Review: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Gyakuten Saiban, or Turnabout Lawyer, was first released in 2001 for the Nintendo DS handheld system in North America as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The game was a port of an earlier, Japan only series of light novel games in which you played a rookie defense attorney through various cases. This series has rapidly become one of my favorites of all time. The quirky characters and great music sell it for me. But primarily, the series plays like an interactive novel, and because of this concentrates more highly on the story than the gameplay. This isn’t a recipe that works for everyone and I want to make that clear at the outset. If you don’t enjoy good storytelling as much as good addictive gameplay, this probably won’t be your cup of tea. I will review each game individually¬† and give my impressions of it as well as my overall rating.

My criteria for grading video games will differ depending on the type of game it is. This means that the categories I use will try to be as specific to the genre of game as possible and whether it succeeds in what it attempts to be. This means that grading my overall favorite games will always come with caveats and I will attempt to create a second rating for those who might not share my affinities.

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is the port of Gyakutan Saiban for the Game Boy advance and was released in 2001 for the Nintendo DS. The reboot added a fifth case in order to make use of the DS’s touchscreen but none of the first three ports would make use of the technology to its best. At its core, this series is an interactive novel with lots of dialogue and story building. You, as a rookie lawyer, will go to locations and gather evidence to defend your client from charges.

There are two main segments of game play in the Ace Attorney series, there are the investigation segments where you navigate to different hotspots and talk to witnesses and gather evidence. This part is heavy on exposition and normally is not as fun as the courtroom segments. The hidden jokes and dialogue is endearing though and you get rather attached to reoccuring characters after a while. The second segment is the courtroom segment where you will cross examine the witnesses and present evidence when necessary to uncover the truth. The game doesn’t necessarily go out of the way to surprise you with the culprit but the ridiculousness of the crimes are normally breathtaking to behold. The idiosynchrasies of the people you meet are half the fun in this game series.

Each entry into the main series introduces a main antagonist for the court cases in the form of a prosecutor. Often, these are some of the best fleshed out of your opponents and have their own distinct style and even catchphrases. They make for entertaining opponents and often can be fun to battle against. Not all prosecutors are equal though, as the protagonist must win, and each game’s prosecutor is not necessarily going to appeal to everyone. In the first game we are introduced to three prosecutors but the main antagonist is Miles Edgeworth. He has a personal connection to the main character Phoenix Wright and has one of my favorite character arcs in fiction. His own personal philosophy of winning by any means to punish the guilty, is old hat, philosophically speaking, but Edgeworth is not immune from learning and is in fact, fun to watch.

The music in the Ace Attorney series is very good and unfortunately the tinny music they used for the DS isn’t the best quality but it still feels awesome and adds to the tone and rhythm of the court cases. Some of my favorite tracks include, Cornered(2001), Jake Marshall’s theme, Objection (2001), Turnabout Sisters, and Congratulations Everybody.

Often the cases make and break the games and some are story related and some are just fun. In the first game, there are three cases that are story related and two that are just extra stuff. My favorite cases are:

  • Turnabout Sister: Introduction of your assistant Maya Fey, and the introduction of Miles Edgeworth.
  • Turnabout Samurai: Endearing characters and a murder on a set for a power rangers like TV show.
  • Turnabout Memories: Edgeworth is accused of murder and you face his mentor in court, the undefeated Manfred Von Karma. He is like Edgeworth on steroids, and with a darth vader voice. Also Phoenix cross examines a parrot (not joking)

This game would introduce me to some endearing characters such as the lovable Detective Gumshoe, bubbly spirit medium and ace assistant Maya Fey, bumbling best friend Larry Butz, and of course, the enigmatic Miles Edgeworth. This game is what got me hooked on the series but in hindsight there are better entries.

Gameplay- The game’s two segments don’t really involve much actual game play. Since most of the game is about test and clicking buttons there is a heavy reliance on story. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and it does the job for what kind of game it is. However, the lackluster addition of the fifth case, hardly makes it that useful on the Nintendo DS. I am glad it is on there but it took Capcom too long to actually use the hardware on the system they were putting it on to introduce it outside of Japan. Overall, this isn’t for everyone. For people who like stories 4/5 but for people who are impatient 1/5.

Music: The music is really fantastic and really sells the series. Capcom is no stranger to stellar soundtracks and this game is a good example. 3.5/5

Writing: Because of the heavy reliance on storytelling this category will just be called writing because dialogue is also important. The cultural differences between Japan and West were often one of the greatest differences in these games. The localization teams had the job of not only translating but adapting the jokes to land with a western audience. This must have been tough but boy did it work. The inside jokes and references are biting and great. The dialogue is endearing and the wacky characters are always all over the place. The cases are sometimes too convoluted for their own good but it is still very satisfying. 4/5.

Replay Value: Low (once you’ve seen the story I imagine some people won’t want to play it again immediately, unless you are me and are too obsessed not to)

Overall Personal rating: 3.9/5

Overall rating for others: 3/5

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