Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Reviewed on PS4 in the HD Collection
The cards seem to have been stacked against me. Time and time again, the witnesses’ testimony seems to put my client into a deeper and deeper hole, proving seemingly without any doubt that they’re guilty beyond any reparable state. In my hands I hold several pieces of evidence, collected from my own personal investigations trying to help my client. But those all hinge on one thing; the testimony of the prosecution and the called witnesses. So, I press harder with each statement they give throughout their carefully constructed recount, making them clarify each and every detail that they seemed to have skimped on or intentionally skipped. All their statements causing further complications for the client, whom I’d throw my career down the drain to protect in honor. But then it happens. Their statement doesn’t match up. There’s a contradiction in what they so confidently said, a detail out of place, and I can prove it. I have them clarify once more before jumping to my feet, slamming the table shouting as I watch their once confident façade squirm into what is now a perturbed scowl; a stuttering attempt to keep their cool. I’ve rearranged the deck, and now it’s stacked against them. I have the evidence to prove it.
These are the cycles of simple joys of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a game where you’re an up and coming defense lawyer always out to protect his client. Originally developed in 2001 for the GameBoy Advance by seven people, Phoenix Wright is a small game with big ambitions, combining a detective simulator with a visual novel, with light adventure game elements on the side. It all seems like a tall order, but for the most part, the first game in this series pulls it all off with grace.
Broken into five distinct chapters, Ace Attorney has you defending several different clients who have been charged with murder. It’s guilty until proven innocent, and it may seem straightforward in the first chapter to find an error in the testimonies brought forth from a witness with evidence already provided. This gets a lot trickier though when you’re tasked with listening to accounts from several witnesses, potential suspects, and investigating scenes for evidence, along with interviewing all potentially involved. There are a lot of moving parts, and more often than not, the truth of the case doesn’t show its face until the last half, when the hidden cards are dealt. But you’re not trying to prove anyone guilty, as it can be easy to forget sometimes. On the contrary, your focus is on finding the contradictions in the testimonies in an attempt to defend your client. Only in doing so, can you hope to find the real culprit.
The game is split between three distinct sections throughout each chapter. You’ll interview your client and hear their side of the story. Then you’ll go to the scene of the crime and see what evidence you can find to bring to court, interviewing all even vaguely involved who have a thing or two to say. Finally, you’ll take all of your knowledge and evidence to court and go to battle against a prosecuting attorney, who are trying their absolute hardest to prove your evidence insignificant to the case or outright false. There’s a real sense of playing detective here, and if you want to stay on top of things, you need to pay attention.
For the most part, Phoenix Wright does a good job of keeping on track with your own mental hurdles, and so it will make sense when to present a piece of evidence to contradict a statement, or knowing where to investigate a crime scene. This can be immensely satisfying, when your own brain is in perfect sync with the flow of the case, and Phoenix says exactly what you were thinking when presenting evidence. The last couple chapters can be rather obtuse in where they expect you make connections however, especially the final one which was released several years after the original game. The leaps in logic here can make those parts a frustrating challenge to get through without a walkthrough. However, they don’t take away from the joys of discovering the story and the characters.
Each chapter is filled with charming, lovable and comical characters that you’ll get to know, all with silly cartoonish names that will stick in your brain like their caricature antics. Dick Gumshoe is a detective who can never catch a break, but always wants to do what’s right. Miles Edgeworth is a lifelong friend and rival, who is cool, levelheaded and little cold and detached, but is also always sided with the prosecution. And Maya Fey is the younger sister to your mentor, who will always be by your side with a snarky quip, encouraging hints or sincere support throughout, even when it seems like there is no way to win the case at hand. These are just a handful of a large cast that slowly gets introduced to you, and their hearts are as big as their senses of justice. A huge amount of praise has to go to those who went through the work of translating the game as well, as the characters all use puns, jokes, and wordplay that often comes out in crucial court scenes. Many of these lines needed to be changed through localization, and while it is noticeable in certain areas, like the change to put the setting to Los Angeles even though it is clear that it is not in actuality, I feel that the work done here should be commended much more than condemned.
Even through the minor gripes of gaps in logic, even with the sometimes head-scratching translation choices, and even without the colorful cast of supporting characters, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is still a game that is almost like nothing else I’ve ever played. Playing detective has a certain amount of satisfaction that is deeply and satisfyingly palpable, and bringing those elements to the court room is something not often done in games. But added to that, the lively cast, the out of control stories that can be as zany as they can be serious, and Phoenix Wright becomes something completely unique, a game that is unforgettably full of moments that will have you laughing or shouting like the best law dramas. There are few things as satisfying as watching a character who is clearly and frustratingly hiding the truth, only to bring the perfect piece of counter-evidence to break their cool and watch them squirm as the truth comes pouring out. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is an astounding accomplishment in visual novel games, full of the kind of heart that you can’t fabricate, and shouldn’t be missed.