Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Yeah, so I'm almost three games behind on this series, I know. I played halfway through the first one about two or three years ago, and had a good time of it, but didn't pick it up at the time (was borrowing it from the company I worked for's library).

I thought it might be a good game for my wife, though, so at some point when it got cheap, I grabbed it. She played through it (and the second, and part of the third) and really enjoyed it, so finally, I sat down, figured out where I had left off, and started playing the game again.

It's interesting - there's very little *to* the actual game. Branching dialog trees, some locations that have clickable hotspots and a basic inventory management. It's like "text adventure plus" in terms of complexity. That said, it's still really entertaining, and it comes down to two basic things:

  1. It's really well written. The plots of the cases are interesting, the characters are multi-faceted, and there is actual clear character development over the course of the game.
  2. It's about something really unusual. I don't know of any other lawyer games. In the same way that watching a show like Project Runway gives you some perspective (however warped) into a fashion designer's career, the Phoenix Wright series is interesting because it's about putting yourself into an interesting person's shoes, and not just shooting everything in sight.
I think point two is why I didn't really enjoy Cooking Mama all that much. while Cooking Mama is more complex that PW from a mechanical perspective, there's no narrative content to it. There's no insight into the process of doing the mechanics, you just do them because that's what you're supposed to do.

If Cooking Mama had a reason to cook, the player would not only have embraced the mechanics, but also the motivation behind them. PW isn't particularly complex or deep, but it forces you to be in the mindset of the main character, and provides a totally compelling, unique narrative and mechanical experience - something that I think you could hold up as the hallmark of a game that gets the balance of interactivity and narrative right.

I'm on the fourth case right now - I've heard the whole game structure goes a bit weird in the fifth case - the only one specifically written for the DS (and probably the best hallmark of what the upcoming Apollo Justice will be like) - but I'm looking forward to knocking the rest of this down, and moving on to the next two in the series.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - B/90
Cooking Mama: A/40

ps: No, I don't feel like I need to finish a game to give it a "review score," nor do I feel like the scores are immutable. This is my impression of the game right now, and if I enjoy a game five hours into it, it's probably worth playing, unless it goes totally bananas at the very end. If it sucks, I have no intention of slogging through suckage just because maybe it gets better later.

The only games that I've played that would really get radically different reviews from the start and end would be Mass Effect (horrible beginning, but awesome once the player learns the mechanics), and Breakdown (awesome first-person brawler, but with a last boss that is so awfully designed that it literally ruined the entire experience for me - up until the last boss the game was an A/90, then with the last boss, it goes to an A/10. It's not a really fair review, but that last boss is so bad I almost broke the game in two, and threw the pieces in the trash. The frustration alone makes the game not worth anyone's time.)

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