Remembering the Classics: Ace Attorney

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It goes without saying that video games aren’t accurate representations of reality. While most titles are grounded in realism to an extent, there are always exaggerations that distort the truth. Franchises like Call of Duty are great examples of this by depicting extremely real wartime scenarios while straying from the truth by essentially making the player a one man army with an immense amount of bullets at their disposal. To put it simply, no matter how real a game may seem, there is always something about it that makes it different.

Then you have the titles that are so over the top with their representations that any shed of realism is basically pushed as far to the background as possible. Even the most uninteresting and exhausting hobbies or occupations become boundless sources of excitement is games like these. A definitive example of this is the Ace Attorney franchise, which recently released a new installment on October 24th for the Nintendo 3DS titled Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. As the title suggests, the series mainly revolves around the exploits of an attorney named Phoenix Wright. Despite having one of the most exhausting jobs on the planet as a focus, the Ace Attorney series has a dedicated but growing fanbase across the globe. I too am a fan of the series and absolutely cannot wait to play this new installment, so obviously this franchise is on my radar week.

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The Ace Attorney series began on the Game Boy Advance with Gyakuten Saiban Yomigaeru Gyakuten on October 11th, 2001 in Japan only. The game was very successful in Japan which led to the creation of two sequels, but none of them saw life outside those borders until exactly four years later in 2005. This was when Capcom decided to bring the series across the pond as a Nintendo DS exclusive, and thus Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was born. It was a huge hit and sequels Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice for All and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations followed suit. To date there is only one game that has yet to be released outside of Japan, the sequel to the spin-off Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, but fans to this day are still hoping for a change.

The series is best described as an adventure/visual novel where you progress through each of Phoenix Wright’s cases one by one. Each case has Phoenix defending a wide variety of colorful clients, partnered with his trusty companion Maya Fey, and the games are divided between investigation and trial phases. Investigation is where a lot of the point and clicking comes from as you analyze crime scenes for clues with the real battle happening in the courtroom as Phoenix presents evidence to prove his client’s innocence. With a few exceptions, the client is always innocent and the real killer is someone else involved in the case. Since Phoenix is a defense attorney, the main antagonists of the games are frequently prosecutors. Miles Edgeworth took this role in the first game but future titles turned him into a hero while Phoenix battled many other adversaries in court. In some cases, the prosecutors themselves are the real killers. Phoenix is usually the defense attorney too minus some cases where you play his deceased mentor Mia Fey in flashbacks and the majority of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney where you play as protégé Apollo Justice.

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Before I dive into the specifics about what makes these games so enjoyable, I need to address the common criticisms people have about them. First and foremost, the games are extremely linear. The story you experience is the exact story that the developers want you to follow. There is no deviation or altered endings. You either succeed or you don’t, that’s it. They can also get mind numbingly tedious during the investigation phases. There is an unimaginable amount of pointing and clicking and trying to figure out which evidence to present to actually move the story forward can get exhausting very fast. You frequently have to back track to the same areas and have to click in the most inconspicuous of places to find exactly what you need. Then you have the fact that they are all extremely dialogue heavy. With all the reading you do in these games, a visual novel is really the best way to describe them.

Thankfully, the games push all of these problems aside with beautiful presentations, incredible music and dialogue, and so much exaggeration about the United States justice system that you cannot help but laugh. You see, the games technically take place in the near future (2016 for the first title) in Los Angeles, California. The setting was Japan in the original release but Capcom felt the need to change it for North American and European audiences, despite the obvious Japanese influences still being present. In this justice system, the jury has been done away and all the lawful power lies in the hands of the judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors. This leads to some exciting court battles that in no way could ever exist in reality. If courtrooms here were filled with people slamming tables and yelling words like “OBJECTION,” “HOLD IT,” and “TAKE THAT,” along with spirit mediums conjuring dead souls into the world, a lot more people would be sitting in on them with assorted snacks like at a movie theater. The court system is such a farcical circus where even the laws of physics are distorted. Coupled with the vibrant colors and legitimate excitement you feel when the real criminal is backed into a corner and these games are just a ton of fun.

Like many people, I had my own preconceived notions about this franchise. How fun could a game about being a lawyer actually be? It wasn’t until my junior year of college where I got my hands on the games that I became a huge fan. They really cause you to think very critically as a lot of the story is based on the thinnest strands of logic, but that just makes your success that much sweeter. I’m currently nearing the end of my second playthrough of the entire series, and even though the second time isn’t nearly as good as the first as you know all the big twists, they’re still great.

The fanbase for the Ace Attorney game isn’t as large as other franchises but it hasn’t stopped the series from become immensely popular. There was even a live action movie in Japan based on the first title with plans to bring it overseas sometime in the future. Phoenix Wright himself became a fighter in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 which probably wouldn’t have happened without the extremely vocal and dedicated fanbase. He brings his expert lawyer skills to the fray along with his trademarked “OBJECTION” bubble and his classic pose with his left pointer finger outstretched to reveal truth and justice. I don’t currently have a Nintendo 3DS, but I know that when I do get one Dual Destinies is at the absolute top of my must buy list. If you’re looking for a fun adventure/visual novel game to get behind, it should be for you too.