Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS)

Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Text Adventure/Court Room Drama
Release Date: 10/12/05

Every so often a game comes along that is just too weird for words. Last year’s outstanding Katamari Damacy is a great example of how this can work. It seems thought that for every awesome game like that we get a stinker like Seventh Cross Evolution for the Dreamcast or the ever popular Kakuto Chojin for the Super Nintendo. These games typically are spawned from Japan and find their way to the United States somehow. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is one of those games.

The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games started on the GBA and have found its way to the Nintendo DS with a brand new game. Seeing as the Nintendo DS was starved for games a short while ago, a lot of odd games have been making their way to the US. The DS is a pretty good fit for an attorney game, but is this attorney game any good? The short answer is yes.


Story

The basic story for Phoenix Wright is that you play, surprisingly, Phoenix Wright. He’s a brand new attorney who’s looking to make a name for himself while trying to save his clients from a potential death sentence or life in prison. Phoenix Wright is broken into 5 cases with the first being a short introduction to the game and the other 4 being a bit meatier.

Let’s touch on what’s wrong with the story, particularly the finer details, first. There are times where the game is utterly absurd in how things go. During the second case, Phoenix takes a beating from a high-powered executive who has everyone in his pocket. Phoenix doesn’t even react to this at all. It’s aspects of this game like this that make me scream out, “what the f*ck are you doing Phoenix, show some cahones.”

The fact that Phoenix Wright has me yelling at some of the sillier parts is actually a compliment in disguise. I haven’t played a game with a more engrossing story since Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Every character, from the plucky assistant Maya with her dealings in the occult to the befuddled police detective Dick Gumshoe (cheesiest detective name ever) are completely likable despite being a bit one dimensional. Their interactions in crime scenes and courtroom scenes are great. The dialogue between the characters is some of the best I’ve seen all year.

The story manages to be both entertaining and dramatic. Humor is blended nicely across each case while not overwhelming the dramatic elements of the story. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney offers that unique combination where you’re able to genuinely hate the villains and feel true glee when you drop the hammer on them with exceptionally likable protagonists.

The fact that this game is essentially a text adventure means that story is the most important aspect to this game. Without a doubt, Phoenix brings his A game in this department. If you enjoy a game solely for an engrossing story, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is worth picking up. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is hilarious at times while incredibly dramatic at others. It is an exceptionally easy game to get into, yet it also offers a lot of natural breaks. Despite some minor flaws in static characters and absurd plot points, Phoenix Wright manages to have one of the most entertaining stories I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Score: 9 out of 10


Graphics

The graphics are largely static, and while featuring expressive and entertaining drawings, this game would be visually mediocre on the GBA let alone the DS. Phoenix and pals are nicely illustrated, but this is not one of the more graphically impressive games.

The game is done in the style of the popular dating simulations in Japan. Still pictures shake when the person in it is angry and then the game switches to another still picture of the person looking flustered. It’s pretty much a dead style in the United States as most games just use FMV rather then relying on this older graphical look. While it is a style we’re seeing less and less in the United States, this works really well in establishing a completely unique feel for the game.

Honestly though, this is really an apologist’s excuse for the graphics. Make no mistake that the graphics are exceptionally simple for this game. Although the drawings are nice, you could see the same type of graphics on Newgrounds. These graphics never pushed the GBA to the limit and they’re almost a joke on the DS.

Graphics are not that important for this game. It’s all about the story and the mood that these graphics have been used to create. The graphics enhance the game experience despite being simplistic. That’s pretty much the best you can hope for from a game like this.

Score: 6 out of 10


Sound

There are few games out there that make me scream out in joy. Furthermore, yelling out “drop the hammer” when the music changes into “Phoenix is dropping the hammer” music is usually a good sign. The music sounds like a bunch of generic midis, but they are pretty damn catchy generic midis. There isn’t really that much to it, but the game’s music is pretty awesome.

The sound effects are incredibly basic, and really offer little outside the basic “Objection” and crashing sounds. It’s not bad by any means, but all of the sound effects are very simplistic. Again, what sound there is enhances the game so it’s good for that.

How many people can forgive a game for having simple but effective sound and music in a day and age where we are overly concerned about the quality of the envelope rather then the content of the message. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney will be a test of whether or not gamers are willing to give something new a chance that’s pretty bland in its presentation.

Score: 6 out of 10


Control and Gameplay

Hm, who would have thought that a text adventure would have controls be another completely unimportant aspect of the game. The controls are simple, but they utilize the DS’s capabilities in a number of interesting ways. For example, in one of the last cases, you’ll be able to use the stylus to dust for prints. Also, during the trials, you can use the microphone to shout out, “Hold it” to stop testimony or “Objection!” to object. It’s really easy to get into the game when you’re shouting at the top of your lungs to watch some evil guilty bastard fold on the witness stand. Besides that, you can search for clues at crime scenes with the stylus, adding a whole new dimension to the idea of a click and point adventure.

If you don’t like the stylus or are in a public place like a park, library, or confessional booth, the game can be played without using any of the special features of the DS. It’s much less fun this way, but never the less, its nice that they included it.

So in summary, this is a simple game that goes the extra distance to add in some unique elements for controlling it through the unique aspects of the DS. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a better game for this.

Score: 8 out of 10


Replay Value

Well, truth be told, there isn’t a lot of reasons to go back and play through this game. While it does run about 15 hours or so in the 5 total cases, there isn’t really a point to go back and play through it other then to experience the fun story again. The replay value depends solely on whether or not you’re willing to play through the exact same again. It’s like rereading a novel. There isn’t much point to it unless you really enjoyed it the first time around and you want to see if there’s something new you pick up on the second run through.

Score: 3 out of 10


Balance

This game is pretty excellent in how balanced it is. The cases become more and more complex as each one progresses. The addition of searching for evidence followed by dusting for fingerprints makes the game harder and harder. Each case involves more difficult decisions, and it becomes progressively harder to convict someone. This is not a hard game to start out, but as you get more evidence, suspects, and questions, your mind will be racked. This is a very nicely balanced game because of it.

Score: 8 out of 10


Originality

How many text adventures do we see today on consoles or handhelds? How many attorney games do we see? How often do we see these two combinations? The only game I’ve seen that is close to this is the CSI PC game that was released a while back. This may be the most original game of this cycle of systems rivaled only by Katamari Damacy, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, and Madden 2005.

Score: 10 out of 10


Addictiveness

Phoenix, I wish you were my girlfriend because you are so much fun. I want to write self insert yaoi furry lemon fanfictions about you and I on the beach feeding each other strawberries. My enjoyment of my time with you was that much. Sure, there were times where I said, “I’ll see you later babe,” and left you high and dry, but it was easy to get back into you because of your natural breaks and delicious plot.

As for the non-creepy version of the above statement, Phoenix Wright is a wonderfully addictive game. The fact that it is essentially an interactive novel makes it easy to walk away from and get right back into. It’s not a game I’ll skip work for, but it is a game I’d lose sleep playing. Either that or I’ll take a nice hot candle lit bath with Phoenix…

Score: 9 out of 10


Appeal

Hmm. It’s a lawyer game. Furthermore, it’s a text adventure lawyer game. Outside of a very small niche audience that picks up every weird game, this game will have close to no appeal in the US. Sure, some people will laugh their asses off when hearing the concept of the game and discover a very solid title, but it is pretty universally unappealing. This fact is a shame too because Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a blast and a half.

Score: 3 out of 10


Miscellaneous

Phoenix Wright and friends hopefully will come back to the United States again. This is a fun game despite its simple look and design. There are quite a few GBA games out there based on his adventures, and Capcom would do a service to us if they brought a few more of them over. I know I’ll eagerly be awaiting the next Phoenix Wright game if it comes out in the United States. We need more inventive games like this in the United States to balance out the fourth and fifth sequels of successful franchises that the bigger companies, Capcom included, are guilty of putting out. Thanks for the good times Phoenix.

Score: 7 out of 10

Final Scores

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control & Gameplay: 8/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 10/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 68/100
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)