In Retrospect – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
There’s alway a little trepidation that comes with revisiting an older game that you haven’t played in a while, especially when the game relies on its twists and turns of narrative to impress the player. However, sometimes, such as in the light of a new release in the same franchise, it pays to revisit an old classic. So, owing to the release of the latest game, I returned to play one of my all-time favourite DS titles, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (although this time as part of the 3DS trilogy).
The premise of the first Ace Attorney is simple, you play as Phoenix Wright, the often hapless defence attorney that has to defend a variety of quirky (and seemingly guilty at first) clients in a simulated court of law. The player’s first case, ironically Phoenix’s first case too, involves defending a high school friend accused of the murder of his girlfriend. All of the cases within the game contain their own isolated narratives, but also combine together to tell a single overarching story. It’s this last element which makes the game so narratively interesting, with various plot threads slowly being tied together as the game progresses. Let’s also not forget that this game introduced the now widely loved character, Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth to the masses as your central antagonist for the main bulk of the game.
The game play of Ace Attorney is more simple than it appears, in that is essentially a text based game with visuals added, in fact the game would suffice mechanically without any visuals at all, however the visuals being removed would remove a tremendous amount of its charm (but I’ll get to that later). The game is divided into two portions, investigations and trials. During investigations, the player has to find clues either by examining various areas (such as crime scenes) or talking to other characters that may have witnessed the crimes or have other interesting bits of information to aid the player in solving the cases. Essentially, the investigations are used to give the player adequate knowledge and tools needed for the trials.
The trials see an intense momentum shift from the much calmer investigations as you have to use whatever you know to prove your client innocent. The way this is played out is through numerous testimonies; various (and variably, shall we say, “colourful” characters) with give testimonies relating to the crime and the player has to expose lies (or contradictions) in the testimony using evidence from the Court Record. Successfully exposing the falsities brings the player that little bit closer to the truth of the case, and when the truth is finally revealed to the player in each case it sparks a “eureka” feeling much unlike any other game. Really the gameplay in Ace Attorney is perfect for what it is trying to do, and wonderfully solid too. In fact, the only thing slightly disappointing is the linearity, but even that isn’t too much of an issue considering how well the narrative and gameplay interlink.
Aesthetically, this game is fantastic, especially in its new guise on the 3DS. As much as some disagree with the tidying of the sprites from the initial releases, everything looks so much crisper than it did before. Needless to say, the character design is incredible, a wonderful mix of semi-realistic caricatures and completely madcap characters; at once insane and utterly believable. The audio design is absolutely incredible, mastering the technology of the time to create some of the best music that has ever graced a video game. For instance, the fantastic “Pursuit ~ Cornered” theme, which plays when the player is on a roll in solving the case is one of the most hype-inducing musical tracks ever (in my opinion).
So, should you buy Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney? If I’m honest, I would be surprised to find that people haven’t at least given this game a try. It’s a fantastic example of Capcom at their best, breaking boundaries between genres and creating something truly unique. However, if you aren’t a fan of slow-paced puzzlers, this will most definitely not be for you, especially as the investigation sequences can be slightly laborious. However, in case it isn’t obvious so far, I personally consider this game to be highly recommended to anyone.