When I started Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations some months back, I still had a rather narrow view of the series in mind. Young, earnest attorney meets zany people during zanier trials. Along the way he’s helped by a spirit medium who loves hamburgers, and there’s more finger-pointing than one can point fingers at. This attorney meets and defeats several arch-rivals in the field of lawyering, and justice always wins the day. (Literally, because otherwise you lose and can’t progress.)
Trials and Tribulations changed all that. Though it wasn’t until the game’s final trial that I realized I had oversimplified things completely. What I didn’t realize was that in and among all the crazy characters was an actual story. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but indeed, the first three Ace Attorney games tell the story of Phoenix Wright. But you probably knew that already. Sadly, like I said, I didn’t. But I do now, and that has to count for something.
Like the previous two games, Trials and Tribulations begins with a bang. And at the middle of it is Phoenix Wright, a college-aged version of the soon-to-be attorney, charged with the murder of his friend. In court, he’s represented to the letter by the one and only Mia Fey. The case turns into something of a showdown between wright and his girlfriend, a beautiful manipulator named Dahlia Hawthorne. From there, things took off at light speed. So maybe it’s understandable that I’d see the case of Dahlia Hawthorne as only another crazy case in a series of games full of crazy cases. In fact, it turned out that Ms. Hawthorne practically drove the games through all five cases.
Well, maybe not all five cases. However, and you’ll have to forgive my terrible memory as the previous two games are sheets in the wind by now, it did seem that the cases in Trials and Tribulations were not only connected to themselves, but also connected to ones in the earlier games, much more so than the cases between first two games alone. In other words, it seems that the games are meant to be played not only together but in succession. That’s only my interpretation, but there are definitely callbacks in the third game that, though somewhat explained, might not make the most sense to someone who hadn’t played the first two. So as convoluted as a couple of the trials were in the first two games, I’m glad I took the time to start at the beginning. Even if the beginning is actually in the third game…well, Wright’s beginning, that is.
And now I’m just confusing myself.
Back to the game…
Maybe it’s because I had played the first two games and learned to accept the oddball nature of Phoenix Wright’s world that Trials and Tribulations, though lengthy, (I swear I thought that its final case was n-e-v-e-r going to end!) made sense. No new gimmicks were introduced in the game, such as the forensics adventures in the second game, save for the inclusion of the magatama, which helped Wright revealed people’s secrets. I appreciated the return to streamlined problem-solving, even if the case logic still remained out of reach at times. Being an overthinker in general made me ponder my moves longer than was humanly needed in most situation, since the answer was always the simplest (in hindsight, anyway). Then again, enjoying the journey is part of Ace Attorney’s appeal. Sure, you want to win, but just wanting to win belies Wright’s story. Savoring those moments where it seems that Wright is down and out, only to have him rise up in victory, helps make the gameplay all the more compelling.
So what of this woman named Dahlia Hawthorne? Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that she’s much more than a random witness. Her fate, along with the fates of others in the game, is somewhat foreshadowed in the game’s first case. But I had no clue that she’d weave a tragic path through the game itself. What’s genius is that the whole game isn’t obviously made out to be “Phoenix Wright vs. Dahlia Hawthorne.” No, Wright evolves through a couple entertaining cases that pit him against a delusional and psychotic attorney named Luke Atmey; pair him back up with a former client, the spirited yet unlucky Maggey Byrde; and find him dealing with a mad “doppelganger” in the form of a daunting fellow named Furio Tigre (“Xin Oeph” as Maya Fey delightfully calls him). Speaking of Maya, but she and her cousin, Pearl, return to help Wright in any and every way that they can, even if it means being entirely unhelpful, if, at least, downright adorable. And furthering the Fey name, Mia Fey makes not one but two appearances, both as flashbacks. First with the Dahlia Hawthorne case, and second in another case again involving the Hawthorne family. If that name pervades the game, it’s followed quite closely by the name “Fey.”
Of the first three Phoenix Wright games, Trials and Tribulations stands as my favorite. While it’s dense and confusing at times, the overall story arc is simply an amazing one to follow. Not only is there problem-solving galore, but smiles arise from seeing familiar faces pop up among all the new people. These known figures help form the Phoenix Wright universe into a cohesive place with a cohesive narrative. Its other bizarre friends and foes spice up the place with enough quips and qualms to keep even the most long-winded of cases interesting.
Without really knowing it until the very end, I’ve happily played through “The Story of Phoenix Wright.” While I don’t know if I’ll continue the Ace Attorney journey immediately, this initial ride has been nothing short of fantastic.
All images, including lede, were captured by cary, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations © Nintendo