2005 was a big year for video games. It was the zenith of the PS2, and it competitors, generation and handhelds were on the rise. The great games that hit during that year include Resident Evil 4, Shadow of the Colossus and Psychonauts. Or Call of Duty 2, FEAR and God of War. The Nintendo DS was coming into its own, with games like Nintendogs, Animal Crossing Wild World and Mario Kart DS. The game from that year that had the biggest impact on me, though, was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. In fact, it is the game that kept me from drifting away from playing video games.
I didn’t actually play Phoenix Wright in 2005, though. While that was a great year for games, it was also a year that I starting giving up on the hobby. It sounds silly to say now in light of how completely its successor dominates my playtime, but the DS didn’t interest me. I had liked the Gameboy Advance, but most of what it offered was watered down SNES ports. The PSP didn’t seem like it was for me, either. I didn’t even have a PS2, all I had a Gamecube. A Gamecube that got a lot of use playing RE4 and Fire Emblem: Paths of Radiance. In late 2005, I did get a PS2, and glutted myself on its wide pool of JRPGs. While the next year did account for a lot of time spent playing games, outside of a few standout titles (Dragon Quest 8, Final Fantasy X) glutting myself on mediocre RPGs really didn’t turn things around for me. I was just killing time. It wasn’t until the fall of 2006, with the release of Pokemon Pearl, that I turned around on the DS. I had been out of the Pokemon game since really early in Silver/Gold days, and the new one looked sure to reignite my interest.
I still remember that first DS. It was a black DS lite, and I bought it with Trauma Center and Star Fox Command. I thought Star Fox was okay, but it didn’t light me on fire, and Trauma Center, despite its wonderful concept, was simply too hard. I couldn’t make it past the midway point of the game. I ended up spending most of my time with Pokemon Pearl and finding cheap GBA games.
One of the things that drew me to the DS was that it seemed to have new kinds of games, experiences I’ve never had before. Trauma Center fit that mold, even if I eventually sold it back to Gamestop for Lunar Knights. Another one that really intrigued me was Ace Attorney, but it was really hard to find for a while. It did get a reprint sometime in 2006; I found it while out Christmas shopping. Buying something for myself while Christmas shopping is a big no-no, but I couldn’t pass on it. It was a revelation. Sure, it was essentially a simplified version of the adventure games that had repeatedly failed to catch my interest, but something about it just clicked with me.
The game is ridiculous, bearing little resemblance to an American courtroom and hopefully just as little to a Japanese one, with larger than life characters and a delightful anything goes mentality. This is a game where spirit mediums are called to the stand to have ghosts testify or where in the middle of the climactic struggle to save Phoenix’s friend turned rival Edgeworth from being found guilty of murder you cross-examine a parrot. Still, the logic of the puzzles was always solid and the characters stood out as being incredibly well-written. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
Of course, I know now that it really isn’t anything new, just a sterling example of a type of visual novel-esque adventure game that has been popular in Japan since the days of the Famicom, but for me it was all new. Before, the games I played were all RPGs of some kind or action games. I moved from Mega Man 3 and Final Fantasy to Mega Man X and Final Fantasy III to Mega Man Legends and Final Fantasy IX. To me, that is what video games were. Sure, I dabbled in RTSes and sports games, but my gaming diet consisted mostly just those two types of games. With the DS and Phoenix Wright, I found something different.
With Ace Attorney 6 announced and more importantly announced for a Western release, I felt an urge to go back to the game that started it all. Playing the version of the AA Trilogy game for 3DS is it just as good as ever. Enough time has passed that while I recall the gist of the game, I don’t remember each beat of the story and every puzzle. It is almost like playing the game for the first time. Not quite, though. It is hard to find that magic of the first time, when the player has no idea what to expect. The boundless creativity and wild west anything goes approach of the DS and Wii has faded again, being replaced by an endless parade of sequels that play just like you remember. Games like Ace Attorney struggle to sell up to expectations. Video games are still enjoyable, sometimes comforting, but despite a burgeoning and diversifying indie scene, I look back with more than a little sorrow for that brief window when it seemed like games could be anything.