What game would you spend thirty pounds on? Once upon a time in this writers student days, it was quite a significant amount of money to consider; the difference between a month forking Heinz premium beans out of a can or resorting to Sainsbury’s basics. Thirty notes can be exchanged for thrice as many hours adventuring in the Pokémon world, it can entertain you for a whole year in your annual online shooter or envelop you for weeks in a vast fantasy sandbox. So when the same toll for entry is applied to a text adventure with cartoon lawyers who shout objection!, the more discerning minds among us can understandably find it hard to justify a purchase on the same scale. It’s too linear. All you do is click on boxes. There’s barely any “game” in there.
I’m here to tell you why the discerning mind is wrong.
In a pre-Wright era I was inclined to think that value was all about the hours you put in rather than the time you get out. As a simple eastern curio I didn’t put much stake in it being worth my time, but that was all about to change after a fateful encounter with a fifty percent discount on the first entry (yet I still felt a little short changed as I took it to the store counter). After slotting that cartridge into my classic DS and scrabbling through the first case, I was in for life. The gears had shifted and a new perspective on what a game could be unlocked within my mind. By the third entry I was gleefully trading away the next thirty days of gourmet lunches in a can to find out what happens to Wright and co. as soon as I possibly could. To this day, I would have even been content had Capcom torn my wallet apart with its less-than-savoury digital content pricing for the upcoming Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. It’s now ranked up there with the likes of The Legend of Zelda, the Persona series and Pokémon, in my list of absolute day one purchases. It is that important.
So what could be so special about a game where the “game” is for the most part, absent? You have to ask yourself the question: what exactly do you want when you turn on your portable? In a generation where a commute can consist of a five minute flick of Angry Birds, followed by Super Mario Bros. followed by a quick Sudoku puzzle on the same device, there are more reasons than ever to carry about a handheld. For me, there are also times that I just want to be delivered a good story, and that is the itch that Shu Takumi’s team up in Capcom Japan decided to scratch with their unique lawyer offering. It satiates that desire for a quality narrative and does so on the most unexpected of platforms. Essentially your goal is to reach the end of a detective novel, only one where as you’re poring through the pages, absorbing multitudes of hours of engaging drama and mystery, you the player are the one tossing about the evidence, using your own logic to dictate the next move. Its a simple and startlingly effective way of creating player agency within a story driven format. That’s not even to mention, as the Eureka moment hits (along with a smug satisfactory grin!) and the plot begins to neatly unfurl within your mind, you’ll also have some lovely animated sprite graphics and an incredible atmospheric soundtrack to fill the holes usually left up to imagination. No concessions are taken in making this as complete an experience as possible.
An excellent job is done by the writing team dreaming up a world with characters you’ll come to love and remember throughout the experience. From every name being some sort of pun, to the self aware way in which the script tackles Wright’s curious (and illegal!) transition between lawyer and detective, you’ll be charmed through and through. The double act of Phoenix and Maya that who make up the central protagonists are a typical odd pair; Wright is a little sarcastic, a little goofy and more than a little naïve at the beginning, while his assistant juxtaposes with a character playfully bouncing off the walls, so energetic you’d be surprised she could be contained without the extra dimension of a 3DS. Refreshingly the token love interest sub-plot is dodged in favour of a more quaint, innocent relationship, between a man who happens to hang out with a woman who happens to have psychic powers, who happen to solve crimes together, all of which is underlined with a sense of humour as bizarre as that sounds.
Ace Attorney is a game of two halves, the first of which is spent sleuthing through crime scenes for evidence. The pacing of these sections is brisk at best, as time is enervated scanning images of the disaster at hand for anything suspicious or out of place, but the crux of the series energy comes from the resulting courtroom showdowns. A cast of wonderfully outlandish prosecutors suddenly become the stars of the show. Often flamboyantly attired and rivals to Phoenix Wright’s creed of defending the innocent, these guys and girls are all about throwing their defendant behind bars as quickly as possible for their own personal gain, from the cocky Edgeworth’s desire to surpass his mentor with a perfect conviction rate, to the mysterious Mr Godot’s… well, I won’t spoil that one here. Its cat versus mouse in the courtroom, and your goal is to explore contradictions in dialogue and present evidence at the correct times in order to keep the opposition pinned to the wall. It is an absolute riot, and when you factor in the cast of weirdos, animals and the occasional ghost whom all are put in the crosshairs of Wright’s legendary index finger, you’ve got yourself a good few weeks entertainment with the most peculiar gathering gaming has ever seen. Naysayers can boil it down to a strictly use item A On testimony B affair, but those engrossed will be too distracted by the wit and smarts of each exchange to take any note.
Because when it comes down to it, that tiny square cartridge you slot into the back of your game system represents an experience, and if you want that experience to be positive, evocative, full of good laughs and stimulating of the old grey matter, then Ace Attorney is definitely something you should try out. Spending thirty of my English pounds to play these games early is a decision I wholeheartedly stand by, and hope others begin to appreciate too, especially considering the more-than-reasonable £19.99 price point for Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, currently available on the 3DS eShop. Taken with a side of hanging out with Wright and Maya on their adventures, I have to say those were the best basics beans I’ve ever had!