In this second installation in the Phoenix Wright series, Wright tangles not only with ruthless prosecutors, but with his own concepts of what justice is, and who he is. For this popular series of interactive novels, identity issues are not usually par for the course. Ace Attorney has always been about foibles and plot twists and humor. It has more to do with whose fingerprints are where than the inner torments of its characters. It is within one of the series’ most significant relationships– that between titular character Phoenix Wright and his old friend and longtime rival Miles Edgeworth, that deep character issues emerge.
For these two characters, being attorneys fulfills a lifelong ambition. Edgeworth’s father was a defense attorney, and his longtime mentor was the famous prosecutor Manfred von Karma. This game begins with the revelation that Edgeworth has gone missing. After a trial that strained his relationship with Wright, and ended his perfect record, Miles Edgeworth retreated from their city on sabbatical. His replacement in the opening case is Franziska von Karma, a ruthless prosecutor in the tradition of her father, who also has a perfect win record.
The identities of these characters are continuously tested in this game. Edgeworth’s name is now dampened by his loss and perceptions about his ethics. He persists despite that. Von Karma is attempting to live up to her father’s legacy– skirting the law and intimidating the police and witnesses to manipulate cases. Though both she and Edgeworth are district attorneys– some of the most ethically high postings in government, they constantly challenge their own ethics by engaging in dubious tactics designed to defeat Phoenix Wright.
By the end of the game, Edgeworth has more or less come to terms with the fact that his perfect win record was meaningless. He comes to realize that the thing that is compelling him forward the most is not his career, but instead his drive for justice. This is a bitter pill. This lesson is played out in front of Wright, who urges his friend onward by example. Edgeworth realizes that his own identity is more important than any record. A perfect win record, he has learned, is what drove his mentor to break the law– shamefully ending the career and successful run of a great prosecutor.
In the final case of the game, Wright finds himself defending a man he knows to be guilty. Up until this point Phoenix was lucky that all of his clients were innocent, thus presenting him with no moral challenges. In this case, however, he finds that his client is a morally bankrupt and unrepentant murderer. Wright is then faced with a conundrum. He can see a way forward to find the man innocent– his client’s shrewd posturing saw to that. That path would compromise his ethics, make him a hypocrite in the face of Miles Edgeworth, and set loose a guilty man. To do otherwise, to ‘throw’ the case, Wright faces another outcome. He would not be acting in the best interest of his client, thus opening himself up for criminal liability. More importantly, Wright’s own client has had Maya Fey, his aide, abducted. If the client is not found innocent, Maya dies.
Wright’s third option, the ‘Captain Kirk’ option, if you will, is to lose the case outright and pray for a miracle to save Maya. To do this, he must prolong what is a very open and shut case. This involves reaching across the bench to Miles Edgeworth, his rival and nemesis, and subtly convincing him to drag things out even against the wishes of the judge.
The reality of how this was executed is confined to the mechanics of the game. Sufficed to say, that is your goal as player. What is interesting is that forming these Hail Mary plans requires Phoenix to compromise his own perfect win record, and to give up his status as rising star when the man is ultimately found guilty. In addition to this, is the gigantic risk that Maya Fey could die. For Wright, this is a test of character, of ethics, and of friendship.
Perfection means a lot to people. Those who strive for it are often blinded by that ambition and can lead themselves to ruin. In this game, we’ve already seen one character– Manfred– who was led to moral bankruptcy by it. We see two more– Miles and Franziska brought to that brink. Phoenix Wright, on the other hand, is able to avoid that downfall. His humility, his dedication to justice, and his overriding sense of right and wrong preserve his success even at the cost of a failure. In this way, he is diverted from becoming a tragic hero.