Being a defense lawyer is kind of like being a porn star in that you inevitably end up tangling with the worst mankind has to offer. This raises an interesting question: how do you defend the indefensible? Why, by being charming and discrediting any witnesses and evidence that stand against you, of course. This is where Devil’s Attorney comes in, a turn-based game set in the glitzy 80s that can best be described as an RPG-lite. In it, you play as Max McMann, a suave lawyer who rises from humble beginnings to lawyer superstardom by winning impossible cases that you’ll undoubtedly recognize for their pop culture references. Defending a Terminator? Check. Getting an Ozzy Osbourne-inspired character acquitted for eating animals on stage? Check. This is a game where the fun comes from its absurdity, and it’s far more absurd than you’d expect a game about a lawyer to be.
So many characters to love
Most games that try to incorporate humor end up failing horribly, full stop. Humor is a tricky thing to pull off, especially in video games, and many games push it too far without understanding that some of the warmest, fuzziest slices of laughter pie come from enjoyable characters. This is ultimately what surprised me the most about Devil’s Attorney; while the cases you take on are ridiculous and each trial begins with you mocking/taunting whichever prosecutor you’re up against, you face the same prosecutors on enough occasions that their unique personalities are allowed to shine as you become familiar with them. This makes their bumbling mediocrity (and occasional douchebaggery) endearing, almost like they’re little wounded animals who you keep kicking, but purely out of love.
Combat is almost like a puzzle
Explaining Devil’s Attorney’s combat is incredibly difficult because of how unlike anything else it is. Put simply, you don’t actually do any lawyer stuff. Instead, each trial plays out with a turn-based jRPG style of combat that many gamers are probably familiar with. However, most trials only last two or three turns, so combat usually comes down to finding the best way to finish your opponents off quickly rather than being the battle of attrition many jRPGs boil down to. This is simultaneously refreshing and genre-breaking, because each trial presents a different set of obstacles, and finding the ideal way to use your skills to finish your opponents off quickly gives the whole thing a sort of “puzzle” feel.
Credibility is life
Since we’re dealing with lawyers in a courtroom rather than emo teenagers wielding oversized swords, there’s no “health” to keep track of. Instead, witnesses and evidence have “credibility” that functions in place of health; when the credibility of a witness or piece of evidence reaches zero (or less than zero), it disappears from the case and no longer has to be worried about. Max, on the other hand, has a “case strength” indicator that witnesses and evidence will be doing damage to each turn. When his case strength reaches zero, he loses the case.
Lights, camera, action points
Inside of combat, you’re given several attacks such as “discredit” and “reverse psychology” with which to damage the credibility of your opponents, as well as several other moves that can reduce the amount of damage that your enemies inflict on you. Tying all of this together is the fact that you’re able to attack as long as you have enough “action points” to act, with different attacks and defensive moves using different amounts of AP. Your action points replenish entirely at the beginning of each turn, so combat is less of a struggle to manage them so much as it’s a fight to balance minimizing the damage you take with eliminating as much evidence (and as many witnesses) as you can in a single turn.
Ranges of damage
Your attacks inflict a random amount of damage within a set range, so planning out the best way to use your action points comes with a certain amount of risk. Do you use a move that requires 4 action points and is guaranteed to finish off one of your opponents, or would it be smarter to take a 50/50 shot at eliminating them for fewer action points, saving enough in the process to shore up your defenses against your other opponents? I found that Devil’s Attorney is flawlessly balanced in this regard, and while that ubiquitous element of chance can occasionally become frustrating, there’s a handy “restart this case” button that you can use as many times as you want without penalty.
Money is power
There are no experience points to be found anywhere in the game. Instead, you buy gaudy furniture and items with the money you make from winning cases, and this moves either your “materialism,” “decadence,” or “vanity” bar up one notch. These bars are basically skill trees that will look familiar to anyone who’s ever played Mass Effect, and you can unlock new attacks that can make your life much easier at certain points on each bar.
You can also buy—and occasionally be gifted—items that confer passive combat bonuses. While these tend to be a bit on the expensive side, the boosts are almost always worth it because they can raise the damage of certain attacks, grant you more action points per turn, or even allow you to start combat with a higher case strength (which basically means starting combat with more health). Not only that, but some items even show up in pre-trial banter, which is why Max is wearing a pimp hat in many of my screenshots below.
Combat remains fresh to the end
Since Devil’s Attorney’s combat would be same-y if you were constantly facing the same kinds of foes, it does a great job of steadily introducing new obstacles that you have to find ways around. There are experts who raise the damage potential of evidence, “witness protection” that reduces the damage you’re capable of doing to witnesses, and most interestingly, unique prosecutor skills.
Those unique prosecutor skills are easily the most interesting element of each trial because they’re usually the ones that have to be planned around the most. One prosecutor, for example, does exactly as much damage to you as your case strength, meaning he can finish you off in a single turn if he’s not immediately dealt with. Another prosecutor doesn’t attack at all, but fully restores the credibility of her witnesses each turn (meaning you have to finish off a witness in a single turn or else have them restored to full health). Still another does more damage to you the less health he has and is best ignored until your very last turn. These unique skills help combat to remain interesting throughout the game.
Choose your ending
Devil’s Attorney is 100% linear, but you’re given the choice of three endings at the very end. There’s the “good” ending, the “implausible” ending (which is slightly entertaining), and the “bad” ending. The weird thing is that the good ending is a bit on the sappy side, whereas the so-called bad ending was the most entertaining and consistent one. Either way, they’re all identical in terms of the setting and characters, with the dialogue being the only thing changed between the endings.
Speaking of endings, the one thing I hated about this game is that you’re not able to go back and view the other endings. No, the game auto-saves at the end, so you have to play through the entire game three times if you want to see all three endings. Sure, you can Youtube the other endings, but that doesn’t change the fact that there should be an option to start at the very end to see the other endings. Hell, I’d have even accepted having to play through the final boss fight again.
A game about a sleazy lawyer has to have a sleek, cartoonish, cel-shaded style. It just has to. “Sleek” really does sum it up, too, because everything appears very crisp and smooth. There aren’t many animations outside of the talking animations during pre-trial banter since the game mostly relies on static screens that you tap on, but the graphics are interesting enough that I never minded this. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that this game has one of the greatest intro videos of all time, complete with an amazing intro song.
Synths are so retro
During trials, there’s a cheesy synth playing a happy-go-lucky tune. That’s about all I can remember of the game’s music apart from the fantastic intro song, though. Is that a bad thing? For most games, yes, but the lack of anything excessively memorable didn’t do any damage to my impression of Devil’s Attorney for some reason. It’s also worth mentioning that this game has solid voice acting across the board, especially for a mobile game. By the end, I was really impressed by how much personality the voice acting lent to the characters.
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