And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been babbling about social justice issues and spirituality for so long (you can rest assured that in periods of low activity on this blog, I’m just as busy with these sorts of discussions in the corporeal world), I think today I’ll just talk about anime lawyer video games.

So, Phoenix Wright. Or, rather, the entirety of the Ace Attorney series.

If by some miracle you DIDN’T arrive at this blog from my personal Facebook page, then you may not be aware that the latest entry to the series, subtitled “Dual Destinies”, was released today for download from the NIntendo eShop on the 3DS. For those of you that ARE Facebook Friends with me, then I offer a completely insincere non-apology for posting about it all day and especially after I started playing it. Look, folks, these days the only media I shamelessly fangirl about in social media is Homestuck. Ace Attorney games are an especially rare specimen, with only 6 recorded appearances in North America since their first sighting in 2005, so you only have to endure this from me less than once a year or so. LET ME HAVE THIS.

The Ace Attorney series began life as a quirky Japanese Game Boy Advance title called Turnabout Courtroom. The game was decidedly different from most of what characterizes the industry, but it managed to find enough success to warrant a couple of sequels. Eventually, the first game was ported to the DS, given an English translation, and ported to North America as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Capcom, who published the series, did not anticipate that this bizarre game about lawyers arguing in court would find much of an audience in The Land That Colonialism Built, so the initial print was limited to a few select retailers and not very many copies. Imagine their surprise when the entire first print sold out almost instantly. The second and third shipments also sold out completely, which seems to indicate that people in this continent REALLY like to argue.

I happened upon the series almost completely by chance; though I had heard about it and was curious about the first game, I never saw a copy of it in any of the stores convenient to me. Then, unexpectedly, I found the game’s sequel, subtitled “Justice For All”, sitting completely innocuously on a shelf in Wal-Mart. These were the days where I had a job and something called ‘disposable income’, so taking a chance on something whose quality was not assured to me was something I was much more willing to do. I picked it up, took it home, popped it into my DS, and proceeded to suspend all meaningful interaction with the world for the ensuing few days (I worked retail – no one noticed). I was hooked. Before I was even finished with the second game, I tracked down an errant copy of the first on eBay (the first and thus far only eBay purchase I’d ever made), and submerged myself in all things Ace Attorney.

Yes, I was THAT hooked.

Over a year later, the North American release of the third game “Trials and Tribulations” was released, and by then I was in so deep that I would spend every coffee break dashing off to the nearby EBGames to see if the game had arrived since my last coffee break, taking time before and after work to check other retailers (a limited, non-major release meant that pre-orders were effectively useless, especially where I lived). This diligence was not unwarranted; I finally got the game on the last coffee break of the day two Thursdays after the launch date, and it was sold out by that Friday afternoon.

So all that, to establish this one premise: I LOVE this series.

The gameplay is a unique blend of Hidden Object Games and Adventure Game-style dialogue options, whereby your character investigates crime scenes, interrogates witnesses and other persons of note, all for the purpose of proving your client’s innocence. The puzzles usually come down to analyzing witness testimony, comparing statements with all the evidence available in the court record, and presenting inconsistencies. The stories are incredibly well written, the tension and drama extremely palpable, and the characters a lot of fun. As a fan of good writing in games, this series and I are a match made in heaven. The rush I get from shouting ‘Objection!’ at my DS (because it supports microphone input, naturally) after carefully poring over every statement to find the hidden, subtle, but undeniable contradiction is unlike anything any other game has been able to offer. It’s incredibly satisfying, and the reason why I’ve followed this series through its highs and its lows.

“Lows, you say?” I can hear you through anachronistic spacetime. Yes, sadly, the Ace Attorney series of games has certainly faced trials (heh) over the years. The whole reason the first three games were ported to the DS in the first place was in promotion of the series’ fourth installment, developed from the ground up for the DS to take full advantage of the system’s unique hardware, known in English-speaking nations as Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. What happened to Phoenix Wright? Disbarred. Boom. The plucky defense attorney we’d spent three games falling in love with was stripped of his license to practice law without so much as a whoopsie-daisy. Though Phoenix does appear in the game, the familiar faces begin and end there, for the most part. The rest of the cast, who had earned just as much of a following, are nary to be seen, replaced with a bunch of forgettable jerks that no one had any reason to care about. The only compelling character of the whole lot was the new detective character, but almost fittingly, she’s not a ‘new’ character in the strictest sense, as she was first introduced in a bonus case exclusive to the DS port of the first game. Combine that with four cases whose respective experiences range from ‘wow, this is tedious and repetitive’ to ‘I think they forgot this was supposed to be an interactive experience’, and you have what was considered to be the worst entry of the series to date.

But the woes didn’t end there. Following Apollo Justice, a spinoff series called Ace Attorney Investigations (Turnabout Prosecutor in Japan) was created, starring Phoenix Wright’s main rival (and, if fanfiction is to be believed, True Love) Miles Edgeworth. Though the people behind this game seemed to realize that fans were still fond of the supporting cast for the original trilogy, this series did away with the courtroom segments, universally believed to be the best parts of the games, instead placing focus on Everything Else. Worse still, the second game in the series would never see an English translation, as the development team was quickly disbanded after the Japan release. Truly, the series had entered some dark times.

Still, I was completely in love. This series was one of the key influences that inspired me to go back to school and finish my degree. As embarrassing as it is to admit this as an adult, I had planned on pursuing a career in law myself, even though I was fully aware that the law in the real world is nothing at all like the law as it’s presented in the games. It was this inspiration that eventually drove me to finally quit my dead-end job and pursue the life I was always meant to live, even if I had a mistaken idea of what that was at the time. As silly as it sounds, Ace Attorney is one of the things that inspired me to turn my life around (appropriate, for a series where the word ‘turnabout’ is practically ubiquitous)., and so it occupies a very special place in my heart.

So you can imagine my excitement when the fifth game was not only announced, but revealed to be getting the full localization treatment. Up until that point, I had resisted picking up a 3DS (that launched after I quit my job to pursue the calling of a broke-ass student), but that changed less than 7 days after the announcement hit.

Everyone has their vices. Anime lawyer video games are mine.