Geez, I haven’t played these games since high school! That simultaneously feels like yesterday and a thousand years ago. Let’s see if they hold up!
Video games these days always feel like they’re trying to be bigger. They’ve gotta have a bigger open world, they’ve gotta have more playable characters, they’ve gotta have a hundred different mechanics that the player needs to keep track of at all times. Complexity seems to be the favored word a lot of the time.
The Ace Attorney games definitely played into this. As the games went on, more and more ludicrous mechanics were thrown in there to spice things up. Psuedo-mind reading, Professor Layton style puzzles (quite literally, in that one cross-over game), you name it. These games got weird.
Ace Attorney, the first game in the series, is delightfully charming to me because of its simplicity. You can pick it up, play it, and enjoy it with ease. For the most part, you can simply relax and enjoy the visual novel aspect. Provided, that is, you know which key item will be needed when, but we’ll get to that.
Phoenix Wright is a new upstart lawyer fresh out of law school. Shortly after his first case, wherein he must clear the name of the absolute moron he calls his best friend, Phoenix’s mentor is murdered, and her little sister, Maya, is framed for the crime. Working together, the two must expose the true killer, and do so again and again for many cases to come. But Phoenix’s rival and former friend, prosecurtor Miles Edgeworth, isn’t going to make that easy. Can you prove your client innocent and the true criminal guilty?
I actually really enjoyed the story in this game. It’s simple, yeah, and most of the cases are stand-alone mini-stories only linked together by the presence of our main characters, but it’s fun and it has some really interesting stuff in it! It’s a goofy story about crime and law and it knows just when to take itself seriously and when not to.
The characters do most of the work in making me feel that way, because god damn are these guys memorable and lovable (or loathsome, in the case of the villains)! Phoenix and Maya are a delightful duo with a charming older brother – little sister dynamic. Edgeworth is one of the greatest rivals in video game history, being just sympathetic and likable enough not to despise while being just antagonistic enough to want to take down. I could go on and on about all the minor side characters, from the imposing Manfred Von Karma to the delightfully dull Wendy Oldbag!
How many people are gonna be mad that I’m using the English versions of their names? Is that a thing? Do people get mad about that?
Sure, the story isn’t perfect. There are plenty of moments in each case where the pacing drags and it becomes somewhat tedious. There are even more moments where the characters are just so brick-stupid that you want to bash your head against the nearest, hardest object. And there are plenty more that simply just don’t make that much sense.
But that’s all kind of the charm. Ace Attorney doesn’t take itself seriously. It knows its goofy, it knows it doesn’t make sense, and it embraces it. The game itself is just as much a part of the joke as you the player are, and it is a joy.
Hold up… Didn’t I write that exact paragraph in my Resident Evil 4 review?
Whatever, let’s talk about presentation. Because unlike RE4, these visuals haven’t aged a day! Even if you play on the original GBA or DS versions instead of the updated ports, they hold up!
This is thanks to the excellent character designs. Not just because of the 2D-anime aesthetic the sprites went for. Every single member of the cast is so dramatic and over-the-top in how they’re presented, and it gives them all so much personality. Even their limited animation helps in that regard; each character only has a few frames of animation, but those few frames are used so flawlessly that it’s become an essential part of the series’ look, even after they went 3D!
Oh, and then there’s the music! Good god, this soundtrack is a banger! ‘Cornered’ is one of the most hype songs in any video game, and the rest of the OST is just as good! From the chill tunes that play during an investigation to the mysterious and tension-building song that plays during each testimony, the music in this game simply doesn’t miss the mark even once!
Now, let’s talk about the game itself. The core gameplay loop is relatively simple, and is divided into two sections: investigations and cross-examinations. During the investigations, you’ll wander about a small set list of areas, talking to NPCs and exploring your surroundings to find clues. In the cross-examinations, you’ll pick apart an NPC’s testimony and try and match up the right line with the right piece of evidence in order to catch them in a lie.
And between that, you’ll press a button to sift through a lot of dialogue. This is a visual novel, after all.
The investigation segments are my least favorite part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of sleuthing. But repeatedly wandering around the same locations and talking to the same NPCs until you find exactly where you’re supposed to look or what you’re supposed to say can get a bit tedious. Especially since some of the requirements are ultra-specific.
The same problem applies to the cross-examinations. Sometimes the game will decide that you aren’t supposed to use that piece of evidence to call out that specific lie yet, and you need to find something else. If you find yourself stumped, your only real options are to either look up a walkthrough or just go into trial-and-error mode until you find the right one.
Despite this issue, the cross-examinations are still a ton of fun. Not only is it where the story delivers some of its best twists and turns, it’s just plain enjoyable to catch one of these NPCs in a lie and watch them meltdown over it. It certainly helps that the music bolsters that satisfaction a hundred fold when it kicks in. Finding the right answer can sometimes be a drag, but the satisfaction of getting it is nigh unmatched by any other video game.
That’s just about all there really is to cover. Like I said at the beginning, this first Ace Attorney game is really quite simple. But that’s what makes it so good! It’s goofy, it’s charming, and it’s super easy to pick up and play.
If you haven’t given this series a shot, I’d highly recommend picking this game up. It’s a simple bit of detective/attorney gaming fun with a pretty good visual novel attached to it. There are few better games for relaxing after a long day than this one.
Just make sure you don’t marathon the entire series back-to-back. These are the kinds of games that you need to take a break between playing. Otherwise, they get real old real fast.