Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
With the new Ace Attorney game available to download, I want to undertake a series retrospective.
The English translation of the first game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was ported to the Nintendo DS in 2005. The text adventure game stars Phoenix Wright, a rookie defence attorney working at the Fey & Co Law Offices, under his mentor Mia Fey. The game is divided between investigations and trials. During investigations, the player looks at crime scenes, gathers information and speaks to involved characters. Trials feature Phoenix defending his client with evidence, pointing out contradictions in witness testimonies, in order to solve each case’s mystery. The court system means adversarial trials may only last three days.
Much to my enjoyment, when the player highlights flaws in either witness testimonies or the prosecution’s argument, Wright shouts ‘Objection!’ and the following music plays:
A new fifth case, called Rise from the Ashes, was added to the game’s DS port. In the case, Wright was assisted by Ema Skye, a forensic science enthusiast, where fingerprint detection and other forensic techniques are simulated using the DS’s touchscreen features.
The second game Justice for All introduces the magatama, a mystical artefact which allows Phoenix to see when characters are hiding information. During the investigation phase, when a character does not want to answer a question, Psyche Locks form a mental barrier to protect the secret. Wright must present the correct evidence to break the Psyche Lock. This game mechanic allows the player to learn more about the case, so the case’s mystery is solved in court, but may be unravelled by the player beforehand. Justice for All’s final case Farewell, My Turnabout has Phoenix coerced into defending a guilty client.
Trials and Tribulations partly focused on older trials involving Wright’s mentor Mia Fey, where Fey acts to stop the demonic machinations of an angelic witness. In the present, Wright must deal with an enigmatic new prosecutor Godot, who seems to hold a grudge against Wright. The final case – Bridge to the Turnabout – revolves around the Kurain Channeling Technique, a power inherited by Mia’s sister Maya.
Released in 2008, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, it was the first to be built entirely for the Nintendo DS. Set seven years after Trials and Tribulations, Wright has been disbarred for presenting forged evidence, and the game centres on novice attorney Apollo Justice, who becomes Wright’s apprentice. Ema Skye returns as a downtrodden detective, obsessed with snacks and forensic investigations.
Whilst losing his role as the main protagonist, the game’s final case shows off Wright’s mental capacities: linking trials, tricks and traps over seven years. The game had more artistic introductions for its cases.
One of my favourite cases, Turnabout Corner, is about how three smaller crimes – a hit-and-run, panty-snatching and the theft of a noodle stand – are all entwined with one big crime: murder. Wright was the victim of the hit-and-run accident, but managed to escape with only a sprained ankle. Wright then assigned the three cases to Justice, heavily implying Wright had deduced their connection from hospital.
In 2010, Capcom released a spin-off game, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. The cool and calm prosecutor was Wright’s adversary in the first game, and is a series regular character. The game’s events are set between Trials and Tribulations and Apollo Justice. Ace Attorney Investigations alternates between investigatory and rebuttal phases. The player must rebut testimonies and arguments, in a similar fashion to trial cross-examinations, though outside a courtroom. The Logic mechanic allows players to connect clues and advance Edgeworth’s understanding of each complex case. The sequel was available in Japan from 2011, but Capcom currently has no plans to translate it for Anglophonic audiences. Christian Svensson – Capcom’s Senior Vice-President – has made many public statements on the potential translation of Investigations 2.
The series’ measured success is derived from its vibrant characters, great humour, complex cases, fantastic score and accessible gameplay. It can be bought on the Wii’s Virtual Console, with a HD re-mastering of the original trilogy purchasable for iOS. With such a large universe, and many hours of gameplay, Capcom may soon bring it to a close – but Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies promises to be one of the series’ best.