When it comes to detective fiction genre, I find myself not only interested in Sherlock Holmes from the west but the long-time manga series The Kindaichi Case Files 金田一少年の事件簿 was also my favorite. Besides watching TV and reading manga, I play video games. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 逆転裁判 was a Text Adventure game I’ve played for many years till today.
The Japanese title of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 逆転裁判 originally means “Turnabout Judge“. It was released on GameBoy Advance in 2001. That was a very long time ago. I didn’t have a GBA but I was playing the translated version using an emulator years later in around 2005. When I first approached the game, I hated it. At the time, I thought who’d play a game by just reading text? But I played it eventually. I’m obsessed with it and replayed it so many times over the years. This post is to discuss the game series along with my gaming experience.
Gyakuten Saiban 123
The trilogy was developed and set in a background with a mix of East Asian culture and courtroom legal settings from the west. This was truly “East meets West“. You play as a defense attorney who attempts to defend and prove his clients innocent through Investigations and Courtroom Trials. The gameplay in a nutshell is to collect information and evidence for the case, then win the trials at court. The events and characters were associated with each other across the three-part series.
The writer and director Shu Takumi 巧 舟 created the series, he was very well-known for the writing he did for creating the concept, story and characters for the games. Personally, I truly hope he can work on games in Text Adventure genre as he is one of the most talented writers in Japan, in my opinion. The creator successfully combined comedy and drama for storytelling and used Anime style to pack into a Text Adventure game series.
Speaking of detective games, I’m considering to have a try on AI: The Somnium Files on Switch. It gives me nostalgic feeling as the writer Kotaro Uchikoshi 打越 鋼太郎 who also created titles like Memories Off 秋之回憶 and Ever 17: The Out of Infinity 時光的羈絆 far back in ‘00s. I still have the physical copy of Ever 17 in my room! It’s a Visual Novel game that with multiple endings depending on the choices you’ve made along the way and it will then alter the story. These were games that I’ve enjoyed amongst many games when I was in secondary school.
Story & Characters
The story follows after the murder of Mia Fey 綾里千尋. A rookie defense attorney Phoenix Wright 成歩堂龍一 continues her legacy—undying belief in others. He was inspired by Mia 千尋 then determined to follow the footsteps of her. Wright 成歩堂 was once her client, she trusted him all the way when he was being accused of murder. He solves a series of cases with the helps of Maya Fey 綾里真宵—the younger sister of Mia 千尋 who was also a Spirit Medium 霊媒師—a profession of spirit channeling. She’s a sidekick of our protagonist and I love her cheerfulness, no matter how bad the situation they were in. The story unfolds and leads to a bigger plot later in the game.
New characters were introduced in each episode following a new case. Two main story arcs span the entire trilogy: The Fey Clan 倉院流霊媒道—a family of Spirit Medium 霊媒師 at Kurain Village 倉院之里 and “DL-6 Incident“—the murder of a defense attorney Gregory Edgeworth 御剣信.
Events revolve around The Fey Clan 倉院流霊媒道, the power struggles between Main Family 本家 and Branch Families 分家. While only female members in the families have spiritual energy to practice Spirit Channeling. The mother of Pearl Fey 綾里春美 who was from Branch Family and wants her daughter to become clan’s Master 當家掌門 so badly and orchestrated a plan to have Maya 真宵 murdered, to kill her from inheriting the title of her mother Misty Fey 綾里舞子.
Miles Edgeworth 御剣怜侍, son of Gregory Edgeworth 御剣信 who is a Chief Prosecutor and together with Larry Butz 矢張政志 both were friends of Wright 成歩堂. The trio known each other since their childhood. Eventually, they got involved in various cases. A prosecutor’s job is to prove suspects guilty in court while a defense attorney is to prove innocent. The opposition between characters and the witty dialogues along with amusing facial expressions in court were the elements that made the game entertaining. The conversations were cleverly written and sometimes was a play on words. At the end of the trilogy, you can role play as Edgeworth 御剣 and that was the most unexpected turning point in the finale.
Aside from our main protagonists, there’re different characters in the story. They’re all charming in their own way. Every one of them has its own unique characteristics. Franziska von Karma 狩魔冥 definitely was one of my favorites as she’s a “Tsundere” 傲嬌.
Presentation & Gameplay
The game’s art was in 2D and using sprites to animate the character’s gestures and facial expressions. You can pretty much tell their personalities just by their appearance and body movements. The artist did a great job at character design and they’re so memorable that after all these years you can still remember them. On the other hand, the environment was also drawn in 2D as static background. It was a bit lack of depth and variety in terms of graphics. Maybe that’s because of the games were originally on a GBA cartridge and due to their limited storage they can’t do much about it. However, they were designed in a way that matched the art style perfectly.
Furthermore, the series introduces a dialogue system. The developers did an excellent job at simulating speech in text dialogue. Every word comes up one after one, the speed of every line of dialogue may vary and plays differently to convey the character’s mood or the speaking style of the person. It was a nice touch to the games as player need to read a tremendous amount of text which made reading becomes a joy.
The games were episodic and there were four to five episodes for each game. The main structure for each chapter was splitted in two sections: Investigation and Courtroom Trials. Player role play as Wright 成歩堂 in first-person view whereas during courtroom sessions were in third-person.
Player is allowed to visit to different locations as the game proceeds. Talking to characters who were involved in the case, such as your client, police officer or witnesses. Inspecting the crime scene for gathering information and collecting evidences. You will have to make use of different pieces of evidence and present them to corresponding characters—to the exact statement the person was making to press for more information. The mechanics were the same in Courtroom Trials.
What intrigues me was it’s not as easy as it seems and you’ll have to pay attention to the dialogues and looking for clues in the wording. Then present the right evidence to the individual to gather more information. Sometimes people weren’t that easy to give in to the player and they won’t tell the truth. To reveal more secrets, it’ll need the helps of a “Magatama 勾玉”—a sacred charm given by Maya 真宵 used to unlock extra dialogue options from characters. The evidence will be your weapon for pressing them in order to break the Psyche Locks 精神枷鎖. The mechanic was designed in a way to allow player to make use of everything in store. And in order to do that player has to know the plot lines thoroughly. This is not a guessing game and will take a long time to try if you present each piece of evidence to each line of dialogue for each character. Also, a “Health Bar” was introduced in Psyche Lock mode and Courtroom testimonies sessions for limiting the player from making too many mistakes. If the bar goes to zero you’ll Gameover.
The second part of the game is Trial sessions. In courtroom, player as a defense attorney is to question the witnesses and present evidence to the judge—to find out the truth. To uncover lies and inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimony. Player is to press the witnesses and look for contradictions then expose their lies. The fun parts were the prosecutor and player is in opposition and the battle between them was like crossing verbal swords in Court. They finger-pointing at each other along with the music shift building up the climax. It was very satisfying to see the “Turnabout” moment at the end when you’re on the losing side.
During the Trial sessions, Wright 成歩堂 yelling “Objection! 異議あり!” occasionally as well as his iconic dramatic finger-pointing gesture were my favorite part. Maya 真宵 might use her Spirit Channeling ability to seek help from Mia 千尋 and she’ll be in Maya’s dress. And of course I mention it because of research purposes, you know.
The game series excels at telling a story with drama and comedy elements while maintaining the balance between crimes and detective themes. In my opinion, the characters were the most successful and valuable resources of the entire Ace Attorney franchise. The overall gameplay was quite lengthy but with the new features being brought on Nintendo Switch such as quick save and fast skipping dialogues, you can enjoy the game with less pressure.
I played and beat the games at least five to six times over the years. I still wants more of it and didn’t want it to end. I’ll recommend it to people who likes detective genre and who’ll appreciate the writing for games. If you’re interested in the games you probably should have a look at this Ace Attorney Fansite by Court Records.
The core message of the entire trilogy was believing in others—uncover the truth, facing it even if it hurts. To me, it wasn’t just about playing the game but it was something like you went through a journey with them together.
One Last Thing
I couldn’t resist myself to examine the typography in the games. In Traditional Chinese version, Heiti was used. However, serif font were used in Japanese and English language. I’m afraid I can’t tell which exact font they were using though. But the Japanese typeface was a very nice choice for the games.
That’s was it. I actually went through the trouble to go back to the game and take those screenshots. I love the games and I hope you can feel the same as well. I think maybe I’ll play the games in English to see how’s the translation was done.