Sunday, 10 July 2016

#11: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All

So, Phoenix Wright. The series sticks out in my mind as having a ravenous fanbase, amusing in-universe adverts and being one of the first things to run correctly on DS emulators. It also receives a lot of credit for good localisation; the script is huge, but puns and other such frivolities are painstakingly recreated.

Emily owns all three of the WiiWare ports, which are generally the same as the DS versions except for a few annoying realities introduced by only having one screen. I've previously played the first game, which has no subtitle, and over the last few weeks I've been playing the second entry, Justice for All.

If you want to skip a lot of invective, here's the brief: "It's not my kind of game".

Phoenix himself is consistently presented as the standard anime protagonist, i.e. dumb but well-meaning. This is despite him being a lawyer. At various times through the narrative, he reveals how little he knows about legal proceedings, ignorance of self-incrimination laws for example, preferring to win his trials by arguing over endless minutiae and blindly guessing. However comedic the setting is supposed to be, this just rubs me the wrong way; I'm not fond of playing as idiots, no matter how righteous they are. His saving grace is in the depth of his relationships with others, though he is consistently used by those around him. I might enjoy seeing him become more bitter over time because of this.

The other characters are an eclectic mix. From memory, here are some of them:
  • A ventriloquist who doesn't talk without his puppet, who has an eye-rollingly acerbic personality.
  • A paranormal researcher who, like, is clueless and like, stops talking mid-sentence, like, you know?
  • An old lady who crushes on every single handsome member of the cast, changing loyalties at the drop of a hat.
  • A prosecutor who whips people all the fucking time for no reason why the hell are they not arrested immediately
Again, I know it's the nature of the series to be outrageous. My problem with this is that when everything is outrageous, nothing is outrageous anymore. There's no sensible baseline which allows you to approach the game with a modicum of logic. Any stupid thing could happen at any time, and because magic is actually real in this universe, you can never know if something is possible or not. One of the cases has a stage magician who flies, and the game doesn't even consider his ability to fly an open question. He just can't, because magic doesn't exist. Except for the spirit channelling stuff which happens constantly.

For those who don't know, each case is split roughly in half between investigation and courtroom. Investigation is largely quite interesting, gradually unfolding the truth from witness statements and searching rooms for evidence. It can be slightly annoying when the game has a non-obvious flag to set to continue with the story, but generally this part is quite good. It reminds me of point and click adventure games, mostly.

In the courtroom, you are directly competing against the prosecutor to prove your arguments. This appeals to me the most; I think this is an incredibly rich area for games to explore. It's why it makes me so sad/angry that Ace Attorney doesn't really pull it off to my satisfaction.

Trials proceed in a circular fashion with testimonies punctuated by small factual discussions. In each case, witnesses have been "prepared" by the prosecution to be very unhelpful. Your task is to unfold their lies and find out the truth. This isn't too bad; mostly, the arguments make sense and are easy to follow if you paid attention during the investigation. Sometimes they hinge on a single phrase or even a word made by some random person, and those can be hard to remember. The game does go 'ding!' occasionally when you learn something important, but there are enough non-ding! parts with useful content that this isn't the best guide.

Where the game completely goes off the deep end is with the last case. The leaps of logic and grasping at straws here are legendary; the game lampshades this quite heavily, which doesn't exactly endear me to it. At one point Phoenix completely makes up his argument, with no prior hints at all, and is then accepted as gospel thereon. While in the context of this particular case it makes some sense, it still makes me grit my teeth that I have do such a bad job in order to win. Later on you are forced to do the exact thing the game tells you not to do, pressing a witness so far past rationality that everyone thinks you are insane. I began to get very frustrated at this point. Breaking the rules is certainly good to explore, though generally when you do it in a courtroom you commit perjury or something.

"Perjury" would be a good word for this series to learn, actually. Along with "mistrial".

I'm sure the ending was meant to be heartwarming and so on, but I was so tired and fed up of being mistreated by the narrative that I mostly just felt relief. This is generally observed to be a black mark against a game. There's a lot of philosophising about "what it means to be a lawyer" during the latter half which shows some promise, but essentially everything is resolved ham-handedly without you needing to make any serious decision either way.

I can see why people love Ace Attorney. Those reasons are kind of why I don't love it. I know at some point I'll play the rest, but I just don't know how to enjoy this stuff. I wish it were just a bit more sober.

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