Phoenix Wright is as dependable as Phoenix Wright. Whether you’ve played the game or watched the movie or read the manga (in which case, good for you but also what are you doing?!), you know that this particular ace attorney does not lose. He, against all odds, always comes out on top for his unlikely and usually forsaken clients.
That’s always in the face of kangaroo courts, outlandish circumstances, and soap opera-worthy opposition. But I supposed that’s just the arc of any given hero in any story. What’s more remarkable is that the series—whether under the guiding hand of Miles Edgeworth or facing off against Professor Layton—is similarly consistent. No matter the circumstances, it’s a franchise that delivers you precisely what it intends to: a bonkers visual novel about melodramatic legal proceedings.
For the most part, that dependability is a good thing. Over the course of the past nine(!) games, they keep reaching further and further into the realm of insanity. There was a time when Phoenix Wright was just a slightly hyperactive anime-ass lawyer. Then it turned a dark corner and involved government corruption, psyche inspection, in-court assassinations, and Kojima-level conjecture about fate.
In this case, Wright travels to the kingdom of Khura’in where apparently the Spirit of Justice is a very literal as séances conjure up the dead. Well, I guess it’s more that you’re dredging up the last moments of a person’s life, but it is still extremely mystical while shaking up the stakes and structure. These visions are integral parts to the legal system of Khura’in where a presiding priest will offer these up as a cockamamy combination of evidence and testimony, which might as well be storytelling entered into the record.
As the game progresses, it sticks to its guns and begins to play with this new mechanic in the same way past games have played with their own new features. It keeps digging deeper and deeper into what the consequences of such a legal system would mean (especially as Wright’s fate now ties into the outcome of the case) until it feels like it couldn’t go any further. And then it does.
But this is also a trademark problem of the series. Each subsequent game is a gestalt of new ideas and staple ones until newcomers feel overwhelmed at nearly every turn. It’s indicative of the greater problem of adventure (ish?) games wherein you have to fully commit yourself to the logic of the designer. You can’t think of your own accord.
That’s generally a problem for folks new to the series or even new to the idea of these types of games. Just because some piece of evidence leads you to the right answer, that item won’t always be accepted. Is it the gloves or the fingerprints that will refute a point? Will it be the signature or the pen that signed it?
It’s inscrutable in that way and has always been so. As much as you can count on these games to make you engage with weird, one-off mechanics that manifest strange yet charming outcomes, you can also be damn sure it’l frustrate the shit out of you at several points in the game. It’ll rob you exactly of the same highs it delivered to you moments before, vacillating between what makes the series so damn good and so damn impossible to play.
In many ways, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It has its struggles, but they’re always the same. At a certain point, you just sort of have a filter that turns on when you play. And that’s because by the end of this and every other Ace Attorney game, the story, as ridiculous and indecipherable and grand as it can be, is always worth it. It’s dependable that way. You can count on it.