I have two parts done now, so here's the first part, an introduction and a tip for planning the trial.
(Oh boy, am I nervous and stuff.)
“Are you ready?”
“I hope so, but I am nervous and stuff.”
“Hey, it's our client!”
“I totally didn't do it.”
“I believe you. Could you tell me what happened?”
“Sure.” -lengthy exposition- “And that's what happened.”
“Cool, let's do this thing.”
Boring, isn't it? Yet, to most of us, it's very familiar. This is the standard format for the beginning of an Ace Attorney case, especially if it's the first case in the game. For most people, the first trial you make will follow this format. This in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing – many of the cases in the real Ace Attorney games are based on this format (for reference, see cases 1-1, 3-1, 3-4, and 4-1.) The problem with this is that many people writing trials on AAO now will leave this as their whole intro. What you see above is really just a bare-bones guideline. It's an easy-to-follow pattern of events that explains what needs to be explained before the trial starts, but it's not entertaining on its own. The key to making a good Ace Attorney case does not lie in making all the essential details known, though that is a necessary component. Instead, you need to expand on the story. Good trial writers will start with the basic details as a canvas, and then cover the canvas with layers of paint in the form of character development, tension, humor, music, and personality, to finish with a painting that leaves its mark on the viewer.
Okay, yes, that canvas analogy is incredibly pretentious and overdone, but I'm terrible at coming up with metaphors so you're going to have to bear with me. You should get my point from it, at least. A trial needs to be more than just a bunch of hastily-introduced characters with no personalities and a simple crime. Now, you should build something spectacular from the ground up and hope it pulls an emotional response from the reader. Failing that, you should cheat.
I'm not talking about hacking the trial player, or hacking into your reader's emotions somehow. I'm not asking you to become the Laughing Man here. Rather, “cheating” in this case is much the same as how you would cheat at a maze; you simply start from the end and work your way to the beginning. A good trial will develop its plot around one crime, taking its characters through several twists and turns and hoping to bring the reader along on the figurative rollercoaster of emotions. Instead, start with the emotions and the plot – the crime itself can wait. Decide what you want to happen to your characters, and therefore, what you want the reader to feel as they play. Will Phoenix struggle, but be spurred on to victory by Mia's words like in Case 1-1? Will Klavier realize Edgeworth is no longer the sinister perfectionist he once was, like in The Bitter Turnabout? Or will Edgeworth finally have a change of heart and realize he's fallen in love with Phoenix like in the Not-Ever-Going-To Happen-So-Get-Over-It-Fangirls Turnabout? Whatever happens in your trial, you need to be aware of what plot points and character development you're hitting ASIDE from the crime itself before you can start writing the story effectively. It doesn't have to be development based on the canon characters, either -- it can also be about the witnesses you've introduced, minor characters, etc. If you don't have ANY character development, that's definitely a problem and you should do something about that. Going back to the canvas anthology, this is like selecting the colors you're going to use to paint before you begin. If you're painting a sunset, you should probably go out and buy some reds and oranges, after all.
I'm using the Bitter Turnabout as an example.
Geez, Hodou, you made like one featured trial. Get over yourself. It's all you ever talk about.
Shut your face hole! *smites you*
The reason I want to use the Bitter Turnabout as an example is not because I'm egotistical (which I am) or because I think it's the best trial ever (which it isn't.) I'm using Bitter because it's a featured trial, because I can show the thought process behind it, and because if you're reading this you've probably already played it. Let's be honest -- If you're coming to me for trial advice, odds are good that you've played my only published trial.
Planning: There were several emotions that I wanted to put behind Bitter. First of all, I decided the most basic aspects of the plot: “Godot's trial is looming and Phoenix has been disbarred, so he gets Edgeworth to defend Godot in court. It turns out that the prosecutor is Klavier, the same one that got Phoenix disbarred.” The beginning of the case should feel uneasy – Edgeworth is out of his territory, defending a man who he knows is guilty. The tension should rise when Klavier begins attacking Edgeworth, peaking at the moment when Klavier declares his intent to de-throne Edgeworth as the ideal prosecutor. When Iris comes in to testify, it slowly begins to feel like everything's under control again, but Klavier shatters this impression when he reveals that he's completely aware of her scheme. Then Klavier takes control briefly, leaving Edgeworth and the player feeling forced to follow him until, finally, Klavier defends Godot himself after he has enough proof that both Edgeworth and Godot are actually the ones fighting for justice – a relief for Edgeworth and the player.
Now, that isn't to say I had everything planned out before I began. It took me a while to decide how the case would actually end. It isn't even very important to have the WHOLE case planned out – it's nice, but not necessary. If you can plan out more than half of what happens, that's all you really need to get started – just make sure you plan the rest before you get there.
If you've planned out your trial, it's very likely that you already know what characters you need. They may even be major parts of the story, in which case you need those specific characters. However, there may be many spots in which you're not sure, especially when it comes to the defense attorney and the prosecutor. Yes, if you're not sure, it's easy to just go with Phoenix and Edgeworth, but they aren't always the best choice. Choosing ANY canon characters, especially attorneys, will dump some baggage on your trial. These characters already have stories, and it's bad form in a serious trial to just ignore those stories as if they never happened. If you use canon characters, your trial IS a canon trial (barring some exceptions I'll detail later.) Further, on a more subtle level, each character will add a specific feeling to the trial in question, and some trails prefer to have a very specific lawyer-prosecutor face-off. To help, I've included this list of all the lawyers in the games and how to best use them:
Phoenix Wright: As Edgeworth has noted, he might as well constantly wear a “Kick Me” sign. Nobody is on Phoenix's side except the co-council, and that's when he's lucky. However, he's got a strong sense of justice, and is more intelligent than he acts. Good default character, since he's been in most of the real trials.
Great for trials where the prosecution is very antagonistic. Works best opposite Edgey, Godot, or Von Karma. His only major issue is that he has met almost every single canon character at some point.
Apollo Justice: Even worse of a target for ridicule than Phoenix. The two have some similarities, but it's important to remember that Apollo IS NOT Phoenix. Apollo is very skeptical and easy to annoy, usually because the prosecution is so hard on him. He also seems to have some trouble with public speaking, and tends to say corny things that sound great to him but make other people (and players, intentionally,) groan.
Great for trials that are strange or awkward. Works best opposite Payne or Klavier (also try Godot and Franziska in alternate-universe scenarios.) Won't be great for trials where the case gets very serious. It's difficult to use him in general because he lives in a different time period, which notably limits your options for other characters.
Mia Fey: As Phoenix's mentor, she's actually a bit more like Phoenix than Apollo is. However, possibly because of her gender, the courtroom tends to be a slightly more forgiving place for her. This hardly means she's exempt from abuse, however. She tends to deal with the chaos around her by tensing up and being sarcastic about it, and tends to make a lot of (snarky comments in blue thought text.) When the case begins to go her way, she can even be as biting and unforgiving as some of the prosecutors.
Mia works well with serious trials, but not as much against super-brutal prosecutors like Von Karma. She can also be difficult to use in a more “zany” case, since she tends to think more realistically than the other characters. Works well opposite Payne and Young Edgeworth (also try Godot, Edgeworth, Klavier, and Young Klavier in alternate-universe scenarios.)
Miles Edgeworth: Though you'll need to come up with an explanation, it's very possible to use Edgeworth as your defense attorney (and don't forget AAI style, when that comes out!) It's similar to his prosecution style, approaching cases logically and considering all possibilities. He has a more commanding personality than Phoenix, making him the least abused of all the defense attorneys. When Edgeworth says something, even from the defense's bench, it holds considerable weight in the courtroom.
Best with dramatic, emotional cases, since he presents a needed emotion-free viewpoint on the situation. The same applies to his best matchups – he works well opposite emotionally-driven prosecutors like Franziska and Klavier.
Winston Payne: King of the first trial for a good reason. He's extremely arrogant, but not actually very intelligent. The majority of Payne's dialogue will be insulting the defense and pointing out the obvious. He rarely notices contradictions, much less makes plans to cover for them. Common quirk: Openly laughing at the defense.
Best for a less-serious, less difficult trial, especially if it's the first case in the game. Takumi hasn't been re-using him for tradition's sake – he just really works perfectly there. Possible source of comic relief.
Miles Edgeworth: Though he was present in most of the first game for appropriate story reasons, he's not always the perfect default choice. Edgeworth approaches cases logically and shows little tolerance for emotional or irrational behavior on the defense's part. A notable strategy of Edgeworth's is to lay traps in witness testimonies – a cross-examination against Edgeworth will often end with the attorney realizing the “contradiction” they found was the perfect transition into Edgeworth's next argument, sometimes involving evidence he thought was “unnecessary” until this point. Common quirk: Using unnecessarily fancy words (occasionally for comedy.)
Great for serious, tense cases or strange cases. Not the best choice for emotionally-driven trials (think: 2-2, 3-5.)
Manfred von Karma: A true demon, Von Karma does absolutely anything to win his trial. His presence is notable because it COMPLETELY determines the feel of the entire case. He rushes things along and makes his own calls, eschewing any importance the Judge might have had. A Von Karma trial is fast-paced and almost unbearably hopeless. Common quirks: Sustaining his own objections, snapping his fingers
As said before, a Von Karma trial MUST be a Von Karma trial. You can't just stick him onto any case – it has to be made for that hopeless, tense struggle only he can force for the entire game. It's also kind of difficult to use him in any canon scenario that isn't in the past.
Franziska Von Karma: Though she tries to be like her father, she's extremely different. She holds the same thirst for perfection, but doesn't rush through cases. She does, however, do her fair share of complaining about and insulting the “foolish fools” around her. She's not very good at accepting that she may have been wrong, either. Common quirks: Whipping nearly everybody and horribly over-using the word “Fool,” especially when backed into a corner.
Franziska is who you use if you want the commanding anger of Von Karma prosecution without having it change the way your whole trial works. She's also a surprisingly effective comic-relief character, and works in both Phoenix and Apollo's time periods. Essentially the perfect canon default prosecutor – quirky, intimidating, and easy to write for.
Godot: If not for his situation in canon, Godot would make the perfect default prosecutor for any case. He's essentially a parody of the “unnecessarily awesome” characters that are common in anime and video games (Think Setzer from Final Fantasy VI, but he's actually manly, or Lando Calrissian if he ever got character development.) Godot often likes to wax poetic and philosophical at the same time, and maintains an intimidating “suave badass” persona even in the courtroom. He also likes to set “traps” in cross-examinations much like Edgeworth. Common quirk: Drinking tons of coffee, especially in court.
There is no reason Godot shouldn't work in just about every trial, honestly. The biggest problem is working around canon. If it's after 3-5, you can work the explanation into your trial as a dramatic moment – if it's before
3-2, it's much more difficult, since all of the pre-Apollo attorneys (including Edgeworth) meet him for the first time during the third Phoenix Wright game.
Young Edgeworth: The rule for a younger version of a prosecutor is typically to make them more aggressive and slightly clumsier. Young Edgeworth follows this to a T – he is more outgoing and intimidating than his older version (remember, he's still Von Karma's student here,) but at the same time he's also less experienced and more likely to let certain aspects of a case slip his mind. He's nowhere near as controlled as his older self. Common quirks: Talking about perfection, using fancy speech at inappropriate times (like older Edgey,) openly taunting the defense (a little bit like Payne.)
Another good default that's really difficult to use, he works very similarly to Franziska. The only attorney he can really go against in canon is Mia, though.
Klavier Gavin: The least aggressive of all the prosecutors, Klavier also has one of the most unusual personalities. He treats every trial as a performance of his, often using flamboyant speech and even referring to aspects of the trial as if they were part of a concert or party. Most importantly, Klavier has different motivations than every other prosecutor: where everyone else is determined to win for either perfection or revenge, Klavier is more concerned with finding out what the truth actually is, and often sides with the defense later on in a case. Common quirks: Using simple German terms like “ja” or “fraulein” (notably never actually speaking fluent German,) coming up with nicknames for his enemies, and occasionally playing air guitar.
Klavier is great for injecting a little fun into a trial, but he's not the best for making things more dramatic if there aren't some notably sinister characters on the witness stand to play villain (Remember Kristoph? He was so evil because this was the first Ace Attorney where the prosecutor was CONSISTENTLY a good guy.) Also, he exists in Apollo's era, so good luck working him into your trial.
Young Klavier: Though Young Klavier still has the same good intentions as his older counterpart, he's significantly less agreeable to be playing against. In his only canon appearance, he was as rude and aggressive as Godot can be at times (though that might have had to do with how he felt about the defense attorney in question.) He's more prone to bragging about his band and his fame, yet he actually acts more aware of the importance of each trial.
Unlike Young Edgeworth, Young Klavier is in Phoenix's time period. Unfortunately, the one time the two faced off in canon was also the last. The only attorney he can really match with is Edgeworth now, barring alternate-universe scenarios.
Your Own Defense Attorney: Defense attorneys have more subtle personality quirks than prosecutors, but they're still there. Whatever you do, please DON'T just make an exact clone of Phoenix or Apollo. If you can't avoid using their sprites, I'd recommend not using an OC – it works even worse than it does for minor characters because lawyers are typically VERY developed characters and it's tough to divorce the sprites from their personalities. But in this regard, you'll have a lot of trouble ANYWAY. Thanks to the fact that an overwhelming percentage of OC Defense Attorneys are similar to Phoenix, it's a common assumption that just because you're using an OC, you're using a cheap Phoenix ripoff. Your OC is going to need a VERY different personality from them if they are looking to avoid this stigma. Remember that though they need to be unique, players should still be able to relate to them. Variables: How much does your character fear the prosecution? Will they get walked over like Apollo, or stand their ground like Mia or Edgeworth? It's notable that female characters will actually be trashed less by somebody like Payne or Franziska, but will also be risking advances by Godot and Klavier (who, in turn, also have less respect for them.) Another thing to decide is, how aggressive is your character? Will they be temporarily stunned by the prosecution's confidence, or will they leap at contradictions as chances to gain the advantage in the trial?
Your Own Prosecutor: An original prosecutor is much easier than a defense attorney. I'd give the same recommendation about not re-using sprites from the actual games, though. Prosecutors generally begin with a 2-dimensional personality and character, but get fleshed out as the game progresses. Think of how you want that simple first impression to hit the player. Also, without exception, every single prosecutor has at least one notable personality quirk that shows up in nearly every trial they take part in. Be sure that yours has a good quirk as well – whether it's intimidating or hilarious, it will bring a lot of impact to their actions in court.
When it comes to choosing your witnesses and minor characters, there are two ways to go about it -- using canon characters, and using original ones. If you're using canon characters, keep in mind that not only will you have to study their character a little bit so you can write for them properly, but also that you need to come up with a logical explanation for why they're involved. There are some characters, like Maggey Byrde, who could reasonably be anywhere at any time. On the other hand, if you make Morgan Fey the head chef at Tres Bien, people are not going to take you seriously.
"How dare you insult my cooking!"
When it comes to original characters, you have more freedom with how you can use them. If you can come up with (good!) custom sprites, you can just go crazy wherever and nobody will care. But unlike with lawyers, it's completely forgivable to use pre-existing sprites for these characters as well. Here you run into a problem, though. The temptation will be to pick the character that best reflects your OCs personality; if you do this, however, people may feel your character is too much like the existing one, which can completely ruin their chances of being likeable. If you're lucky, you'll be able to find a sprite that fits the role appearance-wise and still has great animations for your character, but all in all it's a tricky prospect. If you can't find one that works without being too similar, I highly recommend going to the Your Art board and asking somebody there for help with custom sprites.
Some Ace Attorney sprites I would never use for original characters due to their personalities/ridiculousness: April May, Diego Armando, Mia Fey, Ema Skye, Mike Meekins, Jake Marshall, Damon Gant (a very popular pick that I disagree with,) anybody from Turnabout Big Top, Matt Engarde, Shelly de Killer, Dahlia, Luke Atmey, Ron DeLite, Jean Armstrong, Lisa Basil, Bikini, Iris, Elise Deauxnim, Olga Orly (only the first outfit,) Wesley Stickler, Lamiroir/Thalassa, Machi, Daryan Crescend, Valant Gramarye, Zak Gramarye.
Some good choices: Any character that is unimportant or dies early on is a great choice. I'd recommend Redd White (rich man,) Will Powers (normal man, tough guy,) Penny Nichols (teenage girl,) Cody Hackins (young boy,) Sal Manella (nerd,) Yanni Yogi (old man,) Angel (pretty/seductive woman,) Turner Grey (paranoid/angry man,) Adrain Andrews (typical woman,) Desiree DeLite (same,) Viola Cadaverini (sickly/injured woman,) Hobo Phoenix (surprisingly, he's an effective normal man,) Alita Tiala (younger woman,) Romein LeTouse (government/businessman,) and Vera Misham (shy girl.)
It's fairly easy to make unique and interesting witness/minor OCs when compared to lawyer OCs. They're often very two-dimensional characters, unless they're directly involved with the crime, or indirectly the victims of it. If you want your OC to be memorable, you're going to have to work on their dialogue, too. Usually these characters only show up for a brief time on the witness stand before vanishing, so you don't have much time to establish who they are -- but this doesn't mean people care less. Witnesses in Ace Attorney are typically very eccentric and unusual -- don't let your characters be bogged down by how a "real person" would act. Make them flamboyant, make them melodramatic and quirky. Don't be afraid to be ridiculously over-the-top.
Since Bitter doesn't work for this, I'm going to use an example from An Angry Canuck's trial Turnabout Escort.
Character selection: Apollo is a great choice for defense because the case is right up his alley -- full of unusual and exasperating witnesses. There's both a good and a bad example of OC sprite selection: for Asterik DuGaulle, An Angry Canuck chose Damon Gant, but the two are a little too similar and it can feel awkward at times. On the other hand, we have Turner Grey's sprites representing Whit Ness. Turner isn't in the main series long enough for his personality to be fully fleshed out, whereas Whit Ness is a very different character who easily becomes a memorable part of the trial.