Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Hold it, fool!

Though renting games means greater exposure to a wide range of titles, it exerts an artificial urgency on my cheapskate tendencies: hurry up and finish so the monthly rental fee retains its value. I don’t take the time to savor all the subtleties a good game delivers, which is not the way I like to consume my games.

Still, I held onto Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney long enough that it would have been cheaper just to buy the title. At it’s core, the gameplay is a bunch of dialogue trees that significantly reduce replay value. But being a lawyer has its own appeal, especially since I had already displayed my prowess in the operating room as a doctor. That, and the game is loads of fun. Too bad there weren’t enough copies at the time to buy one of my own, though I see that stock has finally been replenished.

I think this game was originally released for the GameBoy Advance not too long ago. But Capcom added touch screen and mic functionality as well as an entirely new chapter specific for the DS, if memory serves. Like most video games, it seems, you play an up and coming young man determined to prove hisCheck the name - Oldbag worth/manliness to his peers. Though there are a good number of strong female characters, they are relegated to the role of assisting Wright in the courtroom by providing you with hints during trials. Played out archetypes like the buxom hussy (whore), dried up harridan (hag) and ingenue (virgin) all take the stand at some point. But that’s a whole other post. 🙂

Another drawback of renting is not having a manual. I’m one of those people who reads them cover to cover. And not knowing about a critical game mechanic that allows you to punctuate cross-examinations with some damaging evidence meant I kept getting a GUILTY verdict (game over) in my earliest cases: the famous “Hold It!” move that you can pretty much call upon at any point in a cross-examination. Once I figured this out, I started to make some progress.

The logic operating behind the dialogue trees was a bit impenetrable at times. Quite often actually. Part of this is a natural result of getting the timing right in presenting a piece of evidence or pressing a witness at a specific point in their testimony: the fine art of being a lawyer, I suppose. But there were many times when it was way too opaque, beyond all sense and savvy sleuthing. At this point, I would tap every item in the court record/inventory (which can get very bloated with all the evidence you collect), and still I’d get a GUILTY verdict.

One thing that mitigates this considerably is a save feature that you can invoke at just about any point in the game. Make sure to use it often, especially before your cross-examination, otherwise when you restart, you’ll be at the beginning of the last testimony. You learn to recognize the tough parts of a trial when saving is a must if you want to progress.

Some of the imagery was surprisingly graphic.

Manellan00b!The localization is excellent, with really strong characterization. There’s even a geek who mouths off in l33t. w00t! The writing demonstrates a delightful sense of humor and cleverness–something you can get a feel for in this amusingly self-referential video promoting the game. It pokes fun at Prosecutor Edgeworth’s decidedly uncool ignorance of the Nintendo DS. It’s eight and half minutes long, but well worth watching.

Like Trace Memory, there’s no voicework in the game (despite the promo above). But it’s amazing what a small amount of character animation and ample sound effects can convey. I especially liked witness transformations whenever you succeeded in calling them out with a contradiction in their testimony. “YEEEARRRGGGHH!”

At the end of each chapter, there’s an opportunity to give a character something from your inventory: another chance for you to employ your deductive skills. I got it wrong every time. You only get one chance (unless you save beforehand), but whether or not you pick the right item, it doesn’t affect the game at all (if the walkthroughs are to be believed).

OMG!The final, made-for-the-DS-chapter, has more complex puzzles that require you to use the touch screen in a different way than the game previously called for. You need to rotate and zoom in on items, as well as blow into the mic in a few key places (don’t worry, I would’ve warned you if this was a spoiler). The chapter is actually quite long. Which reminds me that I almost put the game down around this point. It might have been a combination of that “rental-urgency” kicking in, along with the sudden jump in difficulty level given the new touch screen mechanics, the protracted and increasingly complicated trials, low level boredom and the quirky logic that required lots of backtracking. And I’m pretty obsessive about finishing a game, especially this close to the end.

But I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t able to keep the game, even though I had kept it long enough to accumlate enough rental fees to buy two of them. If I ever acquire it, I’m not sure I’ll play it again. But it’s definitely worth having and yet another title I can share with friends to show them the incredible range of quality titles for the DS.

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