I like that long title. Anyway here’s the interview:
1UP: Looking back on the first game, did you notice any differences between how U.S. players responded to the game and how Japanese players responded to it?
MM: Enthusiastic fans are really enjoying the game in Japan and the USA alike. There have been many people who play the game and tell their friends how fun it is. This sort of word-of-mouth buzz is the same in Japan and America.
1UP: What were the most common reaction comments you heard from U.S. players?
MM: The feedback we received the most was that they want to play more Phoenix Wright and see what happens to the characters. I really appreciate all the comments. That’s one of the main reasons we started work on “Justice For All.”
1UP: Is there anything you are doing as a result of U.S. player reactions to the first game to shape Justice For All?MM: We are creating a touch panel system so that players can enjoy the new Psycho Lock gameplay system. We also got great feedback about the quality of the English localization, so we are working to maintain that quality and make it even better this time around.
1UP: Feature-wise, how will Justice For All (U.S. version) compare with Gyakuten Saiban 2 (Japanese version)? The first Phoenix Wright featured a bonus chapter that wasn’t in the original Japanese version; are there plans for similar bonus content in Justice For All?
MM: We are working to complete this game as soon as possible for those fans that can’t wait to get their hands on the next installment. There is no added content, but it has about the same amount of gameplay volume as the first installment, not to mention all the plot twists and surprises fans have come to expect.
1UP: Recently the latest game, Gyakuten Saiban 4, was revealed in the Japanese press after a long period of teasing. Did Phoenix Wright’s surprise popularity in America affect how you approached the fourth game, perhaps in terms of cultural references or humor?
MM: We are trying to make a neutral and friendly game that is suitable and enjoyable all over the world, not just in Japan where the game was created. I think the humor in the game all depends on the skill of the translators. For example, right now our team is having fun trying to figure out what to call “Odoroki-kun” in English. Localization is a long process for a game like this, but I am confident it will be worth the wait.
1UP: On average, how many people work on a Phoenix Wright game? Has the staff increased or decreased for “Justice for All?”
MM: Our team has about 20 staff members, which is about the same as for the first game. Right now a large portion of the staff is working on the localization of the game. Everybody’s working extremely hard to make this a great game that even the most critical fans can enjoy.
1UP: The series plays like other similarly styled Japanese detective adventure games. What other games or media were the main influences for the Phoenix Wright series?
MM: Some of the team members like the Perry Mason series and Ellery Queen. Also, they like the character Father J. Brown so you can feel this reflected in the spirit of the games.
1UP: One of the charming things about the series is that while the “good guys” look a little funny (Phoenix’s hair or Maya’s traditional garb), the bad guys look even funnier. Is this an intentional approach?
MM: The characters were created during the passionate brainstorming creative process between the director and the initial illustrators we had. Although there are some distinctly Japanese traits about the characters, I am extremely happy the character design has been well accepted by Western audiences too.
1UP: Detective shows on TV run forever and always seem to have a new little twist on a story that’s otherwise unoriginal. Meanwhile, the stories in Phoenix Wright games are always different from the last. Can you describe how the team dreams up a story concept and reaches a final script?
MM: Whether it is script writing, directing the on-screen action, or producing the title, the director, Mr. Takumi, is a perfectionist that demands excellence in all aspects of the game, and I think it shows. His favorite genre is mystery and suspense, and he has gone through a painstaking trial-and-error process to get such a polished and seamless product. So you’d have to dissect his brain to see what really goes on [laughs]. But I think one key is the dialog tempo, as set by the director. The pacing of the game is very good.
1UP: Translation-wise, is there anything in particular you are focusing on with this version of the game?MM: The most important thing is having an understanding of the culture the game is being localized for. Every day I try my best to make sure I respect the other cultures as we work to fuse those cultural sensibilities with the world of Phoenix Wright.
1UP: If you were to remake the entire series from scratch specifically for a U.S. audience, what might you do differently?
[Matsukawa declined to answer this question.]
1UP: The Phoenix Wright series was clearly made to take advantage of handheld gaming with its stop-and-go save features and the fact it’s an adventure game. There was a PC port of the first game in Japan, but has the urge ever come up to do a “super” Phoenix Wright game for home consoles?
MM: I think you can enjoy this game because this is handheld. Being able to pick it up and play it anywhere is what makes the game what it is, rather than plopping down on a couch in front of the TV and playing.
1UP: Finally, do you think the series would be a good fit for an episodic game down the line, where new cases could be released individually as downloads?
MM: I am glad to hear your thoughts on the series. Our team is constantly in a trial-and-error process to make each game the best it can be. There is no plan for download play, but we will plan to put more effort in the release of the “Ace Attorney” series in the USA in the future. Stay tuned.
In other Phoenix Wright news: if you’re lucky enough to be attending Comic Con in San Diego, you can go hands on with Justice For All as well as be able to purchase the famous Phoenix Wright Finger stylus. Cool! Maybe we’ll learn more about the new features!
PWAAJFA is due out Q1 2007.
Interview conducted by Ray Barnholt, and Matt Leone.