Capcom’s recent announcement of Ace Attorney 5 for 3DS has thrown Phoenix Wright back into the spotlight. With this new attention comes that old familiar question asked by many gamers who have not played the series: what’s so great about it? Well, if you listen to the Random Nintendo Podcast, then it is no surprise that I am a huge fan of the Ace Attorney franchise. If it weren’t for these games, I probably would not have bothered with other great point-and-click (or should I say point-and-tap?) adventure games for the DS, such as Ghost Trick or 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. So trust me when I say that if you have not played a single game in the Ace Attorney canon, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. Here are the spoiler-free reasons why.
Without a doubt, the best thing about these games is the story. Games that make me care so much about their characters are few and far between, but Ace Attorney’s cast of legal misfits really stands out. Every chapter begins with a murder or equally malicious crime, and although that’s a constant throughout the series, every case is unique. Sometimes you know who committed the crime from the very beginning and other times you have no clue, but the fun part is finding out how it was pulled off or simply finding out how the murderer will try to cover his tracks. Throw in a variety of well-written characters and some humor, and you have a game with a story that makes it hard to stop playing.
Of course, a great story is nothing if the gameplay isn’t up to snuff. Luckily, the series delivers on that front, too. The game is split into two phases: the Investigation and the Trial. During the Investigation phase, you are briefed with your objective and are tasked to find all the clues and information needed for a win in the Trial phase’s courtroom battles. While investigating, you move between areas and environments, each of which is represented by a static image. To explore these locations, you tap anything that looks of interest or talk to people to learn more about the crime, the suspect, or what they last had for dinner (because in the world of the law, that apparently matters). In the spin-off Ace Attorney Miles Edgeworth Investigations, these static images become actual levels, in which you take control of a character in the third-person perspective as you poke and prod.
Once you have collected all your evidence, the other half of the gameplay takes you into the courtroom. This is where you really get sucked into the game. You are presented with a witness who testifies on the events surrounding the crime. It is your job as Phoenix Wright (or other characters depending on the game) to find any holes in these stories and expose their lies with the evidence you gathered during the Investigation phase. The game starts off simple with testimonies that literally contradict information and evidence you have, such as an incorrect cause of death or even the way you spell a certain character’s name. Later in the games, however, the courtroom drama gets surprisingly tricky. You will have to really think about what the witnesses are saying and how that fits in with what you already know. Considering that these games are all text based, it could be easy to miss a minor detail that could turn up in court. Good thing you have more than enough room for error and can save whenever you want.
The story and gameplay definitely leave a lasting impression, but that is mainly achieved because of the amazing sprite work and music. Every character is very distinct and just reeks of personality, with little details in their animations to help further immerse you. If that wasn’t enough to grab you then the music will. Wow, the music is probably my favorite part about this series. It not only does a good job of setting the tone of the current scenario, but when you are closing in on the criminals, it can be as tense and exciting as watching a suspenseful film. Don’t be surprised if you find these songs stuck in your head for days, nay months, after you play.
For portable games, each title is actually quite long. On average, it took me about 40 hours to complete each game, one of which almost hit the 50 hour mark. Each game has roughly four or five cases that you have to solve, with each of these cases split into the aforementioned Investigation and Trial phases. Each of these phases is then split into chapters, which take approximately 30 minutes apiece. You certainly get gameplay bang for your buck, with plenty of stopping points in between. Not that you’ll need them as I found myself playing for hours straight.
Unfortunately, it might be difficult to experience the full Ace Attorney franchise if you plan on playing all these games on the DS. The first game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, can currently be purchased for $17 (a steal!) through Capcom’s online store. Trials and Tribulations and Apollo Justice, the third and fourth games respectively, tend to sell for around $50. This is also the case for spin-off title Ace Attorney Investigations. The notable exception is the franchise’s second game, Justice for All, which goes for upwards of $100 dollars on most sites. Unless you plan on hunting down every game for $20 a pop by hopping from GameStop to GameStop (which I did, but note that this can take a very long time), I suggest buying the first three games from the Wii Shop Channel for $10 each or waiting until November for their release on iOS and Android. With Ace Attorney 5 hitting in the near future, finding Apollo Justice is highly recommended, assuming you become a big fan by that time.
Hopefully this quick run-through of the Ace Attorney series helps you discover these true gems in the DS library. If you are looking for a great game to play into the wee hours of the morning, or to just give you a break from all those fighters, shooters, racers, RPGs, and platformers, look no further than the Ace Attorney series. Any objections?