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February 1, 2012

Awesome in the Court

When I got my hands on Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I -- through some beginner’s luck -- pulled off a few wins with Phoenix Wright.  Since then, I haven’t duplicated the same success (though I’ve made a turnabout or two).  Maybe it’s just my lack of skill in fighting games, but often winning with Phoenix Wright can be like climbing a mountain without arms or legs. But that’s all right, because 1) he’s still the lead in one of my favorite franchises, and 2) holy crap Ace Attorney 5 is coming.

Capcom’s made a lot of…iffy decisions, but I can’t help but love the company.  They’re THE developers of stylish crazy action and hyper combos; it’s like every game they make has to overflow with pizzazz or they’ll explode.  Ace Attorney is no exception, and I have high hopes for the next installment.  With a sequel comes a chance for improvement.  Not just new stories, but a chance to fix old mistakes.  And of course, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the game will pop up on the 3DS -- new technology for new experiences.

But then I thought to myself.  “What if Ace Attorney 5 WASN’T a 3DS release?  What if it came out on consoles?”  And just that, a big smile started to spread across my face.

Mommy yes!  New areas to explore!

First, I want to say that the Ace Attorney series isn’t bad.  I like it, as do a lot of people, and plenty could argue that it’s a stellar series -- a sort of bastion against the stereotypical FPSes that flood the market.  But Phoenix and friends can go even further; whether it’s from a leap to high-powered machines or just mixing up the gameplay mechanics, there’s room to improve.  Just like with any game.

The possibilities are savory indeed (provided Capcom doesn’t get too lazy).  For example, one of the things that I’d like to see is a more well-defined setting.  There are plenty of places to visit in the Ace Attorney series, sure -- a circus, Kurain Village, the museum -- but those are things that are picked out of a list.  It’s hard to gauge where those things are in relation to each other; more importantly, it’s hard to have a real understanding and appreciation of the area.  Granted, the game could still use a map/quick travel feature to get Wright around (much like Persona 4), but in this dream sequel, they could go even further.  What if they had a full world to explore?  Well, not world per se, but a city and hotspots with plenty to investigate?

Comparisons have been made between Ace Attorney and L.A. Noire.  Why not use that as a basis?  Phoenix is pretty much a detective in his own right, so he could search for clues in the same fashion.  It would be a chance to give the city a character and aesthetic worthy of a spiky-haired lawyer.  And most importantly, it would give players a chance to experience a life outside the courtroom.  You know, getting burgers with Maya.  Or maybe checking in with Adrian Andrews.  Or, hey, how about the chance to hang out with your favorite pal Gumshoe?  Exploration on a high scale could add more to the story.  But you know what could really help?

Oh baby!  Multiple characters!

Nobody knows what’s going to happen to Apollo Justice.  Personally, I think he’s a fine character in his own right -- Phoenix may be cooler and the OG attorney, but I can’t say I hate Apollo.  Opinions are still split though, and with Capcom following up Apollo’s first game with two games starring Miles Edgeworth, it’s hard to have hope.  At a glance, it looks like Apollo’s going to become the Remy to Phoenix’s Guile. 

Ace Attorney 5 might be the best way to fix that.  Why not give gamers BOTH characters to play with?  With two branching yet connected storylines, Apollo could have things go one way on his end while Phoenix goes about investigating and crime-busting on another end.  They could meet, converge, and trade details.  Or maybe they’ll end up on opposite sides, and one of them allies with the prosecution.  I envision it as playing out like Sonic Adventure 2’s Hero and Dark stories, more or less; get through both stories, then unlock a final chapter in which everything comes together (and considering how many details the series has brought to a head in the past, I’d say it’s feasible).  Even more so than screaming “Objection!” and pressing witnesses, the story of the Ace Attorney games is one of its strongest suits.  Tweaking that through new tech/opportunities could mean a better game.  And speaking of which… 

Could it be?  Side cases!

If there’s one complaint that I have to address with the Ace Attorney series, it’s that once you clear the game there isn’t much of a reason to go back.  Sure, you could treat it like a book and play it for the sake of another “read” of sorts, or you could screw around and see what characters say if you choose wrong answers.  Still, it’s hard to find any more surprises when you know the answer is “it’s in his wheelchair.”

Not so with a simple addition: “side cases.”  The main story in Trials and Tribulations runs through about five cases; fair enough, as they’re pretty entertaining.  But what if -- in the same sense that Skyrim has sidequests -- Phoenix got to spend time sorting through other cases?  Supplementary materials suggest that he’s a popular defense attorney, so it follows that he’s not starved for work.  They wouldn’t even have to be full cases; they could just take out a part of the gameplay, like pressing a witness or searching for evidence, and make that the core of the mission.  Still, they could offer plenty of bonuses besides extending gameplay time or entertainment.  Maybe winning a case could add special evidence that could indirectly help Phoenix in a main-story trial.  Maybe they could boost Wright and Co. Law Office’s credibility, and offer new cases, special in-game bonuses, or unlockables (I bet people would KILL for the game’s soundtrack). 

Or it could just be an excuse to shoot the breeze with Gumshoe.  That guy needs his own game.

Smokin’ Sick!  Graphics!

Make no mistake: I don’t have a single problem with Ace Attorney’s sprite-based style.  Far from it; the art style is among one of my favorites ever.  The sprites lend the games a distinct character, and allows for a level of expression that other games don’t bother to bring to the HD plateau.  But making sprites is hard, and it can put a bind on quantity of awesome motions for the sake of quality.  Whatever the case, if Capcom decided to have Phoenix Wright jump to 3D, I’d be okay with that.

Bear in mind that this is the same company that sanctioned Street Fighter 4’s jump to 3D.  They know what they’re doing (usually); I can easily imagine Phoenix’s jaw going all out of whack as if he ate a Metsu Shoryuken, or maybe a witness’ eyes bulging out of their head like a K.O.ed Blanka.  And a 3D engine would lend itself to exploring a 3D world -- a vibrant, colorful world with as much activity as the Skyscraper Under Construction or the Drive-In at Night.

Or maybe it could go in the opposite direction.  For the purists who love sprites, how delicious would it be to have HD sprites on par with a game like BlazBlue or Skullgirls? It’s a perfect chance to rope in the naysayers who think 2D is dead, while staying true to the franchise if so desired.  Still, improved graphics are a given and a side-note; a new-and-improved sequel might give players access to…          

Cool beans!  Branching options!

Okay, I have another problem with Ace Attorney.  Sue me (pun intended).  Sometimes you have to make some pretty big leaps in logic in order to get to the answer the games want; I only know of a few instances where there are multiple answers.  Anything else will get your health bar blasted by the judge.

Maybe it’s time to change that.  And not just giving players multiple right answers to accommodate other lines of reasoning; I’m talking real options. 

Here’s a scenario.  Two friends in real life, Mack and Joe, meet to discuss a case that they’re working on at the same time.  Mack says that he investigated the office building to collect a watch, an envelope, and a candy bar wrapper as evidence, but got hassled by Edgeworth before he could get anything else.  Joe  says he took a different route; he headed to the zoo and found a wallet and a cell phone, but had to bail because the whip-happy Franziska showed up.  Who’s got the right evidence?  Neither one, of course; they just have to use what they have to their advantage, just as Phoenix would.  Who knows?  Maybe the players could stumble upon completely different witnesses and face off with different prosecutors.  Of course, that would imply that this hypothetical supra-sequel would entail…

The bee’s knees!  New gameplay mechanics!

Justice for All added Psyche-Locks, where Phoenix used evidence to break through a person’s wall of secrets and lies.  Apollo Justice added the Perceive System, where the titular lawyer ogled the crap out of a witness until they revealed a nervous tic that signaled they were lying.  Maybe the next game in the series could introduce a new weapon: the “Pressure” system.  To be fair, this is just an extension of the text that’s in several Ace Attorney games, but maybe it’s time to make that more distinct.

Here’s how it works: Phoenix is trying to put the squeeze on someone he thinks is the culprit.  But the culprit is at the top of his/her game; he’s having a hard time getting the confession he needs.  What does he do?  He’ll have to force the culprit to crack -- evidence that would get him blasted by the judge may have a special effect on the culprit.   Presenting that evidence (in the courtroom, or out of it) might draw a special reaction out, and from there the culprit starts slipping up, little by little, until he/she’s just words away from a self-conviction.  But -- as if life wasn’t hard enough for Mr. Wright -- the prosecution, or maybe the witness, could do the same to you.  Leading you astray, and forcing you to keep your wits about you; you wouldn’t have another bar to monitor, making it both simpler and more high-stakes by making your mistakes all the more possible.  But maybe the player could do the same to the prosecution.  How awesome would it be to outwit Edgeworth and make him lose his cool -- not just because you’ve neared the end of the case and BSed your way through, but because your mind was sharper than his?

Exploding reality!  User-created content!

This one’s a bit of a stretch, but work with me here.

People love playing through cases with Phoenix and friends, to the point where there are fan-created projects across the net.  Why not put that power in the players’ hands?  Let them make cases in the same way that they can make missions in Infamous 2 or storylines in Smackdown vs. Raw, or…well, anything in LittleBigPlanet 2.  It could be a lengthy endeavor typing out all that text, and I imagine there would be some sacrifices here and there (quality of content chief among them, more often than not), but there could be golden cases released if only some artisans had a canvas.  Plus it’s a way to add more gameplay hours without artificial padding -- and a way to spread the joy of finger-pointing.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Ace Attorney 5 will no doubt be a great game (GOTY if Gumshoe gets a secret case).  The developers will probably make tweaks and improvements that I couldn’t even dream of; still, I can’t help but dream.  Phoenix Wright and all his pals deserve more exposure, and a chance to stand on the same stage as all the console mainstays.  With style and satisfaction in spades, all it would take is one “Hold it!” to get everybody to take notice.    

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