Parrots in court, channeling the dead, and stepladder debates – it’s Casual Friday for Phoenix Wright


Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2006)

If there’s one profession out there that I’m able to look at with absolute certainty and say “Nup, not for me”, other than moonlighting as a sex slave in the BBW boudoir down the road from me, it would have to be lawyer. Or anything to do with a court of law really. You know, Judge, Judy, executioner, all that. Your every word has to be precise, and there’s no room for made-up hogwash, which sort of puts my potential career as a litigator in chains from the start. No waffling? Forget it! No, I’ll leave all that game to those chosen ones, the type of people called Charles, Edward and Magnus.

Me, I’m much better suited to hocking up lies and spin here on this site for the mouthbreathing masses (that’s you and all your lame pals) to choke down. It’s an activity that possibly isn’t very far removed from what Joe Pesci spent his time doing in the excellent 1992 film My Cousin Vinny. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend checking it out – it’s a courtroom comedy that despite all its madcap antics garnered praise for having a very accurate representation of the US legal system, no artistic licence entertained here.

This stern portrayal of the Alabamian courts is why, when Pesci struts on into the courtroom wearing a violently loud 3-piece scarlet suit (that famous footballer Lionel Messi would later borrow and make headlines with at the 2014 Ballon d’Or award ceremony), Herman Munster up on the bench isn’t too impressed. It’s why the Judge also admonishes Pesci for repeated use of foul language, runs background checks into his (laughably bogus) previous court history, and denies him a perfectly good objection because he’d been taking a few liberties earlier.

The film is a useful caper because it’s realistic in its approach. Yes, there’s a few dramatic reveals and stretches. But nobody bursts into the courtroom with the real villain bound-and-gagged over their shoulders. Nor does any CSI nonsense rear its ugly head and throw up decisive fingerprints from a hundred hectares away. And the killer, spoilers alert, doesn’t turn out to be someone vastly unlikely like His Honour himself. It still remains a tickle-your-balls funny film, despite its never-condescending wish to be an accurate representation – or perhaps because of it. There may be innocent victims in severe danger of being sent down for murder, but so long as you can view proceedings in camera, it can be funny, right…?

Right. Well, at least that’s what Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and its now numerous sequels (it’s Capcom-made, remember) endeavour to do. I’d first been exposed to the game via, to my eternal shame, online memes. In particular, people on forums and the old racist battlefield that is the YouTube Commentsphere, all screaming “OBJECTION!” or “HOLD IT!” at other online aggressors as they then go on to furiously counter their enemies with increasingly strawman-ish arguments.

Not to point fingers, or indeed expose myself, but it has to be said that quite a few Ace Attorney fans would hardly be considered as ideal companions in Ibiza Uncovered-esque nightclubs. Nor would some of them be out at place at (shudder) Brony conventions. We’re talking about anime lawyers after all, and weeaboos gonna weeaboo.

So that, coupled with the fact that the games all looked just a little bit silly, meant that I gave the Ace Attorney series an unfairly wide berth for quite some time. However, with the help of a little magic flashcard (you can add a few Homer Simpson-esque devious chuckles to that), the opportunity to play the increasingly popular Ace Attorney series presented itself. Well, why not? At the time, it was either that or Cooking Mama, and I regarded pantomime lawyery as just a bit more palatable than pantomime Come Dine With Me.

So I gave the first game of the series my usual 20 minutes, the rigidly cruel amount that I always allow a game before either sticking my neck out and pronouncing it as the Greatest Game of All Times Ever and Ever… or discarding it, destroying it and otherwise consigning it to the abyss; or in this morally dubious world of flashcart doohickery, the infinite hellfire of the Recycle Bin.

Well! There’s no other real way to put it: what I played was a marvel. Top notch dialooogue, wonderfully expressive and funny characters, and most of all, an immensely compelling storyline. And keep in mind, the first two cases of the game’s five wantonly show you who the murderer is anyway, and the journey to get there is still nowt but thrilling. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and its sequels are games which really, absolutely should not work. Any boardroom fatcat worth his salt would have laughed a goofy manga lawyer game out of the whole building tout suite, in between almighty belts of coke.

I truly hate it that a loathsome company like Capcom could be the ones to have fronted a pant-steamingly mental game series like this. A bit like when a celebrity you utterly despise for no real reason turns around and pops up with such a formidable performance, whether it be in film or on the sports field or wherever, and all you can do is begrudgingly admire what they’ve done, even if you’d never, ever admit it.

Having hated Capcom for so long, watching this amazing game play out in front of me and drop my jaw for me was a bit like watching a pube-bearded Daniel Radcliffe’s performance of Alphabet Aerobics – suddenly, I had nothing left to hate. But unfortunately, I have to come clean, shock the world and indeed admit it – this game and its sequels are exactly what we need to see, and the series deserves all the help it can get.

This first game of the franchise can be considered the first part of Phoenix Wright the character’s trilogy. But don’t worry; for once, Capcom isn’t trying to completely extort you of your hard-earned cash. Each game is entirely self-contained, with its own charming (although no less anime) story to resolve. They then fit into a whole bigger picture, and in subsequent games you can expect all sorts of blasts from the pasts to show up, even years later, which is always a toe-curling thrill.

There are so many fully named and expanded characters in the game that I couldn’t even really waste time here telling their stories. I’ll just give you the basic suss: Phoenix Wright is the naive, bluffing newcomer to the law game, his ample-chested mentor Mia Fey takes him under her busty wings but gets killed off fairly lively (hardly a spoiler when you consider what’s to come).

Then her sister Maya comes in to accompany Phoenix on his investigations of crime scenes, building up evidence before another insane and legally unprecedented day in court. But wait! Who is this ball-buster of a grey-haired rival called Miles Edgeworth, and how does Phoenix know him? Really, the star of the show is young Maya – the dynamic between the two is always funny and heartrending. But just about every character has their own legion of die-hard fans, all pointing to the seriously top-notch localisation all round.

You needn’t worry about length either – you can only progress as fast as the sensibly-chosen speed the text scrolls at, and you’ll be compelled to read all of the optional ditties anyway, for stimulating debates on ladders and stepladders among other such minutiae. Replay value is very high as well; in the same way that you know full well exactly how your favourite book plays out, it’s the journey there that makes it all so memorable. The developers knew this, and you can fly through the text as fast as you like when you replay a case, which is a fine touch.

Funny scenarios, with all kinds of incidental text, contrasted with serious cases of murder, twists and intrigue… Fine characters, almost all winners, all hitting the right notes whether they be ruthlessly professional, doddery but keen, an out-and-out slacker, vastly intimidating, comically tragic or simply designed to be annoying… Fabulously expressive sprites, even if some are cartoony, or even a little grainy for DS standards – this is owing to the game’s Game Boy Advance past. Well, you didn’t think something as bonkers as this would immediately be localised, did you?

Really, one would scarcely believe it, but this game proves that the visual novel is a legitimate genre of game. And there’s no better example out there than the first Phoenix Wright game. Viva la visual novel, if you ask me.

09 February 2015

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