moby-dick-(or-the-whale)-93
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PHOENIX WRIGHT 3: TRIALS AND TRIBULATION

24 October 2007

I've taken my time with it, but I'm currently finally wrapping up Phoenix Wright 3: Trials and Tribulations, the last game in the Phoenix Wright saga. Not that the series is ending, but the fourth instalment (currently out in Japan and awaiting translation for its Western release) features a completely new cast with a lead character they've named Apollo Justice. I find this a perfectly acceptable, nicely goofy and appropriate name, befitting of the series.

But, back to part 3. It is awesome. Seriously, I love this game. I shouldn't have to explain anymore why the games in this series are so good. They ooze with flair and personality. You are constantly talking to larger-than-life interesting characters that are bursting with secrets and hidden motives, and it's up to you to find everything out and then expose the lot in court. The pacing is often just perfect. Now you're browsing through scenery and crime scenes to search for clues and break people's psychic barriers, then you're in court facing off against not just the witnesses, but also a highly competitive prosecutor who will do anything to win the case.

It's here that it becomes obvious that Capcom is behind the wheel, because these courtroom battles are in their entirety not unlike the bouts of, say, a Streetfighter. Instead of dealing punches and kicks and special moves, however, you battle through wit, juggling with factoids and strategically presenting evidence to destroy unreliable testimony... It. Is. Awesome. Characters will explode with fury, angst or depression when you hit them; the judge will pound his gavel at Mach 3; cries of Objection! fill the palace of justice. It's hysterical and over-the-top and immensely loveable. When you've finally nailed the final piece of decisive evidence as a nail to the perpetrator's coffin, they will become hysterical, gibbering madmen -cackling wildly and confessing their ingenious plots. What more could you ask of a game?

And through all the hysteria, it's all too easy to forget how ingenious the cases themselves are constructed. Admittedly, they're not all brilliant, but you often can't help but marvel at how it all fits together. I can't even fathom how much preparation it takes to map these things out. Not only do you have to be aware at every single junction of exactly what is known to the player of the plot; you also have to keep track of the many false leads that are planted throughout. One slip-up and the player won't 'get' it anymore, or is already able to guess the truth way too early. Add to that the hundreds of pieces of dialogue, dozens of items and character profiles in the court record and the personal developments of the main cast that are effortlessly thrown in... the mind boggles.

It is here that Trials and Tribulations excels. The previous game, Justice for All, got a trifle confusing here and there. You got the sense that you weren't told everything you needed to know and the result was that you were often just second-guessing the developers; falling into the all-too-familiar adventure pitfall of using every object on every character. Hardly good gameplay. The game is still truly enjoyable of course, but what a relief to see that the third game does it all right again! It errs sometimes on the side of caution, with end-game trials being fairly easy to navigate through, but at least you feel in control again. At least you're given all the data you need to construct your theories and then prove them. It's a return to form; you finally feel like an ace attorney once more!

But great gameplay (and superior soundtrack) aside, what makes these games truly memorable are the interesting, well-developed characters. Phoenix, Maya, Edgeworth, Franziska, Godot; they're all of them unique people, often motivated by tragedy or grief and carrying hidden depths. In the end, that's what gives the series its lasting appeal. Before long, you'll start caring, and then you'll be hooked. Zvarri!

Roderick.