The world of visual novels and point and click adventures has come a long way since rookie attorney Phoenix Wright made his American debut on the Nintendo DS in 2005. With recent games like TellTale's The Walking Dead revitalizing the genre and other text heavy adventures like The Wolf Among Us pushing the boundaries of the unique gaming experience; there was the risk that the now decade old Phoenix Wright games may not have held up to the test of time. Despite that logical premise, the re-released Phoenix Wright Trilogy screams 'Objection!' and delivers countless hours worth of mysteries and murder to keep 3DS fans busy all winter.
If you're not a longtime fan of the Japanese smash success story that started out as a Gameboy Advance game, we'll give you the crash course. The original trilogy of games that was just repackaged for the 3DS consists of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations. The series of courtroom adventures places gamers in control of the legally capable and often ridiculous titular character. Players do a serious amount of interviewing witnesses and examining clues to solve a series of murders and mysteries. The game is text heavy and requires way more thinking than clicking (aside from the A button to get to the next line of text...). If you're looking for a button masher, an experience grind, or a first-person shooter; don't come barking up the Phoenix Wright tree.
If you've decided that you don't mind a game that requires you to read more than the average literature class, than you've come to the right place. The dialogue in Phoenix Wright is incredibly well-written. The games have a great sense of humor and manage to get players laughing with over-the-top puns, despite the fact that we're constantly faced with brutal murders to solve. Outside of the occasional pop culture reference that misses the mark due to a bad translation or being a few years behind, the jokes are top notch. The carefully constructed cases aren't just funny either, they all offer a serious challenge to the player.
The gameplay is simple. Listen to a lot of people tell stories, examine crime scene photos, and spot inconsistencies. The major mechanic is a 'Present' button that allows you to throw a piece of evidence in a witnesses face and demand they explain it. It might sound dull, but once you solve your first case, you'll be hooked...
As a rookie defense attorney in the first game (and eventually an all-star in the fictional law world), players must grill witnesses with something to hide before the judge slams down a guilty charge on our innocent defendants. Phoenix Wright's courtroom doesn't follow the exact rules that might be learned at any law school and instead judges can demand one final piece of evidence to prove our case at any moment. The inevitable lack of patience that is bound to become a point of controversy in every trial makes for a great tension builder, but can leave players stuck re-reading lots of old evidence before they've actually put all the pieces together. The game's crimes often hit close to home as well, with Wright's friends and colleagues under the scrutiny of the courts. The additional emotional investment in each crime and the compelling off-the-wall personalities of the entire supporting cast all help make every case feel important.
The game's simple mechanics hold up throughout the original trilogy, despite their aging simplicity. Outside of adding a 3D layer to the game and a small enhancement to allow for point and click crime scene inspections, the rerelease doesn't take much advantage of the new technology available on the 3DS. The extra screen worth of real estate does look great and frees up lots of space to admire the well-polished art on the top screen, while reviewing court records on the bottom. We would have liked to see at least some attempt to utilize the 3DS's features that weren't available on the original DS, but luckily the original gameplay is still entertaining enough to suck us in for hours.
Some of the mechanics that have become staples of the Phoenix Wright franchise aren't introduced until the second installment in the trilogy, so players will have to solve the first set of murders the old fashioned way. Once part two, Justice for All, is unlocked, players gain the ability to use the supernatural Psyche Lock ability to pick away at witness testimonies and mentally wear them down until they start to backtrack on their lies. The gameplay doesn't really change all that much, but the Psyche Lock offers an exciting tool for crushing the lies of the prosecution.
By the time players reach the third game, all the same quality is still intact, but there is a bit more frustration. Justice for All introduces cases that can be failed by blowing the first big moment in court and that feature returns (and becomes even more frequent) in the third game, Trials and Tribulations. Reverting back to a previous checkpoint is something that gamers are accustomed to, but they may not be prepared for all the clicking through it takes in Phoenix Wright to arrive back at your last failure. The save system has been improved from the original releases, but there is still too much dialogue to click through after a major mistake.
Although the Phoenix Wright Trilogy doesn't bring anything new to the table aside from some spruced up art and the convenience of playing all three games in one place, it is still a good investment for hardcore fans of the franchise. If it has been a few years since you've played the games, you may be pleasantly surprised by how engrossing and modern they feel. If you have never played a Phoenix Wright game before and have any interest in the visual novel genre, this trilogy is a must-play. The package is a gateway into an iconic and incredibly entertaining series and will have you screaming out "Take that!" and wearing a blue suit to work before you know it.
Picking up the trilogy will cost 3DS owners $30 in the eShop. At just ten dollars per game, which each pack dozens of hours of action, we don't recommend passing this one up.
Phoenix Wright Trilogy is now available on Nintendo 3DS.
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