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It’s Like Flatland All Over Again June 14, 2008

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 12:27 am
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So, like I said the other day, the second Phoenix Wright game, Ace Attorney: Justice For All, surpassed any standard I’d ever expected it to meet near the end. I will try to explain why without giving away too much. See, the Ace Attorney series is pretty much a comedy, a silly comedy with broadly-drawn caricatures who have names like “Dick Gumshoe”, “Wendy Oldbag” and “Lotta Hart”. You don’t take these people that seriously. They shave their faces with a knife while testifying, and spirit channeling by a medium is legal evidence (as is anything the witness says, but only if they say it in green.) One-dimensional is what we’re looking at, here– no change or development. They aren’t even lines, just points. Funny points. But points.

Justice For All began hinting at a bit of development for Edgeworth. Just a touch– that he changed his tune for some reason, and became a different person. Then we launch into the final case, and suddenly the whole game takes on three dimensions. It gets complex. Not only do people learn and grow, but there’s more than one way for them to decide. There are serious moral dilemmas without any easy answer, and the player is forced to make the choice. I can count on one hand the games that I’ve seen do this. This is pure, three-dimensional, not-one-simple-direction development for Phoenix and Edgeworth. Standing ovation from me.

In other Wright-related news, I mentioned the other day that I felt bad for Gumshoe because he’s a pretty good detective, and Karl objected (heh) that he’s not that great. Well, I countered, he always gives us useful evidence when we need it, even if he does always accuse the wrong suspect. Then I thought– wait a minute. He’s a detective. Accusing the wrong suspect is a pretty big flaw in that. Why did I think he was good nonetheless? It took me a while to puzzle this out.

Then I realised two things. One, accusing the wrong suspect is a gameplay constraint. The police department always gets the wrong person in the beginning. They have to (with special exceptions, but I said I wasn’t going to give too much away). It’s not just Gumshoe who gets the suspect wrong; it’s the whole world; and that’s because otherwise there’d be no game. So I’d been automatically forgiving him that flaw on the basis that even Sherlock Holmes would have to accuse the wrong suspect if he turned up in a Phoenix Wright game; that’s how it works. Two, though, Gumshoe presumably doesn’t know he’s in a work of fiction, so what he’s doing is accusing the most likely suspect. That’s what anyone would do, given that they didn’t know there are no easy open-and-shut cases to be had and that the likely person never turns out to have done it. I’m sure that, upon finding some strong evidence for a certain suspect, I’d accuse them too. Gumshoe operates by Occam’s Razor, and that’s a pretty sensible way to go about detecting, unless one knows they’re in a mystery that has to be complex.

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