Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2007 (US), Oct. 3, 2008 (EU)


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NDS Review - 'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations'

by Aaron "Istanbul" Swersky on Nov. 30, 2007 @ 12:32 a.m. PST

Phoenix Wright is back in the third installment of the popular courtroom battle series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations. The defining battle for justice is about to begin as animated characters and cliffhanger storylines come to life in a courtroom where anything can happen. The complete story of Phoenix Wright comes together as players explore both the past and present of the idiosyncratic lawyer.

One of the most widespread complaints I hear about the gaming industry is that originality is dead. Let's face it, how many first-person shooters splattered with gore, platformers requiring absolute precision timing, and racing games where you customize the color of dashboard decorations can you play before everything you find on a console system seems like an overdone, washed-out collage of randomness that runs together like a watercolor painting carried out into the rain? It is a mercy, then, a beacon in the night when something new and different becomes available to the open market. The entire Phoenix Wright series is such a beacon, an entirely new form of experience that is quite unlike anything else most gamers have seen.

Reviewing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations is definitely an exercise in mind expansion. Most video games would receive a review based on elements like the accuracy of the controls, the sound quality and the graphical finesse applied by the programmers. If I really wanted to do that, I could. Technically, while the controls are accurate and will generally do precisely what you want them to do, the visual effects are overused, with each character having a maximum of half a dozen poses he or she can take on the screen, and the sound effects are tired by the time you get past the first case. If I were reviewing this title in the same manner I would use to judge a standard video game, I would have to give it a fairly low score based on these issues, but more importantly, I would have completely missed the point.

For those who are interested in the title but are unfamiliar with the series as a whole, allow me to outline the fundamentals. The "hero" of the story is Phoenix Wright, a skilled defense attorney who has never lost a case. Having been defended by Mia Fey, a clever and resourceful attorney in her own right who defended Phoenix during a murder trial when he was younger, he took her lessons to heart and set out in pursuit of the truth in all things. While Mia is murdered in the first game, her younger sister, Maya Fey, a spirit medium capable of summoning up the spirits of the deceased, sticks with Phoenix Wright over the course of his professional career, occasionally assisting in his research, but sometimes getting in the way due to her headstrong attitude. She is also responsible for presenting Phoenix with the Magatama, a sacred stone that can determine when an individual has secrets hidden away inside his heart. It can be used to break open the "Psyche-Locks" concealing these secrets to bring forward the truth. Together, the two of them solve cases and defend clients, occasionally aided by Pearls, Maya's younger sister.

It is not entirely accurate to say that one "plays" a Phoenix Wright game any more than one "plays" a good mystery novel because ultimately, that's what this is: a series of mysteries made interactive for the interested gamer. An extreme emphasis is placed upon the story in this title, with each character's background, motivations and thought processes fleshed out in the extreme. Plot twists abound, and while it is difficult to expound upon this without spoiling the story and the game, I will say this much: Things are almost never as they appear, your actions often have unintended consequences and answers are often in the places you least expect them. To this end, it is fair to say that this title is difficult, though not in the standard sense. There is no "life bar," except for those times when you're put in the most extremely tense of circumstances, and even then, you will have multiple opportunities to convey your information.

Trials and Tribulations presents an excellent and involved story. The cases bleed together in an interesting and unusual way, with actual legal precedent playing into how characters interact within the story and fueling their motivations at times. In some ways, this title plays a little bit like a soap opera; all of the standard dramatic elements are there in spades, including murder, mistaken identity and self-reproach. There are times when the various players seem a little too much like characterizations, but even those who seem obviously one-sided always turn out to have multiple facets and interesting backstories that really flesh out each individual; you can never tell who someone really is by your first conversation with him, or even your second or third. Some real thought was obviously put into the production of the story for this game, down to even the finer details, and it definitely shows.

This is not to say that the title is without its flaws. There will be times when you know precisely what message you're trying to convey, whether to the judge or one of the people who is withholding information from you, but the game makes it a little unclear precisely which piece of evidence needs to be selected. Additionally, while the first "tutorial" mission does a splendid job preparing you for the upcoming trials in which you will be participating, that section of the game is sadly lacking in any clue-gathering phase, which takes up the bulk of the play time and is arguably even more important than how you proceed in court. Speaking of which, courtroom purists will sometimes be a little bit disappointed; the judge clearly has the will and intellect of a wet paper bag, and all characters routinely get away with behavior that would have charges pressed against them in an actual court of law. It is also important to note that many of the references will be lost on anyone who has not played through the entire series. This is not to say that the title is inaccessible to a first-time player, but you will definitely feel a little bit left out in the cold if you haven't gone through the first two games before picking up Trials and Tribulations.

The greatest affront lies in a basic function of the game's archetype, rather than in any design error: Because all Phoenix Wright games play like interactive storybooks, there is little to no replay value once you have completed them. Once you've read a book, you know how the plot goes and how it ends, and only the absolute best stories warrant a re-read, and while this title is good, it's not that good. If you've played the first two titles and have reached the point where you can blast through this kind of game in a weekend, I strongly recommend it as a rental. Ultimately, there are no unlockables, no secrets other than the ones that are a part of the storyline and no reasons to play through it a second time except to re-experience the story. I definitely recommend Trials and Tribulations for play, but purchasing it should be a decision made after some careful thought and consideration.

All told, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations is an excellent end to this series, doing a splendid job of tying up a multitude of loose ends in the overall plotline that has been continuing over the course of all three titles. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, the subsequent series that will be released in February 2008, has some fairly large and intriguing shoes to fill. It's been a great run; court is adjourned.

Score: 8.7/10

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