MDA & 8 Kinds of Fun — Ace Attorney Trilogy

Some of my favorite games of all time are those in the original Ace Attorney trilogy, and I would argue that these games (all nearly identical in gameplay experience) primarily tap into the aesthetics of Fantasy, Challenge, and Narrative, with a small amount of Discovery thrown in.

Ace Attorney creates Fantasy by allowing the player to roleplay as a lawyer and detective through the core dynamics of collecting evidence, questioning witnesses, and analyzing testimony. The “collecting evidence” dynamic consists of mechanics such as clicking around on a static environment to collect items and/or take photographs, and talking to NPCs to receive items from them. The “questioning witnesses” dynamic consists of exploring branching dialogue trees with NPCs, presenting NPCs with evidence to prompt reactions from them, and breaking NPCs’ “psyche-locks” with targeted questions to persuade them to spill secrets. The “analyzing testimony” dynamic consists of sifting through itemized witness statements to identify inconsistencies with the body of collected evidence, pressing witnesses to unlock more interactable statements, and presenting evidence to the court to identify statements that contain contradictions.

The aesthetic of Challenge primarily comes into play through the “analyzing testimony” dynamic, which tests the player’s reasoning skills and recollection of past events within the game (as well as the breaking of psyche-locks which is mechanically similar).

The Narrative aesthetic encompasses the game as a whole, which has a completely linear narrative with a fleshed-out and engaging cast — including the player character Phoenix Wright, who is his own developed character and completely un-customizable. Progress in the narrative, which focuses on both solving a series of mysteries and (to a lesser degree) navigating Phoenix’s personal relationships and history, is delivered primarily through long cutscenes gatekept by the investigation and courtroom portions of the game, although some progress happens within these portions as well.

Lastly, the wealth of entertaining flavor text and ease with which it is possible to save mid-conversation and try out different conversational paths creates an aesthetic of Discovery — players may go out of their way to click on things and pursue unproductive conversation for the sheer joy of seeing what the characters will say.

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