Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Am Impressed: Godot and the Nature of Surprise.

This is a post about the plot of one of the Phoenix Wright games, much like this one. Unlike that one, this covers only half of one case, specifically the former half of the second case in the third Phoenix Wright game, Trials and Tribulations. (Got all that?) Like that one, it contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. Well. Less massive, owing to slighter scope. But still spoilerish.

Okay, that was all the necessary warning. Let's start now.

It began with a choice.

The Phoenix Wright games are inherently linear. This is perhaps an artifact of their Japanese origin - and I could ramble on about this - but in any case, a choice within the game is only ever right or wrong. You can present the right evidence or the wrong evidence; you can ask the right question or the wrong one. In no case can you influence the direction in which the plot moves - choose one line of argument or another, get your client off on some charges but not the rest... (though this being Phoenix Wright, your client is only ever being tried for one charge: murder.)

(It's surprisingly varied, for all that. Note again my previous post on the subject.)

So there's no choice in Phoenix Wright games - that I'd seen. But here, near the beginning of the second case, I was presented with a choice: do I defend Ron DeLite?

(Forgive the last name. The designers really like puns. There's another fellow - we'll discuss him later - name of Luke Atmey. Ugh. Took me all of three seconds to get that one.)

Ron's an interesting character. He's a timid, retiring character - has a habit of alternating high-pitched whines with shame-filled, mumbling corrections that inevitably trail into silence. And he's accused of being MASKDEMASQUE* - world-famed criminal mastermind and flamboyant thief!

He has, of course, no alibi, but the idea of him as an internationally famed thief is just ludicrous. The ludicrousness is not helped by the fact that he turned himself in - claiming, over and over, "I'm him! I'm MASKDEMASQUE! Convict me!" And so forth.

(Oh! Also, he has a Princess Leia haircut. With the danishes. This. They unfurl into hair-corkscrews when he's agitated.)

So - do I defend him?

I do, in the end. Phoenix Wright is a defense lawyer - that's what he does. And I suspect, in my gut, that Ron is innocent. So I choose that option - one of my allies, who I was originally trying to help recover one of the stolen items, condemns me furiously and storms off - and I wonder.

All in all, there was probably no choice - if I'd chosen not to defend him, I'd have gotten some different dialogue but ended up doing the same thing anyway -

- but I wonder.

In this mood I entered into the trial. There's some tricky thinking to be done, but nothing that stalls me for long, and I pour on argument after argument relentlessly, dissecting the witnesses' testimony in cross-examination. In this trial, I'm facing a new opponent, the enigmatic Godot, who claims that he has returned from the gates of Hell itself to fight me. Why? How? And who is he, really, beneath that cyborg visor of his? Beats me. But he sure does love his coffee.

(This gets it about right. Thanks, Google Image Search! I believe the quote in question is from the game.)

So, Godot. He's the obligatory "new nemesis-prosecutor" for this game, as there's been in each preceding game, but he's new enough and different enough (like the others, he's never lost a case - but only because he's never practiced law before!) that he's interesting. Admittedly, he doesn't do much as I continue to plow through the witnesses - contradiction here, contradiction there, OBJECTION! There's one point at which I'm stumpted, but I correctly guess that I don't actually have the evidence I need, and, in the nick of time, an ally arrives to deliver it. Godot is unfazed by all of this. Mostly, he muses about whether or not he should adjust the bitterness of his current blend of coffee, Godot #107. (It's a difficult question.)

Ah - what I just said wasn't entirely true. At one particular setback, Godot does become somewhat upset. Specifically, he becomes upset enough to throw his coffee mug at me, drenching poor Phoenix Wright in coffee. Ow. But I'm going to call that a one-time exception.

I find the real MASKDEMASQUE - who has, conveniently, appeared on the witness stand - drive him insane by revealing the truth (as appears surprisingly frequently in these situations), and sit back to enjoy a good victory. "That was a bit quick," I think, "And there are a lot of loose ends lying around... I guess they'll be tied up in the next case. Wonder what -"

Hm.

Ron DeLite has appeared on the stand, just as he was about to be declared NOT. GUILTY., and clamours to be convicted. Godot, helpfully, encourages him.

Well, all right. All I have to do is prove that he couldn't have been at the scene of the crime when he was supposed to be. That's easy enough - one of those loose ends I mentioned, a security card and a wallet, show that he must have been at KB Security at the time of the theft. Why was he there? Oooh, tricky, but thanks to my kleptomaniac tendencies (it's perfectly legal - it's evidence, after all!), I have a blackmail letter from Ron's desk in my hand. The game's flying along beautifully - I'm perfectly in tune with it, or vice-versa, none of those idiotic leaps of logic that were sometimes necessary in previous games appearing here. Everything makes sense. So - there you go! Ron can't be MASKDEMASQUE, because he was being blackmailed by his CEO at the time! NOT GUILTY!

Ron's despondent - but hey, what can you do? Can't please everyone. At least he's not in jail. Still a few loose ends - but they're pretty minor by comparison. Guess they were just red herrings.

In the lobby outside, I have a celebratory chat with the characters involved. My sidekick congratulates me, Ron's wife congratulates me, Ron himself isn't that happy, but -

Wait. Godot's here. Why's Godot here? He wants to say "well done" too? Huh, that's strange, but okay -

- he's got something else to say.

The CEO of KB security was just found dead. Locked in the room that I'd just proven Ron was at. Killed at the time I proved Ron was there.

...holy !#*#.

So, it's a murder case after all.

This could be tricky.

And this sort of thing - this skillful manipulation of expectations to tell a story within a game-like context - that is Phoenix Wright's finest attribute, when it does it right.

I still haven't finished the case - I can't tell you whether or not Ron is guilty (though I doubt he is), and certainly can't offer an explanation for affairs - though I have my ideas. (The CEO is guilty as sin, and MASKDEMASQUE is not exactly what he seemed.) But this fragment- this portion of the case, from midway through the investigation-part of the first day to the end of the first day of trial - is just amazing. That's why I had to write about it.

*The is part of the name. Phoenix Wright is criticized when he says the name without it. How can anyone tell? How can you even pronounce that? Who knows! But I obviously had to include it. I wouldn't want to be yelled at, after all.

1 comment:

Calvacadeofcats said...

i waited a long time for this post