Catching Up on the Backlog: Phoenix Wright

When I haven’t been playing GTA IV, I’ve been trying to whack another game off of my backlog — the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I finished it today, having played the series somewhat out of order — 2, 3, 4 (aka Apollo Justice), then finally the first game.

While having played the series out-of-order probably didn’t do wonders for my recognition of recurring characters in the series, it did give me some interesting insights into the release mindset of the games in the US and abroad. The first game (PW1, for short) was originally released on the GBA in Japan, way back in 2001, and didn’t make its way Stateside until 2005, when the game was ported to the Nintendo DS. An additional case was also added to the DS version, and made use of the touch screen and microphone on the hardware. PW2 and PW3 were also originally GBA games, but didn’t have any DS-specific features or cases (other than basic touch screen and voice recognition features) added to them for their DS releases.

Since my first experience with the series was with PW2, I didn’t realize that there is a considerable increase in difficulty compared to the original release of PW1. In hindsight, the original cases in PW1 are really easy compared to PW2 and PW3 — characters frequently all but point out evidence for you, and the number of items that can be presented in court is much lower than in the later games. The only times I got stuck in the original PW1 cases were in the evidence-gathering phases, where the trigger conditions for moving the plot forward are sometimes unclear.

Capcom must have realized this, and the DS-specific case in PW1 seems like an attempt to make the difficulty jump between PW1 and PW2 easier to handle. The (lengthy) added case involves much more evidence than the original cases, more "trick" sections (where the "obvious" answers are the wrong one, and careful thought is required), and more complicated dialogue sections (where different dialogue sub-trees are revealed based on player choices). There are also more frequent usage of character profiles (which were made presentable in PW2 and PW3) during the trial. These are all significant changes to gameplay in the later games, and the player isn’t specifically "trained" to deal with these in PW2 and PW3, so it seems that the bonus case was used as a way to introduce these concepts to players before the release of the subsequent games.

After I finished the game, I checked online and found some information about the upcoming game Miles Edgeworth: Perfect Prosecutor, a new part of the Phoenix Wright series. There are some videos on GameTrailers for the game, which make it out to be a bit more of a traditional point-and-click adventure (Sierra, LucasArts, etc.) than, for lack of a better term, "static picture adventure" (like Myst). I think this is a pretty good move on their part — a mouse adventure game interface translates well to the DS, and, from a technical perspective, going to that format will probably allow them to create more eye-catching visuals. Plus, after several games’ worth of Myst-like adventures, it’s a good idea to change the gameplay up a little bit — I definitely appreciated how Apollo Justice broke up the traditional gameplay a bit with more DS-oriented minigames and even goofy stuff like the "MASON System."

A US release for the game hasn’t been announced, but my guess is that we will see this it released here. Capcom’s ROI on the original Phoenix Wright "visual novel" engine has to be ridiculously high. (Wikipedia links to a Next Generation article noting that the series has sold 2.8 million units. I assume that the "11 titles" part is due to re-releases and/or localized versions, but still — that’s a lot of coin.) I can only assume that they will be using the Miles Edgeworth engine for additional titles (amortizing the cost of engine development), and with that in mind, it makes sense to try and release the games as widely as possible.

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