Phoenix Wright is an interesting little adventure. The guise of a “Lawyer Sim” actually houses a pretty nifty point-and-click adventure which is perfectly suited for the DS. Considering the majority of the content is ported directly from a GBA game that came out in Japan in 2001, the subject matter and control scheme still make this seem like a brand new kettle of fish, even if the graphics kind of give the game away.
Ooh, but I digress. You are Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney, fresh out of Law School and thrown into your first case. As a defence attorney, it is your job to prove your client’s innocence in a number of incredibly over-the-top court cases, and hopefully have a few laughs along the way.
When a case presents itself, you have numerous options to aid your investigation. You can move to different locations, talk to different people and explore the area with the touch screen, all to try and gather clues as to what really happened. When the game feels that you have enough evidence, you are placed into the trial itself. The prosecution will throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, but, being the ace attorney that you are, you should be able to prove your point using the clues that you have gathered, and by “pressing” witnesses when you feel like they are lying. Above all, and most wonderfully, you can shout “OBJECTION!” into the DS’s Microphone whenever you feel like proving the prosecution wrong. Oh my, and how it feels good.
Phoenix Wright’s real strengths lie in the dialogue, and in its stylised presentation. Everything is in a wonderful anime style, with characters being completely static save for a few minute animations, which focuses your attention on the dialogue at hand. In a point-and-click adventure such as this, anything but would just be full-on distracting. It’s a nice touch and makes the game all the more unique. Whilst many may feel that not being in complete control kind of spoils the experience (not being able to move freely around a police station for example, you are locked to particular locations, and you can merely look around one area using the touch screen), such a function would be unnecessary in these proceedings, and wholly confusing, which I will explain all in good time.
The dialogue is nothing short of wonderful. The script writers must have had a whale of a time writing it. Every character has their own believable personality, and it really brings the whole universe to life. What’s more is it makes it a whole lot easier to evaluate people and to determine motives and find lies in their testimony. Whilst every line of dialogue is laid out (you can only ask pre-determined questions), it’s very easy to get sucked into the game and start believing people’s stories, and of course, refute others, even if the game doesn’t let you.
The script is incredibly well written, at times hilarious and really makes the game stand out. I can’t remember laughing this much at a game before. Even character’s names are funny. The first witness you need to cross examine, an eccentric individual who believes he witnessed a murder…Mr Sawhit. Honestly, it’s groan-worthy but in a way that’s absolutely superb.
The game is split into five “cases”, the first four being that of the GBA game, and the last made specifically for DS. Each story throws an even more absurd case at you and you begin to wonder how in the blue hell you are going to get out of it. These range from a case where there is a large amount of evidence against your client, to one where your client admits to the crime in the first place! Honestly, it’s insane how the writing allows you to weave your own web out of each impossible situation but its all the more satisfying when you do.
The court scenes are my personal favourite part of the game. Finding holes in witness testimonies and throwing in evidence that proves contradictions is amazing fun and there is little more that is this satisfying. The whole debacle plays out like one massive beat-em-up game, with fingers being pointed, screen flashes, that crazy anime “flying” backdrop, and characters acting like they’ve been punched in the gut when you prove them wrong. It’s a wonder why the prosecution doesn’t have a health bar.
It’s not all roses though. You can’t just throw in any piece of evidence to prove your case. Mess up and the judge will penalize you, and there are only a certain number of times you can do that before the case ends automatically and its game over for you. Kudos to the developers of adding this element or risk in, it tasks you with actually thinking about your answers before you give them.
That being said, the game can be unforgivably linear. Being a point-and-click adventure, there are only a certain number of places you can go and a certain number of things you can say to one individual before you have done absolutely everything. The same with the trials, if you wanted to, you could in turn present every piece of evidence you own until you get the desired response, as long as you’re happy to go through a few “game over” screens. However, being a point-and-click adventure makes the game what it is, and having fully explorable areas would probably make the game near on impossible, as there would be too much to explore.
Also, there are an unprecedented amount of twists in each story, most of the time, to the point of getting silly. Each story is named something like “turnabout sisters” or turnabout samurai” – turnabout being the literal translation for the Japanese word for a twist in the story. Think you know twists because you’ve watched the movie Basic or seen a series of 24? Think again. Just as you think you have figured everything out…ooh…another twist. It’s refreshing at first, but becomes exhausting by the end. The developers love their “turnabouts” so much that they decided to put one in the end credits. Yes that’s right, the credits roll after story number 4….and then story 5 starts, almost as if it’s designed to annoy you.
This is one of the main niggles I have with the game. It’s very fun, but it’s also very long. The first 4 stories take a good amount of time, (about 10 hours), and all loose ends are tied up (it was a stand alone GBA game after all), and there’s actually a really heart-warming ending. Then, this fifth story hits you out of absolutely nowhere, and not only doesn’t really further the main storyline in anyway, it’s an absolute grind. It’s not that interesting and is a good five hours long. The game was long enough before this, and this last story just feels a little bit tacked on. It feels odd as well, with the graphics being noticeably better than that of the previous 4 stories.
Phoenix Wright is definitely worth picking up. It’s charming, hilarious at times, and what I would call the DS equivalent of a good crime novel. Take it on holiday with you, or just murder a good 15 hours of your life at home. Whether you like it or not, you will get addicted to it, and that, unfortunately is one of its flaws. It’s so addictive that by the end, you won’t want to put it down even though you know that you should, what with the last stretch of the game being so laboured.
Hi-Score – Brilliantly funny dialogue, satisfying court “battles”, charming stylization, likeable characters.
Lo-Score – Very linear, horrendously long, last story is poorly tacked on.
Overall Score – 7 out of 10