Who would’ve thought a quirky lawyer sim would win over so many gamers back in 2005? The gameplay was nothing special, but there was a ton of charm to the characters, and we were hooked. Fans waited until January 2007 to play the beloved, spiky-haired lawyer once again. It was a good game in its own right, but it didn’t live up to expectations of its predecessor. These two games raised a lot of questions, but now, these questions are finally answered with the release of the third installment. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials & Tribulations is the final game in the Phoenix Wright trilogy, and it finished strong.
While you do eventually play as Phoenix Wright, you start off the game playing as Mia Fey. The game kicks off five years before ‘present day,’ and Mia Fey took a case to defend Phoenix in his college years. He is accused of murdering a fellow student due to some quarrel about Phoenix’s girlfriend. This is Mia’s second case, but she took a long absence due to her disastrous lawyer debut six months prior. The only reason she took this case is because of a certain someone who is connected to this, and her past case. In court, she faces off against Winston Payne in his prime. Before this prosecutor became meek, he was known as the “Rookie Killer,” and acted arrogant towards all novice defense attorneys. This case is Mia’s chance to redeem herself, and save the future protagonist from being thrown in jail.
Given her long absence, her superior, Marvin Grossberg, is by her side during the court session, and he shows her the ropes. It’s a good excuse for newcomers and rusty players to learn the basic gameplay mechanics such as cross-examining, presenting evidence and so on.
What always made the Phoenix Wright games so great is the colorful cast of characters. There may be characters that can annoy you, but all of them have charm in one way or another. Characters from the first two games return, and it is nice seeing some familiar faces. Of course, there is an array of new characters that’s present too, and they’re all welcome additions. The best new character is Phoenix’s new prosecutor rival named Godot. He is a mysterious fellow who has an “undefeated” prosecution record, but never did a prosecution case before. He also wears a visor and drinks 17 cups of coffee per day. He claims to come back from the depths of hell for the sole purpose to taking down Phoenix, and constantly calls him Phoenix “Trite” as a sign of disrespect. Phoenix has no idea who this guy is, but he understands that the guy hates his guts for some reason.
What partially made these characters great is Capcom’s localization team. The sharp, witty writing brought out a lot of personality to the characters. It’s a lot different than the Japanese script–due to using a lot of American puns and pop culture references–but they captured the spirit of the game well. The pop culture references include music, TV shows, movies, even a 4chan fad like pedobear. There are numerous typos, but it’s a lot more polished than its predecessor, and it shouldn’t diminish your enjoyment.
The second game’s plot structure was a carbon copy of the first, but Capcom changed things around for the third game. I genuinely enjoyed each case, thanks to good characters and execution of plot twists. They’re all murder cases, but each case feels fresh, and provides a good degree of suspense. The game is hilarious overall, but the final two cases took a dramatic turn with superb execution. The game’s theme is about the past, and how the actions you make during those long-gone days can come back to bite you. There were a lot of grudges established back then relating to the Fey family, as well as Phoenix. The final case resolves everything, and towards the end, the plot became an emotional roller coaster ride. The ending was also great, and it brought a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
The graphics and controls remain the same. The controls were always fine because they made great use of the dual screen function for organizational purposes. All the dialogue occurs on the top screen while the menus are on the bottom. Voice recognition is a bit weak, but that’s optional. The graphics are fine, but it’s dated at this point. It was understandable in the 2nd installment because it was released originally in 2002; the 3rd game, also originally a GBA title, was released in 2004 with no graphical boost. There are new, colorful characters and locales to see, plus some old characters got new animations, but that’s it. The style is fine for what it is, but it could’ve been improved.
Veteran composer Noriyuki Iwadare was in charge of composting the music for the third game. A new court theme is present, which was a lot better than its predecessor, but it didn’t manage to match up to the first game’s excellent court theme. Iwadare also did theme songs for a lot of new characters, and they were all delights, especially Dahlia’s theme. A lot of music from the previous games are included, but there are enough fresh melodies to balance out the rehashed stuff. The sound effects are exactly the same, but they are utilized very well during key moments of the game. The only voice acting heard are the one liners such as “Objection!”, “Hold it!”, and “Take that!” The voices themselves are perfectly fine.
There are zero changes made in the gameplay department. There is no bonus case that utilized the DS’ touch screen mechanics like in the first game, and no new gameplay features like in Phoenix Wright 2.
The gameplay has two main parts. First is the trial session. You hear a witness testify about the case, then you cross-examine their testimony to find any contradictions. You can press statements which occasionally adds new parts of the testimony. If you’re sure the witness is lying in that part of a testimony, you call an objection by presenting evidence or a profile that supports your claim. Mess up and you receive a penalty; too many penalties result in a game over.
In between trial sessions, you go investigate. During investigation, you go around talking to various people to gather information, and examine the scene to find evidence. Investigations are linear because many moments occur in certain order, and you can’t go to trial until you do everything you’re supposed to do. It’s still an important part of the game because you get good insight on characters present, and you advance through a case’s plot.
The health bar and psyche-lock features from the previous game have returned. When you receive a penalty, your health bar drains depending on how much you screwed up during key moments of the trial. If a witness is hiding a secret from you during an investigation, locks appear around them, and that’s where the psyche-lock feature occurs. You break down the locks by presenting evidence or profiles when appropriate until all locks are gone. Not only do you make the witness spill the beans, but that’s the only way to restore the health bar during a case.
The cases are long and complex, but the difficulty is toned down a little bit. The game didn’t rely as much on making players take wild guesses during trial sessions. There are times when you do have to think outside the box, but the answers make more sense, and the game gets to the point without throwing the player off with frequent irrelevant or confusing details.
The final verdict? It ranks as my favorite installment in the trilogy. The gameplay brought nothing new to the table, but playing it for the plot and characters has left me more than satisfied. I enjoyed all the cases and new characters, and the music Iwadare provided was nice. The game tied up all loose ends, and brought good closure to the trilogy. If you didn’t like the previous games much, this won’t change your mind, but for fans of the series, definitely pick this up (also, look forward to the fourth installment, released a few months ago in Japan; it has a brand new cast). It had its downsides, but every moment of the game was a blast. Kudos to Capcom for bringing this great series over to US shores.