Phoenix Wright and company are back with the release of Ace Attorney Trilogy!
When Capcom offered me a chance to review Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, I have to admit that I did a little fist pump at my desk. Ace Attorney is a series that’s very dear to me, and in many personal ways is responsible for where I am today; without it, I would have probably never met many of the important people in my life, or maybe even be working here! So it was with excitement that I jumped back into the original trilogy of games on the PS4 to take a look at how the games have held up, as well as what this trilogy edition brings to the modern console market. The Ace Attorney Trilogy is itself a bit of a re-release, having originally come out on iOS in 2012 and then 3DS in 2014. This new version contains the same updated art that the previous versions had, and spans the entire first 3 games, including the extra 5th case added to the original game back when it came out for the DS. But how does the game hold up today, and does the new trilogy really offer anything that we haven’t seen before? Well… the answer is a bit complicated, and just like any good court case, we’ll have to take a look at the facts as they come!
The games themselves have aged pretty well—the mechanics were always simple and intuitive, and although no longer guided by a stylus or touch control (at least, except on the Switch), the game has few menu options and controls to really confuse the player with. In many ways, the Phoenix Wright games are visual novels with some added adventure game elements, with the slightly nice bonus that the games are somewhat easy; the only real way to fail the game is to incorrectly object in court room settings over and over. By today’s standards, it would probably be true to say that the games have limited gameplay at all, and the later games in the series were the ones to introduce more complex mechanics into the investigation procedures. But that was never the true charm of the series, instead placing the emphasis on character interactions and the pleasure of presenting just the right contradiction at the right time to nail the criminal for their false testimony. And in that regard, there really is nothing like Ace Attorney.
The magic of the Ace Attorney games is seeing each individual character reveal their personality and quirks over time, whether they’re one-shot characters or returning protagonists, each and every character in the games oozes life and vivid personalities. As I was replaying the games, I was shocked by how much of it I immediately started to remember, or certain character quirks that I had forgotten that immediately burst back to life in my mind. The game especially hinges on the depiction of Phoenix Wright himself, and the writing of the game does an amazing job making Phoenix into an intimately reliable character that you want to see succeed, bolstered by the equally amazing Maya Fey, with their banter really driving home the charm of the game and making both endearing characters.
Each game is broken into chunks, episodes usually given a title that starts with “Turnabout”, with the first and third games having 5 cases, and the second game having 4. Each of these episodes are somewhat self-contained, in the sense that you play each case from start to finish and nothing really carries over from case to case in terms of gameplay. However, character arcs progress over time, with each case giving more and more of the dynamic picture of the Phoenix Wright universe, meaning that details from the first game will slowly become more and more important in the later games, with some of the biggest, most rewarding reveals coming in the third game, calling all the way back to the very first cases of the series. Even taken on their own individual merits, all of the cases have memorable, unique one off characters that make you fall in love with them.
These games live and die on their ability to tell their story, so some may find the lack of challenge a bit odd at first; there really isn’t any way to ‘fail’ the game, like missing specific evidence or needed clues. There are ways to “lose” during trials, but these generally just result in you reloading the game (with a few exceptions that can lead to a “bad ending”, but still results in you reloading the game). One thing that becomes a bit odd if you play the games in marathon style is that every one of the games has a “tutorial” case, which is due to the fact that the original games came out years apart from one another and needed to teach players how to operate the game’s engine. Here, it just sort of becomes routine, and thankfully the cases are actually important and entertaining the storylines, so they aren’t a big deal, but it is worth mentioning that you’ll spend at least 3 of the 14 stories learning how to play the game again (with no real changed mechanics).
This is only really an issue in the second game, which has 4 cases, meaning that 1 of them is a tutorial, and the other is… Turnabout Big Top, which is quite frankly the worst case in the entire series. I won’t spoil anything and your mileage may vary here, but personally I found this case so stilted, slow, and annoying that when I originally played this game on my DS I nearly quit the game for good. Here, it isn’t so bad because there are so many cases to play through, but even still I found myself groaning—and not just from the script’s legendary puns—as I chugged through this case; of all of the trilogy, the second game is by far the weakest, so just be forewarned. That said, the games as a whole are an amazing set of fun storylines and good writing; the Ace Attorney games have had some memorable localization changes to make the games accessible to non-Japanese audiences, and they actually do go a long way to make the games stand out instead of just straight translating a series filled with language jokes that wouldn’t make any sense in English. Some of the most obvious are puns, but the English writers need to be given some real props for making the game as memorable and charming as they did, jokes and all, giving the characters depth and charm.
You’ll want to turn your speakers up too, because the music in the Ace Attorney games is perhaps its most unique, secret charm that tops off the entire package just right. The colorful characters (both in personality and in art design) fill your screen with their personalities, and the audio that accompanies each scene of the game does its best to keep up with that level of engagement and personality (the Steel Samurai theme is still stuck in my head after all these years, as well as the tune of a certain coffee loving prosecutor…). All of the tracks are enjoyable and they add a certain sense of completeness to the overall game. You’ll become uniquely acquainted with certain tunes as you play through the three games, and each one brings a certain sense of familiarity and comfort with them. And then, of course, is the high-strung courtroom music, which always hits at just the right time as you present that case winning contradiction or piece of evidence, making Phoenix’s victory feel all the sweeter.
If anything, I would say that I’m maybe a bit sad that this version of the game didn’t get a fully reworked or updated soundtrack and sound effects to go with it, but the original music score is so solid that it isn’t a huge problem. The somewhat dated soundbites for the “Hold it,” and “Objection” portions of the games do stick out a bit in their weird, mono audio quality, sounding a bit out of place on modern systems. Don’t let that bother you too much, though, as it isn’t a huge problem, but it did stick out to me enough that I felt like it was important to mention. Although the games are approaching nearly twenty years in publication.
And, really, that does bring us to some of the problems with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy: there really isn’t anything new here for returning fans. The games do have updated graphics for all of the characters, but if you played the 3DS or iOS versions of the Trilogy, you’ve already seen those before. There aren’t any real bells and whistles to the game, with nothing new to unlock or see; as far as ports go, it is pretty bare bones, simply providing the games as described and not much else. This is only a problem depending on how you look at the issue: if you’ve never played the Ace Attorney games before, this is absolutely the best way to get into the series, and if you have played them but not for a while, you’ll have a great time going back through them. But if you’re a die-hard fan that replays the games often, you won’t really find much new in this release that you likely don’t already have at your fingertips.
Also, I will say that the console versions of the game look great on a TV, but the games were originally made to be portable, and in many cases I feel that the Switch version wins out a bit on the other releases in this regard, still allowing you to take Phoenix and Maya on the go with you, and coming and going from play sessions with the game much easier than the console versions. This isn’t really a negative, but it is worth mentioning; it’s probably worth considering how you’d like to play these games before deciding on which version to purchase if you have options.
Although there isn’t much new in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, what is here is weighty enough to justify a purchase and playthrough, especially if you’ve never experienced the games before. Seeing the memorable cast back in action again made me fall in love with this series all over again, and I honestly can’t recommend the experience enough to people who enjoy visual novels and mysteries, and frankly I’d say that anyone who enjoys good characters and storytelling would probably find a lot to love in the Ace Attorney series. Ironically die-hard fans might not find anything new to attract them, but at the same time those same fans are probably just as excited as I was to revisit the beginning of the Ace Attorney series again, so the game is pretty easy to recommend to everyone. If you can tolerate some of the obviously dated aspects and somewhat bare presentation, you’ll find three games filled with charming characters, tense stories, and the best courtroom action in video games. I’m already looking to dig up my copies of the future games to play through them now after this review, since I’ve rediscovered my apparent love of judicial activities! So, with that said, go get yourself a copy of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, as court is adjourned!
+ Amazing characters and storytelling make this series shine with charisma.
+ Simplistic play mechanics put all of the focus on characters and story, keeping things moving.
+ Games 1 and 3 are amazing, having some incredible emotional payoffs for character arcs.
+/- If you already played these games, you may not find much new to be interested in, as there aren’t any extras or new content.
- The Circus Case.
Are you an Ace Attorney fan? Curious to try the series out of the first time? Which game is your favorite one? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Nicole is a features and a social video script writer for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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