A Few Ace Attorney Cold Cases

It is likely too soon to be writing off the Ace Attorney series as a thing of the past. The last game was released in Japan less than three years ago. There was a longer gap between games four and five of the series, and as long a gap between games three and four. That said, the series has gone pretty much dormant in the West since the release of Spirit of Justice in 2016 and I am not especially hopeful that we’ll ever see more of it. However, I was recently reminded that both of the 3DS Ace Attorney games, Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice, had downloadable cases that I had never played. With the 3DS dead, and the Ace Attorney series absent, I decided it was high time that I played those dlc cases. The Dual Destinies one had been available for nearly seven years, there really was no excuse for me to have not played it.

One thing that has changed since the last Ace Attorney game was released that was guaranteed to change how I saw the series; I went to law school. Oddly enough, it didn’t make that much of a difference; if anything I find the legal nonsense more plausible now, even though I know just how far it is from reality.

Dual Destinies’s dlc case is Turnabout Reclaimed. It is a kind of goofy, classic case. It has a small role for the whole cast of the game, it is really a Phoenix showcase in a game that, if I recall correctly, tended to lose him for large stretches as he slipped into more of a mentor role than protagonist. The rest is about as silly as the series got, with a pirate themed aquarium and an orca accused of murder. The case, as they tend to do, twists around like a snake, but the whole thing builds to one moment: Phoenix Wright cross examining an orca.

The game teases it, pretending it is going to have Nick call the orca to testify, before pulling back. Finally, near the end the inevitable happens. It is worth the wait. Turnabout Reclaimed is a fun case; it feels more like the second case of the game than something that should have been dlc, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Spirit of Justice’s Turnabout Time Traveler is the one that really caught my attention. That is because given its cast, it caused special feelings for this longtime fan of the series. Turnabout Time Traveler starts with Larry Butz bursting into the Wright Anything Agency with a new case; saving his bride from a murder conviction. It is soon revealed that Larry is wrong about pretty much everything, but Phoenix is still on the case. The title promises time travel, and while the case does bring that up, and summarily dismisses the idea with such fervor that you expect it to twist back around to being real, there is some time travel involved. That is for the player. This case goes all the way back to the original Ace Attorney, with Phoenix partnered up with Maya and going against Miles Edgeworth. The only person missing is Gumshoe. This case hit the nostalgia hard.

I don’t know if it feels more like a reunion or a farewell. Maybe it’s both. This is the case that got me thinking that we are not going to see any more of these characters. The reunion aspect is obvious. Phoenix never fully left the spotlight, but Maya disappeared for two games and Edgeworth was relegated to his own spin off series. This case has Phoenix and Edgeworth facing off for the first time since the first game, and those two together with Maya for the first time since the end of the third game. Still, I feel a farewell in all of this. The game is kind of acknowledging that there really isn’t anywhere else for these characters to go. At least, nowhere that the game is willing to acknowledge. There are some oblique hints at romance between Maya and Phoenix, but the game wisely leaves that alone. Otherwise, these characters are fully formed now. Maya is spunky and determined, Edgeworth is stolid but kind-hearted, and Phoenix is dedicated and quick thinking. They are a fun trio, but the series has gotten pretty much all it can out of them. They could, theoretically, crank out cases of the quality of Turnabout Time Traveler forever. I would play them; they are fun interactive murder mysteries. But that is not really forward momentum for the series. If this is the last we see of this trio, or any part of the trio, I am glad we got it. It makes for a good send off.

I really miss this series. Maybe a Switch port or compilation would drum up enough interest to get things going again. Still, we got 8 great games in America and for that I am glad.

Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations

It is not quite accurate to say that the Ace Attorney series is what made the DS for me, but it is not exactly inaccurate either. There are too many great games on the DS to credit its legacy to any one game or series. From a cartload of Dragon Quest and Pokemon games to quirkier stuff like Professor Layton or Trauma Center, the DS library is stuffed with great games. No game did more to sell me the system than the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The series kept me enthralled throughout the life of the system, even if they never quite recaptured the magic after the original trilogy. The final game in that original set of games, Trials and Tribulations is the glorious culmination of the series to that point.

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I refrained from calling any of these games the best in the series as I’ve played through them, but having finished Trials and Tribulations I am confident calling it the best. It has the strongest set of cases and an excellent finale that brings the whole trilogy full circle. It starts with the strongest intro case, one starring Mia Fey as a rookie defending a hapless college age Phoenix. It not only introduces gameplay concepts, it also introduces all relevant characters and sets the stage for the big finale.

What sets this game apart is how strongly its central theme comes through. It is a game about identity. The first case has Phoenix’s girlfriend, Dahlia, playing an obviously fake role. At least, it is obvious to everyone save Phoenix. The next case has a dual layered secret identity, with two people claiming to be a famous thief and establish their alibi. The third case brings in a fake Phoenix. The prosecutor in this game, Godot, is a complete unknown. When the game finally builds to its epic final case, they whole thing is a mix of secret identities and hidden agendas. None of the other games use an idea repeatedly like hidden identities are used in Trials and Tribulations. It don’t know what, if anything, the game is trying to say with them, other than a general quest for the truth. Phoenix is constantly faced with chameleons in this game, and each time he is able to untwist their lies and false faces to get to the truth.

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The last case in particular is a triumph. It is the perfect conclusion to this trilogy. It’s completely ridiculous, but in a completely Ace Attorney way, managing to combine Phoenix’s story from this game with the trilogy long story about the Fey family to create a story that ties up nearly everything in a complete bow. That case also somehow has time to put something on a capper of the stories and Edgeworth and Franziska von Karma as well. That is a case is personal for everyone involved, concluding with the series trademark tragedy-tinged optimism.

Coming out of this game I can see why Capcom chose to move on from Phoenix after this game. His story was over; they were not going to top this. The obvious next step, which ended up as something of a side-step, would have been games starring Myles Edgeworth. He was still a character with plenty of stories to tell. The route they took with Apollo Justice was probably the worst possible one. They didn’t go back to Phoenix for inevitably diminished returns, nor did they go for a clean break. Instead they brought back Phoenix in a smaller role that all but ignored these three games. The fact that Maya is not a part of that game is telling as to how far wrong it gets Phoenix.

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There are no weak cases in this game. As I’ve already written, the first and last cases are excellent, but the middle two and a half are also good. The second case is likely the weakest, if only for that whiff of missed opportunity. Its two connected cases and complex blackmail schemes are fine, but none of its characters leave a strong impression. Mostly because they aren’t given the opportunity to. The game spends a lot of time with the client and the culprit, but other characters are kind of left by the wayside. The next is a complex puzzle that happens to feature this game’s embarrassing stereotype. Still, it is an altogether excellent case. After that is a return to Mia and the origin of the villain from the opening case, it exists solely to set the case for the finale.

While all of the main characters get plenty of development, none grow more in this game than Mia. Due to the unfortunate murder in the first game, Mia was never more than a small presence in the game. She was a character that quite literally didn’t have a life outside of the case. In Trials and Tribulations she truly develops into a character worth caring about.

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That is the beauty of the Ace Attorney series. A positive development like learning more about Mia is tinged with sadness because she is already dead. It is true in characters like Pearl, whose cheerful innocence belies the tragedy of her upbringing and situation. Trials and Tribulations is only possible because of the games that came before it, but it is a wholly satisfying conclusion to Phoenix Wright’s story.

The Ace Attorney Against the Archaeologist

Professor Layton Versus Phoenix Wright is a crossover game that caters directly to me, featuring two of my favorite DS franchises, which makes me a somewhat sad that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped to. All the elements that make both series great are there, but somehow it doesn’t come together quite as well as the games from either. This is not a peanut butter and chocolate situation of two great tastes going great together; these two distinct flavors do not mix as well as one would expect.

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It is less a natural failure of mixing these two game series, but a failure of this specific game’s attempt at comingling those two worlds. While it was written by Shu Takumi the creator of the Ace Attorney series, Phoenix and Maya’s inclusion almost seems an afterthought. The structure of the game is much more like the Layton series, but the puzzles aren’t really up to snuff. Outside of the protagonist duos, the game does nothing to leverage the rest of these games excellent cast to help fill out the story. Finally, when it comes down to it, often this game just isn’t all that well written; a big problem when the game is essentially a visual novel.

It starts with Professor Layton and Luke having a girl show up on their doorstep in some sort of trouble. It is the starting point of most Layton games. Trying to help her out, Layton and Luke get pulled into a deeper mystery. And they get pulled into a mysterious book. At the same time, Phoenix and Maya travel from Japan America to England to learn from their legal system. When he gets there, he discovers that he has been put in charge of a case, a case involving the girl that Layton and Luke were protecting. After winning the case, Nick and Maya also get sucked into the mystery.

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While there are several cases for Phoenix to try, they are mostly unsatisfying affairs. Mostly because the legal system in the witch trials is pointless. It is annoying to use logic when the system itself ignores it. The rules in a regular Ace Attorney game don’t exactly make sense, but they are consistent. Cases build up to their conclusions. Here they tend to just go on until someone else admits to the crime. No matter how effectively you prove your client innocent, unless you can pin the crime on someone else it doesn’t matter. Yes, they are witch hunts; they have to find someone to blame things on, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying experience.

My complaints about the Layton portions are less pronounced. A lot of the puzzles are less brainteasers and more trial and error. There are also fewer of them than the usual Layton game. They are actually tied into the game more organically than usual, but at the cost of some of the Layton’s series unique charm.

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Outside of a cameo by Inspector Chelmey and Constable Barton, the supporting cast is all new. In a lot of ways this is a good thing, it lets the game tell its own story and build an organic way for these characters to interact. Still, the crossover appeal would have been stronger if they would have dug just a little deeper. Why does Flora constantly get shoved aside? Why couldn’t Gumshoe have shown up to bumble around with Chelmey and Barton? Maybe a role for Miles Edgeworth? While they definitely should not have been allowed to take over the game, a few more familiar faces would have been appreciated. Another problem is that the investigation group expands to five people, all of which have to give their two cents at every opportunity. It slows the pace down, particularly since Maya and Luke don’t really have much to do for the bulk of the game.

There are plenty of good things, though. The overall scenario is solidly entertaining, with a suitably Layton-esque escalation near the end. Both Layton and Phoenix get their chances to shine; opportunities to bring their unique skills to the fore. Plenty of the new characters are highly entertaining. There are some interesting advancements to the trial system as well. While letting the player cross exam multiple witnesses at once is kind of ludicrous, allowing the player the use pieces of testimony to point out contradictions to other witnesses is a nice touch.

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The game is pure fan service for fans of both series. It doesn’t make either of is separate parts better, but it doesn’t diminish them enough to make them unenjoyable. Plus, there is a good chance that this is the last we see of either of these protagonists. The Layton series is headed off to the unexplored territory of Layton 7, which is not going to be like the previous games in the series. And the Ace Attorney series is heading into the past for Great Ace Attorney, with Sherlock Holmes as a supporting cast member as they try cases in Japan’s America’s Meiji Period. Professor Layton Versus Phoenix Wright is not a perfect game, but it is a fine send off for two of the best new video game characters of the last decade.

Video Games as Anti-Depressants

I’m feeling nostalgic. And also kind of depressed. Mostly about video games. For some reason, I can’t seem to bring myself to actually turn any of my systems on right now. I don’t want to play any of my currently in progress games, I want to play something old and comforting. However, I also cannot bring myself to go to the bother of scrounging up any of my old favorites. Usually the Wii’s virtual console is the perfect solution to this problem, bringing many of my favorite classic games to my fingertips, but even it is currently unavailable to me.

I am not unfamiliar with this kind of funk; it have spells like this several times a year. And I know just the games I need to snap me out of it. Some are old, some are fairly recent, but all of them turn the controller into a livewire that zaps my brain and jolts me out of my fugue.

Foremost on this fairly exclusive list is the Mega Man series, mostly the NES games, but some others also do the trick. Mega Man 2 and 3 are the absolute pinnacle of NES action games, and all the games in the series are designed to provide the maximum amount of fun as soon as the game is turned on. One of the best ways they achieve this is the level options. There are sure to be parts of even great games that the player doesn’t like and Mega Man at least allows the player put those off as long as possible. Another is the music, which alone is enough to perk me up significantly.

River City Ransom is a game so full of charm that is goes without saying that it is on this list. But I’ve made my case for it already.

Also on my list of picker-uppers is a select number of JRPGs. For anyone who grew up on a steady diet of SNES, the trio of Final Fantasy 3(6), Chrono Trigger and Earthbound should be familiar. Anyone of those is sure to plant a smile on my face that sticks for at least a week. FF3 is the one side of the tipping point of that series, foreshadowing the changes that were coming while still fitting seamlessly with what came before. Chrono Trigger is the genre’s purest expression and has the perfect snappy pacing to cheer one up. Earthbound is a slower burn, but it’s unequalled charm is immediately apparent. The only non-SNES RPG that works for me is Suikoden 2, another case of a game with fast pacing and one of the best looking 2D games around.

There are some newer games that also fit the bill. While not especially new, the Metal Slug series, played on the flawed but sufficient Wii collection, is the perfect game for a quick jolt. With infinite continues there is no stress, but it still provides a player with gumption a chance to challenge themselves. Every time I try to cut down on the number of continues I use, though I am not always successful.

And lastly there is the Phoenix Wright series for the DS. Playing that series again is like watching re-runs of your favorite TV show. There is absolutely nothing new or different, but the characters you love are always there.

The most important thing about these pick-me-up games is that they provide me with a quick, if not necessarily easy, sense of accomplishment. I can beat Mega Man 2 or a Phoenix Wright case in a short amount of time, giving me the sense that I’ve accomplished something. Which the lack of is usually what has me down to begin with. The RPGs are slightly different. Playing them is like listening to my Grandfather talk about fighting in World War II. The accomplishment was a long time ago, but by going over the tale again the sense of worth his brought again to the forefront.

The games listed aren’t the only ones that fit in this category. But they are my most used ones. Do you readers sometimes need to use a video game as a pick-me-up? What games are your feeling down cures?