Thursday, October 1, 2009

Phoenix Wright

I know I'm late to the table with this one, but I got the first Phoenix Wright for my birthday and thought it would be fun to share some thoughts about the things I play, especially since designers are notorious for designing the last cool thing we played.

For those unfamiliar (like I was) with the style of game, it's essentially what I call a "feedback game," which means it's heavy on fun feedback and light on play mechanics. There are basically two phases to the game: investigation, and a court battle. In investigations, you talk to NPCs (unlocking search objectives or conversations) and examine various environments searching for evidence you can use in court. In court battles, you sift through witness testimonies, press them for information (re: conversation), and try to match pieces of evidence to contradictions in what the NPCs are saying.

But it's brilliant at times. The writing is really great, and there's a lot of it. I was stunned at how much dialog there was -- maybe enough to fit a light kid's novel -- and the characters will really fun. One of the things I couldn't help but be impressed by is how badly you wanted to pin bad guys in the game. They love making the "actual" culprit (rather than the innocent one you're defending) rather obvious, and always devilishly innocent. They'll show how the courts bend to them, how the jury loves them, and they set a trail of getting away with everything they want to, and it just... makes... you... so... ANGRY. Which means -- as it is with a good movie villain -- you are so HAPPY when they go down in flames. You get to watch as their devious shell starts to fade and they get all twitchy and vulnerable in court, until eventually you "get" them and they become enraged, letting it all out and confessing to the crime. It's incredibly satisfying, despite your gameplay involvement being rather thin. But yep, you feel like you get them, and I remember describing the game to Jen by way of the story like, "Ooh! I'm about to finally nail this son of a bitch!" I was into it!

It only fails and frustrates occasionally because of the mind-reading it has to do with the player, and because of some weird arbitrary conditions it sets for evidence. Sometimes I thought the setup for a piece of evidence was vague and I would stumble around randomly matching evidence to statements, which was frustrating. Other times I had perfectly logical reasons for choosing a piece of evidence but it wasn't the the trail of logic the game wanted me to follow. Finally, other times I had to go through particular dialog trees before the evidence I presented would be "correct," and that was irksome to say the least.

But these frustrations (that appeared more towards the latter-half of the game) were completely worth the journey through a really fun game that very often made me feel fully integrated in a really fun story with great characters, and I look forward to playing the next one.

A few tips: if you decide to play it, make sure you press every statement in court, and go through all dialog trees before presenting evidence. Finally, you can save any time you want, so use it. You can always power down and restart if you aren't happy with how you're fairing in court.

1 comment:

  1. I own it, but I haven't played it much. You've inspired me to try it again.