Review by Pollyanna

Reviewed: 02/10/04

Exciting Dramatic Lawyer Simulation Action Masterpiece!

Gyakuten Saiban is, in a sense, a lawyer simulator, in another sense, a puzzle game, and in part, a point-and-click adventure game. However, above all else, it is an involving and moving drama that presents an experience not quite like any other. Though its presentation is simplistic, it is without doubt, an accomplished piece of work that transcends classification. That is not to say, however, that it is a flawless piece of work, and it is hindered in some ways in terms of its limited gameplay and replay value.

The game tells the story of a struggling new lawyer, Ryuichi Naruhodo, who the player guides through court cases and investigations. The gameplay is easy to pick up and simple enough for gamers and non-gamers alike. Court cases primarily revolve around cross-examining witnesses by attempting to shake testimony out of them or pointing out inconsistencies with evidence or data. When a witness makes their testimony, it is divided into several pieces of text which you can examine, then choose to either question them about or attempt to refute with evidence. Occasionally this will be broken up with questions from the judge to make sure you're on track. Make enough incorrect presentations of evidence or wrong answers and you lose the case (which means game over).

The somewhat less exciting investigation portion moves you from one location to another as you look for testimony and evidence to present in court the next day. Examining crime scenes, talking to witnesses and attempting to uncover the true culprit are all done in menu-based point and click style.

Although this system is painfully simple, it is far from boring. What makes Gyakuten Saiban so charming is its' deep, enjoyable characters and well-crafted script. The player may be doing little more than pressing a button to advance the plot, but watching it happen is rewarding enough in itself. Court cases are won with a clever mind, and not quick fingers, after all. Those who doubt that court drama can be exciting, need only give the game a chance to see how much they can get into it. I found myself biting my fingernails trying to figure out who did what and why, cursing at witnesses who were lying to me and laughing in triumph when I would have a revelation.

Pressing the button to object isn't very involving, but thinking about the case and solving the mystery is. When Naruhodo figures out a key clue, it's because YOU figured it out, so dramatically turning over a trial is very gratifying. When the trial begins to slip out of your hands...it can be nerve-wracking...when you stop the game to do something else, you can't help but try and figure out the mysteries of each trial.

In this respect, Gyakuten Saiban's strongest point is its' involving story and amazing writing. Each trial is filled with drama, comedy and shocking twists. It's easy to become attached to the characters and their struggles as the plot unfolds. I was surprised to find myself moved to tears several times in the story and felt personally motivated to win the trials. The courtroom action is merely a means to an end, as what makes Gyakuten Saiban a true masterpiece is the underlying dramatic story that each trial involves. Rather than a series of unrelated events, each trial contributes to a deep, overlying plot, and never feels like a ''one shot story'' or waste of time. Rather, each of the four trials is an important piece in the lives of the main characters.

The game does not disappoint in the graphics department, either. The characters are all colorful, expressive and well designed. The artwork during all parts of the game is detailed, clean and well done. The style, detail and size of the characters make the game feel somewhat like ''an interactive comic''. The characters are also well animated, especially considering their size and detail. Lips move during dialogue, and comedic, often wildly exaggerated gestures convey action and emotion in different scenes. Naruhodo's dramatic pounding on his desk and pointing accusingly will make you grin triumphantly, while sweating and whimpering rivals and criminals will make you laugh out loud.

The sound, though limited, is also very well done. All of the pieces of music, perhaps excluding the disappointing ending theme, are excellent and memorable. The main ''sad'' theme is particularly moving as are the exciting, fast-paced songs played during key moments in the trials. The theme it plays when you begin to win the trial after making a key realization really gets your blood pumping as you watch your opposition crumble before your clever realizations. The songs played in the investigation phase, however, are generally less exciting and tend to become repetitive. There are probably no more than 10 songs in the game total, and while they are well-composed, they may become somewhat irritating in long investigation phases.
Although they are few, the character voices are also worth mentioning. The various lawyer's dramatic cries during objections get you into the action and help bring the characters alive. Sadly, only 4 characters in the game have voices, and each of them only have one or two samples. Even some of the main characters, such as Mayoi and Chihiro (Naruhodo's partners) don't have voice samples, despite their immense importance in the plot. Even as little as one sound file from each of the key characters (such as ''order!'' from the Judge) would have been a great improvement with minimal effort.

Gyakuten Saiban's weakest point, however, is its' replay value. While you have a number of different choices and it is possible that you may miss a funny dialogue somewhere in an investigation, the chances are that you'll experience everything the first time through. Other than the motivation to see your favorite scenes again, there's really no reason to play the game more than once. That being said, the experience may last you as much as 15 hours, so, regardless of no replay value, it is by no means a short experience. Other irritations include the inability to quickly scroll through text that you've already seen before. While this is implemented in some pieces of the trial, when you look at an object in the investigation phase, it is often accompanied by a lengthy description, followed by a dialogue between Naruhodo and Mayoi. At first, these are entertaining, but they lose their charm when you can't find the right clue (or just KNOW what you're clicking on is what you need) and you have to scroll through them slowly for the 5th or 6th time. Although it didn't happen to me, losing a trial could prove a huge nuisance if you are forced to slowly scroll through the text a second time. The solution is simply to think about any decision before you make it and make sure you've actually figured out the case, rather than playing a guessing game. A number of the solutions to problems are somewhat vague and may result in a few ''mistakes'' in the judge's eyes, but these instances do not constitute enough to make you lose a trial. It is also notable that Gyakuten Saiban is almost completely unplayable without Japanese knowledge. While you could get through the court cases through trial and error (no pun intended), without an understanding of what you're doing, the game is almost completely pointless. Since most of the gaming is done with your brain, rather than your fingers, button-mashing your way through the game isn't the least bit gratifying.

Despite its' limited playability, Gyakuten Saiban accomplishes everything it sets out to do and is a nearly flawless piece of work in many ways. It may not satisfy those who want fast-paced action games, but it tells an amazing story and really pulls the player into the action. It transcends the typical definition of a ''video game'' and creates a wildly enjoyable, totally unique experience.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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