Anticipation was high among fans for the fourth installment of the Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Saiban) series which was announced for the DS. The long wait is finally over and unlike the DS re-releases of the first two games, there is no English language option. This might be unfortunate for some fans since the game is entirely text-based and requires a full comprehension of written Japanese. The good news is that since the third installment, “Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations”, is announced for a September US release, an announcement about the localized version of Ace Attorney 4 should follow soon. If we are lucky, maybe even in time for a Christmas. Like the previous games in the series the gameplay consists of two parts. You play as a defense attorney who clears your client from charges and collects evidence by doing some interim fieldwork.
The opening starts with a short murder sequence, drawn in grainy pencil sketch-like animation, similar to Cing/Nintendo’s adventure title “Hotel Dusk: Room 215”. This effect is quite neat as it gives off a dark and film noir feel. The silhouettes of two people are seen in a cellar playing cards. Then suddenly one person deals a fatal blow to the other across the table. The story then skips to the courtroom and the player is thrown straight into a court case surrounding the said incident. What is drastically different from the series is the story takes place seven years after the end of Phoenix Wright 3. This time instead of Phoenix is no longer a lawyer and he is now a pianist in a Russian restaurant who also plays poker with customers as an attraction. Instead you play as Odoroki Housuke, a rookie lawyer nervously making his debut in the court scene. He is under the tutelage of the famous defense attorney Garyuu Kirihito, who plays a similar role as Mia Fey in the first Phoenix Wright game. Their relationship serves as a quick tutorial, teaching you how to find contradictions in a testimony by cross-examining witnesses on the stand with the evidence record at your disposal. Another surprise is that not only is Phoenix not our protagonist, but he is also the very defendant accused of murder in this first trial!
Even though Odoroki Housuke is inexperienced and new on the scene, he has a special ability to discover or see if a witness is lying by spotting any nervous gestures, as if time stops in a split second. This power is unknown to him at beginning and we should see it more developed in the upcoming cases. For those who lament the change of the main character and wonder if the fourth game can still technically be called “Phoenix Wright”, fear not, it seems that Phoenix will continue to play a very active role throughout the game, by assisting Odoroki or somehow being directly involved with the cases. For the new characters, we have Minuki, a 15-year old girl Magician who claims to be the Phoenix’s “daughter”. She takes Maya’s place as Odoroki’s cute assistant. There is also the handsome Garyuu Kyouya, Kirihito’s younger brother, serving as the opposing prosecutor (the role of Edgeworth/von Karma in the first two games). Despite the new cast of characters, some familiar faces make a return, such as our beloved bald Judge who is easily entertained by the witnesses’ anecdotes and the prosecutor Winston Payne who yells out his high-pitched “Objection!”, sporting a funny-looking future ‘do to boot, would definitely bring a smile to your face.
Since this game is tailor made for the DS unlike the other GBA ports, touch screen use is fully implemented, just like the last chapter for the first DS remake. You can spin around the evidence (which are all rendered nicely in 3D) with the stylus, dust fingerprints by blowing into the microphone, and make plaster footprints by dragging the blow dryer across the touch screen with the stylus. The graphics are clean and attractive, filled with over-the-top characters drawn in the usual endearing anime-like style, consistent with the rest of the series. I really appreciate this consistency as I’m quite put off by games in the same series that have a totally different art style, eg, Kojima Ayami’s gothic character design for Castlevania since Symphony of the Night and the DS “anime” version. At times we are also treated to some amazing 3D sequences, as the DS is more powerful than the GBA. The background music is also pretty good. It fits the moods required with light hearted, suspenseful, and exciting pieces when called for. Although I still find the first game’s music the best, the second was a little flat for me and I have yet to play the third.
The entire game consists of four cases and I finished the first one. It is in short to medium length compared to the rest as there was no investigation. So far the story proved to be quite thrilling with imaginative plot twists. Now I am in the middle of the second chapter. The investigation part is a little less exciting compared to the courtroom battles, but it isn’t boring. You need to poke around various locations/objects and interrogate potential witnesses. I am sure some of you have gotten stuck at one point or another just because you haven’t looked carefully enough or missed a tiny hint. Which led to not knowing where to go next or who to talk to and this causes a little frustration. In the court battle, the penalty system is more similar to the first game than “Justice for All”, each mistake drains 1/5 of Odoroki’s energy bar, bringing the game to an end after five misses.
For fans who like special swag with their courtroom drama, a limited edition is currently available. Goodies include an encyclopedia DS cartridge that contains data from the three GBA games and the DS remake, a special animation DVD containing all the trailers/demos, and a pair of bright red headphones matching Odoroki’s vest color. Originally, I planned to purchase this version, alas it is not without a hefty price, around ~$150 online. Maybe if there is a price drop in the future, I will pick up the limited version.
With an unpredictable and captivating storyline, old and new interesting odd-ball characters, and a more interactive experience brought about by the DS’s touch screen players will be taken for an exciting ride in Gyakuten Saiban 4. Just who is this “daughter” of Phoenix’s? What major event happened 7 years ago that prompted Phoenix to lose his attorney badge and ended his career? Will the energetic Odoroki awaken Phoenix’s passion in defending justice? I certainly can’t wait to finish off the rest of the game to find out. Hopefully, we will see an English version soon, so gamers outside of Japan can enjoy this excellent sequel to one of the most interesting and quirky series. Since the special program Gyakuten Saiban Mystery Theater will start airing during the Golden Week in Japan, I will bring you more tidbits as they surface.