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Review of Gyakuten Saiban

SubjectGyakuten Saiban
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
ByHelpfulness: 0
Vote: 8
DrClownQueen on 2023-02-07
ReviewReviewed on: Xbox One

Ace Attorney is yet another franchise, just like Doki Doki Literature Club, where even if you're unfamiliar or have no interest in visual novels, you most likely have heard of this at least once. When the Nintendo DS port of the first game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, originally launched in North America, it defied sales expectations to the point where it was next to impossible to simply find a copy in any retailer; it sold like hotcakes! I have much respect for this game, as this title played a vital role in establishing the American market for visual novels. With that being said, do I consider Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney to be a great visual novel? Yes. Is it one of the best visual novels ever made? I wouldn't go that far.

The story follows defense attorney Phoenix Wright, under the direction of his mentor, Mia Fey, as he tries to prove his client, Larry Butz's innocence in the case of his murdered girlfriend. He succeeds, but the next day, Mia is murdered in her office. This is when Phoenix meets Mia's younger sister, Maya, who is framed for the murder of her own sister. As a defense attorney who will do anything to prove his client's innocence, Phoenix spends every court case going out of his way to gather evidence, ask the right questions, call people out for their lies, and simultaneously prove the accused's innocence and reveal the actual culprit, who, in some cases, is someone who works in the legal system.

Where this game shines most is in its story, its tone, its themes, and its characterizations. Despite being a parody game whose portrayal of the legal system is not even remotely accurate, the game's portrayal of corruption in the legal system is surprisingly really earnest and well-written. Despite the English translation trying to present the game as taking place in Los Angeles, the game itself is a parody of the Japanese legal system, in that the prosecution level in that country is way too high to the point where the motto appears to be "guilty until proven innocent". From police officers committing murder to pin the crime on another to ensure his rise to chief of police, all the way up to obsessive compulsive prosecutors forging evidence to ensure he wins every single case, these kinds of cases happen in real life, and the law is set up in such a way that their positions offer them several "get out of jail free" cards. However, because of its nature as a parody, it prevents the game from being a complete downer. Seeing characters as ruthless as Damon Gant and Manfred von Karma get their just desserts after constant abuse of their power is the most satisfying feeling ever.

In regards to the characters, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Phoenix Wright is an excellent protagonist who takes his job completely seriously, but is not at all arrogant or pompous. Maya Fey can be very childish, but I think she served as a decent foil for Wright. Mia, even though she's absent for most of the game, serves as a good conscience for Wright and, to an extent, Maya. She's easily the coolest character in the entire game, despite her unprofessional attire, and it's a shame she gets killed off so early. Miles Edgeworth, out of all the characters, is my absolute favorite, which is ironic because he's intended to be the least likable character of the whole bunch. Edgeworth starts out as someone who cares more about winning than he does about justice, but after the first trial with him as the prosecutor, he starts becoming more cooperative, helping Phoenix punish the guilty and reward the innocent, but nevertheless reminding and calling out Phoenix whenever he makes a claim that contradicts the evidence and testimonies presented. He has the most character development, he takes his job completely seriously, and while he can still be somewhat arrogant and pompous, he feels more human than all of the other characters put together. By the end of the game, he quits being prosecutor, and I really hope this is not the last time we ever see him because I'd argue he's the true star of the game. Then there's von Karma. He is a horrible, terrifying, wretched, inhuman monster, and an excellent villain. The fact he cares more about winning than justice in the court of law alone makes him a force to be reckoned with, but the fact the game's difficulty truly escalates once he enters the court really delivers and solidifies his presence as a villain. On the meh side, while I didn't necessarily hate Detective Gumshoe, Ema and Lana Skye, Wendy Oldbag, Angel Starr, the Judge, and most of the other characters, I never really cared for them, either. They just came off as incredibly incompetent, careless fools who not only struggle to put the simplest two and two together, but also like they struggle to take the court of law seriously at all. While the game is, by and large, a parody, it does have its more serious moments, but when something deathly serious happens, and the characters still feel the need to say silly things while being serious, it comes off as very tone-deaf. Lana comes off as being overly dramatic in a childishly edgy way, and Angel Starr never, ever stops making jokes about lunchboxes. Ever. Then there's Redd White. While he does appear early on in the game, he is a textbook example on how NOT to write a villain. He's one of the very few villains I have seen who is simultaneously as powerful and dangerous as Darth Vader, yet he's as idiotic and stupefyingly oblivious as Elmer Fudd. The problem is not that his personality goes no deeper than he's a corrupt corporate executive who has the entire criminal justice system in his pocket, nor is it even the fact that despite his generic-as-can-be personality, he's granted the large role of being Mia's killer. The problem is, despite so much buildup and so many extreme stakes, taking him down and making him confess his crime is easy. In. Sul. Ting. Ly. Easy.

The biggest problem I have with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a very similar problem I had with Doki Doki Literature Club; it feels very experimental and it can't quite break free of its conventions. Rather than being one long, overarching courtroom case, the game is instead devised of five individual court cases, all of which are murder charges. The best one by far is the fourth case, Turnabout Goodbyes, which involves a genuinely complex and challenging mystery involving two separate murders, the best villain, the full reveal of Phoenix's and Edgeworth's backstories, and the strongest character development. The first trial involving Larry Butz's girlfriend being murdered was fine, but it was a tutorial, so that doesn't really count. All of the other trials are very hit-and-miss. I wouldn't necessarily say any of them are bad, as all of them have their moments, but they're too flawed for me to really find them enjoyable; Turnabout Sisters was the weakest case, as even though it was very emotional, Redd White is one of the dumbest villains ever, and it has a very rushed ending. Turnabout Samurai had the best jokes and was the beginning of Edgeworth becoming best boi, but it feels overlong due to the fact Will Powers' innocence was proven by the second day, except the judge insists Phoenix should find evidence to find out who did commit the murder, despite the fact it's the detective's job to find evidence, not the defense attorney's. Rise from the Ashes has the most unique side characters, a villain that can rival von Karma's in terms of complexity and evilness, one of the best explorations of police corruption I have ever seen, and easily the most challenging mystery out of all of them. On the downside, the pacing is torturously slow, and gathering clues and memorizing important lines of dialogue is incredibly tedious. Each case has a unique set of challenges and gameplay mechanics. Some of them work really well, some of them flat-out do not work at all, and others are just okay but feel very unnecessary. The only two universal factors I can say is each one offers excellent and unique insight of corruption in the criminal justice system, but on the downside, many of these cases feel overlong and should've ended long before the fourth day approaches.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a great visual novel with a unique setting and presentation, but as with all experiments, there are some areas that definitely need more polish. While I appreciate the excellent social commentary and generally amazing characterization, especially for Miles Edgeworth, the pacing, the tone, and the courtroom mechanics I feel could've been better implemented. The positives outweigh the negatives to the point where I ended up having a very positive experience with the game, and it has an undeniably important place in visual novel history in the United States, but if you go into this expecting an epic masterpiece, you might want to scale back your expectations a bit.
0 points
#1 by dchsflii
2023-02-08 at 05:30
< report >If you want Ace Attorney but with a larger overarching plot that builds over the course of the cases, I think you might really like Great Ace Attorney since it does just that.
#2 by DrClownQueen
2023-02-08 at 22:26
< report >Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely check that one out! :)