Learning Curve: About a half hour
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney revitalizes both the adventure genre and the Nintendo DS touch-screen functionality by combining an enthralling story with interesting characters, in addition to providing a unique way of interacting with them, case evidence, and the game's scenery. Though the game is heavily text-driven and there's little replayability, it's a bright, rich, and lengthy adventure that could hardly have been improved upon otherwise. If you're interested in a clever, well-presented murder-mystery adventure game, then you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that suits your needs better than Phoenix Wright.
The game has you controlling Phoenix Wright, a lawyer fresh off the bar who is, initially, more than a little nervous. The first case you take on, a murder trial in defense of Phoenix's dopey best friend, Larry Butz, serves as a tutorial in which law firm chief Mia Fey guides you through the ins and outs of courtroom procedure. Each of the game's five cases begins in the same way, as you're treated to a brief cinematic that shows the events of the murder, during which you'll usually get to view the killer. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, discovering the killer is not the surprise; instead, it's the way in which you bring him or her to justice. The events surrounding the murder always end up leading to the false accusations of innocent witnesses, and as a defense attorney, it's Phoenix's job to get a verdict of "not guilty," despite the lying witnesses, shady prosecutors, and a judge who sometimes forgets the letter of the law.
The majority of the visuals appear on the top screen. Though the game has little in the way of cutscenes, the story is told through a sequence of still shots and through the different exaggerated animations of the characters. There are small details in every given scene that help to give it life, such as moving mouths and other body parts, but for the majority of the game you're working from frame to frame. This is so well presented that you'll hardly notice the gameplay is barely animated. For most of the gameplay, the lower screen is used to forward the text. You can simply tap it at the end of each line to get to the next one. However, during many sequences you must use the touch screen to accomplish something else, whether it's selecting an answer from multiple choices, navigating through a tree of menus, or, most compellingly, pinpointing locations and evidence. The use of the touch screen in this game is perfectly executed, and the only problem with it is that it leaves you wanting to do more.
Each trial begins with witness testimony, and your objective is to find flaws in it, which, since the judge follows a "guilty until proven innocent" mantra, is the only way to get the defendant off the hook. After the witnesses give their testimonies, the cross-examination begins. During the cross-examination, you're free to scroll through witness testimony line by line to better dissect it. There are two ways to reveal problems with testimony. The first is by "pressing" the witness on particular statements. You can do this silently on the touch screen or audibly by shouting "Hold it!" into the DS microphone. Though you can use the microphone in several different ways--and it certainly is satisfying--there's never a requirement to use it.
The second method of procuring information from witnesses is to find a contradiction between testimony and a piece of evidence held in the court record. Throughout the game and trial, you'll acquire different pieces of evidence necessary for winning cases. You'll never need to decide whether something is important or not, because the game will do that automatically. So there's never any chance of you coming to trial unprepared. Within the court record, there's a brief description and a picture of the item. The description almost always clues you in to the facts surrounding the object's importance, whether it reveals a detail about timing, location, or the method in which the object was used. Once you've scrolled to the line in the testimony where the contradiction lies, you can select the evidence proving the contrary, and you can, again, either object silently or vocally into the microphone. To prevent you from objecting to every statement with every piece of evidence, there's a meter that consists of five exclamation points. When you wrongfully object, the judge will penalize you once. Get all five wrong and you lose the case and must start over. Although, admittedly, this is difficult to do if you simply pay attention to the events of the case--and use a little common sense.
The two methods of procuring information will be your primary tools for breaking down the witnesses and getting them to recant their testimonies. Generally, the witnesses will revise their testimonies a few times before you can push them to confession. The judge, although disdainful of many of the activities that go on in the courtroom (particularly when you falsely object), seems to put up with the witnesses' many cover-ups, which might be frustrating if you try to take the law in Phoenix Wright seriously. In fact, you might as well suspend your disbelief about the whole procedure, since, although it feels fairly close to reality, many things go on during the proceedings that would probably horrify actual members of the legal system. Though slightly agitating, it works well within the context of the story, and you'll just feel compelled to work that much harder for the underdog: Phoenix Wright.
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