August 23, 2008

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS): The Double Feature

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)

***Alternately, you can read a different, shorter review that is devoid of pictures here.***

I would lie if I said I liked playing intelligent games, but now I really, honestly do. A great start for that would be the Phoenix Wright series. Actually, you don't need as much brains to complete this adventure game, but sometimes you simply, really have to use it when it comes to some vaguely connected evidence.

Oh sorry, let me introduce you first to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the DS. Released in 2005, no one would have thought that a game that puts you inside a courtroom defending all these defendants would gather this much success. Were it not given a chance, it would've failed, but alas, the contrary applies!

So that's actually the gameplay concept, and here's the story: You are a spiky-haired rookie lawyer named Phoenix Wright. Fresh from college, his first client is actually his annoying friend Larry Butz. Guiding you along the way of your first courtroom match with prosecutor Winston Payne is your mentor Mia Fey. She will basically guide you throughout the case, and you'll eventually go on for a rollercoaster ride right after that point.
CAPTION: Who knew that a court game would be so successful and thrilling?

It presents some genuinely shocking twists, it conveys its story through text (so yup, it's sparsely voiced), but what makes it so good is that the dialogue is very well written to the point that you'd be interested in what the protagonist Phoenix Wright would want to say about something... like a clue. Of course, the supporting cast of characters who appear have their share of cleverly-written dialogue that glows with charm and humor, and the care given to their lines are glaringly obvious for every person in this game has an individual personality, and a meaty backstory to match, so even if you have to read through the game, it doesn't get boring one bit.

You can also attribute the game's charm to the sound design. It's brilliant in its simplicity! Characters glow with even more personality because they have their own "theme songs" going on the background, they use the sound of two swords parrying to give off the sense that you're in for a fight during a cross-examination, and the background music becomes tense during a genuinely shocking moment, or when you find something out that turns the case upside-down! It's genius, I tell you.

Same goes for the animation- or rather, the lack of it. These characters may have only 3-4 frames of animation, but they convey emotion well despite that "limitation".
CAPTION: The witnesses probably have more animation than Phoenix' sprite, but they're still merely a few frames.

So how about elaborating its gameplay elements, you say? Well, it's a point and click adventure game where you not only play defense attorney, but also play as Sherlock Holmes. It's like this: you go through two phases namely, the courtroom phase, and the investigation phase. Each phase is different because it offers you different options. In the courtroom phase, it depends on the situation. Most of the time, you're looking for contradictions in a cross-examination. There you can "Press" a witness to get more info out of him/her, and "Present" to present evidence that contradicts a statement. Present the wrong evidence and you'll end up with a penalty from the judge. You can "Press" repeatedly until you get how the statement contradicts with the evidence, and you can always check the Court Record and slog through your evidence anytime during they talk. In the Investigation Phase, you have 4 options: "Examine" which lets you look for clues and examine the location you are at, "Talk" which lets you select a topic you want to talk about to a specific person, and is disabled when no one is there, "Present" which is an option that lets you present evidence from the court record to a person and talk about it, although this too is disabled when no one is there, and "Move" which lets you go to another location. This explanation is pretty long, but once you get your hands on the game, they'll instantly be second nature. CAPTION: Remember to always "Press" a witness' statement to get more information.

And oh, here's a great choice: being able to save anywhere during the game. Actually, there are some parts when you can't, but for the most part, you can just push the START button when you're tired and save during a cross-examination, a hard choice, or during a simple talk. This feature alone has its pros and cons. The pros are obvious, while the cons are the ones I have to elaborate. For one thing, it puts the penalty system in the back-burner... its significance practically goes away! The challenge usually lies in what evidence you're supposed to present, but as a precaution, a player can always save before making the plunge! I myself am guilty of that. Actually, this is the only con to the save system, and you have to note that the cases are extremely long but enjoyable and this game is a portable game, so this is merely a minor gripe.
CAPTION: The crime scenes are presented every time you start a case- CSI style!

But are there flaws? Yesiree. For one thing, this game is very linear, which means that if the game makes you choose something, like if you want to present evidence or not, you end up presenting something anyway. There are no consequences to face, especially since you have the 'save anywhere' feature, and if there are, those moments are pretty rare. But to be honest, if I were a developer, it would make me feel lazy having to do all these branching paths and stuff. Mass Effect pretty much did this anyway, but that's besides the point. The game is simply driven by one story and one story only, so why bother making us pick?

Another bad thing about its linearity is that you simply have to do one thing before an event occurs. This is most especially present in the Investigation part of the game where you'll have to talk about something with a certain someone, unlock all 4 topics by presenting relevant evidence, then move on to another part in the game. If you're a novice, you'll probably be stumped looking for the next thing to do when the next thing you usually have to do is so basic.

Same goes for the courtroom stages. For example, a witness states something and the game hints you about it being a contradiction. But when you scroll through your evidence, you find nothing in particular that seems relevant superficially, and thus you're stuck again! You have to find out which piece of evidence is the one that will let you continue by trial and error, and the disappearance of sound, I noticed, when you present a piece of evidence makes it obvious that you made the right choice. There are times when the dialogue is the same whether you present the wrong evidence or the right evidence, but the difference is that Phoenix contradicts when it's right! And I think that there should be more of these moments! Unfortunately, that only shows up in the last case, if I recall.

And even though this is a port of the original Gyakuten Saiban game from the GBA, Capcom made efforts to add in some really nice tools that appear in the last case. I won't be spoiling what they are for you, but all I can say is that they make use of the DS' features greatly, and they add a level of challenge to the game and dare your senses and your brain.

Regardless, the errors are minor, and if you look at it from a different perspective, you can hardly ever do anything to improve this wonderful, well-written and funny adventure game. In fact, this is probably the game that resurrected the whole genre for the 21st century, and that alone is quite the ticket to recommendation-land! In comparison, the endearing characters, with their really meaty backstories and all, are just bonuses. If you have a DS, I highly recommend this game! It may not have the replay value, but it's surely long and addicting and enjoyable!

Rating: 9.0/10

***NOTE: Phoenix Wright: Justice For All, the sequel to the original Phoenix Wright, also has a review. Just click here to see it.***

Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations (DS)

Third time isn't always the charm, and this applies to Trials and Tribulations which is basically a rehash of the mechanics from the 2nd game Justice For All and is devoid of the really nice bonus tools that were found in the last case of the first Phoenix Wright. I mean, by this time they could've put them here!

Anyway, you start off as, oh! Mia Fey, Phoenix Wright's mentor! This case actually involves a college era Phoenix Wright, and why is he wearing a pink sweater? Well, you'll have to find out. So the only thing I'm gonna say about this is that it involves a really complex new character that will literally haunt the next few cases!

You go through the paces of the tutorials as well, making this game accessible even if you haven't played the first 2, and the backstories of the existing characters are summarized, so not that much need to worry, although there are times when you have to play the first 2 to get something that's meant to be funny.

Anyway, it's the same gameplay as the first and second where you'll only point and click through several options such as "Talk" for selecting a topic to talk about to someone, "Present" for presenting evidence to a person, "Move" to go to another location, and "Examine" which is for examining the location for clues, in its investigation phase, and in the courtroom stage: the "Press", which you can do for getting more information from a witness' statement during a cross-examination, and "Present" which is for presenting evidence that contradicts the testimony. Present the wrong evidence, and a green bar will be depleted, much like an energy bar in fighting games.
CAPTION: Let's hope your objection will be of any substance...

You will also encounter the "Psyche-locks", a feature first introduced in Justice For All. They appear if a character is hiding something from you, and it's due to the green jade charm called Magatama. You present this Magatama and you should be able to present sufficient evidence that will make a person spill the beans.
CAPTION: Zvarri! A Psyche-lock!

It was a nice refreshing change of gameplay in its predecessor, but it's not now. The elements in this game are totally recycled-- even the cons of the past two games are recycled as well! The game still only follows one story and one story alone, so it's linear. Choices to be made are mostly not different from one another except in one time during one cross-examination, and if you want to proceed to another part of the game, you have to do one thing first before it gets initiated. So sometimes, you get stumped looking for what to do, presenting every little piece of evidence to every person and check whether a new topic has unlocked. It's almost always like this, and it's pretty much confusing for the novice player.

The save system is still the same: you can save anywhere, and once again, it puts the penalty system to the back-burner. I mean, you can always save before making a choice or presenting a piece of evidence when you're not sure, so if you lose and get a Guilty verdict for your client instead, you can go back to where you left off, literally. Still, this is, once again, a portable game so the save system is more of a blessing than a real curse.

But what saves this game from being really boring is, once again, the engaging characters. Yeah, there are some really annoying new characters that appear (RON IS THE EPITOME OF ANNOYING!) and some returning characters that get pinned for the same crime again (MAGGIE?! I'm defending you again?!) and for most of the cases, Larry Butz just has to testify (and he is, by the way, the first client of Wright in the first installment) in his wishy-washy, annoying way! Of course, me complaining about them is also attesting to the fact that even with only 3 or 4 frames of animation in a character, they can convey much emotion, and that they have their own individual personalities which is further made to stand out due to their own respective "theme songs" that play in the background when you converse with them. The writing is very much great as well, and there are more pop-culture references than ever!
CAPTION: Can you get this?...

CAPTION: about this?

CAPTION: This should be an obvious reference!

Moving on, the sound and artwork, even though mostly recycled, still do the job, and heck, Pearl is one of the most adorable characters ever! And here's another quirky character: the new prosecutor Godot. He is key to many cases, and the last case is simply very explosive! He's a coffee-addict, to be sure, but he has a very interesting past, and he is just a really interesting character, and a good reason to get the game.
CAPTION: Pearl is still an adorable character.

Overall, the game feels like Justice For All all over again, but the only thing difference is the inclusion of Godot and "that girl". Actually, this is more of a game for the fans, but it's still accessible for newbies who don't know the whole picture. The writing is still nice and funny, the music still nice, and the gameplay still good even if it's recycled. I mean, they could've at least put a new game mechanic in this one, but speaking as a fan, I still find this game really nice, and still a worthy recommendation. Heck, the finishing blow of this game is pretty satisfying and not too over-the-top, and that's because it's simply that way in real life as well. You win a case, you eventually get another.

But if you haven't bought the first one yet, buy that one first, then play through the second and eventually the third.

Rating: 8.0/10

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