Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

DS Review

Kudos to Capcom; as 2006 nears, two of the year's finest titles, and my two personal favourites, have both come from the Japan powerhouse. Killer 7 proved to be one of the most unique, engrossing and downright twisted titles in the past decade, while Resident Evil 4 pushed the boundaries of the both the long running horror series and the GameCube. While this year hasn't exactly seen a deluge of quality, these two titles would easily be named among some of the best ever to be released. Now, with the release of Phoenix Wright, I think I've found my third place set in stone...

You play the part of Phoenix Wright, a rookie defence attorney for Fey & Co. Offices. Having had no experience, you know very little about the lawyer trade, so along the way, you will be helped somewhat by your mentor and boss, Mia Fey. Things start off quite suddenly; you're thrown in at the deep end when your friend is suspected of murder, and you must defend him in court without any time to prepare. As the trial progresses, you are given evidence to prove your associate not guilty, and point the finger at the murderer. It's fairly simple to start off with, as you will get a fair amount of help from your superior, but before too long, things will get a whole lot more complicated.

For those who weren't aware, Phoenix Wright is a lawyer simulation; yes, you heard right. And as unlikely as the concept may sound, it works perfectly. It isn't merely a case of watching a trial unfold and trying to follow along, there will be times when Phoenix Wright will have you truly scratching your head in wonderment. It plays out as a part RPG, part point and click and part puzzle title.

Before each trial begins (excluding the initial case, which acts out more like a training level), you must investigate the murder scene, talk to witnesses and others involved, and eventually gather enough evidence to make a good case for your client. This is where the bulk of the point and click play comes in; you'll to navigate your way from area to area by, examining crime scenes by moving your stylus over the still background and selecting 'Examine' on key areas. A lot of your evidence will come from searching areas, but more often than not you'll need to interview the different characters to gain information; this can done by simply talking to them, or if they fail to comply presenting evidence to them that may force them to speak up. Or you could always wait until they're away and scour their premises for clues, always a favourite technique amongst would-be lawyers.

While a lot of the time it can be a by-the-numbers process, more often than not it does actually force you to think about the situation. It's odd, and on paper it seems less than compelling, but anyone who's played a Broken Sword title before will know just how engrossing it can be. While things can get a little menial when you're having to move from area to area, and there's no way to quickly jump between different scenes, this will all be rectified once you reach a critical witness and things begin to hot up again.

The trial itself is much more akin to an RPG. Once you've collected all of your information, you will proceed to the courtroom and battle it out with the prosecuting attorney, usually Miles Edgeworth, your may rival in Ace Attorney. The prosecution will call different characters to the stand, and from their testimonies you must come up with clear contradictions to strengthen your case. After the witness (or whoever may be taking the stand) has given their testimony, you get to cross-examine them. This involves browsing through each of the statements in their testimony and picking up on lies. You use the stylus to move back and forth between the statements and something doesn't seem quite right, you can either press for more information or present evidence that contradicts what has been said. Be careful though: show evidence that isn't directly linked to statement and you'll be penalized; if this happens five times, you client will automatically be found guilty. If you do prove the testimony to be false, they will either revise their testimony or break under pressure and spill the beans. Don't think one contradiction will get you the information you need though, whoever's taking the stand will do their best to cover their tracks, and as things progress, their will be some clever criminals you'll have to break.

The only problem you may find with trial section of Phoenix Wright is that it can be quite frustrating. Many times you can display evidence that seems perfectly appropriate, and you can spot a contradiction in a testimony, but just don't how to prove it. There are also many stages in the game when you'll have to keep re-answering questions until you get it right, and you won't get penalized for incorrect responses; an aspect of this title that will surely break the deep involvement it successfully ascertains for the majority of the title. It's a game that takes a lot of patience to play. Action-junkies should take note; there's not much action to go around. While it is slow-paced, it's also one of the most edge-of-your-seat, addictive titles I've played in a long, long time, though. As you get deeper and deeper into a trial, and there's no room for mistakes, and you'll be sweating buckets.

It's hard to really do Phoenix Wright justice without spoiling the cases on offer. Don't worry, I won't go spurting out key events like I would if old Wrighty had me on the witness stand, but it's one of the rewarding titles you'll ever play. You'll work very hard to get a Not Guilty verdict every time.

As you'd expect, aesthetically Phoenix Wright takes on an anime style. All the characters have all the crazy hairstyles and three-expression models you'd expect from any anime episode. While the animations are really quite poor (there's hardly any animations at all, in fact), the graphical style perfectly suits the title. It won't bother you that the DS can do so much more, because the game doesn't need so much more.

Not only does Ace Attorney share aspects of anime visually, though, the whole titles plays out like a cartoon series; there are some hilarious, charming and odd characters you'll come across in your law-induced adventure, and while you may not think it, the storyline plays a huge part in the game, many of the cases being connected in some way. It will bring you into its world and won't let you until you see the credits roll, which, trust me, is something you'll be dreading. I could quite happily play Phoenix Wright for all my remaining years.

Unfortunately, it does have to end somewhere. It definitely isn't an epic at any rate, with only five cases on offer, but it's of a fair size. It will last you at least six hours, probably more. And due to game's linearity you'll have no desire to return to game any time soon, maybe only in twenty years when you've forgotten everything that took place on that little cartridge. The first time through, though, its linear design won't matter. While there's only one way to get to the end of a case, it'll still be hard to find.

The only other area in which the game falls slightly short is its somewhat lack of audible prowess. It's not that that music is particularly annoying, but the quality is definitely nothing to be proud. You just get the feeling that the DS should be able to do far better than it does on Ace Attorney, and I'm sure those nearby won't appreciate the sounds coming from your duel-screened accomplice.

But I digress; this matters very little when you look at the big picture. Phoenix Wright is fun, involving, original and will charm you into its little anime world. If you're looking for a more active title, obviously avoid Ace Attorney; perhaps Yoshi's Touch & Go would better suit you. It may not be the best, but nothing on the DS has come close to Phoenix Wright for me, and I bought it the same time as Nintendogs and Advance Wars. In fact, the last a game held my attention this much was Killer 7. Quite simply, it's the cult classic of the year.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Phoenix Wright is proof that even lawyer games can be fun. Addictive, challenging and inventive; Capcom have struck gold once again.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability5
  • Visuals3
  • Audio2
  • Lifespan3
Final Score



Highly addictive
Very rewarding


Poor sound quality
Not for action junkies
Occasionally frustrating

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