In Ace Attorney games, players must find clues and resolve a crime. The problem solving involved can be split into two categories: non-insightful, and insightful.
According to Bowden, “non-insight problems are designed to be solvable through a process of systematic application of knowledge and logical deduction” (1997, p. 548). In Ace Attorney, players start each case without any key knowledge, and their journey becomes gaining it and logically building on top of it: finding a clue in a scene (figure 1), then asking a character about it, then using their statement to observe another scene aforementioned, and so forth. This systematic and gradual problem solving allows for steady progress and minimal frustration in early investigation stages.
However, this method gets gradually and deliberately weaker, reaching an apex when players must finally present their final evidence and accusation in court. The non-insight approach to this problem, potentially trying every combination of objects and statements possible, is severely restricted in the game: players that gets more than five answers wrong (figure 2) will lose the case and have to restart. Furthermore, the game makes heavy use of red herrings, such as useless objects, clues that only reveal their purpose after being presented incorrectly, or statements that must be revisited to reveal true intent.
Indeed, Ace Attorney then shifts to insight problem solving, requiring players to “shift his or her perceptive and view the problem in a novel way in order to achieve the solution” (Bonk, 2003). Often the game will ask players to think outside the box by using the objects in an unusual way, applying a new way of thinking about the crime or suspects, or even do seemingly unintuitive gameplay actions (repeat dialogue, look at the wrong object, deliberately fail) in order to progress and solve the case. While not obviously signposted, this problem-solving is consistent with Webb et al.’s observation that even ill-defined problems can be solved with insight (2016).
By using both forms of problem-solving, Ace Attorney is able to keep the players guessing – and playing!
Bonk, K. (2003) Creativity Test: Insight Problems. Available at: http://curtbonk.com/bobweb/Handout/d4.ips.htm (Accessed 14 February 2018).
Bowden, E. M. (1997) ‘The Effect of Reportable and Unreportable Hints on Anagram Solution and the Aha! Experience’, Conscious Cogn., 6, pp.545–573. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9479484 (Accessed 14 February 2018)
Webb, E., Little, D. and Cropper, S. (2016) Insight Is Not in the Problem: Investigating Insight in Problem Solving across Task Types. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01424/full (Accessed 14 February 2018)
Main: Ace Attorney – Coffee (2007). Available at: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/ds/939065-phoenix-wright-ace-attorney-trials-and-tribulations/images/26 (Accessed 14 February 2018)
Ace Attorney – Lives (2010). Available at: http://www.mobygames.com/game/iphone/phoenix-wright-ace-attorney/screenshots/gameShotId,450992/ (Accessed 14 February 2018)
Ace Attorney – Scene (2010). Available at: http://www.mobygames.com/game/iphone/phoenix-wright-ace-attorney/screenshots/gameShotId,451043/ (Accessed 14 February 2018)