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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Review Rewind

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On 05/02/2016 at 09:00 AM by Casey Curran

"I was hoping to come up with a question by slamming on my desk, Your Honor... I didn't."

If you're open to the idea and are okay with very minimal gameplay, Ace Attorney formula is strong enough to work for you. I would recommend trying a demo of it, as it will offer the first short court case and give you an exact idea of what's in store here.

I believe you can make a good game out of anything. Pulling off some concepts will be harder than others, but if the right approach is taken, then even the most boring or trite idea can be turned into something extraordinarily engaging and compelling. The reason I believe this is because of my strong love for the Ace Attorney franchise, video games where you play as a lawyer defending clients. Yet these are also games where just tapping “Present evidence” on a touch screen can have me shaking from anticipation and excitement.

There is no one element to Ace Attorney which makes it work. Rather, it is like a Jenga tower immediately before the game ends: Alter anything, no matter how minor and everything will come crumbling down. If even the music or character animations would tweak it would not work, that’s how well thought out everything in this franchise is.

Yet the heart of the Ace Attorney franchise has remained its characters. Which makes sense as the gameplay is nothing but scavenging areas for clues, navigating dialog trees, and presenting evidence to the court. These actions, in a vacuum are not compelling in any way. Yet once the game unfolds its tale and mystery, it does a fantastic job of making the player want the defendant free, the arrogant prosecutor taking down a peg, and the evil murderer brought to justice. Yet above all else, the game makes sure that people will want Phoenix Wright to succeed.

Phoenix is a great character because of his amazing role as an underdog. He routinely goes to court with everything stacked against him, receiving little to no slack from the prosecutor or judge and having enough trouble to just keep the trial continuing, let alone getting a not guilty verdict. Yet never once does he doubt his client, he has an amazingly strong trust for whomever he defends. He will turn cases around on their head and come up with the most outlandish (though often true) theories for how a murder actually took place that it’s impossible not to admire his wide eyed optimism.

Then there’s the witnesses. Very few of the people called to the bench to testify will be unreliable. Usually they will have their own hidden agendas, some of these petty, some of them more sinister. Hell, they even throw in a parrot to testify (which ends up being hilarious by the way). Yet all of them crack once you show how their account is full of holes. It is a very gradual process; first a witness loses composure with a shift to more stimulating music until eventually an epic track accompanies a full on panic as Phoenix gets closer to sealing the deal on his client’s innocence. It is a grueling process, yet all worth it to see the eventual criminal have that complete mental breakdown when Phoenix delivers the final blow.

Equally as important as these witnesses and Phoenix is his rival Miles Edgeworth. A large focus of the title is what made Edgeworth change since Phoenix knew him as a child. While once a strong believer in defending the innocent, Edgeworth now has a reputation as a corrupt prosecutor, forging evidence and using unethical tactics to ensure his guilty verdict. Combine this with how cases against him feel less like a day in court and more like a Street Fighter match, and there is subtle, yet well done commentary on the flaws of our courts.

The franchise was meant to critique the Japanese court system, which (at the time of development) had over ninety percent of clients receive a guilty verdict while defense attorneys were seen as a joke in the courtroom. This game takes the absurdity behind how such a court could function and runs with it to create a very simple message: The idea of a court based around two people trying to win is absurd. The truth is what matters. Yet it cannot deny that there is a paradox here. A lawyer and prosecutor need wins to prove their competence, yet these are based on the truth more than the professional’s skill. The game never beats this information to the player’s head, but rather lets everything play out naturally and let the mechanics and story speak for themselves.

Yet that is not to say the game is all about its message. Quite the contrary, as this is one of the funniest video games I have ever played. A large part comes from Phoenix’s dry wit providing some great one liners along the way. His assistant Maya Fey meanwhile, is full of her own great moments while the witnesses will usually have some bizarre quirk to provide some good humor. This is important especially during the investigation segments as these are much less clear and stimulating than the courtroom portions of the game, though always feel worth treading through to get to court.

Ace Attorney also has a fantastic pace behind its five cases. Each will gradually provide more complex murder methods, schemes behind the culprits’ alibies, motivations, and reasoning behind why witnesses are unreliable. These all end up being very important as Phoenix Wright must prove without a shadow of a doubt that his client could not be linked once the truth behind every listed factor is revealed and another murderer is revealed through them. It is a strong uphill battle which feels satisfying. At the end of the fourth and fifth cases especially, I felt a feeling satisfaction, one where I did not just beat a video game, but gratified me with a real sense of achievement.

This is the true testament to how strong Ace Attorney’s writing is. Something as simple as navigating menus can feel like an amazing triumph when all is said and done. That is the true testament of a great game, one where the game is 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.

Side By Side - Version Differences

There are five versions available: One on the Nintendo DS, one on Wii, two on iOS, and one on 3DS. Out of the iOS versions, there is an HD version and a normal version based on the DS port of the Japanese only Gameboy Advance original, which both the DS and Wii version are based on. Out of those three, the Wii is the weakest as the series benefits greatly from a touch screen while the other two is a matter of preference between DS and an iPhone/iPad.

The HD version, however, is superior for its sharp visuals and less cramped display, though the interface is a bit cumbersome. Text moves the slowest of the three and while there is an option to speed it up (unlike the aforementioned three), this method is strange and often would make me accidentally skip lines of dialog. If you have a 3DS, however, that is the way to go. Its graphics are not quite as good as the HD version, but significantly better than the other three. The interface, meanwhile, is the best of the three letting you speed up the dialog from its slow pace. Just give a demo a shot first because it is only packaged as a trilogy with its sequels Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations.



Cary Woodham

05/02/2016 at 01:33 PM

When I first saw this game, I thought, "Who would want to play a game about being a lawyer?"  But later, when I heard it was starting to get rare, I decided to get it anyway.  Now, the Ace Attorney series are my favorite games on the DS, and I'll get any sequel that comes out.  I wish Capcom would release the Phoenix Wright X Sherlock Holmes game and Phoenix Wirght 6 in the US (those are the newest ones).  I also want Miles Edgeworth 2, but I think that's a lost cause.

Nick DiMola Director

05/04/2016 at 10:34 AM

This is the only game in this series I played and I can't say I liked it much. I do want to go back to it at some point though as I really enjoyed Danganronpa and I'm wondering if I'd have more of a palate for it now.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

05/07/2016 at 01:39 AM

First off, whether you beat it would have a huge impact on your opinion. The last case (or in this game last two since they added one for the DS version) is vastly better than every other case in every AA game, always going far above and beyond the previous cases. And if you did, the sequels do make the investigations much better, limiting them to fewer days and adding a gameplay element where you have to find specific evidence to break people you encounter, giving a clearer goal and fun logic puzzles.

Nick DiMola Director

05/07/2016 at 09:47 AM

I did beat the game. Can't say I remember much though, it's been a very long time since I played it. I want to say I started the second game as well, but I don't remember for sure.

If I recall correctly, my biggest gripe about the game was the rigidness of it all. Even though I might've figured something two steps ahead out, I had to jump through a number of mundane and often illogical hoops to explain pieces of things before the bigger more important thing. Or the whole trouble of finding a needle in a haystack when searching for evidence to support the case.

All that said, I liked Danganronpa 1 & 2 well enough that I want to go at this series again and try to get more into it. Chessa adores all of the games in the series, so we've got them all. Would love for things to click and to go through each one.


05/07/2016 at 10:34 AM

I really like the series, but this is my biggest gripe also. It often penalizes you for figuring out what evidence to present before they want you too, and sometimes makes you go through some illogical step in between (such as presenting some other evidence at another statement where it even explicitly tells you that even Phoenix doesn't know why he is presenting it, he just knows he has to do something). 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

05/07/2016 at 02:39 PM

That is a legitimate gripe but it didn't bother me too much as I quickly learnedto read carefully into what exactly is being said before presenting evidence. I do think it gets better at this as the series goes on as well, though there are still a few cases where it can be a problem  (the circus case in J4A comes to mind)

I'd still recommend giving the rest of the trilogy a try, JFA for its amazing final case with probably the best moral dilemma I have seen in video games and T&T is one of my top ten games ever, it's really that good

The Last Ninja

05/06/2016 at 11:54 AM

For awhile, I thought these games were just weird. Then, in 2008, I decided to try out the first one. I was blown away! The reason I love this series and why it is so compelling is because of the characters and stories. They are absurd, outlandish, yet compelling, and like you said, beating a case feels like a huge achievement. Also, the writing in these games is simply some of the best you'll ever see in video games. 

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