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Phoenix Wright was recently announced as a character for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and his reception from fans of MvC3 has been an interesting mix of unbridled enthusiasm and indignant anger. I find the latter to be particularly interesting because of how the criticisms from fans are being formed verbally and what it says about how a game like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is perceived by its audience on an aesthetic level.
Before we start though, I have to say that I do not know what percentage of fans actually dislike Phoenix Wright’s participation in this game. Whether they are a “vocal minority” or not matters little, as it is more about the reaction of that group in particular.
First off, let’s take a look at some of the comments critical of Wright as a Capcom representative:
“Im not hating at all, the game looks legit I just can’t believe that non-sense was allowed in and not a more traditional fighting game character”
“Phoenix Wright is the most awkward fighting game character I’ve ever seen. Fuck that guy. I hope he’s top tier and everyone ends up using him ’cause he’s so stupid, LMAO.
Nova on the other hand, now that’s a real character. Dude is a beast! He’s like a better Phoenix (non-Dark).”
“I agree, Phoenix Wright feels out of place here, and makes me feel like I want to throat up or something. What a crappy pick, should of been Captain Commando. We already have a Capcom joke character, his name is Frank West and he’s better than Phoenix Wrong lol.”
[In reference to a an attack Phoenix Wright uses in the trailer and the argument that Tron is a joke character too ] “Tron hits ppl, not sneezes on them”
All of them say essentially the same thing. A) character who is not a fighter an does absolutely nothing resembling combat in his own game should not be in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. B) The humor-based interpretation of his “fighting” style for UMvC3 is a slight against the game itself.
At this point, it would be easy to dismiss these statements with a couple of arguments, but those arguments have problems in and of themselves. The first is the idea that “gameplay is the only thing that really matters, so it’s not relevant if Phoenix Wright fits with the rest of the cast or not as long as he’s a strong character who can create interesting gameplay.” For Marvel vs. Capcom 3, how the game controls and whether or not it’s competitively viable are, while important to its success as a game, are obviously not the only factors in presenting it to the world and its audience. If gameplay were the only relevant component, then it wouldn’t be a crossover of a comic book company and a video game company using iconic characters from their respective libraries. Although it is easy to disagree with people who think Phoenix Wright is too ridiculous for the game (and I do disagree with them), it is besides the point to argue from a primarily theoretical game mechanics perspective.
The second is the idea that “the game is already ridiculous putting up some kung fu guys against ancient gods and beings with the power to rip the Earth in half, so why draw the line at a goofy lawyer?” But while Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (and the entire rest of the Vs. game series) does bring together a cast of characters whose powers and abilities can be horribly mismatched, it does not negate the fact that Phoenix Wright is indeed not a martial artist or in possession of superhuman abilities. A punch is a punch and can be made as strong as necessary, whereas Wright has to use something else entirely.
I think the idea that a fighting game should have “characters that fight” is an interesting one in that MvC3 becomes a sort of haven for a particular type of masculinity, a place where a (presumably male) player can feel comfortable in knowing that the setting and its character will not betray them aesthetically. This is not a coincidence, as the look of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is masculine and powerful in a way that is particularly appealing to American audiences. This is easily seen when comparing it to its sibling, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, whose anime influence gives a somewhat softer look to even the most square-jawed and chiseled of warriors. But Phoenix Wright apparently violates that security; to the people critical of his inclusion for the reasons outlined above, he demeans the game he’s being included in because he ends up mocking the aggressive portrayal of competition. Wright risks emasculating part of the game’s audience, somewhat like the entire Arcana Heart series minus the overt sexuality aspect that is near-unavoidable with that franchise.
Again, I do not know what percentage of people playing games feels this way, but I do have to wonder how much this affects a certain portion of gamers’ decisions in which games to pursue. Are games like Call of Duty and Halo even more indicative of this mindset? If so, it may bear taking a look at how and why men look to games to affirm their masculinity.