I’ve only recently been tinkering around with the Nintendo DS’s huge library; little did I know that a game by one of my favorite developers was out there, untouched. Shinji Mikami has to be my favorite developer, this is the man that brought survival horror into the limelight with Resident Evil. This man made a kid’s game and it is just as fun, albeit very different from what Mikami likes to punch out. This DS game is a visual novel, which is a nice type of game to go to after you’ve been playing a shooter or an intense RPG. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney you battle other lawyers and witnesses to get a “Not Guilty” verdict – pretty different, right? You still have to puzzle solve and make some difficult decisions, but none are immediately life threatening.
The story is nice and simple. You play as Phoenix Wright, a newly minted lawyer, just hired by the Law Offices of Fey & Co. He is taking his first case by defending his friend Larry Butz against a charge for murder. Seeing as this is Wright’s first case, he enlists the help of Mia Fey, who stands by him in court and offers advice while he battles Miles Edgeworth, one of the toughest prosecutors around. Wright somehow defeats this difficult opponent using wit and finding contradicts in what witnesses testified to. Unfortunately, Wright doesn’t get to celebrate too much. Soon after his first victory, he is set-up for murder by an unknown evil-doer. Now Wright is in it for the fight of his life, and to avenge one of his close friends who he is being framed for. Seeing that this title should be for children I was quite surprised how the trials and stories all intertwine, even in future installments of the series. You have to play these games in order as it is the only way to go; just think of it as an anime soap opera.
Controls are insanely simple in this game and cater to the touch and dual screen of the DS. Basically, you play through episodes which are certain cases that Phoenix must muscle through in his first year as a lawyer. You use the touch screen to move from one environment to another and can examine certain crime scenes with the stylus. When you question witnesses you are given options of what to ask them, and the same goes for in the courtroom. In the courtroom you can ask them questions and press them on certain issues when you smell something fishy. As you examine and question people you are given evidence which is put into the Court Record. Anything that you find and put on there can be used when you are battling it out against the prosecutor. Once in court, you must find contradictions in what the people on the stand say. This will happen when you cross-examine their testimony, and can be difficult at times. Some witnesses are sneaky since they are trying to get away with murder, but being the great lawyer you are you won’t let them slip away that easily. The best case of the game was actually the final one. This case was added for the DS only since Phoenix Wright made his debut on the GameBoy Advance in Japan. In the final case Capcom really lets you use the touch screen. You get to examine evidence and find new points to press the witnesses with. They dropped this mechanic for the next two games for some reason, but I hope it finds its way back in the Investigations games.
For a decade old game the graphics hold up quite well. The comical cast of characters are designed perfectly for this world. The places you go are well done and very detailed and none look the same. I like how you can glean a little bit of Japanese culture in the game through the visuals, but sadly Capcom Americanized the game which takes a little away. You can tell in the original Japanese version they are talking about something completely different, but Capcom put an American name to it. I would have liked the games much more had they left them in Japan. That way I could expand my mind with the critical thinking and learn about Japanese culture. The music is well done and reminds me of my childhood seeing as it all sounds like it was done through a Midi player. The character animations are nice but they are overused; we could have gone for some newer ones as the game progressed but Capcom seemed to have decided against it. Even with all the repetitiveness of this game I had a very enjoyable time with it.
Gamers who are looking for a different type of challenge should pick this title up, either on the original DS or as part of the Phoenix Wright Trilogy on the 3DS. You will not be disappointed. The story will keep you on your toes; the outlandish characters will keep you giggling and the cases will keep you focused – one wrong move and you could lose the case. This is a nice relaxing game to play after a tough day at work or a rough Dark Souls session. It could also help with children’s critical thinking skills and reading ability. If I had some offspring I would let them play these games. I would be tricking them into learning, but they’d love it. I also suggest any fan of Shinji Mikami to look at this title to see how versatile this man is in the industry and how he is somewhat overshadowed by other developers. Either way, find a copy of this game and play this unique title. It won’t let you down, and you may be able to pass the Bar Exam.