Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations
By Zach Patterson Thursday, 20 Dec 2007

It’s been a good year for the Ace Attorney series, seeing the second and third games released in the same year. If you’ve played either of the first two games, you should be right at home here. There’s nothing new added to the series in this iteration other than a conclusion of sorts to some dangling plot threads from the previous games and some new mysteries.

I hate to be too critical of this series, because I realize it’s rare for a text-based adventure game to even come to America, and overall this series is rather well written and fun to play. However, with nothing new added, the third game feels a lot less like a sequel, and more like an expansion of the second game. You still play as Phoenix Wright, with Maya and Pearl assisting you in investigations, and then facing off against a new prosecutor, Godot. I think what is really disappointing is that so many characters are recycled. I mean, we have Gumshoe in nearly every case, and then lesser characters like Larry Butz constantly showing up. While some of them are welcome returns (playing as Mia in the past is pretty cool and her current day cameos are always welcome), it largely feels unnecessary to reuse so many characters so often.

Additionally, the quality of the new secondary characters in this game are probably the worst of the series. Cases 2 and 3 are largely unrelated to 1, 4, and 5, so that is where the most original characters lie. And they are on the whole, very disappointing. Characters like Ron DeLite are so annoying that you would rather let take them fall for the crimes they are accused, and characters like Jean Armstrong and Victor Kudo are almost unbearably hackneyed, one dimensional characters. They keep introducing wackier, goofier anime characters, and it continues to alienate me from really getting into the cases. Also, the established characters seem to have hit a wall in this iteration. While characters like Maya, Pearl, Larry, and Gumshoe all have their own unique personality quirks, they never really evolve beyond them. Maya likes burgers, Pearl is hopelessly naive, Larry is a hopeless girl chasing loser, Gumshoe is a poor doofus, Phoenix is constantly awkward and against the wall in court, etc. It’s very predictable.

And I hate to belabor a point, but these characters supposedly have aged a few years since the first Phoenix Wright game, and yet they still have the exact same portraits/animations. Some characters get a costume change briefly, but there’s still like a half dozen basic “moods” and corresponding portraits that each character has, and it just gets boring aesthetically to look at after awhile. Sherv and I both noted that we had fallen asleep while playing it before. That doesn’t necessarily condemn it as a bad game, but sometimes sorting through testimonies and chasing mysteries can take awhile, and seeing the same stuff now 3 games in a row is getting a little stale at this point. It’s good that the next game makes changes to the game’s conventions, because another game of the same old thing would probably just be too much.

Finally, while the murders and crimes are pretty clever for the most part, they become almost overly complicated and implausible in this game. Too many of the cases are built on crazily concocted schemes that don’t make a lot of sense when you really think about it. Digging through all the layers of the crimes sometimes takes forever, and the cases seem to get longer and longer as the series continues. At this point, I would love for the game to just have some short cases that only take an hour or two to solve. Sitting through hours and court/investigation on menial points to prove one thing that still doesn’t solve the case is frustrating.

While I have spent a lot of time criticizing the game, it does do some things well. It lets you play as several different characters, which is a welcome change of pace and keeps you interested. Also, Godot is simply a really fun character. His music is great, he has a good sense of humor, and he plays a crucial part in the entire game. His story is the best part of the game, by far. Also, the Mia flashback cases are nice in that it limits you to just the courtroom part and simplifies the game a bit. While these two cases still take awhile, it’s nice to not have to do all the work the game usually requires. The writing is still very good as well, and it is a pretty funny game. The translators did a good job of Americanizing some of the jokes with references to Internet fads and American culture. The music in this game is a bit better than the second game as well, but it still is nowhere near as great as the first game (in fact, some of the original themes appear throughout the game still).

Overall, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the third game. It’s just very safe and does little to advance the series. But there are some signs that the game needs changes, since it still does not use the touch screen in any meaningful way, the artwork is still all the same, too many characters keep recurring, etc. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is the next game, and from what I hear, it addresses these faults. I would say if you really like the first two games, go ahead and get this. It won’t blow you away or anything, but it will finish off the Phoenix Wright and Fey family saga, and it’s more of the same type of gameplay that made the original so beloved. Me personally, I’m just getting a little tired of it.

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