Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations
Objectively speaking, is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations, Capcom's goofy courtroom adventure for the DS, a great game and worthy purchase? The answer is an explosively resounding "Yes!" Disclaimer: this opinion is in no way objective and neither Gamers with Jobs nor its parent company Investors with Money can be held liable for hearing damage from resounding explosions.
I can't truly criticize Trials and Tribulations, because I already love Phoenix Wright, the world's unluckiest defense attorney, from his spiky hair to his adorably useless Lawyer's Badge. It's been going on for two games already. I know he has flaws but I don't care. As the final chapter in the Phoenix Wright trilogy, there was no way I was skipping this game. It would be like watching Empire Strikes Back and deciding to give the next movie a miss, since it obviously won't have Han Solo in it. Without revealing any spoilers, all Phoenix Wright fans can rest assured that the finale is clever, satisfying, and Ewok-free. The story concludes but also expands somewhat, adding new depth to familiar characters, as well as introducing some new ones, including Godot, the weirdest prosecutor Phoenix has ever faced. How weird? Let's just say he's a combination of aphorisms, robotics, and breakfast. Like Wilford Brimley.
For series newcomers, even I have to admit this is the wrong game. It gives away surprises from the first two games, without any gameplay improvements. Start with the original Phoenix Wright instead. Since they all play the same, this description of the mechanics of Trial and Tribulations applies equally to the other games:
Phoenix Wright is a very, very linear adventure with lots of text and very little animation. Most of the game consists of pressing a button to see the next line of dialogue, which might just be an ellipsis. As a defense attorney, half of Phoenix's time is spent in courtroom battles where he must cross examine witnesses and catch them in a contradiction by selecting and presenting the right piece of evidence. Presenting the wrong evidence or presenting at the wrong time depletes his health bar and too many mistakes will end the game. However, you can save at almost any time and try again. The other half of the game is wandering around interviewing people and gathering evidence, which is purely risk-free, as the game won't let you continue until you've done every necessary action. Occasionally this devolves into aimless wandering and random clicking. All of this will sound very familiar to someone who plays a lot of hentai games, or so I've heard.
In court, this sedate play style becomes surprisingly exciting. Phoenix is always up against impossible odds and ruthless prosecutors. He deals with ghosts, samurai, circus freaks, magicians, assassins, and a never ending parade of lying witnesses. The game takes its characters seriously but the actual cases are overblown and ridiculous, which makes for an interesting tone. The solution to the mystery is always some silly Encyclopedia Brown type of twist. "And then, the murderer tried to wash away the baking soda with some nearby vinegar . . . but he forgot one crucial fact!" Phoenix's hapless client is found near the scene covered in blood, but right next door, Bugs Meany is filing his nails, looking smug.
Although the investigation segments can provide a bit of decent puzzle solving, the courtroom battles are much more compelling. It's great fun to present evidence by shouting "Objection!" into the DS microphone, and more advanced players will discover that it also recognizes "Obstetrics," "Bob Texan," and "Confection." The Phoenix Wright series is very stingy about art assets, re-using character models and backgrounds whenever possible, but every character gets at least one exaggerated "shock" animation. When you catch a witness in a big lie, they scream, "Noooo!" and writhe around. Their glasses fly off, their hair falls out, their heads explode. The manual contains this warning: "All characters, laws, and legal matters in this game are works of fiction." Aw, really?
So, Trials and Tribulations doesn't offer any real changes to this formula. That's fine, really. The story's the thing, and the storytelling has actually improved. The first two games begin with a tutorial murder case to teach you the ropes, but the case itself feels a little pointless. Trials starts with a bang and the first case places a shotgun on the mantle, so to speak, leaving us to wonder in every subsequent case when it will go off. Furthermore, (and this is nothing that isn't on the box) some cases take place in the past, with Phoenix's mentor, Mia Fey, as the protagonist. Obviously, I can't describe how well everything fits together, but it's a grand payoff not only for this game but for the series. It's probably the best game of the the three. You may say that it's really a story, not a game, and I might concede that point, but if anyone claims that it isn't a truly epic, consistently entertaining story, I present this final chapter as evidence, as I heartily shout, "Stop texting!"