2005’s North American release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was a fairly pivotal moment for its parent species. Once passed over for localization because it was such a niche title, the game became a bit of a cult hit and for many people, an introduction to visual novels. Not since the days of the ICOM trilogy—Deja Vu, Shadowgate and Uninvited—were visual novel-type games so red-hot in the States. Its status as a testbed for the genre guaranteed that similar games—Hotel Dusk, 999 and Time Hollow being notable examples—would also be released to Western (ersatz Philippine) shores. Fast forward to 2013—if the games weren’t so good I’d say we’re at a point of oversaturation: we have all but one Ace Attorney game localized or pegged for localization, a few WiiWare ports that nobody asked for, an offbeat Takashi Miike film adaptation, and a new re-introduction to Phoenix Wright and his ragtag (possibly individually deranged) gang to the most casual of casuals: iPhone and iPad users.
There’s nothing much to say if you’ve already played the Ace Attorney games to death. They are fairly linear adventures; really the only reason to play them again is to check for any in-jokes you didn’t get the first time around, or perhaps analyze and marvel at the excellent localization effort Capcom delivered. For people who’ve never touched an Ace Attorney game, however: you’re in for a treat.
Gripping courtroom drama that probably destroys any procedural drama show on TV today. Though it doesn’t take itself too seriously at times, the games do get to a point where they become “page-turners,” and “just one more case” quickly becomes “nuts, it’s 5a.m.; I should probably call in sick and/or quit my job.”
Didn’t need to be mentioned again, but the games have a fantastic localization; in my opinion second only to Earthbound as the best of all time. Having previously played through the Japanese GBA games with a translation guide (never again…) the original DS localizations were a breath of fresh air as Capcom’s localization squad was able to adequately translate every single cultural joke, pun, and onomatopoeia from the Japanese versions into very palatable and smart English equivalents.
And really for a game where the script is 90% of the game’s content, this is very much a positive point in the game’s favor.
The soundtrack is top-notch. I personally find the music cues incredibly corny outside the context of the game, but the game’s cheesy soundtrack manages to impress when you’re actually playing the through Ace Attorney’s varying states of intensity. Rising, continuous staccatos capture gripping courtroom moments, off-courtroom fun flourishes with fun ragtime ditties, and conclusions to cases are always punctuated with Phoenix’ signature theme, providing the player with an aural hint of accomplishment.
Great character design and art only sullied by Capcom’s vector interns/outsourced team (more on this later).
Oddly enough, Ace Attorney Trilogy HD runs quite sluggishly on my iPad 3. While it isn’t quite the best and newest iPad out there (well it still would have been if Apple hadn’t cut its balls from underneath it, but that’s a conversation for another time), there’s absolutely no excuse as to why transitions and moving through text on a thirteen year-old visual novel runs at 15 fps. This is quite puzzling as Ghost Trick (from the same company) performs perfectly on my iDevices.
A lot of the redrawn character art looks awful. I’m not sure who to put on fault here, but Capcom’s idea of making a pixel-based game in HD is to farm out the art assets to some interns or third-string artists and vectorize them with some of the laziest tracing and shading I’ve seen since Sailor & the 7 Ballz.
The game is letterboxed in a weird way on the iPad. No true widescreen support on the iPhone too, from what I hear. This bit is just plain dumbfounding: if you’re going to port and target to a certain subset of devices, isn’t it fairly simple to make your UI scalable enough to work on both?
Things that can swing either way
Maybe it’s because I’m playing the game on a much larger screen than the game has any business being played with, but the interface seems very unintuitive. Buttons aren’t placed where you’d expect them to be, and I found myself jumping from end to end on my iPad just to confirm things. Though off-putting, I got used to the port’s interface quirks fairly quickly, so this is a forgiveable trait.
Though I’d like to attribute Ace Attorney HD’s primary failings to a lazy port job on Capcom’s part, I don’t think this fact should dissuade potential buyers from at least trying the game out. The game is actually free on the App Store, with in-app purchases for all three games for $5.99 each (or $16.99 for everything), so it’s an easy download away to see if you can stomach the game’s brand of off-beat humor mixed in with hokey melodrama, packed into a silly courtroom “simulation” that doesn’t really follow any real legal proceedings anywhere in the world (that I’m aware of).
Of course, I’m being way too hard on the game because I’ve played all three games multiple times on multiple platforms—the real scoop here is if you’re a casual gamer (or know one) that’s looking for a light-hearted adventure game/novel to spend hours upon hours with, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney HD is a fantastic value, and a great first step towards traditional, “core” games.