Where there’s a Wright, you can’t be wrong. Oh, I’m excited to wright about this (got you). Puns aside, before I proceed, I like to make it clear that this review is solely based on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, a remake of the Nintendo version. For the sake of keeping this review concise, I would be giving a general overview based on the trilogy as a whole here and give attention to each entries in a separate blog post. The game trilogy comprises of :
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (AA)
- Phoenix Wright: Justice for All (JFA)
- Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations (T&T)
Developed by Capcom, this gem of a series captures every suspense and comedy a visual novel has to offer as you step into the shoes of the beloved defense attorney, Phoenix Wright (aka Nick or Feenie). While there are other instances for you take the roles of various characters in the series, you are mainly playing as Wright. The concept of the game is straightforward. To summarize the life of a lawyer quoted by me, a non-lawyer, it can be broken down into case investigations, witness cross-examinations, contradiction exposure within witness testimonies, and evidential arguments.
If you’re a lawyer, you’re probably thinking how much of this doesn’t make sense (we will save the legal rant for later). Understandably so. Attorneys don’t really do crime scene investigations. But what Ace Attorney does is make you spend a lot of time talking to your clients to figure out what the actual facts are, which leads you in forming better arguments for the court hearings. Now put on your attorney’s badge and get ready for this.
The story follows Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense attorney who attempts to have his clients declared “not guilty”. Among other characters are Phoenix’s boss, Mia Fey; his assistant and Mia’s sister, Maya; and prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. The story is split into five cases where the characters are more fleshed out through the game progression, revealing character arcs, unbelievable backstories, building up to more shocking outcomes in the present.
Gameplay and Mechanics
How hard can a lawyer’s game be— For those wondering, there isn’t any difficulty mode in the series. A discussion regarding it’s difficulty too is subjective and isn’t something I want to draw attention to. Like all adventure visual novels, Ace Attorney has its own sections within all its episodes. The gameplay is split into two sections:  Investigation and  Courtroom Trial.
The Investigation section is self-explanatory. While your client is stuck bored out of their wits in detention center, you hustle. You go about different locations gathering new pieces of information and evidence, either through your own environmental observation or conversation with other characters. These characters range from your client, witnesses, FBI, and certain persecutor(s).
Meanwhile, evidence are stored into your own record book for your perusal. The game proceeds once you have collected all vital evidence. That also means it is technically impossible for you to be stuck in-game. A little jog to your memory is just what you need if you find that you are not progressing with the plot.
Moving on to the Courtroom Trial section, this is where the fun plays out (Ah yes, I enjoy the sight of bickering lawyers and a clueless judge). The whole point of a trial is to have the judge declare your client “not guilty”. As such, your logical thinking (and a ton of common sense) comes into play as you cross-examine witnesses, find lies and inconsistencies in their testimonies. What makes it flexible is the option to go back and forth between the various statements in the testimony, and you can opt to ‘press’ the witness for more details regarding said statement. Be prepared to hear recurring phrases like ‘Objection!’, ‘Hold it!’ and ‘Take that!’ along with epic table slams throughout the series.
Similar to Danganronpa, you need to present evidence to counter those contradictions. Careful though, those things do come with consequences should you present incorrect evidence.
You know where I’m going with that; your health bar. It doesn’t seem significant at first if you are breezing through the game, but it’s worth nothing that the health bar that indicates the judge’s patience. If you think that isn’t a big deal, I will tell you why is is a big deal. In certain climax during a trial, the judge could really lose his patience when things get dragged. It puts a whole ton of pressure when one wrong move results in a complete depletion of your health bar like so. I call that court tension. It also means you have failed and your client is declared ‘guilty’.
Design and Visual
If you grew up playing Ace Attorney on Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS, the visuals just look more crisp now. The art style, together with the stereoscopic 3D, makes the Ace Attorney trilogy look even more like a graphic novel than before. The characters shine bright with their own eccentricities and it’s always a pleasure to see Miles Edgeworth (on the edge) dealing with wackadoo witnesses, and struggling most of the times when things don’t go his way.
The colours in the game just takes you back to the good old days when you are just outlining a figure and filling it with a colour on Microsoft Paint. Alright, that wasn’t the best comparison. I meant it’s old school cool. Much love.
Headphones on. Have a listen, if you will.
What can I say? It’s classic stuff. Nothing I love more than a mix between orchestrated instruments and synthesizers to take me back to my childhood.
Previously when I played Ace Attorney (around 2008), I was visibly confused how setting was Japanese yet everyone was talking like they were in America. It got apparent in the ‘Justice for All’ and ‘Trials and Tribulations’. I later learned about the localization of the first game where Ace Attorney’s Japanese version takes place in Japan while the localized version is set in United States. But it gets more complicated in the later games where the Japanese setting becomes more obvious. So a genius came up with the idea that the localized versions of the Ace Attorney games take place in Los Angeles in an alternative universe where anti-Japanese laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 were not passed, anti-Japanese sentiments were not powerful, and where Japanese culture flourished. This dictated what should be localized and what should be kept Japanese. Surprisingly, it works. I believe the game makes more sense as a whole and resonates on a deeper level once you consider its connection to the actual Japanese legal system.
Overall, the series felt safe for me, in a good way. It wasn’t diabolical except for a few standout cases. I don’t think Ace Attorney actually punishes its players since “save” exists. After all, the game is linear, and you are tying all the evidence together after revealing clues for a climax showdown… it’s great. It feels right because the gameplay and story goes hand in hand. But what I loved so much about Ace Attorney from the bottom of my heart is that, you don’t get a whole lot of backstory for Wright in the beginning. What you do get is a flawed character who is lovable, and you watch his personality grow through the dialogue in game. It’s not just him, but also other characters and they’re all memorable in their own feat. I got this beautiful sense of accomplishment finishing the series because it felt as if I had driven the story forward with these amazing characters.