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The Phoenix Wright series for all its satisfying highs, also has some really crappy lows.

This is going to be a really, really long rant, but I just need to post this somewhere to get it all off my chest.

I've been playing through the Phoenix Wright series lately and man do I have some mixed feelings about it. The first game (Ace Attorney) was really great and left me with tons of satisfying moments, but then I got to the much maligned second game (Justice For All) and just about everything I liked about this series ground to a screeching halt. I had heard beforehand about how it's considered as arguably the weakest entry in the series, and holy crap, I can certainly see why. The first case, although it definitely has its problems, actually wasn't too bad, at least for me, but the second and third cases had sections that were a real pain to get through for multiple reasons.

First of all, the complete lack of information you're provided in the court record (the place where you can see all the available evidence) was just needlessly punishing and supremely unintuitive. Unlike all the cases in the first game, even the bonus case which many consider to be one of the hardest/longest cases in the original trilogy, JFA expects you to remember certain information that you only get ONE CHANCE to commit to memory, and that you also can't reference at all later on. Forgot what this particular item was in relation to? Well, screw you then, because you're completely shit out of luck. In the first game, everything pertinent to the case was provided to the player in terms of the descriptions associated with each piece of evidence in the court record, but in JFA many of these items are completely absent any of that kind of information.

For instance, one item in the second case that turns out to be extremely significant later on, has a description that tells you ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about what it actually does. All the description tells you is that it's a black key with a green gem in it, but that's all. Unless you remember what it was used for during the beginning of the case, you'll have no fucking idea what it's even doing there, which to me is complete bullshit. Now, I'll admit, I don't exactly have the best memory, but it seems really unfair, not to mention frustrating, to design the way everything works in the assumption that the player does in fact have a great memory, or that they should just grab a literal notepad and take their own notes assuming that they don't. It'd be one thing if the game actually told you to do the latter, but since it doesn't, the game just throws you to the proverbial wolves during those times when it requires you to recall information of which you have no means to reference beyond whether or not you actually recollect whatever it is it's asking you to remember. I mean, what if you took a break from the game for a couple days? How in the hell are you expected to then come back and remember this kind of stuff completely off the cuff with no way to reference the core details of the case itself?

When it came to that prior example I gave of the black key, once you're actually expected to present it to the courtroom, you're given absolutely no reminders or hints as to how it's related to the case, which left me resorting to doing something I hadn't done once since starting this series. In other words, brute forcing a solution and picking every piece of available evidence until something eventually stuck which, needless to say, just about sucked nearly every last drop of enjoyment out of this series for me. It really sucks because the second case actually had a pretty decent story in the end, but this kind of shit happening just utterly ruined it for me. For what it's worth, the second half of the trial was WAY better than the first, not to mention way more fair/intuitive, and that at least helped to salvage what was left of the case itself, in terms of ending things on a good, frustration free note.

Just some other details about the first part of the second case that irked me. Next to the black key thing, another thing I really didn't care for in the first part of the trial was the fact that, despite the judge saying he smelled gunpowder on Maya's clothes, the way to proceed forward was pointing out how there's no gunpowder burn on them, which completely contradicts the judge's prior observation. I also really hated that the game drops red lettered hints of how the nurse's build has something to do with pointing out the required contradiction in this instance, even though it literally has NOTHING to do with it at all, which leaves me to assume that the game was literally just misleading the player on purpose with false hints. It got even worse when you're then expected to place Maya's location somewhere within the crime scene in relation to her lack of a gunpowder burn, even though you have no sense of distance in terms of where it could, or couldn't have actually happened. That was another thing which left me saving and reloading a few times, just clicking at random until I was left with the one spot that seemed the most unlikely (what with it being already marked), but that the game, of course, arbitrarily decides is actually the right answer.

Another thing I have to mention about JFA are the goddamn penalties, because they're just ramped up to eleven here. Instead of your health being replenished upon a recess/conclusion in the trial, or at the end of an investigation out in the field, your health can only be refilled after completing one of the few "psyche locks" associated with certain characters during investigations. As if that wasn't bad enough, instead of penalties having a max of two damage, some penalties can take more than half of your health off at once, which is completely fucking ridiculous. In fact, the psyche locks, which are supposed to be meant to restore your health, can very easily destroy it instead, since the penalties you suffer from them if you screw them up are insanely high, meaning that the health you get back at the end might only be the bare minimum. During the course of the first game, only once did I actually need to reload my save on account of having too low health to continue, and that was during one of the arguably toughest sections of the fifth case having to do with that lunch delivery lady, whereas in JFA I was forced into having to do this multiple times, because the lack of the normal health restore plus the severe penalties made it next to impossible not to.

On a brief side note having to do with the lunch lady from the bonus fifth case from the first game, it still bothers me how the paystub isn't accepted as presentable evidence so as to show that the murder couldn't have been planned, yet the knife is. And this in despite of the fact that both indicate how that, at this stage in the case, there was no way Lana could've known that Miles' car was going to be there, and thus she couldn't have used what she found there for the murder. Personally, as opposed to how it seems most other people feel about it, that was actually the only problem I had with that case, outside of how presenting a key piece of evidence a little too early in the final stretch of the last trial leads to an instant game over, even though right after you decline to present it, you're then asked again just a few moments later, at which point you're actually finally allowed and are supposed to present it, which while I understood the context of this in terms of making the evidence admissible, still felt arbitrary and lame. Moving that pot into the right angle was also a bitch as well, but at least it didn't slam you with penalties for each screw-up, which would've been guaranteed if it had been made to work with JFA's much more punishing take on the penalty system.

I really don't understand how most people slam Rise from the Ashes (the bonus fifth case from the first game) for being rife with random ass pulls and harebrained logic, when pretty much all the cases in JFA are riddled with that kind of thing from top to bottom. Again, at least RftA didn't slam you with one outrageous penalty after another, not to mention punish you severely for even the smallest mistakes the way JFA does. Unlike the first game, it's extremely unlikely that anyone could get through the cases in JFA without needing to save scum at some point, which to me just serves as a blazing testament to how completely fucked up the design of its cases/mechanics are.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I really didn't care for the strong focus on mysticism that's present in JFA. Especially after coming off of RftA, where the focus was more on real world forensics, it left me a lot less involved in the cases themselves. Especially the second one, which at first just seemed really dumb and uninteresting to me, and how that in turn had severe knock-on effects at later points within said case, when the game expects you to have paid extremely close attention to just about everything that happened and assumes you're right on board with all the complete mumbo jumbo tier nonsense that's happening in front of you and that you're supposed to just accept at face value. Such as how, for instance, that possession is apparently a real thing, and that it can get you convicted for murder in a court of law. If anything it should've been the prosecution's job to prove that the possession actually happened, but instead you're supposed to prove that it didn't happen, even though the latter is the one that should simply be taken as the obvious given, and the fact that the opposite is true leaves the courtroom feeling closer to something you'd find in the dark ages as opposed to anything resembling the modern era. To be honest, it almost felt like trying to prove that someone wasn't a witch in front of a trial located in Salem during the 1600s, when insane shit like possession and witchcraft were actually taken seriously in a court of law. Not to mention that, if the defendant were possessed, than how can they be held responsible for their actions when they literally weren't even in control of their own body? That, to me anyway, was a huge reason why that case felt insanely dumb and one sided.

And, honestly, I haven't even gotten to the tsunami of bullshit that was the third case. I mean, damn, where do you even begin with that garbage? No other case I've played comes anywhere close to the insane leaps in logic that are present there. As far as I'm concerned, RftA might as well be the very first case of the series by comparison, speaking in terms of sheer straightforwardness. Now, personally, I actually didn't run into too many snags with the third case, and overall I still think the second case irritated me more, but everything that happens once Acro takes the stand is so head-spinningly bonkers that I literally laughed out loud when Phoenix "deduces" what actually happened, which only ended up coming across as one of the most absurdly ridiculous explanations I've ever heard. And he doesn't do this just once, but twice, TWICE for crying out loud! Anyone who's played this case before should know exactly what I'm referring to.

Yep, that's right, it's that fucking magical cloak that apparently has the ability to magnetize itself to random objects that just so happen to get too close. Oh, but the flowers of the cloak somehow hooked on to the pointed edges of the statue, so it makes perfect sense! I mean, come the fuck on already. I honestly couldn't even believe the game was actually being serious with passing off that sort of stupid shit as being anywhere near enough a satisfying explanation. If anything, it's the kind of wild overreaching that would've gotten you penalized in any of the other cases from the first game, but here it's treated as the kind of thing that's supposed to tie the whole case together.

Now, while all that was laughable, the next time this happens only left me feeling pretty frustrated, and was otherwise what primarily ruined what few redeemable qualities this entire case had going for it. I'm of course referring to the irritating guessing game of trying to determine where that god damned bust of Max is supposed to be, only for it to be found, of all places, underneath Acro's fucking wheelchair. Now, while some people were able to figure this out by process of elimination, it still comes off as totally and utterly ridiculous. Granted, I'll admit that there was one key piece of information, which serves as yet another piece of information that you're just expected to remember without any kind of reference to it in the court record, that pretty much tells you exactly where the bust is supposed to be. And that's how Acro's apartment was given a surprise search by Von Karma, where upon its completion he was immediately conferred to the courtroom, which in turn left him without any other place to stash the item, but the wheelchair. However, if you forgot that bit about how he was immediately taken to the courtroom afterwards, then it's reasonable to assume that Acro could've stashed the item somewhere else nearby. My first guess was Moe's room, due to the close proximity, and also the hole in the ceiling since I thought that perhaps the bust had fallen through from Acro's apartment on the third floor and gotten lost in Moe's assorted junk (it seemed to make sense at the time anyway), but given how I didn't have that one crucial piece of information, any other location, BUT the courtroom, seemed like the most reasonable answer. Also, maybe it's just me, but I had no idea that wheelchairs had compartments to store things underneath the seat, especially ones large enough to fit a fucking marble bust of someone. On top of this, I also had no idea that Acro was covering his lap with a blanket, since without that being there there would've been no way for him to hide that fucking thing underneath the chair.

Despite this, all the game needed to do was gently remind the player that Acro suffered a surprise search of his room, which could've easily been conveyed briefly by either Maya, or Phoenix himself in his internal monologue. In fact, Phoenix and Maya literally do this earlier when you need to present the silk hat to prove that Acro couldn't have seen Max fly past his window. In passing they mention the previous contradiction you had to make against Moe in the day prior, which tells you exactly what you need to know, assuming you remember said contradiction. It still requires you to remember what that was, but at least it gives you SOMETHING to work with, as opposed to just expecting the player to have a photographic memory of all of the events that have happened in the case thus far.

Aside from that, I actually found Ini's ditzy airhead routine from the second case way more annoying than any of the characters you interact with during the third case. A lot of people seem to hate on Moe, but I actually thought he was one of the more likeable characters during that case. The only thing that's annoying having to do with him comes down to his cross examination, since pressing him about the wrong things leads to, you guessed it, more fucking penalties. However, that's more a fault of the game design versus the actual character, and while I only needed to reload my save once to get through that section without suffering a game over, it was still really stupid/unfair to tie penalties to the pressing mechanic, which is otherwise a necessary tool at your disposal to tease out further information. Punishing the player by asking questions is simply uncalled for, and I have no idea why the developers had to make everything so punishing, as opposed to the much more fair/forgiving system they had in place from the first game. Making something more punishing is a really bad way to make something more difficult, and it can't be said enough how that approach significantly tarnished the quality of JFA and the only thing it achieved was to make the game that much more frustrating/tiresome to play.

What annoyed me more though, was how before the trial with Acro starts, Phoenix makes a comment about how only the presentation of evidence will be able to see both him and Maya through the rest of what remains, which I took as meaning that pressing someone was completely off-limits, only for me to be forced to lose what precious few bits of health I had as a result of heeding this perceived warning, since I didn't even try to press Acro during the beginning of the trail, out of concern that I'd be immediately slammed with a penalty. Despite Phoenixs' comment being written in bold red letters which indicates it as something you should pay attention to, it turns out it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on anything.

Overall, I guess it was a relatively minor annoyance, since I just reloaded my save afterwards, but it just compounded the fact that these cases are made in such a way where, at some point, you're essentially forced to resort to save scumming just to deal with the way they leave you starved of information, or sometimes even give you contradictory information, and last but, not least how they hit you with penalties that sometimes go as far as taking half your health away for a single mistake. While looking up other people's reactions to JFA, and it's punishingly harebrained cases, I came across someone who pointed out something that pretty much explains all of the complete nonsense which takes place in this game, and that's having to do with how the lead writer apparently spent most of his time shit faced drunk while writing it. Knowing that all of this was a direct result of a booze addled mind from someone who was already under a time crunch to cobble something together for the scheduled release date, no matter how dumb/ludicrous it was, really sums up the lack of coherence or sense, to what was otherwise just senseless bullshit.

Anyway, I still haven't gotten to the fourth, and final, case of JFA, which to many is considered to be one of the best cases of the entire series, but after the wretched experience I had with the first half of 2-2, and the latter half of 2-3, I have next to no desire to get to it anytime soon. Again, it really sucks because the first 5 five cases, and even the first case of the second game, were surprisingly a lot of fun and had me not just vibing well with the characters/story, but also riding the satisfying roller coaster ride of the cases themselves, and feeling the awesome payoff of hitting a witness with just the right piece of evidence to make them crack and from there making a roaring comeback to victory. JFA has that as well I suppose, but that's only assuming you're lucky enough to avoid all the devastating land mines placed in the cases themselves in terms of penalties, and that you also happen to have a next to perfect memory which, in conjunction to that, also goes hand in hand with being able to decipher the lead writer's literal drunken logic that, when it comes down to it, pervades the first three cases of this four case game, making it more the exception and not the rule.

Still, I really wish I could've had a better time with those cases. Now that I've already played and experienced them however, that chance is now lost for good. Sadly, it's the kind of crappy feeling I've experienced with other games, in which certain, particularly bad snags have pretty much retroactively unravelled the whole experience for me. One example of this would be perfectly illustrated by a game called "The Outer Wilds", which, for the most part, was probably one of the best and most unique games I've had the pleasure of playing in recent years. That is until I got hopelessly stuck on a late game puzzle (the one having to do with the giant angler fish that, upon detecting you, never leash back to their starting positions until you die, thereby forcing you to restart the day from the beginning), which itself really did a heavy hit towards my enjoyment of that game, and left what otherwise could've been a fantastic experience I look back fondly on, as instead one that I just think back and mostly get annoyed about. Games like that you can really only get to experience once, so if the experience ends up souring at some point, then it actually means you'll never be able to enjoy it as fully as you otherwise could have, which is something that personally really bothers me at times. I actually have a small list of games in my head that rest in this category of how shit just went south at some point when I wish it didn't, and it's just tough not to cringe about it.

For anyone who's curious, I eventually got past the angler fish and finished the game, but not before dying like 10-12 times in a row, at which point I got so fed up with what I was doing I just looked up the answer online, and how that in turn just made me want to slap my forehead in how obvious the answer was. In my defence, I had already somehow managed to sneak past these fish earlier in the game by, what I thought to be at the time, my moving very slowly past them, but that must've somehow been a fluke because when I returned much later with the information I needed to activate the crashed ship, I just kept trying over and over what I had done before, only to be met with death after death. I think the first time I managed to do it must've been a glitch, or something like that, but at the time I was too stubborn to think beyond what I thought had already worked previously which, like I said, led to a lot of late game frustration, that sadly left a pretty bad taste in my mouth and soured what should've been the amazingly satisfying payoff of the finale, which to me was diminished because of these prior shenanigans I was having with those damn fish.


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