This has been a hell of a week, so I'm trying to think of other, less important things, to keep myself from going completely gonzo. Right now, I'm having an enormous, but ultimately inconsequential, sad over the fact that Gyakuten Kenji 2 is not going to be released in English, pretty much ever.

Gyakuten Kenji translates as Turnabout Prosecutor -- the series English speakers would know as Ace Attorney Investigations, the semi-spinoff line to the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games for the Nintendo DS. (The main series is known in Japan as Gyakuten Saiban, or Turnabout Trial Court. The reference is to Phoenix's habit of letting the prosecution get thiiiiiiiiiiis close to grinding his metaphorical face into the dirt before he remembers something horribly important and snatches victory, and usually some amount of insanity, from the jaws of defeat.) I love these things like you would not believe. They are tremendously clever, and the entire writing staff are devout worshipers at the First Universal Church of Chekov's Gun. You get 85% of the way through the game and abruptly realize that something that you thought was just a stupid pun from the very first case suddenly shows up again and whacks you squarely across the back of the head.

Even if you don't normally really dig talky-talky video games, you might dig the Ace Attorney series. The engine is setup like a cross between a dating sim and a point-and-click adventure; there's an unbelievably huge amount of dialogue, and also a lot of prodding things on the screen to see if there's anything important about them. (Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You get a lot of flavor text that has nothing to do with the case, mixed in with clues. Phoenix and his assistant Maya have an argument over the exact point where a step ladder becomes a regular ladder that has so far lasted for three entire games.) The basic setup is that your main character, Phoenix Wright, is a defense attorney, in an incredibly abbreviated and occasionally very dangerous court system, and you're trying to prove your client innocent in whatever case you've picked up this time. Each case is like a series of interconnected logic puzzles; you alternate spates of talking to people involved in the crime and gathering evidence, with stretches in the courtroom using what you just picked up to poke holes in witness testimony big enough to drive a bus through. The cases are all incredibly kooky, but they're not built on moon logic -- you might occasionally get stuck, but once you do get the answer, you're not going to want to hurl your DS at the wall. (Or your iOS device, or your Wiimote, for which platforms the first three games are also available.)

These things are also funny to the point where you might herniate yourself laughing. The Japanese versions are one bizarre pun after another, and contrary to what normally happens in comedy translations, the English versions are exactly the same. So far as I can tell, the Capcom people handed them to a localization team on a whim one day, intending to include an English script as a bonus when they remade what were originally GBA games for the DS, and the localization team proceeded to do whatever the fuck they wanted on the grounds that they expected between zero and two native English speakers to ever see the things, and nobody would notice. The results are brain-bendingly hilarious, without losing any of the internal structure. The first DS game in the main series was quite rare for a while, as Capcom had put out a very small initial print run, and was completely unprepared when the thing became a smash hit -- they expected so little out of this cute-but-niche puzzle series that the original voice clips were done by, no kidding, random Capcom staffers.

One of the many things I love about these games is that they actually move fast enough for me. I love point-and-click adventures, but I have trouble with a lot of the logic puzzle or crime ones, because they keep wanting me to put things together in much smaller increments than my brain actually works. I poked at one a while ago and ended up putting it down after the first chapter, because whoever had written it wanted everything solved much more incrementally than I ever do. The sticking point was that I had to prove a specific knife belonged in the knife block in the kitchen. The knives in question were engraved with a name that I'd also found on another piece of evidence elsewhere in the house, so when the game asked "what thing proves that knife was already here at the scene?" I went out and produced the other piece of evidence. Whereupon the game docked me points, because first it wanted me to find the box the knives and block came in and fish out a pamphlet that said the knives could be ordered with custom name engraving, and then it wanted me to wait for the question "what connects the custom engraving on these knives to this specific house?" so that finally I could give it the antique teacup that had magically survived the ransacking of the living room with the matching name on it. And then I turned it off, because I'd already known it was the wife as soon as I saw the autopsy report said he'd been stabbed from the front and that the time on the shopping receipt she'd turned in as evidence was a good three and a half hours before she said she'd come home and found the body whereas the guy who owed him money had been on a plane at the time of death, plus it was obvious the robbery had been staged because the spot where the corpse had fallen was completely free of glass from the broken window, which was all over the rest of the living room. All of which was obvious as soon as the game let me have a look at the damn crime scene, which was about three minutes into what was probably supposed to have been a 30-minute chapter.

(Yes. I do sound that much like Sherlock when I do this. The writing on that show is really fucking accurate. I don't work for law enforcement because I am allergic to stupid bureaucracy, and I hate guns. I'm annoyingly good at differential diagnosis when I'm watching those 'baffling medical cases' things on TV, too.)

The way the Phoenix Wright cases are set up, the game assumes that you have successfully made the inspired logical leap as to why that piece of evidence is important, and does not feel the need to make you walk in tiny steps. Phoenix just whips out whatever file or doozit you point to, and the reasoning comes out in the argument that ensues as the witness and prosecution both frantically try to CYA. Phoenix works on blinding flashes of inspiration a lot of the time, which is not really inaccurate vis à vis solving puzzles and/or criminal cases, and is almost alarmingly helpful when you consider that he tends to deal with complete froot loops who conceal, minimize, blather around, or just plain forget the really important bits of evidence until shouted at in court. Phoenix Wright has been either cursed or blessed with some of the weirdest luck ever bestowed upon a mortal -- he's quite aware that a lot of his life is strange, but he gets used to dealing with spirit mediums and magical Magatama beads with a breathtaking quickness that suggests that he's always been surrounded with people like this, whether he asked for them or not.

The Investigations subseries, on the other hand, follows Miles Edgeworth, a prosecutor in the same court system. Edgeworth is much more a chess player than Wright is, and it's reflected in the game mechanics; rather than deal with people who might as well be from another planet for all the help they are during the investigations, Edgeworth tends to deal with people who are possibly insane but definitely lucid enough to lie.  Rather than smack witnesses with evidence whose importance he is only slightly less surprised to realize than they are, his case-solving mechanic is deduction: You get a bunch of brief statements cluttered around your touch screen, and you drag-and-drop one onto another when you realize that the two things together have additional significance. A minute observation plus another minute observation equals a niggling detail, plus another niggling detail equals a small but pertinent fact, plus another small but pertinent fact... and so on and so forth until Edgeworth, who could be politely described as 'gruff' on his best days, barks an order at his pet detective to go arrest someone.

Not only are both of these personalities and thinking styles written quite well on their own, but they're also written well together. There's one case where Wright is defending someone while trying frantically to stall for time while an investigation is carried out -- not only does Edgeworth pick up on this in court, without being told, but he also correctly surmises that something dangerous is going on, and that he'd probably ought to help. They go through an entire, very lengthy, cross-examination sequence, each one trying to almost-but-not-quite-win for as long as they possibly can. It's like watching two people bat a balloon full of explosive gas back and forth across the court room, praying they don't hit it too hard while they try to keep it from touching the ground.

I do highly recommend all of the original Phoenix Wright games, and the first Ace Attorney Investigations game, which is out in English. There's a fourth Ace Attorney game that starred a different character, named Apollo Justice; I was significantly less impressed with that one. (As was everyone else, apparently, as Phoenix is back for AA5.) The cases were less tightly-plotted and linked together, and the humor was... off, somehow. It felt like more a kind of a fanfic pastiche of Ace Attorney than an actual part of the series. I personally also had a lot of trouble with Apollo's new lie-detecting method, which used small 'tells' incorporated into the animation, rather than evidence or logic -- which is really weird, now that I think about it, because I'm hella good at it when dealing with real people. One of my friends, also a devout fan of the series, had no issues with it at all, however, so YMMV.

There's also a game out that I am having an even huger sad over, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, which is not only not coming out in English, but it isn't coming out in English for a handheld device I don't even own. I'm not sure I could justify buying a 3DS even if I had the money, as there are all of like three games I'd want to play on it, but that one is the biggest one of the three.

(The other two? Ace Attorney 5 and Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask. Hello, my name is Arabella, and I am a puzzle game addict....)

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