Trials and Tribulations builds upon what the past games started.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations is the sequel to Justice for All and also the last game in the original Phoenix-focused trilogy. It picks up one year after the events in Justice For All, at least when you get to play as Phoenix that is. The biggest change to Trials and Tribulations is noticeable right from there start – playing as different defense attorneys for a change. The first of five cases has you playing a younger version of Mia Fey, Phoenix's deceased mentor. This tutorial has you reliving Mia's second case as an attorney, protecting none other than Phoenix Wright himself, granted a much more energetic and naive version of him still in college.
Any veteran to the series will not be surprised with the difficulty of the first trial, it is full of mostly trivial contradictions making it a very easy challenge. What you might not expect though is the save point in the middle of the trial, making Mia's case the first tutorial in the series to be split into two parts. This is a trend that continues through the game as Trials and Tribulations is easily the longest title in the series, almost doubling the time of Justice for All.
For anyone new to the game, the Ace Attorney series is not too complicated at face value, though that does not mean you should play this title first if you are interested in knowing what all the finger pointing and objection yelling is about. Unlike the past two games Trials and Tribulations wastes no time introducing characters and back-story, as in, it doesn't do the slightest. The writers expect you to know the characters and world along with any inside jokes or reoccurring themes from the past games, and to be completely honest this works to the games advantage.
A series first, Trials and Tribulations has a main storyline that progresses through the game instead of the usual changing plot from case to case as seen in the previous two games. There is a main cast of characters that will be seen on the witness stand over and over trying to hide the truth from Phoenix in a series of seemingly unrelated cases. On top of this the plot ties up all the loose ends of the series. Any storyline big or small opened up in the past is finished here which left me very satisfied by the end of it all. This in addition to the much longer overall time it takes beat the game is what pushes Trials and Tribulations as the strongest title in the series.
But where would this text heavy game be without good writing? No where, probably. Thankfully delicate care has been put into this work which makes reading every bit of dialogue a delight. You will find no grammar or spelling errors here be it during a trial, investigation, or even when presenting a piece of evidence to a random person. Characters seem to have a lot more to say in this game than before too, especially the main cast. Presenting any character portrait to say Phoenix's sidekick and friend Maya or even the poor Detective Gumshoe will usually lead to some clever or insightful conversation which brings to life the presented character and gives personality to the one talking. Along these same lines when changing defense attorneys every single item or person's description in the court record (your inventory so to speak) will change to fit the thoughts of the current attorney. It is small touches like these that will actually make you want to read every single bit of text in the game.
For anyone that doesn't know yet, in a nutshell the Ace Attorney series is all about solving crimes and protecting innocent people from being sent to prison. Gameplay is split up pretty evenly between hunting for evidence outside of the courtroom and listening to witnesses inside it. The testimony in the court rooms is the more straight forward of the two. A witness will get on the stand to give a testimony (usually one riddled with lies) and it is the defense attorneys job to point out a phrase that contradicts evidence. This is also where most of the story progression comes from since you will be learning the truth of any given situation here. It makes for some very unrealistic moments in court (because last I check most judges don't buy into spirit channeling or would quote Final Fantasy IV) but without that the story would just be to boring for you to even care about.
The other half of gameplay is much more free than being inside the court room. During investigation you will be free to travel between specific areas, look at crime scenes for clues, and talk to people in hopes of finding more evidence to help your case. While this mode is more free for you to explore there is still a very strict series of events that need to be done before you can progress further. This means you will always have the evidence you need in court.
If it wasn't obvious already, Trials and Tribulations is a very text heavy game. There is no voice acting aside from the short clips of attorneys yelling Objection or Hold it so you will be reading everything. The graphics as well are simple, though very charming. They are from the waist-up sprites rooted in typical anime fashion of spiky hair and the like. Everything looks so nice though, especially given the fact this is just a port of a Gameboy Advance game. The soundtrack is large even though it is mostly remixed tunes from the previous two games, it is one of the best parts of the experience however. The music will always set the mood from the slow and depressing song played when talking to your client at the detention center to the fast overcoming track heard as the attorney whittles down their “enemy” after pointing out a contradiction. If the excellent writing or charming sprites don't get you hooked to the story and characters the music just might since it fits each situation perfectly.
Justice for All nailed the gameplay problems with the original Ace Attorney game by improving the HP meter and making investigation portions of gameplay much more exciting, however it still lacked any sort of ongoing story throughout the game that tied everything together nicely. Trials and Tribulations does that, building on where Justice for All left off with a much longer story you will actually care about from beginning to end making it a perfect end to the original Ace Attorney trilogy. If you are thinking of going into the series for the first time this is not the place to start, however, a fan looking to return should not wait to jump into Phoenix's last true adventure in the court room.