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March 3, 2017

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Part 3)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Part 1 Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

No time to waste, check out the previous parts if you want, we got a lot of plot to cover once again!

We are introduced to Tok- I mean, Los Angeles’ most popular show at the time, the Steel Samurai, something very clearly inspired by the Japanese traditions, with possibly a bit of Sentai thrown in. I dunno how you lived your 2016, but if there was any popular kid show back in October last year, it sure as Hell wasn’t something like that. Especially in Los Angeles. We see a part of the show, which Maya loves. Then we hear that since the case of Mia’s murder (the one involving Redd White – of Bluecorp), Wright Law Offices have had nearly no clients. Oh, that’s about to change – in the middle of the night, Phoenix is called by Maya. She says that the Steel Samurai killed a villain… in real life! Or rather, his actor, Will Powers (what an awesome name), was accused.

Well, only an idiot kid would believe that there isn't an actor
in that costume. Although how that wonderful mane of hair
can stay down inside that full-head helmet is a mystery for
the ages.

Investigation time! Will Powers immediately shows that he’s as soft as a teddy bear, despite the impressive musculature and the hair that would make any anime hero jealous. He sets the facts: The victim, Jack Hammer (what an awesome name), was found near the studio just before a rehearsal, the Steel Samurai’s spear in the chest. Hammer portrays the Evil Magistrate in the TV show, and is kind of a rival of Powers. He says he has been sleeping for most of the afternoon, which is when the murder took place.

Oh, I'm sure your higher-ups would love to hear that
you've been saying this sort of thing.
Okay, time to move to Universal- I mean, Global Studios. They run into the security guard, miss Wendy Oldbag; what a terrible name. I’d hate to imagine the nicknames she got in middle school for having the family name Oldbag. She immediately proves to be more of a roadblock than any help, but that’s hardly a surprise – though things may get tricky since she claims to have seen Powers on the way to Studio 1... We get some info on Jack Hammer: He was a great action show hero, until some nebulous accident five years prior; since then he has been reduced to playing villains for a pittance. Well, you know what they say, either you die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself playing villains. We talk with Gumshoe again, after which we check around the studio a bit more, eventually getting into Studio 1 where the body was found. We get a quick argument about ladders and stepladders in there, for some reason, and then we meet Penny, an assistant at Global Studios. We get a final critical photograph, after which we leave.

Trial time! I know this is quick, but this particular case is even longer than the previous one, so I try to keep my info short. I’m skimming a lot of details. Wendy Oldbag testifies, but it soon turns out that she didn’t see Powers heading to Studio 1; she saw the Steel Samurai – and anybody could have been in that costume at that moment. Later, the photo comes in handy to prove that two people went towards the studio, contradicting Oldbag’s claim that only one person went. I gotta say though, I love the humor in that part of the trial, with Oldbag trying to woo Edgeworth, and making everybody feel uneasy.

In the end, we learn of a school kid, a 10 years old fanboy, who may have entered the studio through an air duct. To investigate this, Phoenix has no choice but to buy some time, which he does by making Oldbag into a suspect for the murder. But of course, that’s when the old security guard reveals her hidden ace – there were other people at the studio that day, but she was told to act as if they weren't there… That includes both the producer and the director of the Steel Samurai show. Guess we’re gonna need to do some more investigating.

Well, that was quick! Gotta find that fanboy, and these mysterious people… We quickly meet Sal Manella, the director of the Steel Samurai series, and… Yeah, remember in my No More Heroes review, when I said that otaku were portrayed quite negatively in Japanese media? Well, look at this overweight, ugly dude. Who pervs on Maya, a teenager mind you, merely a few minutes after meeting her. Goodie. Oh, and he speaks l337. Which is, you know, totally not a dated meme in 2016. If he was really in with the times, this guy would be tossing Pepe, “This is fine”, and Harambe references around… and I would probably punch him. He does mention the show’s producer, Dee Vasquez… but we can’t find her anywhere just yet.

Blergh, Sal Manella creeps me out in every way
We meet the fanboy, too; a kid named Cody Hackins. He is a fan alright, he knows all the lines of the show by memory, but he leaves after a final cry of “The Samurai always wins”. Hm, I sense a theme for a great song here! We eventually find keys, allowing Phoenix to get into Studio 2 and meet Dee Vasquez herself. She’s as unhelpful as possible, but by this point, is it really a surprise? She asks us to run an errand for us before she answers any question: Get a script from Manella.

I’m pointing this out because it’s one of the more annoying aspects of this part of the game. There are many locations in Global Studios, all arranged logically. Wouldn’t be so bad, except there’s like, 6 different locations forming a chain and you’ll frequently have to go through all of it. Shouldn’t be so bad, you say? Well, every time we want to move to a different location, we must move the cursor from the “Examine” option to the “Move” option, then select the closest destination we want to reach – and in that destination, move the cursor from “Examine” to “Move” again. Repeat multiple times. The investigation becomes a chore because there is no quick way to go back and forth between the furthest points. Goes like this: Powers’ room -> Employee Area -> Main gate -> Path to the studios -> Studio 1 or 2 -> Trailer (in Studio 2). The two main witnesses, Manella and Vasquez, are precisely on the opposite ends of the chain. And of course, this is where we’re given a whole lot of fetch quests, making things even longer…

I know his show is doomed if you don't help...
Oh, wait, his show will be doomed even if you help.
Dammit, I gotta work on my convincing skills.
At some point, it gets impossible to do anything at the studio, so we must return to the Law Office – not exactly an intuitive move, since there is so much to inspect at the Studio and there shouldn’t be any reason to go back “home” otherwise… But we do, and some help from a spiritually-channeled Mia Fey brings us to our next leads: The kid. What follows is a series of fetch quest about trading cards with that kid, to get him on our side. A quest which again requires going back and forth between the extreme ends of the studio… but in the end, it’s worth it, as we get from Cody some vital info and a special scrapbook full of pictures of victories by the Steel Samurai – apparently they staged live shows as well. In fact, he was in the woods in the studio when he saw the whole murder scene – only, he seems unaware of the concept of “actors” for these characters, so he truly believes that the Steel Samurai skewered with a spear a villain that deserved it! Things are gonna be tough in court tomorrow…

Well then, court time, it seems! First we confront Sal Manella. This guy makes me sick, it’ll be good to see him squirm from the stress put on him by Lady Justice. Oh crap, I shouldn’t talk too much, I’ll be giving him creepy ideas for future TV shows. Oh, he has little lies here and there, but nothing that incriminates him – he ate a steak during a break at his meeting in Studio 2, that’s all. That goes by quickly, but then Edgeworth brings his next witness: Cody Hackins.

Poor kid. I feel sorry for him.
Although that sentiment is decreased by all the trouble
he put me through.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney director Shu Takumi explained, in interviews, that they wanted a child as a witness for an interesting reason: A child’s reasons to lie, even to authorities, will be wildly different from the reasons an adult would have to lie. And the next part, where we cross-examine Cody’s testimonies, are a great proof of that. Truly, kudos for the team behind this game at Capcom for finding various ways in which the judiciary process can be made more difficult. Ah, Phoenix, a child’s testimony will be the least of your worries as time goes on, much shadier things are awaiting just around the corner, whether it’s in the next case, or two-three years later…

Anyway, the kid says he did see the whole thing, although he had his newest camera with him and was still figuring out how to use it. Tssk, in the real 2016, a kid his age would be using a smartphone. And a Judge would know what a digital camera is! This game feels so weirdly dated… Oh yeah, this is probably one of the most awesome moments of the Ace Attorney musical, too.

That's okay. Cody only saw the Steel Samurai losing.
DC fans saw most of the DC universe lose (in a
metaphorical way) in their films.
However, contrary to what he says, Cody didn’t actually see the finishing blow, as he was trying to take a picture with his new camera, and was still looking for the way to do it! Oh, he did have pictures, as his third testimony says, but he claims to have erased them due to being past the finishing blow in the struggle he saw between the Steel Samurai and an unknown person. How odd, then, that his album celebrating all of the hero’s victories… are missing a photo from that battle? Simple: The Steel Samurai didn’t win. A kid like Cody would lie about seeing his most cherished television hero die, that’s why the whole section with Cody is so interesting. It also brings in a unique lead to help in the next day’s trial… which would also be the final day, so Phoenix’s final chance to move the guilt away from Will Powers. Yes, Jack Hammer died that day – and Cody saw the Steel Samurai fall defeated – therefore, Jack Hammer may have been the one wearing the costume! Cody does have one photo taken a bit before the murder, though… one showing the Steel Samurai at the entrance to Studio 2, not Studio 1… This will be enough, time for more investigation.

For a film producer, that's not good. George Lucas had
yes-men all around him as well; then we got Star Wars
I to III.
From Will Powers, we learn a few interesting things – namely, that Dee Vasquez practically saved Global Studio five years prior, with visionary ideas. She caught salmonella… er Manella among other directors with great potential. Strangely though, five years ago is also when grand actor Jack Hammer stopped being a superstar and started taking on smaller roles instead… which includes the Evil Magistrate. At the studio, we see Detective Gumshoe testing the meals for sleeping pills, and it turns out that Hammer had slipped those in Powers’ meal. We then learn from Penny that Dee Vasquez had some dirt about Jack Hammer… namely, that he may have accidentally killed a man five years prior at Studio 2. Wendy Oldbag even confirms it all, even though she becomes all oddly calm and collected when talking about it. That case is so serious, even the comical characters stop being funny. Ouch.

Also, blackmail again? I gotta admit, I appreciate that this game rarely has all-black and all-white characters. Victims can have dark pasts, the true killers are sometimes better people than we thought… Except Redd White (of Bluecorp), that guy’s still a monster and he can go to Hell for all I care.

Ah, blackmail... It's sad how many cases in the Ace Attorney universe
revolve around it, but then again, there IS a lot of blackmail in the
real world... as sad as it is to admit...
Anyway, Oldbag even had a photo of that incident, the only known photo… of something taken in 2011 in the game’s timeline, sometime after people started putting everything online, even the paparazzi had TMZ and whatever else to spread photos like this! The differences between real-life 2016 and Ace Attorney 2016 are getting more glaring with each new case. Yet, there it is, a photo that proves Vasquez had something to make Hammer do her bidding. And of course, we can show that picture to her… which is a bad idea as, it turns out, she has ties with the local mafia… and they are very good at making things or people go away forever. And they show up quickly, too! It’s, like, they kill your guy in 30 minutes or your pizza’s free! Er… I think I got mixed up there. Anyway, just as Phoenix and Maya are about to be attacked, Dick Gumshoe comes in and saves them, also arresting Dee Vasquez on the spot. Phew! Gumshoe’s logical deduction skills may go frequently on vacation, but he sure jumps into action when he needs to! Anyway, this closes the third investigation section.

The next day, in court, Dee Vasquez proves to be the toughest witness yet. She brushes off most of Phoenix’s theories. He does figure out that she was the one encountered by the Steel Samurai, just outside Studio 2. But what reason would she have had to kill Jack Hammer? She was blackmailing him already! Well, it’s already been explained that the Steel Samurai costume hides the actor’s traits inordinately well, so she thought it was Will Powers.

And, thus, gamers all around the world, playing this
game for the first time, went "Challenge accepted".
I should note that, as far as PW:AA episodes go, this trial section is very tricky. There are things in there that are far from obvious – see, Vasquez may have done it, but proof is needed. Even Edgeworth is certain that Vasquez may have done it, so he actually decides to help Phoenix. He has been shaken by the whole thing, and for once, he chose to come out of his “the defendant is always guilty” stance. The defense and the prosecution manage to patch up the remaining holes in the story: Hammer was headed towards Vasquez to try and kill her, but she pushed him in self-defense and he landed onto the spikes near Studio 2, much like the actor who died in the exact same way five years prior, from Hammer pushing him there. As for why he was trying to kill her, it’s as revenge for the five horrible years of blackmailing. She killed him, but it was an unfortunate result of self-defense. So, with the true culprit found, Will Powers is declared not guilty. I must say, this case definitely showed the shades of gray in people; it’s only one of the first cases where the victim also had some dark secrets that needed to be uncovered, in order to understand the full picture.

Nobody is entirely innocent, everybody’s got secrets…

Anyway, after the trial is over, Phoenix tells Will Powers that Hammer was trying to incriminate him for the murder he was planning, hence the sleeping pills and the stealing of the costume. Edgeworth, who is still shaken by the revelation he had during trial (that sometimes, seeking the truth is more important than getting the defendant a guilty verdict at any cost), comes by to say he’s a big fan of Powers…

That's entirely too much pink. The show better be worth it.
Oh, right, it's fictional.

And the case ends as Global Studios announces their next kid’s show: Pink Princess! With… Will Powers in the lead role. …Uh, no. Denied. I would see some kind of sentai slash superhero show with a similar concept, though: Grant Defense and Lady Justice! Like a child-friendly Judge Dredd! Okay, enough about this case. See you in Part 4, and hopefully the last part of this review – but considering how big the last case of an Ace Attorney game usually is… Yeah, I’d be willing to bet that the last part will be gigantic.

Hell, I can tell you right away how it starts: Someone gets killed on a boat, in the middle of the lake. The person being accused for the crime is Miles Edgeworth. He didn’t do it, but he is certain that he will be declared guilty. Oh, and the prosecutor for the case will be Edgeworth’s own mentor, with a 40-year perfect streak of defendant condemnations, Manfred Von Karma.

“Oh, shit” doesn’t even start to describe it. See ya then…