Review – Phoenix Wright

Phoenix Wright has turned into somewhat of a cult classic in the past few months. I remember hearing about Phoenix Wright in Japan (named the Gyakuten Saiban series) for the GBA back in the day. The games (there are three in total) were immensely popular, going straight to the top of the charts. I really didn’t understand why, though. I just thought it was a Japanese thing, like those pachinko and horse betting games they have there. I mean, how fun can it be to play as a lawyer? Apparently, pretty damn fun.

On the outset, Phoenix Wright is merely a point-and-click text adventure. It’s heavily based on its storyline, well, because pointing and clicking is as fun as milking a cow (not to make fun of Harvest Moon fans). If the story wasn’t solid, the game would fall flat on its face, and thankfully, Phoenix Wright doesn’t disappoint.

The famously awesome OBJECTION!

If you’ve played some old school Lucasarts adventure games like Grim Fandango and Secret of Monkey Island, you know how a text adventure plays. A more recent example is Trace Memory for the DS. You basically go around to different locales, find interesting and important information or items, and talk to a whole mess of people. That’s the gist of it. The only reason these games are interesting and fun is their stories, but even with that, this genre of gaming has been on its death bed for a few years now. I love adventure games, though; they turn your system into an interactive book, so it’s disheartening to see these games fade away.

Story-wise, Phoenix Wright is wonderfully written, with dialogue that is simply incredible. It’s also plenty funny, and humor is something that few games seem to venture into. It brings a lot of adult content to the DS library, too. Most cases involve a murder (or two), and the characters are all grounded in reality, which says a lot about its tone. You’ll still get weird and quirky characters, but the main players are all serious and genuine.

Phoenix Wright is easily the most interesting character. You’ll swear he’s a college student, based on how he talks to people. Just take out the copious amounts of cursing, and you’ll get a clear picture of how Phoenix Wright speaks.

In Phoenix Wright, you play as Mr. Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense lawyer that is fresh off the BAR exam. For his first case, he has to defend one of his old high school buddies in a murder case. This case basically shows you how to deal with in-court proceedings, which thankfully aren’t as complicated as real life judicial hearings.

First, a witness will go to the stand and give his/ her testimony. Nearly every single testimony in the game has a lie or discrepancy in it. Your job is to uncover the wrong information and bring the true criminals to justice. I’ll give you an example, one that’s not from the game, seeing as how I hate spoilers. If your mom says she made you lunch at noon, and it’s now 4PM, then the sandwich she made for you would be 4 hours old. But, of course, she doesn’t want food to go to waste, and keeps telling you that the sandwich is only 10 minutes old. Now you get to yell out a big, fat “Objection!” seeing as how you found a discrepancy in your mom’s story.

The catch is that you can only bring up an Objection if you have evidence supporting your claim. The court evidence is stored in your Court Report menu, which you can easily open up at any point and familiarize yourself with specific pieces of evidence.

This character promises to have a long, rewarding life.

Also, you can only bring up 5 incorrect Objections for each day in that case. Bring up an objection that has no relation to what the witness said, and you lose one. Lose all 5 and your client is found Guilty. This brings a sense of urgency and tension to the cases, but there’s a “save anywhere” feature that can easily bypass this difficulty mechanic. Usually, if I had one Objection left, I would save it and come back to the game right after, just so I didn’t have to play the game over again. I’m a cheater, I’ll admit it, but some court cases can go to almost 45 minutes in length, and there’s no way I’m going to play that all over again.

Of course, you can’t come to court empty handed. You have to interview people related to the case and survey the crime scene for evidence. This is the other side of the game, the clue gathering side. Here, you’ll get to see all the other players in the case and find new pieces of evidence to bring to court. And the awesome dialogue still stands tall here. I seriously cannot talk enough about PW’s localization. It’s easily the best I’ve seen for any game. You don’t think about the dialogue in terms of text and grammar. You just get sucked into what is being said, which is the whole point of localization. Each character has a distinct persona and mentality, and you grow to like or dislike a character immensely. Your rival lawyer, Miles Edgeworth, seems to be just a straightforward villain character, but in later cases, you’ll see that he has a huge back story that made him the way he is.

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the game by talking about specifics, but just know that they must have hired a good writer because it is just so engrossing. The game spans five cases, including one exclusive DS case at the end, so make sure to put a good 1-2 weeks into it.

Graphically, the game has a lot of charm to it. It’s all done in 2D art, with some very fine sprite work. Each character sports a lot of detail and variety. Even though it‘s a port of the original GBA game, the game still has strong graphics. The DS-exclusive case even has some 3D graphics for the evidence, but it’s nothing to freak out about.

All of the dialogue out of the court room is done in a pseudo- first-person view, where you never get to see Phoenix Wright. It’s a nice style, and makes the game more immersive, but the perspective also makes it somewhat confusing to remember who’s talking. Thankfully, the error is marginal.

I can see it in their eyes…it’s love.

There’s no animation really to speak of. The game just switches between totally different sprites most of the time. It’s not really that bad, and the characters do have some lip-syncing going on, but it’s a little jarring to see such a blatant lack of animation. Play the game and you’ll see the infamous “pointing” sprite for Wright get animated in less than two frames. Yes, this basically means only one.

Musically, and you should already know my ideas on music, I came away from PW extremely pleased. Each song is perfectly suited to what’s being shown on screen. I especially like the music where they detail what happened on the night of the crime at the beginning of each case. I’ve actually been looking into getting the OST, but iTunes only has it in its Japan Music Store, so I will need to find other means.

All nitpicking aside (what little there was), the game is great. Some later cases are so tense and down to the wire, you’ll start to sweat under the pressure. And the mere fact that you have to put 2 and 2 together to solve a case makes you feel like a real detective. The puzzles aren’t too hard, but it’s still satisfying.

I was a little disappointed to see some scores for the game in the “average” 7’s range, but it was all washed away when I heard there was such a high demand for the game, leading Capcom to call for a second release. Apparently, the reviewers couldn’t handle the truth! Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

If I had to give it a numerical grade, which I don’t like to do, I’d give it a 9 out of 10. And that’s a Gamespy 9 out of 10, not an IGN one.

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17 years ago

But Gamespy hasn’t given out 10 scale scores in ages!  Let’s give it a good ol’ Next-Generation 5/5, the bitchinest score to earn.  

17 years ago

Yeah, you got me on that one. That was the closest site I could think of that didn’t have hardcore grades, like IGN or Gamespot. And is Next-Generation that magazine that died out a few years ago, that had IGN’s Matt Cassamissina as a guest writer? I always liked that magazine.

17 years ago

You are correct sir.