Objection! An Ace Attorney overview.

Phoenix Wright Pointing
I guess his finger isn’t pointy enough.

Point and click is dead. It’s a line that’s often repeated by the old fans of games like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. There’s even a well-known “reviewer” who keeps pushing this line back every now and again while spewing nonsense like not touching Japanese made graphical adventure games because they’re pointless once they lack sex scenes. Sure, this is something the famous straight troll Yahtzee has said, but enough people take his words for truth. Obviously, Yahtzee hasn’t been paying attention to his DS, as point and click is well alive on that system. Mostly thanks to the efforts of the Japanese developers. To follow the mantra of the series this overview is about, let me present some evidence to prove my objection to this statement.

We’ve got the Ace Attorney series, which features the first three Phoenix Wright games, the first (and so far hopefully only) Apollo Justice and two Miles Edgeworth Investigations titles. There’s Another Code/Trace Memory and its successor: Hotel Dusk Room 215, a game that ended up getting sequel: Last Window: Secret of Cape West. Again, by the same creators of the last three titles listed. There are many more that I haven’t even played: Time Hollow, Theresia, Lux-Pain, Witch’s Wish and a Broken Sword port. You might argue that the non-puzzling segments of Layton fit the description of point and click adventure, as you navigate through the areas the same way you would in them, although personally I think that’s stretching it a bit. Sure, most of the point and click titles fit the description of Japanese Graphical Novels better, but the difference between that and point and click is often smaller than that of a JRPG and WRPG. We’re allowed to call both of them RPGs, so why can’t we call series of games where the gameplay is mostly defined by pointing and clicking everything we see a point and click adventure? It’ll probably have to do with the prejudiced minds of both the Japanophobes and Japanophiles, probably.

With this many titles on one handheld alone, it’s very clear that the point and click genre is dead. Then again, that’s just the Yahtzee-effect: professionally complaining about games you haven’t played.

I have to admit, this is a hard overview for me to do. It’s not as straightforward as the one I wrote for Professor Layton, a series that improved massively with each title released. There’s also a bit of a history and basic gameplay ideas I’ll want to discuss before diving into each title separately, as there are some important bits to point out.

Gyakuten Saiban

The Phoenix Wright series started its life under the name Gyakuten Saiban on the GBA. None of these titles made their way to the west until the DS ports which were originally intended to give the series a bit of a boost before making a proper DS addition to the series, and even when those got released outsides of Japan it was a very limited run. I wouldn’t be surprised if we can thank the stigma surrounding Japanese Graphical Novels (because everyone likes to point out the ones that have sex in them because we’re mature like that) for the apprehension Capcom originally had to releasing these titles at first. But when they finally did, the game quickly sold out. Several times. The Objection speech bubble became a massive internet meme, as well as most of Phoenix’s mannerisms in the game.

It’s not hard to see that these games originally belonged on the GBA, yet despite this the game still holds up. A lot of attention has gone to the mannerisms and movements of the characters. Each character clearly standing out, even if they’re mostly static sprites with only several movements each. Musically, the games hold up. The songs are simple and instantly recognizable, and well enough put together to make some amazing orchestral versions. The use of the touch screen during the cases allows you to point out evidence during the cross examinations and is usually left empty when not doing anything. Although considering how the two screens get used in most game series, that’s far from the worst use the second screen has gotten.

Phoenix Wright - Yellow Glove

Clearly this changes everything!

The three games follow a very simple basic structure. First case is always a tutorial, but one that’s well enough put together to grip you without really seeming forced. It doesn’t take away control too much, and allows new players to get a good idea of how to play the game. You’ll always face the same loser prosecutor, Winston Payne, during these cases as well. Seeing him lose control of the case has almost become a tradition for the series.

The second case is usually the first “real” case. You’ll get a chance to investigate the murder scene and talk to the witnesses, police (led by the bumbling detective Dick Gumshoe) and prosecutor. Once you’ve got enough information, the real battle begins in the courtroom. In the world the game takes place in, all suspects will be found guilty if not proven innocent within three days. Most cases take two days, the longer one take the full three. Each day has separate investigation and courtroom segments.

During the courtroom battles you spend most of the time listening to witness testimonies, trying to find that part in their story that doesn’t add up. Once you’ve found it, you either press them or present evidence proving they’re wrong. Often enough, the prosecutors jump in to render your explanation useless. They’ll do this either by providing a logical reason as to why you’re wrong, or providing new evidence they “forgot” to bring up until that point. Often enough this leads to new testimonies, unless the case has been made well enough to drag them down on the spot.

One of the strongest points in the series lies with its characterization and sense of humor. Given the grim nature of the series – every case is a murder case – the series does an amazing job of keeping the general feel of the series light-hearted and fun. There’s some massive effort put into keeping its original style and still managing to translate it to English by the localization team. The original series was full of pop-culture references and puns, and the people behind the translation have successfully managed to carry this over to English, changing the jokes and tweaking the personalities of the characters enough to fit a non-Japanese crowd while still keeping the original feel there. It’s one of the most amazing efforts of localization I’ve seen in gaming, right up there with Bowser’s Inside Story.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright Logo

The first title in the series. Originally the DS game started as a port of the GBA version with an extra case to show off what kind of features fans could expect from the fourth Gyakuten Saiban title.

For some reason Capcom decided it would be a good time to release it outside of Japan, a decision that was met with much more excitement than Capcom expected.

The game follows a young up and coming defence attorney, Phoenix Wright as he battles his rival and old friend, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. If you haven’t played the series yet, you might be surprised by how character driven the series is. As much as Phoenix fights to get his clients their “not guilty” verdict, the true reason he stands in the court is to face Edgeworth face to face in the only place he’ll listen to him: in the courtroom.

As the first game in the series, it does a good job of establishing the setting and game world, as well as the kind of characters that you’ll be seeing. It’s interesting to note that the game had a completely different life system than the others in the series. Instead of having a health bar that decreases based on the urgency of your claims, you get several strikes. Make one mistake too many, and your client will be found guilty instantly. At times this system feels a bit awkward, considering often enough you’ll have completely proven your client has no connection to the murder at all at the point of losing your last bit of life. Still, the series allows you to save at any given time, so health is not a big issue.

The DS only bonus mission is the only one in the original series that really uses the DS’s features. You can look at evidence in 3D and examine it. There’s a few gimmicks that really use the touch screen and microphone. There is a scene you’ll have to rewatch a few times that has fully animated 3D character models walking around. All in all, it’s well put together and cleverly written, much like the rest of the game. A lot of people argue that the extra mission makes no sense when keeping Edgeworth’s travels during the second game in mind. Personally I find the bonus mission to give him even more of a reason for it.

Phoenix Wright: Justice for All

Phoenix Wright - Justice for All

During the second game in the series we find Phoenix Wright as he battles the prodigy prosecutor Franziska Von Karma who has travelled from Germany for one purpose only: revenge. She’ll try everything within her power to try to crush Phoenix Wright in court. Even if it means hiding evidence and preparing every single witness to lie their brains out. It doesn’t help that every single case in the game looks hopeless to begin with and often deals with supernatural themes, themes you’re not allowed to use in your explanation in court.

By far the hardest of the series, and at the same time the least favored by fans of the series. The game does add some new elements to it that add quite a bit to the gameplay.

First off, you now have a health bar which decreases based on how big your claims are. It actually does make a bit more sense than the original strike system. Secondly, you can now present character profiles next to evidence. It adds a little more depth to the cases,  and again, it’s a logical addition.

The biggest change in the series however, is the Magatama. It’s a small charm Phoenix keeps on his person that allows him to see through people’s lies outside the courtroom. Whenever you spot someone lying outside of the court, giant chains and locks come down. The more locks, the bigger the lie. By presenting the Magatama, you basically start questioning the witness, using evidence to back your claims. Once the locks are all broken, they’ll finally give in and tell you the truth. It’s a simple enough addition, but it does change up the dynamic of the investigative aspect of the game.

Despite all the negative reactions this game gets, it more than makes up for it with the final case. It’s impossible to explain how and why it does this without spoiling it, so it’s something you’ll have to see for yourself if you decide to play the games. All in all, it’s not a bad game, and certainly not the weakest in the franchise.

Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations

Phoenix Wright - Trials and Tribulations logo

So we’ve got one game that managed to set up the world and characters. Another game that tried to take it in a direction that didn’t work. Did the creators learn anything from these previous titles?

Yes. Yes, they did. The third Phoenix Wright title manages to take everything that worked in the previous games and ran with it. It ran as hard as it could, and it delivered. Trials and Tribulations is, without a single doubt, the best game in the series. The game learned from Justice for All’s mistakes and went back in the original direction of the series.

First of all, the difficulty of the cases are back to normal. They’re nowhere near as over the top as they were during the second game. However, the cases do have a tendency to start out a lot more straight-forward and simpler than they actually are. Instead of pitting you against a lying, cheating hot head, this game puts you up against a mellow and calm coffee addict, Godot. Not much is known about the man, besides the fact he loves coffee and has at least 17 cups of coffee per trial. Upon meeting him he states he is the very best prosecutor because he has never lost a single case, which is true given the fact it’s his very first case. He also notes that he has risen from the grave to do battle with you in court. It’s very clear the makes of the game were spoofing the prosecutors the series had seen up to that point. Still, Godot is one of the better prosecutors in the series, and easily the one who has best control over the cases that he’s in charge of.

The story itself is even more character driven than the previous titles. It opens up with a flashback tutorial where you’re playing as Mia Fey, Phoenix’s mentor, as she defends Phoenix as his attorney. The game gives us  a good background story to Phoenix’s character and manages to wrap up the story with a massive bang at the end. Of all the GBA titles, this one is the longest one as it runs five cases instead of the regular four. Six if you count the way the unique way second case got started.

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Ace Attorney logo

The localization team must have really regretted making the previous main character’s name so central during the last three titles. In Japan, the series is known as Gyakuten Saiban, aka Turnabout Trial. So over there, this game is just simply Turnabout Trial 4. And yes, they changed the main character. Did the series survive this change?

Well… Quite frankly… No, it did not. There countless of fan arguments about whether or not this game was a success, but even amongst those who did enjoy this game it’s made very clear that Apollo did not make much of an impact. The ones who would like to see another title with him in the lead believe that in a sequel he might actually grow some more character and become more assertive. Yes, even the people backing up the new lead do agree that Apollo reduces your role in the game to that of a background character.

Apollo, a rookie attorney hoping for a chance to make it big gets called by the once famous attorney Phoenix Wright to back him up in court. Phoenix, who is now dressed like a hobo and spends his days playing poker, is cheerfully accused of murder, something he’s not really too worried about. After he wins your case for you, he’ll introduce you to his daughter, Trucy Wright who from that point on helps you with every case you do. These cases are often handpicked by Phoenix for you, while prosecutor Gavin does most of the really important objecting, often saving entire cases by throwing aside his career in order to find the truth.

Apollo Justice screaming

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

If it’s wasn’t bad enough that the game endlessly holds your hand from beginning to end, the cases are riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. Why is the weakest person in the room suspected of shooting a high-caliber gun when they explain to you he’d never be able to fire it? How come a doctor has no idea what the difference between a corpse and an unconscious person are? Why are we discussing fingerprints on a knife when the victim was shot? And why the hell include time travel?

Okay, I realize this last one has a “logical” explanation about how it’s just someone jogging up his memory a bit, but it still doesn’t explain why evidence from the future suddenly pops up in a court record many years ago. The game also decides that courts need to be changed so that truth will have a meaning again, but does it in a way that cheats itself during the very case it first presents itself in.

It’s easily the weakest link in the Ace Attorney series, and it’s not even because they’re working without Phoenix. They managed to put down a solid enough character with prosecutor Gavin, not to mention an awesome bad guy with… Well, not spoiling that so easily. The main problem comes with the unwillingness to let go of Phoenix. With him out of the picture, the game would’ve worked a lot better if they completely cut ties with him, instead of having him pull the main character’s strings during the entire game. His position in the game feels forced, and the direction they took his character in feels unnatural. They could’ve easily given him a mustache and a different name and nobody would have realized it was him. Apollo simply doesn’t have it in him to be a main character, which is really terrible considering the fact he is one.

Turnabout Ending

This concludes my overview of the series. Yes, I’m aware there’s still another game I’m leaving out here, but it seems to slowly turn into a series of its own. Also, this overview covers all the current Gyakuten Saiban titles, and Miles Edgeworth Investigations is known as Gyakuten Kenji in Japan. I find this reason enough to exclude it for now. If you really want my opinion of it, feel free to tell me. I might share it in a later post.

Personally, I hope they dare bring this series back where it belongs: in court. Hopefully with an all new main character, one who isn’t afraid to raise an objection without shrinking in fear when he realizes people are watching him. Despite there being another Edgeworth title in the future, the only Ace Attorney title I’m really looking forward to in the near future is the Professor Layton crossover. It’ll be interesting to see how Phoenix’s courtroom antics work out together with Layton’s knack for puzzles.

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2 thoughts on “Objection! An Ace Attorney overview.

  1. I’d like to hear about Miles Edgeworth Investigations. Your judgement is pretty sound, and you manage to provide a lot of information whith these things while somehow completely avoiding spoilers.

    So that’s a go from one person, at least. For what it is worth.

    • I guess I actually have a reason to keep playing Edgeworth’s game then… I’ll probably beat it before the end of the year.

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