The Ace Attorney series is my favourite portable series, one that I have played every day for the past 6 years before I go to sleep. I had never 'played' a visual novel before, and the quirky characters, pixel graphics and murder mysteries really drew me in. It has a niche audience outside of Japan and I would like to see more people enjoy these games so I decided to write a series exploring the various games, with as few spoilers as possible in the hopes that you, Giant Bomb reader, will give these games a shot.
This entry will serve as an introduction and overview, before I start tackling each game individually. If you enjoy this show your interest so that I know whether to continue it or if I'm just wasting my time. Hopefully this will introduce some people to the visual novel genre and get you to try it out.
Phoenix Wright is an Ace Attorney. A nervous, rookie lawyer just getting started in the legal world. The games combines several genres; mainly visual novel, adventure and puzzle, split in to two phases. Phase one is the investigation, which takes the form of a visual novel/adventure game where you pixel hunt backgrounds for evidence and talk to witnesses. The second phase takes place in the courtroom, where you do battle against the prosecution to prove your client innocent. This takes the form of 'logic puzzles' where you have to point out contradictions, disprove testimony and bluff. Phoenix bluffing that he knows what's going on is, like, 90% of the game.
The appeal of the game is in the writing. The characters are interesting, charming and quite often funny. You have Maya, your enthusiastic, naive sidekick spirit channeller (uh... I'll get in to that later), Detective Gumshoe the dumb but loveable homicide detective and Edgeworth, the ruthless, scheming prosecutor who'll do anything to get a guilty verdict. There are many more characters in each case that I could talk about but a large part of the fun is meeting the crazy characters. The game is split in to 4 - 5 cases per game and each is written as a murder mystery where Phoenix not only proves his client innocent, but manages to catch the killer... every time. In court.
Now for a quick series run down. Videogames! 7, actually. The Phoenix Wright trilogy, Apollo Justice, two spin off Investigation games and the new Dual Destinies. This does not include the Professor Layton X Phoenix Wright game released in the west this year. Starting life on the GBA in Japan (as well as Japan exclusive PC ports), the entire trilogy came to the west on the Nintendo DS as enhanced editions, DS ports to Wiiware and the most recent 'HD' iPad ports. The next 3 games also appeared on the DS, and each added touch screen controls and other DS features my favourite being blowing in to the microphone to dust for prints! The series latest entry, Dual Destinies, is the first fully polygonal game and the first in the series on 3DS. Unfortunately Capcom have only released the game digitally on the 3DS eshop due to poor sales of the previous entries. BOOOO! Not only that, but Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has not been officially localised for the west. Luckily fans have released an English translation, which I am happy to say is astounding.
Interested? With so many options, you can play the games in several places. However...
Do not buy the iPad port of the game. It is awful. Really. Rather than opting to upscale the pixel art it looks like they hired someone from deviantart to redraw everything. Their font choice is terrible. Most importantly the framerate is bad. Is framerate important in a visual novel with limited animation? I think so, yes. Your eyes are glued to the text as it is written out on the screen but with a lower framerate it comes out very jerky and isn't pleasing at all. I'm more than willing to admit this is a nit pick, but it's important to me. Look for yourself as the first case is free.
Most of the games are playable on the DS, and I think are the best versions.
The Wiiware ports were actually OK but with the Wii internet service shut down DS is the best option. BisonHero has pointed out that the service to buy games on Wii has not shut down. The most recent game is only on the 3DS eShop and if you're willing to wait the first 3 games in their 'HD' form are coming to 3DS sometime. Just... don't get it on iPad.
As I mentioned, these are some of my favourite games, but it has significant problems and criticisms. The games are linear. You don't make choices except those that end in game over and there's almost always only one right answer. Viewed as a visual novel that you're reading I don't see this as a problem, but the idea of arguing your own case in court seems like it should be a lot more open and received a lot of negativity in reviews but I don't think it's a problem.
What is a problem, however, is the game often uses questionable logic and a suspect version of the law. During the localisation they felt the need to change the location from Japan to America. Since the game was meant to be Japanese it is heavy influenced by Japan's legal system. This article by the escapist looks in to how the Japanese legal system affected the game, and goes some way to explaining why the 'law' in game is frustrating, queer and unjust. Here is a small quote but you should give the article a read.
"The cases of Phoenix Wright always end up being more complex than they first appear, and the same could be said of the games themselves. Beneath the outrageous courtroom battles and zany characters lies a sly critique of Japanese justice. So the next time that you're frustrated by certain defeat or feel like the deck is stacked against you, take heart! This is just another day in the life of a Japanese defense attorney."
The localisation introduces pop culture references and traits that a western audience understand, but this only appears in the translation and creates a dissonance between the graphics, themes and setting and what characters are saying This comic perfectly illustrates the problem.
So, give me your feedback. Has this encouraged you to check out the games? Would you like to see more? Part 2 continues with a look at the first Phoenix Wright game for DS!