2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Ace Attorney series as a whole recently, since I’m currently playing Dual Destinies. The Ace Attorney games have been very important to me over the years. I was very active in the fandom and made quite a number of friends then that I am still in close contact with now. The friendships I made there slowly led me down the long, and some would likely say dangerous, path in to all fictional things Japanese, including niche visual novels, manga, and anime.
In fact, before becoming involved in Ace Attorney fandom, I had always avoided manga and anime. As a teenager, the scant offerings of YTV such as Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon didn’t interest me all that much, precocious literature and film snob that I was, and there was no easy way to access other series back then. Years later, after being in and around a number of Western fandoms, particularly Harry Potter, and seeing more and more nerds becoming interested in manga and anime, I thought from time to time about trying it all out. All the drama surrounding some of the communities I hung out with, however, was a huge turnoff — I figured I was better off just sticking with my own thing, and not following the herd on to whatever they wanted to squee about next.
But the Ace Attorney fandom was a little different. It was a pretty great community to be a part of. The fanwork was awesome, most of the prominent writers, artists, and bloggers got along pretty well and there wasn’t a whole lot of public drama. Of course, there was a fair amount of personal drama, but it was more about individual people having conflicts with each other about real issues that would affect any friendship and not the crazy shit I’ve seen elsewhere. It was a fantastic creative force to be a part of, and there was so much positive inspiration going around that it was hard not to get caught up in it.
I digress, but it was all a lot of fun. This makes it very difficult for me to put just one of the entries in the original Ace Attorney trilogy on this list, but I feel like the first game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is probably the best game in the series all-around.
To me, Phoenix Wright always seemed like a younger, more insecure, and newer version of Perry Mason. I have always been fond of legal dramas, as I’ve been watching them with my mother since I was a kid. It’s not surprising, then, that AA1 is generally the title that I credit with solidifying my return to video games. When I decided to try playing games again when I was about 25, I struggled to find titles that I could enjoy as an adult, since I wasn’t interested in playing the same series I’d been introduced to as a kid. AA1 was perfect. It’s a legal dramedy, it’s a visual novel, so it’s not twitchy or complicated to control, it’s got interesting characters, a great story, and the puzzle/court elements are intuitive and mostly logical.
The writing in AA1 is phenomenal. A satire of the actual Japanese justice system, defendants are arrested and charged quickly, and their trials begin only a day or two after they are apprehended. Many of the cases, then, initially seem quite complicated while you, as Phoenix, try to figure out the truth. As you tensely battle it out with the prosecutor you’re up against and try to solicit accurate testimony from witnesses, you begin to see that it’s actually the road to the truth that’s complicated and not so much the cases themselves. The actual mechanisms of a murder case are generally quite simple. This, I think, is what makes AA1 so brilliant (and the rest of the original trilogy to a lesser extent). The game’s writers found a way to create a lot of tension and make the prosecutors feel intimidating while also making the cases themselves quite simple. This is sharp contrast to the way the series is written now, which I’ll talk about more when I write about Ace Attorney 5.
Also adding to the excellent writing is AA1’s impressive English localization, though I’d say it’s very strong throughout the entire original trilogy (I think AA3 is probably the best). I have never really understood why Capcom chose to set the North American version of the game in Los Angeles, but despite that, the localization is funny, and full of great pop culture references and punny names. Ben Judd’s team was never afraid to play with language, and it was awesome.
What really solidifies AA1 as my favourite game in the Ace Attorney series is the case that was added to the DS version: Rise From the Ashes. While the Ace Attorney games were first released in North America on the Nintendo DS, they originally came out in Japan years earlier on the Game Boy Advance. The port of AA1 included a new case that used a lot of the DS’s new features, including the touch screen. The use of DS functionality, such as dusting for fingerprints, and spraying luminol, was brilliant, and the case itself was well-written and fit nicely in to the themes of AA1 and the overarching Ace Attorney story. While I knew at the time that it would be unlikely to get similar content in the re-releases of AA2 and AA3, the limited amount of DS touchscreen content in Ace Attorney 4 was very disappointing for me.
Ugh, I could go on forever, but I think I’ve proven my point. The Ace Attorney series is awesome, and the first game is definitely a bit part of what makes it awesome. If you’re reading this and haven’t played any of these games, the whole trilogy is available on iOS and is a pretty great deal for the amount of content you get with it.