Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations

A video game featuring ethical Lawyers? Why, it must be from Japan, but is it worth your time? Read on:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, released as Gyakuten Saiban (Turnabout Courtroom) in Japan on the GBA has been popular with Japanese gamers since the first game hit the shelves in October 2001. Being text based, non-Japanese reading gamers had to either hit the kanji books or twiddle their thumbs and wait for localization. Capcom, catching a whiff of potential monies and realizing the DS is a perfect platform for their more quirky niche games..put their business hat on straight and decided to tweak the title, add a bit of touch screen functionality goodness, and bring the series to the US on the Nintendo DS. The first GBA to DS port, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney had an additional bonus case for the DS version. It was such a success, it sold out all over the US, prompting a second production run from Capcom.

The second, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney And Justice for All, was a direct port, no goodies. The most current port, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations is a direct port as well, no new cases. Should this affect your purchase? I suppose if you’ve played the GBA game and are bored by shouting “Hold It” and using a touch screen doesn’t appeal to you..however if you’ve never played the game before, then I would highly recommend this game for anyone who doesn’t mind a lot of text served with a great sense of humor, great characters, and cases interesting enough to keep you playing to find out “whodunit.”

One thing that deserves a mention here, I’m playing the Japanese version. Since my Japanese is 3rd grade level at best, how, you ask, am I able to play, enjoy, and completely understand a text-based game? Glad you asked. Some genius type at Capcom decided to include dual language support. By the simple touch of a button on the title screen, the player can flip back and forth between Japanese and English text and voice, though the only voices are various characters shouting “Objection”, “Hold It!”, etc. And this is full on translation kids, no Engrish!! I hope this is a pattern Capcom will continue and other Japanese developers will follow. Not only would this greatly bulk up my gaming library, it would also allow my lazy butt to take a break from kanji.

For those who haven’t played the first two Phoenix Wright games, Phoenix Wright is a defense attorney, and is the main character. Phoenix, along with the help of a mostly charming cast, (for the exception of Maya, don’t know why but I find her mindless prattling annoying), assures that all evidence is presented and justice prevails. I was glad to see that one of my favorite characters in the series, Mia Fey, is given her own case to solve. Pearl Fey should win an award for the cutest video game character ever. Also, the newest Prosecutor, visor and vest combo wearing coffee drinking Godot (Yes, a prosecutor wearing a visor reminiscent of Hayate/Cyclops -Only In Japan-), is one of the best Phoenix Wright characters ever.

Also, to understand Phoenix’s association with the Fey family, you really need to play the first two games. I don’t want to spoil the story, and explaining too much would potentially plot spoil the first two games for you. You could play this as a stand alone, however I think you will enjoy the latest installment more if you have played the other games. The past relationships are touched on, however, understanding the relationship between Mia and Phoenix and Edgeworth and Phoenix can only be fully appreciated by playing the other games. Usually, the cases in individual PW games build on each other, leading to the denouement in the last case.

Cases are solved in a logical fashion; talk to potential witnesses for information, find evidence, examine evidence, and examine locations. Phoenix then gets to grill witnesses on the stand and go toe to toe with a wily prosecutor to prove his client’s innocence, and this, in my opinion, is where the Phoenix Wright series shines. The courtroom battles usually provide juicy plot twists, courtroom drama, and the series trademark humorous dialogue. Regarding dialogue, the banter between the characters is usually witty, and most of the time the dialogue is not repetitive, however, at times when Phoenix examines items at a crime scene, the aforementioned Maya Fey go off on one of her inane tangents-.Oddly enough, her conversation during trials isn’t bothersome.

Also, PW3 has the same Psych-locke system as PW2. Essentially the Psyche-locke system is this: certain witnesses have info they don’t wish to cough up, chains and locks appear. To break the lock, Phoenix uses an item given to him by Pearl and must “break” the locks by contradicting their story with facts. If you don’t have the proper facts, you can’t break the lock, and you lose hit points. So, be sure to have your ducks in a row before attempting to break a Psyche-lock. (Or you can be cheap like me, and save/reload.)

I didn’t play the any of the GBA versions, so I can’t say if it’s graphically better. What I can tell you is that I wasn’t disappointed by the DS graphics at all. The layout and appearance of the game is on par with a DS title. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t scream GBA port. The characters are drawn very well, then again it is Capcom and they are not lazy with character design. The characters have different animations/expressions dependent upon the flow of the conversation. At one point during a rather heated case, Godot lobs a cup of coffee at Phoenix, it smacks him in the face, and is a rather hilarious animation.

Controls are easy. The DS touch screen is used to move, talk, examine, and present evidence. Nothing earth shattering or new, controls are the same as the previous two installments. What is fun about this game, is that if you enjoy yelling and want to pretend that you are a lawyer, when you want to pry more information from a witness, you can yell “Hold It” to pry or “Objection” to object. Since all of this yelling would drive my dogs crazy, I simply used the stylus.

Cases are won in Phoenix Wright 3 in the same way as the previous versions, and his ultimate goal is to get a Not Guilty verdict. Witnesses take the stand, they testify, you can press for more information, and present evidence which contradicts statements that aren’t truthful. Most of the time, the logic of the witness testimony and the contradicting evidence is fairly straightforward. In some of the cases though, a bit of trial (no pun intended) and error is involved in selecting the proper evidence, the logic is a bit-obtuse. Choose your evidence wisely, as Phoenix loses hit points if you select the wrong evidence, lose all of your hit points and the judge will not rule in your favor. The saving grace is that you can save/suspend before you present. If you choose incorrectly and you want to be cheap, you can simply reload your suspended game and choose another piece of evidence.

In closing, if you’ve enjoyed the previous Phoenix Wright games, Trials and Tribulations is more of the same. And in this case, that’s a good thing. Why complain if “more of the same” is serving up consistent goodness? The last pizza I bought from Papa John’s was the same as the previous pizza I bought from Papa John’s, delicious. I didn’t bitch because they didn’t flute my crust. No, I’m not going crazy and my Pizza analogy isn’t because I’m hungry-the same logic applies here. Yes, it’s the same, however it’s not the type of same that says “Crap, I’ve played this damned game before” is more akin to a cozy familiarity.

Sadly, this is the last in the Gyakuten Saiban series that Phoenix Wright will be the main character. Part 4 will star a new main character, Apollo Justice, with a new cast of characters. I’ve looked at screenshots, the game looks amazing like its predecessors. And Phoenix does appear, however he is looking alcoholic, stubbly and wearing a blue stocking cap? Come on, Capcom, you’ll have to bring Gyakuten Saiban 4 to the US, or I’m really going to have to bone up on my kanji. I have to know how my favorite attorney ends up this way!!