Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pheonix Wright and a Case of Tension

I've made a mistake.

Since my last post saying i'll be back, i've been doing a lot of thinking about writing about video games. What am i going to write about? Where can i do some research so it sounds like i know what i'm talking about? Will they be as good as the couple articles i wrote last year?

I've decided it's time to just write.

Let's talk Pheonix Wright.

Since the DS version was released in Australia in early 2007, i have been enamoured with this series. Recently since it is becoming difficult to find copies of the DS games that aren't ridiculously expensive, i bought the three games on Wiiware and am playing through them again (well replaying the first and second, i have not played the third as of this date).

Having completed the first again, i would like to talk about it. I might do this for the second and third title, but i'm not making any promises. Pheonix Wright is a streamlined adventure game set in a courtroom. Sure there are sections of the game where you have to investigate crime scenes and talk to witnesses, but those are preperation for the meat of the game, which is again, the courtroom.

To turn playing a defense attourney into a fun game mechanic required a little retooling of the court system. A trial can only last three days so the player has a definite time frame of how close they might be to declaring their client innocent. The prosocution calls all witnesses and has incredible influence over the judge and the police force. In fact, the only tool the player as Pheonix Wright has is cross-examination, where you scour through the witness testimony looking for inconsistancies and contradictions.

What surprised me in this replay is the tension of the courtroom drama (especially because even though this is a game that involves defending clients of murder, it is a quite humourous experience). It reminded me of how in many movies, even though there's that logical part of the brain that tell us "He's the hero, there's no way he can fail", there are sequences in these films that have us on the edge of out seat. Pheonix Wright employs the same logic. If our client is guilty, we lose, therefore the trial has to turn around. Why then are there so many occurances of Pheonix's hide being saved at the complete last minute?

It all comes down to the writing and pacing. It's an adventure game after all. Even the puzzles (finding contradictions) are scarce compared to the unravelling of each case. The characters and writing are what keep the player's attention, and to fake the player out, thinking that perhaps they chose the wrong contradiction or have travelled down the wrong path keeps an element of uncertainty in a very linear game.

That and how fun it is to yell "Objection!" and slam your hands down on the desk... even if you're not playing the game.

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