Monday, April 9, 2012

Game of the week 14: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Now is the time once again for the game of the week blog, and in our text book, I took the initiative of looking at one of the topics, which was puzzles. The definition of puzzles was broader however, and compared and contrasted how puzzles relate to how games should be made. Puzzles need not only refer to things such as Sudoku or Crossworld puzzles, but many a game of course have puzzles. Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, having different effects on gameplay. Some can feature puzzles as a mandatory to the gameplay, such as in Legend of Zelda games, where puzzles are mandatory in most dungeons but they are usually simple enough so that young players can still progress and have fun doing them. Others feature mind bending puzzles as the main form of gameplay the whole way through, I would probably compare this to Catherine (my previous game of the week) as the main game play is the fast paced, difficult puzzles. There are certain features that puzzles should contain to keep them accessible and a fun part of the gameplay but I will get into those later, for now I’d like to introduce the game of the week, or rather series of the week.

This week, I’ve decided to feature a series originally created for the Game Boy Advanced and later ported to the Nintendo DS. The series in question is Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. The main series on the GBA features three games, the original, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Justice for All and Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Trials and Tribulations. The first game was originally released in 2001, and the remake for the Nintendo DS in 2005, with the sequels following in 2002 and 2004 on GBA and then 2006 and 2007 for DS.

The game features the main character, Phoenix Wright defending his clients in a variety of legal cases, though pretty much all of them relating to murder in some fashion. With his assistant Maya, he goes about collecting evidence, talking with various witnesses and finally going to court room. There he cross examines witnesses and their testimony in order to find facts that will prove his client’s innocence. The game is essentially a take on turning the legal system into gameplay.


There are two different sections of gameplay typically in the game, there is the investigation section and the courtroom section.

Investigation sections, where all the exploration is

In the investigation section, you go out into the scene of the crime and any related areas to gather evidence. You get to collect pieces of evidence that are added to your inventory for future reference, as well as other characters around who may provide more information, including evidence and such. Over the course of the game, you are given various tools that help you search rooms for evidence. This evidence will eventually be used in the courtroom, as that is the main section where all the drama and revelations in the game occur.

The courtroom sections, where all the action happens

In the courtroom section of the game, the collected evidence and knowledge that you obtained over the course of the investigation section is what you are armed with in the court room sessions. Much of it consists of listening to Witness testimony, pointing out any contradictions you can based on the evidence you possess. You’ll have to do some “puzzle solving” by doing some logical thinking and seeing where they are wrong. That’s essentially the main aspect of this entire section, pointing out where the logic is wrong and shoving it in their face. Of course there are consequences for not pointing out the logic correctly, so you have a “life bar” of sorts that depletes. If you lose all of it you have to restart the court room sequence.

Cross Examination sequences are where you do all of logical thinking to break down the witness' testimony

Now the thing about this game is that it is fact, a very linear game. Most of the game actually consists of text to read, which in fact makes it like a “Visual Novel”. These games usually consist of a lot of text, or dialogue, and they are mostly story in fact. This genre of games mixes with the “Dating Sim” type that I spoke of earlier in my blog regarding Catherine. Anyways, in Phoenix Wright, there is one set path usually. Only on the rare occasion can you get different endings. In the investigation sequences, you will ALWAYS get all the evidence you need before you can proceed to the court room sequences. And in the court room sequences, you will ALWAYS have all the evidence you need to proceed. If you don’t then it’s scripted for you to not have that evidence at the time and things will proceed as normal.

Now the fact that I mention it’s a linear, visual novel game now means what really makes this a game? Well like I mentioned earlier, the “puzzle solving” in the court rooms is where the game play truly lies. You have to use your brain quite a bit to decipher the clues given to you. This also applies in the investigation sections, most of the time you should think about where you want to go next, what areas to visit, who you want to question and doubt.

Game Design of the Week: Puzzles

In our breakdown of puzzles, we identified a variety of different puzzles types, which included, riddles, lateral thinking, spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, logic, exploration and item use. In Phoenix Wright, the main puzzle types used in the game are logic, exploration and item use.

Logic is used constantly in the court room sections, like I said you have to break down everything the witness on the stand is saying and point out any contradiction, no matter how tiny.

Exploration is used in the investigation sequences, since you have to explore every nook and cranny of every location available to you in order to find ll the evidence you can.

Item use is also used quite a bit all over, a combination of using your logical thinking, presenting the correct items at the correct times so that you can either reveal more information, or take down a witness’ testimony. Of course items are obtained through exploration as well!

You'll be using those 4 puzzle types all over the game

Puzzle basics

There are also four basic characteristics to puzzles. Affordances, identifiable patterns, ease of use and reward player skill.

Affordance means it should be easy to figure out the rules and controls. In Phoenix Wright, well you don’t really have too many crazy options in terms of controls and rules. It really makes the game easy to play and pick up for anyone, all you have to do is use logic.

Identifiable patterns means the puzzle should be clear so that players are able to identify the ways the puzzle can be solved. Well in PW (Phoenix Wright), you are given all the evidence you need and as long as you paid attention to the information you were given during the game, you should be able to figure out how to proceed with the case. (You can still look back on information you gathered too)

Ease of Use meaning good interface (User interface). Like I said, PW features not too many controls or rules to go by and the user interface is pretty simple. In courtroom for example, when cross examining, read the witness statement, press him for more information, present evidence to show a contradiction or move to the next statement. Simple as that.

Reward Player skill is so obvious, not gonna say that it does! And well PW helps you thinking logically throughout, or at least logical for PW standards, so it holds your hand that way.

Phoenix right is able to use the basic rules of puzzles quite well

Puzzles in Phoenix Wright?

At first when I played the game, I hadn’t thought about it as a puzzle game. I usually associated puzzles with crosswords and such. I forgot to think about using logic and deductive reasoning as puzzles, since you’re really trying to solve something based on the tools and information provided. Puzzles like cross words of course make you use your brain to think about what words will go, but of course that uses logic and deductive reasoning too. For some reason I hadn’t made the connection, I thought of PW more as a visual novel then a puzzle game. But now I can see it’s a good part puzzle game as well, using all that logical thinking to break down witnesses.


The main reason I feel satisfaction from doing this though is because the game’s characters and script throughout the game are fantastic. Without this high quality from the script and great characters, I would not have enjoyed the game nearly as much. They made the game what it is. I played the game for the story mostly but still felt satisfaction from breaking down witnesses and such. That’s how the puzzles are rewarding and that’s another lesson we learned in class. Puzzles should be rewarding, providing the player with some sort of benefit and for the players of this game, the benefit was to see the storyline continue. The story in most of the cases were all fun to go through and most of the character’s you cross examined in their testimony had neat reactions (Such as pulling their hair out, but more interesting than simply that) that made it even more satisfying.

Anyways that’s all I wanted to cover this week. If you have never tried Phoenix Wright before, I suggest you do. It’s a fantastic series and a lot of fun to play. I loved it simply for the characters and story and the puzzle aspect of it made me more engaged in the storyline all together!

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