Now unlike a lot of game franchises where I basically got harassed into trying them, I’ve always wanted to play a Phoenix Wright game. Probably for at least the seven years or so. So why hadn’t I? Largely, because I couldn’t actually find any copies. Now I don’t know what it is about my state, but certain games are just impossible to find. If it isn’t a AAA FPS or a Grand Theft Auto game, you aren’t likely to find it in any of the local stores. I’ve heard legends of people getting copies of games like Radiant Historia on clearance in places as plebian as Best Buy, whereas I can honestly say I’ve never seen any of these games in store.
It didn’t always used to be this way. Back when Circuit City was open in the PS2 era, my local store actually carried a plethora of obscure JRPGs, puzzle games and other stuff, much if it going regularly on clearance. And this is where I first encountered the Phoenix Wright games. I saw the game, read the back and thought that the concept actually sounded really cool. I really like mysteries and legal procedurals, so it sounded like something I would be interested in playing. Two problems though: one was that I didn’t have a DS at the time, and two, the game was $35 dollars. Which in college dollars translates into about 350 ramen meals, ie, way outside my price rage. So I waited for the game to get cheaper, and hope I’d eventually get a DS. Sadly, when Circuit City closed I missed my chance to get the game for any kind of discount, so that only left a few places: Gamestop, Amazon, and maybe on occasion, the 3rd party used gaming stores in my state.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it, but I’m not a huge fan of Gamestop, part of it is irrational dislike based off really bad experiences with a bad franchise (broken games and rude as fuck staff) and part of it is against their corporate policy of ditching DS cases and their manuals. So buying a copy of any of the games at Gamestop wasn’t going to happen, so that left Amazon. For the longest time, Amazon copies were actually very expensive, especially if you want the case and manual like I do. So I pretty much put the franchise on the back burner until Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright game out for the 3DS and I found a copy of that at my 3rd party gaming store. Enjoying the game immensely, I decided to scan the gaming scene again and was pleasantly surprised to find the original Phoenix Wright for actually a decent price. So decent, I actually had to buy 2 more games in order to fill Amazon’s $35 dollar free shipping schtick (the other two games I bought were Capcom vs. Marvel 3 and Chrono Cross).
So after all that time did I think the game was worth the wait? Honestly, yes. Part of what made me finally take the plunge was all the wonderful back and forth between Phoenix and Maya in PL vs PW, and I was pleased to find that their comic timing and great characterizations were fully in, even without full voice acting. The cases themselves were largely compelling, as the first 4 cases all tied back to one and other, from the introductory tutorial case, the case that introduces Maya all the way through the fourth case that ties the first four stories together. Since this was originally a GBA series in Japan, you can definitely feel that the 5th case for the DS version feels a bit...tacked on. With everything wrapped up so well, it really felt shoe-horned in to have the final case, especially since Ema really feels like a bargain basement Maya knockoff, from her design and her relationship with her sister, to her much more boring personality and oddly stupid behavior (Maya spent her entire life up a mountain and still had more common sense than an alleged science prodigy). At least I felt that way in the beginning. While the final case started really blandly, it did eventually develop into an extremely compelling story as to what the heck was actually happening, and had me guessing until almost the end (you pretty much know from the get-go that your clients are innocent, sometimes though it’s kind of amazing to learn how.)
The DS-new case also had some cooler features, like being able to examine evidence up close and use forensic tools to unlock new clues. I know the later games use these features a lot more, so I know it’ll improve a lot when I get the other games in the trilogy. One thing I was worried about was that there would be some weird jumps in logic in the cases, that was kind of an issue I had with the 3DS game, some of the clues/evidence didn’t make much sense in terms of presentation, and I was relieved to learn that largely isn’t an issue. I could ‘cheat’ and save the game before presenting anything so I didn’t worry too much about the penalties, and I only got stuck once in the final case because it was sort of a trick argument on which evidence to present. I know, I know, I know that Phoenix Wright isn’t based on real US legal stuff, and I know they localized it to take place in US and not Japan, but I still wanted to grit my teeth and scream ‘law doesn’t work that way!’ It doesn’t make the gameplay less fun or the stories less compelling, but I tend to be pedantic about certain things, and it did make it a bit harder to enjoy, but that’s my quirk and not the game’s.
The characters were really fun over all. Granted, they had more more puntastic names this side of a Dick Tracy story, but even the criminals had interesting designs and personalities. What really sells it is Maya and Phoenix. Phoenix as the straight man and Maya as the comic foil made every interaction between them genuinely entertaining. Phoenix’s rival in court Edgeworth was a lot of fun as well, even though he’s a total tsundare. Ema is a really second-rate replacement for Maya in the final case, and that attitude never changed even at the end of the story, but she was still pretty important.
And in a final, fun twist in the story, while playing the game and planning to track the rest of the series down, I somehow found a unicorn hanging out with Bigfoot. I went to Target the other day and it turns out they now have a section on used games. Which is pretty cool since I know Walmart and Best Buy have had sections for a while, but among the very few DS/3DS games I found: Apollo Justice Ace Attorney. I don’t have the slightest idea what it was doing there or how it got there, but I wasn’t about the pass it up. I know Apollo Justice is the 4th game in the series and so it’ll be a while until I play it so I won’t spoil myself, but holy cow! I’m still stunned I found one ‘in the wild’ like Evan said.
Gamer Diary is an informal review of games I play as I more or less discuss the thoughts that pop up while I’m playing the games. They are not meant to be recommendations or strict critiques, but as a motivator to continue to play and finish games even if I get frustrated or discouraged. If you want to do a similar thing and make your own gamer diaries, please feel free to mimic the format. The Geek Empress is a comic book artist whose work can be found at bwillettcomics.com and does the regular features Craf-TAY Corner and Collecting Retro Games.