Version tested: DS
"A 'computer virus'? What does one of those do?"
"A computer virus is a program that wreaks havoc on a network of computers."
"A 'computer'? What does one of those do?"
It is, of course, a conversation between the best lawyer in the history of the universe, Phoenix Wright, and the erstwhile Judge presiding over yet another of his cases. He's back, and he's back for the last time. And so, once more, I find myself with the opportunity to convince you to buy one of the funniest games you'll ever play.
To explain these games to the uninitiated is hard, so bear with these two paragraphs. Accept that, as odd as it sounds, it's something that really works. (Well, 8/10 works, as this third, and best in the series, once more limits itself to). You play young (now 24) lawyer Phoenix Wright, a defence attorney who, like all the best TV lawyers, investigates his clients' cases for himself. With the help of his psychic 19-year-old friend, Maya. And a 9-year-old called Pearl. Both of whom are capable of channelling the spirit of his dead friend and teacher, Mia (Maya's older sister). Which manifests by their growing a lot taller, and getting large breasts. Oh, and with the help of a psychic pendant, a Magatama, given to Phoenix by Pearl in PW2, Phoenix is able to detect when people are keeping secrets from him. So yes.
If only that were the weird bit. When it comes to court, the rules work like this: the prosecutor is the person who is allowed to call witnesses, who give testimonies, which must then be cross-examined by the defence attorney. The defence must find contradictions in the testimony, by interrupting them with a loud "OBJECTION!" (with the option of holding Y and shouting this into the mic), and presenting contrary evidence. Rarely does the accused take the stand, and they'll be found guilty if you make too many mistakes - basically, if the judge gets bored, they go to prison.
In reality, it's a point-and-click adventure, combined with a court game, with both parts existing as a paper-thin excuse for reading through over a dozen hours of wonderfully written dialogue.
So accept that, fall in love with it, and enjoy yourself a ludicrous amount.
Baiting For Godot
This third in the series of what were originally Game Boy Advance games, remade and reinvented for the DS, is the last to feature Phoenix. In Japan part four - an original DS game - stars a new hotshot lawyer, and very excitingly it's recently been confirmed for a English language release. More excitingly, his name is Apollo Justice. Anyhow, this final part in Wright's trilogy represents a fantastic climax to the threads of the first two parts, working back in favourite characters, as well as introducing some brilliant new ones, and of course offering a brand new prosecutor for Phoenix to battle. This time, however, he's a mysterious mask-wearing coffee addict, brilliantly named Godot, and not even the judge knows who he is. Because this is how courts work, ok?
But it's more than simply a remix of the previous two parts. Trials and Tribulations is a deeper, more complex, and in places, remarkably darker than the games have ever been. And thankfully, to counter this, it's also the funniest. I cannot tell you the number of times I've guffawed at the banter, and I'm embarrassed to acknowledge that on frequent occasions I've found myself clapping. It was all I could do during the tutorial chapter not to spit my coffee on the floor at one of Mia's peculiarly contemporary lines.
Indeed, the tutorial chapter - as with the previous two games a story in its own right, albeit more brief than those to follow - stars Mia as the central character. It's a flashback, and it's in there for reasons I'm never, ever going to tell you. And thankfully, it's a little more coherent than part 2's completely daft story with Phoenix getting hit on the head with a fire extinguisher and forgetting how to be a lawyer. Oh God, I'm laughing all over again at that. That's a really funny thing.
Beautifully, this level sees Mia defending a 21-year-old Phoenix Wright, at this point the complete geek you've always suspected he must have been. He's head-over-heels in love, an art student, and he has a terrible cold. And he's been accused of murder. While the result might be predictable, that's not all the reasons you're being told the story.
Maya, have this dance
Where PW2 (and I know they have more proper titles than this, but mine are a lot easier to understand) put Maya slightly more into the background, and gave new assistant Pearl more attention, PW3 brings Maya right back to the fore, and, delightfully, gives her a much bigger role in the dialogue. When talking to the various characters, Maya will often take the lead, which of course only offers far more opportunities for her to be completely daft, and even better, mock Phoenix mercilessly. Pearls, as Phoenix calls her, is focusing on her studies back at the training camp, while Maya seems oddly uninterested in her spirit-channelling training.
Being as unspecific as possible in order to not give away the contents of any of the stories, you should know that this time out you'll get another chance to see Maggey Byrde, Adrian Andrews and of course Detective Dick Gumshoe. And there's a thief called Mask*DeMasque, a private eye called Luke Atmey (ouch), a mobster called Bruto Cadaverini, and a hugely built, fat-bellied, cross dressing chef. Seriously, is there anything else you want? A Phoenix Wright impostor, with similarly spikey hair? Sure, have one of them too.
The dialogue is consistently wonderful. Nearly every conversation is hilarious, or brilliantly written (but for one really disturbing moment where Phoenix's awful friend Larry Butz decides to flirt with 9-year-old Pearls. What on EARTH? Thankfully Phoenix is aghast too, but still a very strange decision). Also, in this Japanese version with an English option (the US and UK versions are due October 23rd) there are quite a few typos, and even one completely missing word. In what must be tens of thousands of words, it's very rare, and the Western releases should be completely tidied up. However, there are some of us who can't wait, and it's available in Japan now.
But once more, despite my adoring the dialogue, roaring with laughter at the characters, and enjoying the success of correctly presented evidence, it does once more limit itself to an 8. It's a 9-flavoured 8, but again the mechanics of the court sequences are often so stupidly frustrating that it would be wrong to mark any higher. The problem is that you can see where the situation's going, you know what the contradiction is, and you have the evidence to prove it. It's just, you're either doing it too soon, or you've thought of something perfectly legitimate that the designers missed. And the game punishes you for it. Without the penalty system, where your green bar of tolerance from the judge goes down with wrong objections, the game would be far more entertaining, and would save you the need to save (and thus quit out) and reload again before every interrogation, just in case it robs you of lifelines you completely deserved to keep. In fact, with the Psyche Locks - the protection people put on their secrets in the out-of-court sections of the game - there's a system where successfully cracking someone refills the bar. Why isn't this the case in court? Dude! The fools.
Pearl's of wisdom
Knowing where things are going reminds me of something important. Perhaps an issue with the first two games was being stuck in court situations where you'd completely fathomed who the murderer was, but the game was holding you back from presenting the evidence, leaving you frustrated that your character was missing the obvious. Not this time. This time the game seems remarkably aware of what you've already realised, and plays with this. In one chapter I worked out the twist pretty early on, and was disappointed that it was going to be a long slog before Phoenix and Maya did. But not so! Knowing I was thinking this, it manipulated the twists beautifully, surprising me completely legitimately, and living up to the "turnabout" that appears in every chapter title. And this occurs throughout, with the story respecting your intelligence, and causing you to have to second-guess yourself throughout.
This is a game that has people that say things like, "I atta beat you so hard, it'll feel like youse were smoochin' the express train!" It's a game where people have prescriptions from the otolaryngological clinic. Where characters go to Ivy University, and have names like Doug Swallow. It's also one of very few games to have used the word "sagacity" in its script. And to feature a head nun called Bikini. Or a magazine special described as "The New Year's issue of "Oh! Cult!", Winter Spiritual Locations Special!"
The platonic love between Maya and "Nick" (as she nicknames him) is joyful. Pearls' consistent belief that they are madly in love is funnier than ever, and never more-so than when she believes "Mr Nick" is cheating on her by flirting with other women. It pops and zaps and kerblams and slams throughout, the text appearing with wonderful timing, the sound effects, although simple, always hilarious, and the theme music (thankfully) much improved, with a madcap tune for one location (a restaurant called Très Bien) that I'm desperate to have as my ringtone.
It's agony not to just enthusiastically tell you about the scenarios, the cases themselves, but I hate reviewers that get to experience something completely freshly for themselves, and then rob that opportunity from all who read the review. So believe me, if I told you you'd want to play, and then be cross I told you. So just skip to the wanting to play.
8 / 10