Some shit's about to go downYes, its a courtroom-themed game. Known as "Gyakuten Saiban" in Japan and Ace Attorney elsewhere, this series is simply a must for anyone aspiring to be a lawyer or really interested in murder mysteries. Each game has about five cases increasing in complexity. The first case is usually very short and easy, mostly as an introduction to the game's mechanics, but the later cases can be much longer and complicated, especially the last one in each game.
In the first three games, you play as a defense attorney by the name of Phoenix Wright and you're always having to defend someone in a murder with the odds heavily stacked against you. I love how each case starts out: you have almost no evidence and the prosecution is almost completely certain that your client is guilty. Using nothing but your own logic and a few pieces of evidence, you search for the truth one step at a time, slowly uncovering clues, meeting more witnesses, and gaining more evidence until you discover the real culprit and turn the tables on him.
Spoiler alert: He did it
One of the biggest appeals to these games are the colourful characters. There's just so many of them, each one has some sort of crazy quirk, and most importantly, they are never forgotten. There's a guy that seems to get a new girlfriend every five minutes, some crazy old lady in love with the prosecutor, a scientist obsessed with junk food, a kid that speaks in shizzle, a girl with a whip, a clown that makes reference to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a prosecutor who's also a rock star, a detective that keeps getting his salary cut, a crazy lady that works for a tabloid magazine, and a dumb cop that can't handle the simplest of tasks, just to name a few off the top of my head, and you'll get to know each character very well as a lot of them make reappearances throughout the series. And yes, there are lots and lots of jokes, and to be honest, a lot of them are pretty funny. Capcom did a fantastic job with the dialogue here; the characters really interact well with one another and the outrageous script really works well with the crazy atmosphere. It may be a lawyer game, but it doesn't have to take itself too seriously. Oh by the way, your partner is a psychic that can channel the spirits of the dead.
Outside of the courtroom, you'll be examining crime scenes and meeting witnessesNow for the game mechanics. This is an adventure game, you read, do something, read, look at stuff, read, read, read, yell into the DS microphone, and read. If you don't like reading, I would suggest looking elsewhere (the legal profession might not be your thing). Other than the first case for each game (which takes place entirely in the courtroom), you'll have to start by meeting your client and look for clues. As you can see from the previous screenshot, the interface is very simple. You can examine pieces of evidence and add them to your court record. Important pieces of testimony are sometimes added as well. You will also have to meet with witnesses, but getting them to talk isn't that simple, usually you'll have to find some sort of evidence before they will cooperate with you. In the second game onward, you'll have a thing called a "magatama" which will allow you to extract a piece of information a person is hiding from you.
Once you have all of the evidence you need, its time to head to the courtroom. A witness will offer their testimony and for each piece of information, you may press them on it, or present evidence. When you press, the witness will go into more detail, usually this information is worthless, but every now and then, they will say something that is in contradiction to the facts (get used to hearing the word "contradiction"). That's when you shout "OBJECTION" into the microphone and present a piece of evidence that illustrates that contradiction (and smile at the witness's reaction). If you're right, you gain a little more insight into the case and the story moves on, but if you're wrong, you lose a little bit of power. After losing too much, the case automatically ends and your client is found guilty. No jury, just a guilty verdict. Sucks, huh?
Your rivals will shut down your defense using any cheap tactics they can think of, take it one step at a time and pick apart at their case, piece by pieceAnd that's pretty much it, there's more to it, but I wanted to give a general idea as to what the series is. Anyway, needless to say, each game is fun as hell, and some of the cases actually are very interesting and well thought out (there are quite a few cases however that are just plain silly and the killers' methods seem very implausible). When it comes to presenting evidence, its usually simple, the contradiction is staring at you right in the face. But there are a few where its clear where the witness is lying, but its unclear how your evidence would illustrate that lie, like "oh I had to select THAT!?!?" In other words, sometimes it feels like a matching game. This is pretty much the case for a lot of adventure games, though. That being said, there is a certain joy in just knowing exactly how to bust your witness as soon as they give their testimony, but sometimes I feel like there was another way I could present evidence.
"Uh, the contradiction lies in that... the whole world was in sepia tone at that time! There's no way you could know the colour of his car!"The first three DS games are known as "Phoenix Wright", followed by some kind of subtitle, but they also have a sequel series starring a new guy named Apollo Justice and a spinoff featuring Phoenix's rival, Miles Edgeworth. The Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice games are equally good in my opinion, but the Miles Edgeworth game is pretty different and in my opinion not as good. Its more of a detective game, none of the story takes place in court. Basically, you explore crime scenes, discuss theories with rival characters, and... that's pretty much it; the cases aren't really as good either, but it does bring quite a few new mechanics that I can see being implemented into later Ace Attorney games. But what it lacks in gameplay, it definitely makes up for in comedy, it seems that as the story goes on, the dialogue just gets better and better. Now I should point out that all three of the main characters display a certain level of cynicism that is in complete defiance to the quirky cast. Miles Edgeworth, being the most cynical character in the series, is just perfect here. The jokes are just non-stop.
The characters have goofy names in the Japanese version as well. If there's a joke that you don't get, check out http://www.court-records.net/Characters.htmThe fourth game, Apollo Justice, is my favourite so far. The character development seems more fleshed out, the cases are very interesting, the game just looks great, and its really nice to see Capcom starting a new series and doing it very well while also not completely forgetting about what made the Phoenix Wright series so great. The story is a little bit more serious, but like I said, it doesn't take itself too seriously.
If you want to try this out, definitely play all of the games in order. You'll appreciate the characters much more that way. Aside from adding a few gameplay mechanics, these games aren't that different from one another, so you should never get that feeling of "oh god, these graphics, oh GOD is SOO dated"; the games have aged well, they are just as fun as they ever were.
Coming up tomorrow: Album of the week, its Everything Everything. And later on next week, the next video game series review. In celebration of a new Dept Heaven coming out, I'm going to review (wait for it) Dept Heaven! All of the Dept Heaven and Everything Everything fans in the world will be pleased (in total I think that's about 7 people) woo!