Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
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"Add the pureness of milk to the perfect, clear darkness of coffee. Stir. That is the state of the witness's mind right now - a cup of cafe au lait."

"You really do talk an incredible amount of bollocks, don't you, Godot?"

Pretty much a year after starting the first of the series, I've just finished the last of the three Phoenix Wright games. There are going to be spoilers in this post and I've only just realized that Facebook unburdens my text of any formatting, so if you don't use Livejournal you might want to read this with your eyes closed if you haven't reached that stage.

Only one man has daft enough hair to take this job
The gameplay is pretty much identical to the other two games, i.e. bearing very little resemblance to actual law procedures and instead being more of a mystery investigation where you have to gradually unravel impossible-seeming cases. It's a bit like what Jonathan Creek might be like if he had the hair of Jin Kazama instead of Dougal from The Magic Roundabout, and lived not in a windmill but in a caricatured version of Japan populated exclusively by people who are barking mad. (The game is obviously set in Japan even though the translation tries to pretend it's America for some reason, in a performance that's about as convincing as sticking Post-It notes over all the visible kanji.)

As before, your task, in between explaining things to the perpetually bewildered judge, having coffee thrown at you from the prosecution bench and being beaten up by an eight year old, is to stumble around between locations around the crime scene showing around your attorney's badge which looks like a Jammie Dodger and talking to potential witnesses who are all strong contenders for Stupidest Haircut International 2009. Through this procedure you find various pieces of evidence which eventually come together in the courtroom scenes to explain how, for example, someone was found stabbed in a safe that only he knew the combination to while the only person who had the card to get into that office was caught on camera stealing something else from an impenetrable vault half an hour away. And when you eventually get to the reveal scenes it's always tremendously satisfying, even though as a result of Whitney watching a lot of Poirot recently, when things get dramatic I can't help but voice Phoenix in David Suchet's outrageous Belgian accent.

Once again you're up against a new prosecutor - this one's from Star Trek - and he rapidly became my clear favourite out of the characters so far, with his nonchalant responses to evidence with effortlessly meaningless lines like "People are like books. We've all got a front and a back. You get my drift?" and a seemingly endless supply of coffee that he is somehow able to Matrix over from the unseen edge of the bench. All of the characters have their own manic charm to them and the dialogue is frequently hilarious if you have the right imagination to voice it out of the little text boxes that it all takes place in. The series seems to have become increasingly aware of its own insanity with each game, and this one makes little references to pop culture up to and including parodying things that it itself created (with the line about "miracle never happen" and so on).

It has a sort of dual personality, though - even though it doesn't seem to take itself seriously, the cleverness in the writing of the actual cases is the best out of the series so far, and things get very stressful towards the end when you're trying to lay a case that started ten years ago to rest. I'm still trying to decide whether I found the conclusion to this game or Justice For All more trying - this one had me worried for a while but I think the trial was a little easier (though having said that, I did break down and use a guide for the first time in the series - once to point me in the direction of a scrap of paper I'd missed, and the other to guide me as to what to present when I had one sliver of life bar remaining). Some things are planted so that you don't notice them and are then revisited much later on - for example, the powercut that happens fairly early on, leaving the only visible thing in the room as Godot's red bars on his visor. It's just a funny scene when you see it the first time, but much later on in the game, remembering that he glows in the dark provides a vital clue in another testimony. It was also wonderful to see that colourblindness played a vital role in one of the cases, even if it was a particularly unlikely variety of it! I honestly don't think I've seen it represented in any game before.

As for things I didn't like, the only thing that I'd really want to change about the game would be to put in some sort of option to turn the frequent full-screen flashes off. I don't know if I'm just over-sensitive to them (and I was playing part of this game on a darkened aeroplane where they were particularly noticeable), but they come up at various unexpected points as text is appearing and they get uncomfortable very quickly. I also wasn't sure if they should have made Diego Armando's identity more subtle rather than virtually having him appear with a big neon sign over his head saying "I AM GODOT", but I think that letting the player know in advance worked just about as well as it could have. I also thought that I'd get a look at his face at the end of the game, but seeing as you get to see his Star Trek mask exploding just by the sheer force of your logic, there's nothing to really complain about.

The game more than made up for anything, though, with the section where you play as Edgeworth, which was unexpected and absolutely wonderful, bringing just about everyone from the series together for the conclusion. The sort of Blackadder/Baldrick relationship that goes on with Gumshoe as your investigative assistant is great to watch, and it's also very satisfying to watch Miles' reactions and disbelief as he discovers the sheer extent of the lunacy that Phoenix Wright usually has to put up with in his investigations. And it's nice to imply - though it's probably unintentional - in saying that he's been away because of studying law abroad, that he moved out in the hope of discovering other, less mad, legal systems.