Once in a while, a Japanese game gets translated, takes the scene by storm, and makes people wonder why it didn't happen earlier. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has the potential to become such a game. Originally released only in Japan, "Gyakuten Saiban" (loosely translated as "reversal judgment") is a popular legal simulation game for the GBA that gives you a chance to become a defense attorney. The series has already spanned three instalments, with one more being slated for release for the Nintendo DS next year. Before that happens, however, Capcom released "Gyakuten Saiban: Yomigaeru Gyakuten" in September to pave the title's transition from the GBA to the DS. The game included a fully translated English version, which is eventually released in the US as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (PWAA) recently.
So, what really is PWAA? Well, it's basically a point-and-click adventure game that is set in a legal background. As rookie lawyer Phoenix Wright, you'll take on five cases in this game, which includes four from the first Gyakuten Saiban game, as well as a brand new case that was created with the features of the DS In mind.
The game takes place primarily in two platforms - investigation and court proceedings. In the earlier scenario, you go from place to place, talking to people and examining crime scenes to gather evidence that may be important in proving your client's innocence. Although the investigation process could be tedious at times, it's never dull since the game throws up so many colourful characters and stereotypes to keep you busy with. Also, despite a large number of items to examine in the various locales pertaining to a certain case, the game is rather helpful as it automatically includes all evidence that will somehow have some bearings on the case. This means that you'll never really need to wonder what's useful and what's not, thus reducing information overload. It also essentially leaves you with the task of finding out why these evidences are important, which gives the game a better focus.
Information that you gather during the investigation will be added to your court record, which is one of your greatest weapons in court. The court record also provides additional information about the evidences that are collected. For example, you may score an autopsy report from the detective in charge of the case, but it's only when you look into this report in the record that you'll get a summary of the contents. This applies to most, if not all the evidences at your disposal, and because of that, reading the court record becomes an important task that you should never forget. The game also has the knack of turning the most insignificant looking clue into a decisive one, so you should take heed that a screwdriver, for example, could turn out to be that one clue that nails the truth for you in court.
During court proceedings, apart from coming against prosecutors who're eager to convince the judge that your client is guilty, you'll also come face-to-face with witnesses who can either make or break your defense. You'll get to cross-examine these witnesses as well, which is where the fun really begins. Almost every testimony you come across in this game has some weakness or two, which you can exploit to turn the tide in your favor. Each testimony is broken down into statements, and each statement allows you the opportunity either to press for more information, or object by presenting a contradictory evidence. While this may sound easy, finding the exact evidence to present could still be a tricky task if you don't follow the case closely. Of course, being good at solving puzzles of this nature helps a great deal, but the cases are all designed in a logical, though linear, fashion that even those who're not exactly quick-witted can guess the killer if only they exercise some diligence and commonsense.
Now, as there's usually only one correct objection for each testimony, it's entirely likely that, when confronted by a bottleneck, you eliminate incorrect choices by simply presenting everything in your record if no form of restriction is set. To prevent this possible abuse, the game has a penalty system that reduces your "health" if you present a wrong objection. The health gauge is represented by exclamation marks on the screen. Each incorrect objection will lead to a dramatic explosion of one exclamation mark. Do this for five times, and you'll be greeted with the game over screen. While this may sound harsh, it actually encourages you to spend time thinking through the cases, which should in turn lead to a more satisfying gaming experience.
Now, there seems to be so many things to do in the game, so the controls must be pretty complex? Well, not exactly. In fact, the controls of PWAA are so user-friendly, you can play through the game without even using the buttons on your DS at all. Every action can be performed by clicking the respective buttons on the touch screen with your stylus. Want to move to another area? Click "move", and a menu will appear to ask where do you want to go. Want to examine an item? Point your stylus to it, tap it, and you'll get your findings. It's just that simple. Apart from waving your stylus, the game also makes use of the DS' voice recognition ability, so it's possible for you to shout "Objection!" into the mic to counter a witness' statement. Similarly, you can also shout "Hold it!" to press a statement, and "Take that!" to present a decisive evidence. Although the idea is a little quirky, it does give you that sense of satisfaction, especially when you finally deal the murderer with a forceful "Take that!" after a tiresome three-day trial. The voice recognition, however, is never forced upon you, so if you're not into talking to a machine, you can always rely on your good old stylus.
Additional controls are added for the fifth case of PWAA. As I mentioned earlier, this fifth case was designed specifically for the DS. This brand new case fully utilizes the DS' innovative features. You'll get to rotate and zoom-in on evidence to examine them more thoroughly. You'll also get to join pieces of broken evidence together. You can even set powder on your screen, and then blow it away to gather fingerprints. All these features really provide a strong involvement for the player - they make you feel that you're right in the thick of the action.
Graphically, PWAA uses an anime style to portray the various quirky characters. The style should appeal to most people, even though they expectedly become repetitive as the game progresses. Still, as you'll be spending most of the time reading the conversations, you'll tend to be more forgiving when Phoenix Wright points his finger out again (for the umpteenth time) as he tells the judge that the witness' testimony is faulty. The audios of the game are also heavily anime-inspired. The music blends in with the action really well, and it's quite obvious that the developers actually tried to create different background music that are unique to the different characters. Again, this complemented the game greatly.
All in all, PWAA is a game that I'd recommend to all DS owners, even those who're not exactly interested in murder mysteries. The game may be a little too linear for players who tend to think ahead of time, but it's still a great adventure for those who want to try something different. It's not everyday that you become a lawyer, and I'm pretty sure that after you relieve your role as Phoenix Wright, you'll be itching for a sequel. If playing a quality game is a thing for you, then you should really consider making an appointment with PWAA.