[23 January 2008]
I’m not going to beat about the bush here, I absolutely adore the Phoenix Wright series. Let’s face facts: storytelling in video games is generally poorly done, to say the least. Characters are often clichéd, the dialogue is nearly always substandard and the plot, well, the less said about most plots in video games the better. Phoenix Wright completely turns all of these factors on their heads and, true to form, its newest iteration delivers one of the funniest, most enjoyable games of the year.
Explanation of the history here is a necessity if you’re new to Phoenix & co. Trials and Tribulations is the third in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy; the original three games were released on the good ol’ Game Boy Advance back in 2001, but alas, they were Japanese exclusives. Western audiences were deemed too trigger happy to appreciate a graphic adventure title where the main protagonist is a spiky haired defense attorney. Eventually, Capcom came around, but this delay in porting means that Trials and Tribulations and the two DS versions that preceded it, the original Ace Attorney and Justice for All are all Game Boy Advance ports, with sadly very little use of the unique features of the DS.
Don’t let that put you off of the series; the upcoming fourth installment, starring an all new defense attorney (Apollo Justice), has been built on the DS from the ground up. The primary reasons you play a graphic adventure, however, are the quality of the script and believability and likability of the characters in it. Here, the series has always excelled, regardless of its platform of origin.
Phoenix is now wiser, older, and far more battle-weary than before. This third installment, spread out over 5 chapters, each varying in length, explains his backstory and how he became a defense attorney in the first place. His relationship with Mia Fey, his best friend and mentor, is also explored, and loose ends from the previous two titles are tied up.
Along the way, characters both old and new will return, each unique and quirky in their own ways but each as likeable as the one before. It’s testament to Capcom’s ability to create such a memorable cast, one that stays in your mind, even though you may not have encountered the returning characters since the first game in the series.
There is nothing in gaming quite
like seeing this screen.
Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the series, Trials and Tribulations is an essential purchase. Action junkies beware, though, this isn’t the game for you. Trials and Tribulations plays like a novel; while practically nothing has changed since the second entry in the series, gameplay wise (with the exception of playing as a few different characters) the pedestrian pace is a refreshing break from the norm.
It’s quite relaxing just to kick back on the couch and tap away with the stylus as you unravel the mystery of the murder at hand (the investigations are always about murders), gather evidence, interrogate witnesses and piece together the clues to solve the case in front of you, with often surprising and occasionally jaw-dropping conclusions.
Then enter the courtroom for the big fight ahead and be prepared to take some serious knockbacks, as just when you think you’ve got the trial sewn up, your rival prosecutor, this time the enigmatic lawyer known simply as ‘Godot’, throws another spanner in the works. Fans of the series will be familiar with the formula by now, yet shouldn’t feel too weary with the proceedings. Shouting “Objection!” into the DS microphone and presenting that vital piece of incriminating evidence in the courtroom still feels exciting, and the animation of the witnesses as they suffer a breakdown never grows old either.
Real-life lawyers and law students, here’s a heads up: Leave your gavels at home as Trials and Tribulations takes some blatant liberties with real law. Contempt of court and perjury go unpunished by the ever doting judge, but beware, let Phoenix slip up and there’ll be a price to pay. The law-breaking never smashes the illusion of immersion—in fact, it does the opposite, serving to further immerse you into the crazy world of Phoenix Wright, endearing him to you even more as the cards keep getting stacked up against him. He’s the underdog that makes good.
Portrait of the Attorney as a
Some may be questioning where gaming skill comes into play. Well, your arcade skills are never called upon, but your memory and ability to question the world around you are constantly tested. For example, a fairly innocuous clue in chapter two could turn out to be the piece of evidence that wins you the case in a later chapter. The same applies to the conversations you have with those around you. By the end of the game, you’re practically mentally recording everything that takes place while also trying to find the tiniest contradictions in every statement as well as looking for any noticeable changes in the animations and facial expressions of your witnesses—a dead giveaway that they’re lying.
In many ways, Trials and Tribulations sharpens up your noggin far more effectively than many of the Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training clones out there, while being constantly entertaining throughout and packing in more laugh-out-loud moments than most of 2007’s games combined.
Trials and Tribulations is a fitting end to the Phoenix Wright trilogy; it’s a character that Capcom would do well not to forget and hopefully they’ll bring him back in another game. As mentioned earlier, it really isn’t a game for everyone, but to those gamers who’ve spent all of their gaming time blasting away at the Covenant: Why not try something different? I never believed that one of my favorite series ever would be a virtual book, but I have been pleasantly surprised on nearly every level. It’s proof that games can deliver on the narrative aspect without making you cringe with shame.