One the things about being a parent that I always find odd/delightful are the random things that you wind up bonding with your child over. My 11-year-old daughter loves video games and all things Japanese so, of course, my parental bond started to strengthen with her over of all things, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS.

Huh?

Phoenix Wright is a video game franchise by Capcom for Nintendo handhelds in which you play a lawyer who defends clients that have been wrongly accused of murder. My daughter now being into the franchise gives a nice opportunity to revisit it.

The main character is obviously Phoenix Wright. Your nemesis on the prosecution side varies, but it’s usually a dude name Miles Edgeworth, who will do anything it takes to get a conviction and eventually got his own game series as well. There are rumors he falsifies evidence, so he must be a bad guy.

The game was turned into an anime. I’m not a big anime fan, but I started watching because I was a fan of the games. My daughter eventually started watching with me, getting caught up enough that she is now downloading the games to play herself.

It sounds like an odd premise for a video game, but they are a lot of fun. If you were into the old graphic adventures on PC from LucasArts, like Day of The Tentacle, or maybe even go far back as Zork, then you would probably enjoy these games. It’s mostly a text adventure, but they keep it light with enough bad puns to keep it fun.

In The Land Of The Rising Sun

Though not a household name in America, it does have a loyal following here.

In Japan, it’s much more popular and the center of a mini media empire.

There are 6 games in the main series and a number of spinoffs, with the character making cameos in a number of different Capcom games. There’s a manga, anime and even movie based on the show.

And, like everything else popular, it eventually got its own stage show.

The anime is somewhat anti-American. There is one episode in which the head of the American justice system is part of the military. And someone who was wrongly convicted of a crime and then proven to be innocent so does not trust our justice system that he would rather commit suicide than go back to have his conviction overturned.

But that’s another story…

The Rundown

As mentioned earlier, you play a lawyer who has to defend clients in court. All of the cases seem like no-win situations but with a number of twists and turns you get the real killer to confess in court and save your client from the electric chair.

The games were created for release in Japan and originally there was no plan of it being brought here to America, so these games have a very Japanese feel to them.

For example, your assistant/sidekick, Maya, is a teenage psychic in training who is able to channel dead people for help and dead spirits are a constant plot point in many cases. Not to mention that one of the trials takes place on Christmas morning.

If you’re not into Japanese culture, then some parts of the game could range from odd to very confusing to some people.

The game says it takes place in Los Angeles, but it’s clearly Tokyo.

The art has a very Matt Groening feel to it. All the characters seem to follow his belief that they should be instantly recognizable in silhouettes. So a lot of big, outlandish hair, costumes and characters, as well as big boobs for a lot of the female characters.

One of the prosecutors is even a German chick with a whip. Sounds good to me.

The first game was created by a staff of only 8 people, so it consists mostly of still images with minimal animation. But as the series became popular and the game’s budget grew, so did the graphics. The series eventually started to incorporate voice acting, as well as fully animated cutscenes.

Gameplay

It’s divided into two main parts: first, you need to do a little detective work and gather information about the case, then you have to go to court and question the witnesses.

Everything takes place in a world in which the court system speeds trials through court in only 3 days. In fact, your client goes on trial the day after the crime is committed.

What?

My daughter was pretty confused by this, so I had to explain to her that it’s not really how the court system work. Guess it’s not the best intro to the law for kids. There is also no jury and the judge will give a guilty verdict because he thinks you’re wasting his time.

Oh, and your client is also assumed to be guilty, rather than innocent. So this is the last place you would want to get wrongly accused of anything.

Grrr…

The story is very linear and ninety percent of the game is talking to people.

The most frustrating thing about the game is that you have to present things at specific points or the characters will not respond the way you need them too and you have to read the same long-winded response over and over again.

In court, it’s even more frustrating because the judge will penalize you and 5 or 6 penalties and will lead to an automatic not guilty verdict.

Also frustrating can be when you’re gathering info about the case. It’s easy to get stuck and not know what to do next, so there is a lot of showing every piece of evidence you gathered to everyone you find until you’re able to finally progress further.

There are going to be points where you start to think that game FAQs are the greatest thing in the world.

As the series goes on, they keep it fresh by adding different gameplay mechanics and new characters. Later on, Maya even grows up and becomes a total babe, though you gotta wonder how many times can she possibly be framed for murder.

Where You Can Play Now

The game was originally created for Nintendo handhelds, but they did a pretty good port of the series for the iPhone that feels very natural for the touchscreen. It’s one of those games where the download is free, but you have to pay if you want to go past the first case. But even if you just play the first cases in each game then delete it, you still get a few days out of it, which isn’t too bad.

You can still download the games in the Nintendo e-shop for the 3DS or find them used for around $10 to $20. They released the game for the Wii, but like most Wii games I can’t imagine the game to play very well with motion controls.

It’s not a well-known series to a lot of people and hardcore gamers would probably thumb their nose at it, but despite how easy it is to get frustrated, it’s definitely worth checking out to see what you missed.

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