Saturday, August 30, 2008

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney 3: Trials and Tribulations

There's few things more satisfying than seeing a good trilogy come to a satisfying conclusion, and Phoenix Wright 3 on the Nintendo DS is an excellent example.

If you're new to the Ace Attorney games then you're out of luck. Trials and Tribulations assumes you're already familiar with the rules and characters of Phoenix Wright's world, and spends most of its time resolving the hanging plot threads from the first two games and bringing the continuing storyline to a rousing finale. The original Phoenix Wright is all but impossible to find in stores now so getting into the franchise as a newcomer can be a tad difficult.

Series fans, though, are in for a treat. This is easily the best of the three Phoenix Wright games, and it delivers everything a fan could hope for in style. Not only do you get to play as Phoenix, but you'll also fight a couple of short flashback cases as Mia Fey, and for an all-too-brief segment you'll even get to control former prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. You'll get to see Mia's traumatic first case, foil the plots of scheming matriarch Morgan Fey, and solve the mystery of the missing master of the Kurain Channelling Technique.

There are five cases all up this time around, although two are quite short, and they're tied together with a much tighter overarching plot than in previous installments. You'll want to have played the previous titles, as the game wastes little time reintroducing characters like Franzciska von Karma, Larry Butz and Adrian Grossberg, instead assuming that you know the score and are ready to play. Similarly, the basics of cross-examining witnesses, producing evidence, and breaking psyche-locks are glossed over even within the tutorial case.

The game's legal system is still as silly as ever. To defend your clients from murder charges you'll need to not only establish their innocence but uncover the real culprit. You're opposed by a range of hostile witnesses and flamboyant prosecutors, and only sharp wits and a keen eye for contradictory evidence will get you through.

The logic may occasionally be rubbish, but it's internally consistent, and once you've got a feel for the way the game "thinks" you'll be able to progress fairly smoothly. You'll occasionally run into points where you just have to try every option available before finding the right one, but they're few and far between.

Like Phoenix Wright and Justice for All, this installment was originally released in Japan as a GameBoy title, and has been ported to the DS for Western release. The art and sound assets are, therefore, not spectacular, but they're perfectly suited to the gameplay and do a great job of conveying drama and character.

The real star of the show, as always, is the writing. Silly courtroom antics aside, these are tight, challenging murder mysteries. They're beautifully paced and solidly plotted and despite a wide roster of guest characters you'll be moved to really care about the characters you meet and their often bizarre dilemmas. If it occasionally feels more like you're playing an interactive novel than a video game, you won't care, because it's a really good novel.

In the end everything comes to a head in a fantastic final case. Trials and Tribulations delivers a compelling climax to the first Ace Attorney trilogy and will leave you feeling very generous towards the franchise as a whole. If Phoenix Wright is already amongst your fandoms then you absolutely must play this game, and if you haven't yet experienced the magic then you should start tracking down the first two games just so you can eventually finish this one.

1 comment:

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