Review – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

Like many of you, I grew up with little knowledge of the Ace Attorney series besides the fact the game’s main catchphrase “Objection!” became a famous meme in the gaming circle. Being a dumb teenager back when those games were all the rage, I never felt interested in tackling them. Fast forward to more than a decade later, when I stumble upon an Ace Attorney remastered collection featuring the first three games in the Phoenix Wright subseries available for a very good price on the Japanese eShop, with English localization nonetheless! It was about time for me to play these visual novels. Dear goodness, it turns out they are actually amazing.

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Just another day in the life of a defense attorney…

The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games aren’t exactly visual novels in the literal sense of the word. Calling them just that is actually a disservice to what else they have to offer. They are one third visual novels, one third investigative puzzle games (not unlike Myst), and one third “defense attorney simulators”, for lack of a better description.

Each game is divided into episodes and each episode is divided into an equal amount of investigations and court room trials. During investigative segments, it’s up to you to talk to witnesses, search for clues, collect evidence, and prepare your defense case. They do play more like adventure games; you have free range to click on everything on a static background and present items to NPCs in order to unlock more dialogue trees and proceed with the story.

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Queue in the Barry White soundtrack.

The real deal in these games however, is whenever you’re inside the court room butting heads against the prosecutor. The game becomes a battle of wits; you need to carefully analyze witness testimonies, looking for lies or unusual statements, and it’s your job to press them to tell the truth or present evidence to prove that they are lying. To make things a bit more interesting, you can fail these sessions, forcing to witness the judge declaring your client as guilty before being able to start all over again. It might sound boring to those not interested in the actual art of practicing law, but there’s the icing on the cake: the scripts.

Each of the episodes in all three Phoenix Wright games are superbly well-written, full of humorous moments, betrayals, shocking revelations, and even some moments of actual tension. To top things off, there are ghosts in here as well. It’s just words and static imagery onscreen, but the folks at Capcom really managed to knock it out of the park with it, even if the localization is a bit silly. The English localization wants us to believe that the games are set in America, even though everyone and the culture surrounding them is extremely Japanese. There’s even a case revolving around Super Sentai-esque tokusatsu actors. This localization “decision” can often be so dumb that it becomes surprisingly charming.

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The power of dyslexia?

I do need to clarify that, technically speaking, these games don’t push any limitations from any system released after 2001. This series was originally released for the Game Boy Advance and it clearly shows in the very underwhelming sound department. It is fully comprised of very simple MIDI tunes and some short, heavily compressed voice clips. Thankfully, the visuals have managed to withstand the test of time, as they did receive some extra love when being remastered. The character models are large and don’t look pixelated at all.

I do have one minor complaint with this collection, however, and that’s regarding going from one place to another when investigating crime scenes; it’s just cumbersome. Instead of having a big list of unlocked locales you can move freely to in a fast and trouble-free manner, you can only access specific locations from other specificied locations, making the ever-so-frequent process of backtracking incredibly tedious. Maybe that’s one sacrifice that had to be made when porting these games from the dual-screen comfort of the DS and 3DS to the single-screen Nintendo Switch.

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Easy there, Jack Nicholson…

All complaints aside, I have to admit I fell in love with the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy. I never thought I’d have so much fun with visual novels with absolutely no action onscreen. These games are engaging, occasionally funny, and even a bit thought-provoking. They even made me want to read a bit about law after playing them back-to-back. Whether you decide to wait for the American eShop release on April 9th or grab them right away from the Japanese eShop (the games are in English), you’ll be in for the best lawyer-filled media experience ever since that one show starring William Shatner and James Spader.

 

Graphics: 7.5

The anime-inspired visuals have managed to withstand the test of time especially considering they were originally planned for the Game Boy Advance’s hardware, but I would have appreciated more animations if possible.

Gameplay: 7.5

It’s best enjoyed on portable mode, as this collection supports touchscreen controls. The menu interface is clean and, for the most part, not too troublesome.

Sound: 5.5

The same remaster improvements can’t be seen in these games’ sound departments. They all still feature MIDI-based music and heavily compressed voice clips.

Fun Factor: 10

I have never had that much fun before with games with so little action as these Ace Attorney titles. They are very engaging, often hilarious, and very well-written.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch and 3DS. All currently Japan exclusive besides the 3DS version.

Reviewed on Switch.

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