It can't have been the easiest pitch. "We want to do a defence lawyer sim which mixes courtroom antics with demonic possession, right. And in between loads and loads and loads of clicking through text screens you get to randomly shout "objection" into the microphone. Itllbelikereallyamazing!"
But what sounds dubious on paper, is all kinds of wonderful on DS. Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations is the third game in Capcom's fine series of legal dramas and, crucially, it's also the best Phoenix Wright title so far. It's a Cristal-swigging, cigar-chomping, superstar rapper kind of assured, in fact.
On the surface, not much has changed. There are five cases and each case is split into two elements. First you conduct an investigation, then there's a trial. The investigation part of Trials and Tribulations sees you and psychic sidekick Maya investigate stuff and natter with all manner of weird and wonderfully weird suspects. Much in the manner of old-skool adventures, moving round Phoenix Wright's world is a simple matter of selecting a locale.
Once you turn up at, say, the Tres Bien French restaurant, you can either talk to the character in front of you, present them with an item you've found elsewhere, or have a snoop around. The snooping bit is crucial, as it's where you'll turn up clues. Clues can be as random as a pot of gravy or a sports newspaper with a doodle on it. The random nature of these clues generates a warm 'eureka' feeling when you finally work out what the blazes they mean.
Progressing through the investigation is a matter of eking out clues and then endlessly combining them before recombining with people and places. Like the second Phoenix Wright game, not everyone wants to tell you their secrets, though. Some people are 'psylocked', a fancy term for 'lip-buttoned', and essentially you need to present them with objects that contradict what they're telling you before they'll talk.
However, the investigation is just the prelude to the full-on symphony that is Phoenix Wright's trial section. In the courtroom, you press testimony and then present items to reveal contradictions and slowly, slowly uncover the invariably insane truth. The pressure in the courtroom is ramped up because making a wrong accusation sees you hit with a penalty. Once the penalty-o-meter (as we're calling it) is drained, your client is found guilty and it's game over.
On the surface of it, you'd be forgiven for thinking Trials and Tribulations is as wretched as those Don Bluth games from the '80s (ask your dad). And it's true, as a mode, Phoenix Wright is stuck in the distant past of text adventuring. The pleasure of the game purely comes from the quality of the narrative and working through the incredible twists that come your way.
And the game has some brilliant stories of Agatha Christie-like ingenuity (think The ABC Murders, Poirot fans). Genuinely, Trials and Tribulations is essentially a great book that you don't want to put down. Over breakfast, through lunch, under the duvet… we just couldn't switch the DS off. It is just fabulously written.
Obviously, because the pleasure of the game comes from the plots it's difficult to say too much about why these stories are by some distance the most compelling so far. But to give you an illustration, one of the early cases sees a loan shark being pursued by a loan shark because, well, someone was actually able to pay him. This all leads to a fake crime with a fake Phoenix Wright, which can only be solved with fake evidence. The denouement is audacious and brilliant and thoroughly captivating.
All the five cases in Trials and Tribulations are interlinked and pit Phoenix against Godot, an aggressive new prosecutor in the Darth Vader mould, who doubles as an excuse for all-manner of showy Samuel Beckett references. As the spine-tingling inter-connections of their past are revealed, characters from previous games such as Edgeworth, Van Karma and Larry Butz make cameo appearances. Cue in jokes aplenty and some shrewd gags. While the second Phoenix Wright, though hugely enjoyable, felt like an add-on pack of tricky and sometimes contrived cases, Trials and Tribulations has a consistency and logic suitable for both newbies and veterans.
It's still not pure gaming, then, but Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations is purely brilliant. In our best Bjorge Lillelien-speak (for no obvious reason other than as a result of sheer excitement) we can only say: Rumpole of the Bailey! LA Law! John Grisham! Shark! Clive Anderson – can you hear us Clive Anderson? Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!
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