Phoenix Wright is perhaps the slowest I have ever reviewed a series, but that is entirely down to me only playing it on public transport and only when I didn’t forget to bring the 3DS. With Trials and Tribulations, we are finally putting an end to the original trilogy of games that introduced us to everybody’s favorite lawyer and his psychic side-kick. While more games and spin-offs would eventually follow, the series remained a trilogy for 3 years. And man, you can’t just end a trilogy on a weak note.
An Attorney’s Origin
Once again the series puts us in the shoes and spiky hair of Phoenix Wright, a man who has made himself a local legend by taking on and winning some amazing cases within his short career. This time around, the story begins with a flashback wherein Mia Fey is helping a young Phoenix out when he’s accused of the murder of a student he was having a fight with. After we conclude this tutorial, we resume Phoenix’ own story as he takes on a number of new cases.
While this opening bit does end up playing a larger role in the story, as ghosts from Phoenix’ past begin to haunt his work in the present, the story is not as tight as the original game or as exciting as the second. The intro serves its purpose, but then makes room for two long, unconnected cases that have no bearing on the larger story, only to then have a mini-chapter that goes back to Mia, before finally concluding on an overlong, overly-complicated final chapter that feels more like a desperate attempt to tie up a bunch of story-knots than a final salute to the trilogy.
Complicating this matter further is that I found the game’s story to be a lot less pleasant and surprising. Comedic characters like Furio Tigre and Ron DeLite really just annoyed me and the new prosecutor, the coffee-addicted Godot, doesn’t have the same impact and charm as previous rivals like Franziska or Edgeworth. At the same time, returning characters feel more like jokes that are being run into the ground. Especially old Larry Butz is presented as a lot less friendly and, honestly, kind of a despicable person.
I did enjoy the two standalone stories a fair bit and have to admit that both turned out vastly different from what I expected. There are also some cast members that were enjoyable and especially the return of Maya and Pearly as side-kicks made the return to Ace Attorney feel comfortable and familiar.
Story score: 5.5/10
I am going to be upfront here and admit I didn’t have much fun with this third installment. It changes little to nothing to the series, as it once again cuts gameplay up between investigation sequences and the actual court hearings. Investigations are now even more obnoxious as areas you can travel between are arbitrarily limited, forcing you to keep a mental map at the ready. The story is still overly flag-heavy, forcing you to hear out characters, pixel-hunt for clues, and present every piece of evidence to everybody, just to make sure you can keep going.
Investigations are just kind of a drag, but eventually lead into court hearings where you get to use the collected evidence as ammunition to disprove the arguments of the witnesses. However, this too has become routine and prone to frustration. Some of the arguments you are asked to disprove border on the ludicrous and require even more precise evidence to counter. At one point a character argued he had a massive mirror in the middle of his restaurant, even though a photo didn’t show it present and putting a mirror there would have literally made the tables inaccessible. At another point a witness argued he didn’t steal anything and, though I had evidence that could prove otherwise, this was not accepted and I lost the case.
Oftentimes this is cleared up later when the case further unravels, but at that moment in that testimony, the argument would have been valid. It’s super frustrating when you have valid evidence, but rather than correct you with a quick line of dialogue the game treats you like an idiot and penalizes you. By far my most hated puzzle was one where I had a coffee cup where the stain disproved a testimony, but the sprite for the cup had the “coffee stain” drawn in hot pink, so I literally did not realize it was meant to be a clue and thought it was just a fancy design for the cup.
The Magatama from the second game returns as a mechanic here, so when somebody is hiding information Phoenix will see a number of locks appear and can present evidence to unlock these and get to the truth. The mechanic is much more under-utilized than in the last game and nothing new has been added to compensate. Besides being notably harder, Trials and Tribulations is really just more of the same and the qualities that make it harder often just serve to frustrate or feel like they waste your time.
I started playing these games to alleviate the burden of my daily 2-hour commute, but I honestly have to say that playing through the obtuse design of Trials and Tribulations only served to make it feel that much longer.
Gameplay score: 2/10
Another quality lifted straight from its predecessors is the wonderful sprite art, character designs, and backgrounds. Whereas it leaves the gameplay stale and tired, it’s great to see that visually the games have remained strong.
Areas you visit once again vary from Phoenix’ rather boring office to more colorful places, like a local park themed around giant fruits, a very overdesigned restaurant, and the living room of a master thief. These places are lively and filled with items you just want to click on to read whatever Phoenix might have to say, regardless of whether they will actually be clues or not.
The characters, while I did find at least half of them annoying, do enjoy some subliminal sprite art with lots of tiny animations that lend them a lot of personality. The grumpy, old Victor Kudo will assault you with bird seeds whenever he feels slighted, the erratic death row inmate Terry will randomly start chewing on his ball and chain, and Dahlia Hawthorne is just… interesting. Pictures like the one above are also used frequently to display scenes in more detail, which are really neat too.
Presentation score: 8.5/10
I have had complaints about the franchise since its first installment and while Trials & Tribulations is not particularly worse, the fact that so little advancements have been made just sours the whole experience for me. It’s a “more of the same”-type game that further struggles under a meandering story and obnoxious characters. The quality of the art doesn’t compensate for that, in my eyes.