters possess some quirky affect that makes them humorous and memorable. There’s Wendy Oldbag, an agitated bitty who huffs, puffs, and rages against youth by belting out several screens of dialogue at a time without pause. Plus her name is Wendy Oldbag. Next is Sal Manella, a star director who is actually a sweaty, overweight otaku. He mixes 1337 into his speech when he’s not drooling like a complete pervert. Then there’s the self-important magnate of Bluecorp, Redd White. He imperiously butchers the English language at every turn, flashing a million dollar smile with every lie he tells. Of course, the villains also display bizarre mannerisms both before and after their deeds are revealed. But they’re also slimy, diabolical, and unrepentant. Busting them is a real treat.
Witty dialogue isn’t the only quality that brings this game to life; the visuals tap into the craziness as well. Outrageous face faults, spiky hair, and fast-paced courtroom transitions (similar to the panels of a manga) allude to the game’s Japanese roots, but once again the cast demonstrates it best. Phoenix’s sidekick is Maya Fey, a spirit medium(in training!), and she’s completely out of place with her robes and beads – “hippie clothes” from everyone else’s perspective. Angel Starr dresses like a classic starlet, wearing luxurious furs. But she actually sells boxed lunches, handing out stacks of food out wherever she goes – even on the witness stand. And Officer Marshall may live in the big city, but he dresses like a desperado, complete with a cowboy hat and rawhide poncho. If there were voice acting he’d definitely speak with a soothing twang, but the giddy up of an ol’ western musical accompaniment will do; each character has a similarly endearing tune.
Yet, the writers knew when to drop the caricatures and concentrate on forming rounder principals. At the start, Phoenix seems like a dimwit graced with fortuitous insight, but by the final act he’s confidently launching shrewd attacks to shred the perpetrator’s lies. Maya displays a great deal of maturity by questioning her role as a silly stooge with limited abilities. Perhaps most important is the pretentious prosecutor Miles Edgeworth(complete with puffy shirt). He begins as the perfect foil to our lead, a ruthless and intimidating tyrant with no regard for the truth, only for his victory. Each successive case has a humanizing effect, though, softening his hardline on crime. By the end, you just might like good ol’ Edgey along with the rest of the crew.
Much of that development comes about because the episodes are tied together by a past tragedy that has shaped the lives of all the main players. The installments still work as disconnected entities, but this aspect adds another rich layer that propels you towards the finish. Even the fifth section, which was concocted specifically to flaunt the touch screen(it allows you to handle evidence in 3-D), fits in perfectly with all the others that were ported over from the Japanese-only GBA original. It’s able to continue the natural arc of character growth, making what would be a seamless transition into a potential sequel.
And that sequel will come, which is just another reason to hop on the Phoenix Wright bandwagon right now. Of course, this initial entry stands just fine on its own merit. Exhibit A: It provides enough mystery-solving action to give your deductive reasoning skills a little exercise. Exhibit B: The characters are laughable yet likable, and the jokes are frequent enough to pull you through the most trying evidence gathering expeditions. Exhibit C: The development team was skilled enough to blend these elements into a mixture of humor, drama, and satisfying gameplay that’s hard to top. Case closed. No objections. Except that pun.
Community review by woodhouse (October 16, 2006)
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