How an anime courtroom visual novel changed the way I play games

Just like any other entertainment medium, people develop their own personal tastes and preferences for video games. In my own experience, from a young age this has remained fairly consistent over time with genres like platformers, racing games, and others. Spending more time inside the past year more than ever, it’s been a unique opportunity to not only catch up on games, but to try new genres altogether. Recent sales on digital storefronts have also made trying new games even more accessible and affordable. This combination allowed me to jump into a genre I’ve never explored before with the Phoenix Wright Trilogy for Nintendo Switch. It turns out I was playing a visual novel and didn’t even realize it.

The Phoenix Wright visual novel series started on the Nintendo DS system and has since spawned a series of games, including a spinoff featuring the puzzle-solving Professor Layton. Although the series has been around for awhile, the games haven’t been accessible on modern hardware outside of Nintendo’s handhelds and iOS ports. In 2019, the Phoenix Wright HD Trilogy was finally released for modern platforms, including Nintendo Switch.

Spanning the first three games in the series, the player takes the role of Phoenix Wright, a new hotshot defense lawyer proving himself as he takes on various court cases. Being a visual novel, the game is played from a first-person perspective controlling a cursor on-screen. Each case consists of phases, which include investigating for a case, and the court case itself. In the courtroom, testimonies are searched for contradictions, unfolding the story and case at-hand.

I’m a newcomer to the visual-novel genre, and it wasn’t until far into the trilogy that I realized I was playing games in the genre. I was pleasantly surprised at the pacing and patterns that are presented compared to a real-time, action oriented game. Being presented with a case, investigating, then going to court to watch it all play out is a satisfying pattern the game presents, and there’s no immediate sense of urgency to complete it at a certain pace. Characters are more-or-less still images with some movement, but talking to them for long periods of time in first-person throughout each game, their strong personalties shine and are brought to life. I found myself much more invested in the characters of these game than most games I’ve played in recent memory. It helps that the main mechanic of the game is talking and listening, versus combat. It’s been a nice change-of-pace and makes me want to explore the genre even more.

Animal Crossing for the Switch erupted in popularity after its launch during a time where most everyone in the world was quarantined. The game provides an escape mentally and is relaxing to play. Although not relaxing disconnect and escape in the same way Animal Crossing is, I feel these visual novels like the Phoenix Wright series are also perfect to play during these times. The games allow the player to escape into a story that is easy to consume at any pace, and the point-and-click gameplay is relaxingly simple. It’s not a game where you can zone out completely, but as long as you pay attention to the story beats, it feels like a lazy river of a video game; slow and steady, but you still have to pay attention so you don’t fall off the raft.

Spending so much time indoors can be a time for growth, not only in waist size, but also in trying new genres in games. I had no idea I’d enjoy the visual novel genre as much as I have, and it makes me want to try other genres I’ve slept on for years as well. Don’t be afraid to go and try a new genre of game, you never know what might end up being your next favorite game.

I like to write about games and everything around them. Persona 4 is the greatest game of all time.