2016 Storytelling and Phoenix Wright

Screw the woods. Phoenix Wright is in the courtroom getting things done!

Game of the Year content always fascinates me. I love the passionate discussions over certain games, as well the the perspectives of the people making their arguments. Through those debates, we learn more about the games, and we learn more about each other when we see how different games can affect us.

I especially love taking part in such discussions myself, but I always make sure to do it in a calm, respectful way.

Alright, so the love for Firewatch truly baffled me last year, but you can read my review to see my thoughts on that game. I’m not actually mad that people really liked it so much. I just can’t relate at all. In contrast, I can totally understand why a game like The Witness was loved so much, even if I personally thought it had some noticeable rough edges.

In my mind, Firewatch could only be as good as its story and I thought that story was severely lacking. After that, there really wasn’t much for me when it came to that game. The fact that so many people did get something out of it left me wondering if storytelling standards were just terribly low in games. That doubt had me momentarily forget that there have been plenty of stories that I really enjoyed. Games like The Witcher III, Portal 2, and The Last of Us to name a few.

I’m glad some stories still managed to grab people in 2016, but I’m realizing that not too many games did for me. There were excellent games with excellent campaigns, but a lot of my favorite stories of last year were the more abstract ones from games like Inside or Abzŭ. While I have a fondness for that type of storytelling, it does end up being your imagination that does most of the heavy-lifting. It was either games like that or the youtube rabbit hole of Dark Souls III lore that seemed to stand out the most.

As I look over the list of releases I played last year, I would stand by the idea that this year was a little weaker for the straightforward story. However, I will say that it wasn’t completely dead and there were a few games that had stories that stuck with me this year. Uncharted 4 brought in a great new character and some desperately needed closure for the established cast, and I am Setsuna‘s story really captured a simple sadness that carried the game much further than the gameplay could on its own.

Although, if I had to pick a personal favorite story of last year, I might have to call a lawyer.

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I have played a lot of Phoenix Wright games in my time, and in a lot of ways Phoenix Wright: Spirit of Justice was finally starting to burn me out. Don’t get me wrong, though. Phoenix Wright and his protégés are likable characters and I still enjoy the court aspect of the game a lot. Breaking down testimonies, comparing them to the evidence, and ultimately exposing the lies for what they are until you get to the truth is as fun as it was back in the first game.

Unfortunately, in an effort to keep things fresh, the long investigation portions of each chapter would constantly get new features throughout the series. Instead of questioning and collecting evidence, you might have to dust for fingerprints or scan a witness to catch their nervous twitches. These sections were long enough as is without those features, and by the last chapter of Spirit of Justice I had really had enough. Just give me the evidence, and get me in a courtroom. You rarely find out how the pieces fit together until you’re in front of a judge anyway.

I wouldn’t realize it until the final trial, but Spirit of Justice made the last few investigations far more important than I could give them credit for at the time. The last chapter takes a lot of time establishing the importance of the mentor/student relationship. You’re in the role of somebody coming to realize how important those who taught him were, and the duty he has to use what he has learned for the good of everyone. These investigations build up a father/son relationship between your character and his adopted father, and I was surprised how badly I wanted everything to work out for them.

So when I was at the last trial and I successfully wrapped my head around all the spiritual components involved in the case (a common requirement in this series), I finally figured out the truth.

I found the truth, and it really tore my heart out.

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Like I said, I have been through a lot of these games. It feels like these characters have been put through every ridiculous, convoluted, anime-as-hell court scenario in the book. Yet, here I was just as stunned as the main character, desperately hoping the truth we had uncovered was as impossible as the prosecutor claimed. I’ve come to like the characters of this world far more than I ever expected, and there’s something really draining about this moment. Not just capturing the feeling of loss, but the real despair that comes when that loss is made real by the very facts you put together. Nothing hits as hard as logic, and that logic gives those at the Wright Anything Agency a god damn hay-maker.

Still, the trial isn’t over. You never had a chance to undo the situation you find yourself in. So you have yourself up and keep fighting for your client. There’s something really touching about finding that inner strength when you’re at your lowest, and in some ways the colorful, funny world of Phoenix Wright is the best setting to tell such a story. Sometimes we need a story to give us optimism that no matter how bad things get, we have it in us to bounce back.

So while maybe not the best story of the year, Phoenix Wright: Spirit of Justice will always have a special fondness for me. Winning cases in anime court is always a blast with these characters, even when finding that truth devastates them.