Phoenix Wright 123HD (逆転裁判123HD) iOS Review

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Phoenix Wright 123HD was recently announced in Capcom's Phoenix Wright event. Capcom was surprisingly swift in releasing the game, only a few days later it was uploaded to the Japanese iTunes appstore. Unfortunately it is only in Japanese, no other versions have been released or even announced yet.

I have a Japanese iTunes account, so I had the opportunity to download the game and check it out quickly. I had a bit of a play through and it remains very faithful to the DS versions. For the unaware, Phoenix Wright is a game that was first published on the Gameboy Advance in Japan. The main character, Phoenix Wright, is a defense attorney, and the game involves both courtroom trials and investigative sequences in which you prove your client innocent. It is a simple game of looking for relevant clues and contradictions to unravel witness testimonies, but the success is largely from the excellent stories, over-the-top characters and unique gameplay. It was ported to the Nintendo DS where it received such phenomenal success that sequels and spinoffs were released.

Screenshot from the iOS version of Phoenix Wright released in early 2010. Very simple port of the DS version with few changes.

In early 2010, the game was brought over to iPhones and iPod Touches around the world. It was pretty much a direct port with the same graphics, dialogue, and even the controls were minor reworks. I expect Capcom has met unexpected success again as this latest entry to the iOS world has significant work done on the graphics and menus and of course includes not only the first game, but also the second and third.

I don't think there is too much merit to reviewing the game itself. The gameplay is truly an innovation, and the amount of success Capcom has basked in is a testament to this claim. It doesn't seem like there are any changes at all in the overall dialogue or scenarios. Phoenix Wright still retains all of the quirks and charms it always did.

What has been reworked is the graphics. The game can probably be classified as a remake, it does look a lot sharper and oozes a slightly different style. The truth is that Capcom didn't redesign anything, every tiny detail from the box in the corner of the building to the little bars on the side of the courtroom remains. What has changed is that the graphics were not simply sharpened, they were redrawn as closely to the originals as possible. I have no complaints with the job done, it looks very good, but I think there is some charm in the pixelated versions. I can understand that bringing this to the iPads of the world requires an "HD" version though.

The graphics are notably sharper and have been enhanced to look good even on the iPad.

Outside of the graphical changes, there is also the changes to the menu. Those with the old iOS version of the game will see fewer changes, but coming from the DS is a bit different. On the DS there was the luxury of more screen space and of course buttons. When first ported to the iPod Touch and iPhone, the game rolled all of the buttons into two tabs, the Court Record and the Options. From there you'd click options, then the famous catchphrase "objection". A little annoying at first, given the need to click twice, but it got a little more intuitive.

Buttons are obviously a little changed from the DS version. There aren't dedicated buttons for raising objections or looking at the court record. Instead you get everything rolled up into two buttons, including options, saves, etc.

Beyond that though, this new version has some clear upgrades over the last reiteration on iOS platforms. The first and foremost for me is the ability to play in both portrait and landscape. Originally, the iOS version would only let you play in portrait where both of the DS's screens were simulated on an iPhone. As a result, you get a very small window to watch the proceedings. It was entirely wasted space since there very very few buttons on the bottom half of the device. Phoenix Wright 123HD not only supports this display mode, but also lets you flip to a landscape view where the buttons are pushed to the corners, and you are free to enjoy the enhanced graphics.

The buttons are moved to the corners in landscape mode. For the most part they don't get in the way, though I did find a cutscene where it blocked more than I'd like.

The other improvement I found was in multitasking. Phoenix Wright on the iOS used to be a bit of a pain. When you moved out of the game, it freezes to another screen requiring you to tap to start up again. It also restricted the use of any music on your device. Sure, the melodies in Phoenix Wright are pretty catchy, but on an iPod Touch, I really expect the ability to keep playing my favorite tracks. The game works brilliantly now, you can play your own music in the background, overlay the shouts of "OBJECTION" on top. You can answer a call and zip back into the game nice and easy.

The last concern I had was about save games. For a large portion of us, this won't be our first foray into the world of Phoenix Wright. We've played a few of the games, maybe missed a few cases here and there, or played them all and want to relive some of the more entertaining moments. But on ALL of the Phoenix Wright games, you have to unlock the cases. Beat them one at a time, then you get the right to play whichever one you want. When I got Phoenix Wright on iOS, I had to replay up to the point I wanted to get at. For Phoenix Wright 123HD, it was a real concern, I was worried that not only would I have to play through to a certain part, but I may not be able to play the third game at all without beating the first. Thankfully this isn't the case. Not only are ALL of the turnabouts (chapters) available from the start, there are options to start in the middle of one without the need to beat any level at all. It was definitely a huge relief for me, I haven't beaten all the cases yet, I think I have one left and it's good to know that I can easily access it.

This is not a list of the games or the turnabouts, it is the list of parts within a turnabout. That means that you can skip the whole introduction to a scene, you can jump straight out of the investigations and into a courtroom battle, or maybe just redo something you weren't quite clear on. The game is made to be played in a linear fashion, but for fans of the franchise, this is a great way to jump straight back into the action.

The last thing I wanted to bring up is the cost of the game. It's quite a clever system, the download itself is only 100MB. When you purchase the three different games included, you get the opportunity to download each section of the turnabout individually at approximately 15MB a piece. They include the first two turnabouts for free, but after that you have to pay. Oddly enough I had dollar figures despite having the Japanese game, so I'm unsure if these are the final prices given Japanese apps are always a little pricier. It is $6.99 a game, but if you buy the whole package at once, it is only $14.99. Certainly pricier than your average $0.99 app, but to me it is well worth it.

At the bottom, it says "Play this scenario". If you own the game already, you can jump straight in, if not it'll take you to a page showing the prices. Even if you don't buy it, you can still browse the turnabouts.

I am very impressed with the work they did with the Japanese version of Phoenix Wright on iOS devices. I am looking forward to an inevitable North American release. It is also heading to Android devices probably further out in the future. If you haven't, go give the current iOS version a try. Capcom will be updating anyone with the old version of the game to the new shiny Phoenix Wright 123HD when it is released.


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