I’ve heard from so many people that Pheonix Wright is one of the best franchises out there and I ignored it for far too long, so let’s dive into the very first title of the series.
The story begins with you, Pheonix Wright, who has to defend his childhood buddy Larry Butz in court, as he was accused of killing his ex(?)-”girlfriend”. You are fresh out of college and the partner of the prodigy lawyer Mia Fey.
There are five episodes in the game, the first is about Larry Butz, the second is about a rather unexpected story twist, the third case is about the death of a TV star, the fourth is an almost hopeless case that brings another story twist and the fifth is about a murdered detective.
The pacing of the overarching story, which is about the mysterious Fey family and your rival Miles Edgeworth is fast for the first two episodes, then it’s used for slow character development in the third and picks up the pace for the fourth episode again. The fifth episode doesn’t have anything to do with the main story and is simply a bonus episode for the DS version.
Each case, with the exception of the first episode, begins with you having to convince the accused to take you as the attorney, gather evidence for the court and get as much information as possible. After that, you are off to battle, in which you have to use all the information and evidence to make the judge say “Not Guilty” and save your client from the prosecutor. It always goes like this: A prosecutor calls in a witness. The witness gives his testimony and you have to find holes in it during the cross-examination, which is your only chance to prove that your client is innocent but be careful, as the prosecutor doesn’t want to loose to you either. That being said, this is a visual novel-style game. Meaning that there is a lot of text, a lot of looking at stale backgrounds in which you have to search for clues and usually the only things that are moving are characters. I like these games, they’re calming and the developers have the potential to turn a simple sounding game into a complex great game thanks to different possibilities on what to do, as you can focus on gameplay rather than complex graphics. The question here of course is: Does Pheonix Wright, in which the sheer potential is blown into your face as soon as you start the game, make it justice? In short: Sort of, but no.
It’s all about the court sessions in the end, these are awesome and turn the usually rather dry mind games of these court battles into a really fun experience, thanks to over-the-top character reactions and engaging stories. That being said, Pheonix Wright has a problem starting with episode 3, despite having good evidence against the witnesses’ testimony during the cross-examination, the game won’t let you. Pheonix Wright may not look like it, but it’s an extremely linear game that doesn’t allow you to take your own path, even if your reasoning would be very effective. Sometimes, the game even forces you into certain events that are unavoidable, even IF they would be avoidable if you could just do what YOU want. Like the following:
A witness is stating that after midnight, he heard a gunshot and immediately looked outside to see what is happening, only to see one more shot being fired. You have evidence that one gunshot MUST have happened on exactly 23:50 and the killing shot was exactly at 0:15, so the statement can’t be true. Another thing is that the concept of two shots appeared without anyone raising an eyebrow as only one bullet has been found and it’s proven by evidence that the shot happened at point blank. In the same case a photographer had a camera that shoots after it picks up a loud noise (it was triggered by the killing shot). The fact that two shots were fired was already known and I wanted to discredit the witness, but the game didn’t allow me to as that fact was supposed to be used the day after, in the second court session. Episode one and two aren’t as guilty of this, as you play the newbie Pheonix Wright who (in monologues) obviously doesn’t think about it, but later he even hints at those holes but the game doesn’t allow you to do anything. The court system is the greatest strength AND weakness of the game. The feeling of crushing your opponent with pure evidence is satisfying as hell but sometimes, the path to reach this feeling is often consisting of trial & error as the story is not flexible at all.
The music is catchy and if you don’t know the “Pursuit!” theme yet, you will do so pretty soon, it’s just that good. It’s a very good soundtrack and I didn’t get tired of it, even if the soundtrack itself doesn’t feature many tracks.
The graphics could be better for DS standards, but they work and the art design allows this game to be timeless. There is not a lot to complain here either, as everything works fine. However, I would have wished for any background movement like flying birds as the still images are boring to look at. Who knows, maybe in a sequel.
What is this game doing good for its genre?
It’s in general a fun visual novel-style game and playing it for the first time is a pretty unforgettable experience. It features a timeless art design, an engaging story and a very good soundtrack.
What could have been improved?
The game is too linear for its own sake, the player isn’t allowed to do reasonable things that violate the path the game has set out. The backgrounds could have used more details. There is basically no replay value, making this a rather short game based on trial & error.
It’s a fun game that is flawed by taking too much control from the player. It has fitting graphics and the soundtrack is very good. The game is a lot of fun but it’s wasting way too much potential, which really hurts the game. I still recommend it to everyone who wants to witness the sheer potential that visual novel games can have.
Version tested: DS