Saturday 3 January 2015

Phoenix Wright - Ace Attorney Trilogy

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably point out the fact I’ve got Phoenix Wright’s silhouette, from the logo, tattooed on my forearm. I’ve played (and loved) every game in the series, multiple times. There’s a framed print of the Japanese movie poster on my bedroom wall. What I’m saying is, there’s no way I’m not going to recommend Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, Capcom’s long-awaited Nintendo 3DS remake of… well, a Nintendo DS remake of a Game Boy Advance series. Rather than asking ourselves, “Are these games worth playing?”, let’s turn our thinking around in true Phoenix Wright style and tackle the far more important question: “Are these games worth playing on the Nintendo 3DS?”

Originally released in Japan in the early 2000s, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and its trilogy mates, Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations, have garnered a worldwide following, becoming one of the best-known series of point-and-click adventure games ever made. Since then, there’s been two further sequels, two spinoffs, and even a Professor Layton crossover, and the series shows no signs of slowing down. Ask most fans, though, and they’ll tell you the original trilogy is still where the best, most exciting storylines are to be found.

Out now on Nintendo 3DS comes Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy. It follows its eponymous hero, rookie defence attorney Phoenix Wright, as he takes on a variety of seemingly unsolvable murder cases – 14, to be exact, giving this compilation a hefty 50-60 hours of gameplay value. In Phoenix’s world, the courts have collapsed under the strain of spiralling crime rates, forcing the government to introduce a new “Initial Trial” legal system where trials must wrap up in three days or less – and suspects are guilty until proven innocent.

Typically, you’ll start each case by meeting your client at the Detention Centre, then heading to the crime scene to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and chase up leads. It may not sound incredibly exciting and, make no mistake, you’ll spend the bulk of your time in these games pressing “A” to progress through reams and reams of dialogue. This isn’t an action-packed, full-3D adventure with shooting and driving and swearing and, like, plane hijacking and all that. Phoenix Wright is an altogether more sedate experience, but that’s exactly what’s so great about it. Sitting down to play these games is like sitting down to read a pile of really exciting Choose Your Own Adventure books.

An excellent cast of zany, fully fleshed-out characters like Phoenix’s mentor Mia Fey, her spirit medium sister Maya, and hapless detective Dick Gumshoe, keep things feeling pacey and intriguing, and the games never get frustratingly difficult – evidence is usually pretty easy to find, and you won’t be allowed to progress until you’ve uncovered all the information you’re going to need in court. The main problem, really, is the lack of a quick-travel system: to get from the Studio Two trailer to Will Powers’ dressing room in the third case, you literally have to click through every location in order, as if you were walking through them in real life. Trailer. Outside Studio Two. Outside Studio One. Studio – Main Gate. Employee Area. Dressing Room. In cases with lots of locations, that can be a right pain in the arse.

When your investigation wraps up, you’ll head to the courtroom to face off against genius prosecutors in a string of intense “courtroom battles”. By keeping a close eye on the evidence in the Court Record, you’ll be able to help Phoenix spot contradictions in witness testimonies and, eventually, find the astonishing truth behind each case. The games’ hammy, Japanese-silly style makes you feel like you’re playing Street Fighter in a courtroom; text appears with flashes, shakes, and sound effects that clue you in on how characters are feeling, while interjections like “Objection!”, “Hold it!”, and “Take that!” punch their way onto the screen in big red speech bubbles. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is guaranteed to make you laugh, but you’ll probably find yourself blinking away tears at times, too, as your favourite characters go through real tragedies and deal with real, human emotions.

With redrawn, HD animations, remastered music and voice clips, and cleaned-up dialogue, Capcom is clearly hoping this will be the definitive Ace Attorney experience for new players. You can definitely tell some love and care has gone into this release which, after the insultingly bad iOS versions, is really nice to see – but dragging a 10-year-old trilogy into the present isn’t without its problems. While the character animations look clearer and more consistent than they used to, there are some missing frames of animation and some of the graphics have a “low-quality JPEG” look about them. And the 3D evidence, which admittedly only appears as a gimmick in one case, hasn’t been touched at all – it looks horribly blocky and dated by today’s standards.

Aside from a subtle-yet-comfortable stereoscopic 3D effect (think “cardboard cut-outs in front of painted backdrops”), the developers haven’t even made any effort to modernise the games. There’s no dialogue history, no chapter-select menu, no hint system, no behind-the-scenes galleries… You get the feeling Capcom’s done the absolute minimum to get the trilogy up and running on the Nintendo 3DS. Luckily, Ace Attorney has always been about the story, so none of these downsides are enough to detract from what is still one of the best, most emotionally investing gameplay experiences around. Whether you’re a long-time series fan looking to recapture the days of your youth (“like the scent of fresh lemon”, you see?), or are just hearing about these games for the first time, you’ll struggle to find better value for money than this compilation. While Capcom hasn’t done anything really ground-breaking here, I’m happy to say Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is absolutely the best way of playing these games.

Giving it anything less than 4/5 would be a crime so serious, even Phoenix wouldn’t want to defend me.


Mike Lee

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