Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was my first ever experience of a Visual Novel, although I would probably call it an Investigative Visual Novel due to the nature of the game and the fact it’s not just about reading the narrative. I’ve played each and every iteration of the franchise from the humble beginnings on the Nintendo DS to the remasters on iOS and the 3DS (with added 3D support). Hell, I’ve even gone as far as watching the first two seasons of the Anime on Crunchyroll – although they are pretty much word-for-word the same as the game, so I don’t recommend watching them before playing the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy!
So, when I found out that the beloved trilogy was heading to modern consoles, you’d understand that I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to don my suit and ‘Object’ once more to all the crazy personalities which enter the courtroom. Seriously, it’s like an episode of Jeremy Kyle during some of the more wacky cases!
So, grab onto your (Larry) Butz and come with Mia as I sit on the Edge(worth) of my seat and (Phoenix W)right the wrongs in this amazing trilogy.
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy contains not one, but three games (well, dur), each containing four or five chapters (based on the game). Each main game (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for all, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations) contains its own self-enclosed story which is intertwined throughout each episode, even though each episode covers a new case for you to follow. Think of it as your favourite TV show, each episode has its own agenda and purpose, yet usually, there’s an underlying story arc which is being developed throughout the series until it combinates within the final episode.
Knowledge of the previous games aren’t required, as you can simply pick which game you wish to start with, yet you’re not able to play a chapter until you reach it. So, you may wish to start with Trials and Tribulations, as you may have watched the two seasons of the anime already, yet you won’t be able to start chapters 2-5 until you’ve completed chapter one and have reached the others due to the story flow. Even though you can do this, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through, you get introduced to various new characters as you play and it may lead to unknown relationships if you jump in at the deep end.
You’ll notice I’m being very vague on the stories you’ll be working your way through, this is purposely done because I want you to experience the games blind, go in with an open mind and a passion to right that which is wrong. What I will say is, don’t always believe the evidence placed before you and always push for more information as not every case is as it seems and sometimes the answers are right there, just waiting to be noticed. So, let’s pretend you have no idea what these games are about and let’s talk details and mechanics…
The first thing I always hear people mention, when talking about the genre and gameplay style of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is the term ‘Visual Novel’. Now, this isn’t wrong, but there are many variations to the Visual Novel Genre, just like there are many variations of the FPS genre. For example, I would class Danganronpa, Zanki Zero, Song of Memories, and 428: Shibuya Scramble as ‘Visual Novels’, yet Danganronpa is a courtroom investigative game, Zanki Zero is a dungeon crawler, Song of Memories is a reverse Otome and 428: Shibuya Scramble is pretty much a pure Visual Novel.
So, out of all of those, Danganronpa is the only game which falls into the same category as the Ace Attorney games, only Ace Attorney has fewer killer bears and death sequences… You’ll spend all of your time within the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy doing two things; investigating and defending your clients in court. What I like about these games is that there is a great balance between the two, so one chapter may be split into five or six parts, with the first part as a Visual Novel segment where you generally talk to people and live out your day, the next will be investigating the crime that occurred followed by a court session in which you defend or question the accused, then it’ll progress a day and you’ll investigate more before returning to court.
I’ll touch on these various segments in a moment but, just so you’re aware, as these games were originally on the Nintendo DS and nothing has really changed other than the visuals, spelling mistakes and a few QoL improvements (like adapting to the fact we now only have one screen), there is no voice acting throughout the game and there is a lot of text to read. I know this style annoys some people as they don’t like reading a lot of text with no grumbles, one-liners or full voice acting, but don’t let that put you off. The narrative you’ll be reading is some of the quirkiest and crazy you’ll hear outside of an episode of Judge Judy!
These segments can be quite entertaining but also frustrating at times. Even as a veteran Ace Attorney player, I got frustrated on one of the cases when I couldn’t remember how to progress the story! Gone is the second screen, so everything is done on our one display as you move from location to location, question the people you meet, rummage around the environment, then see if you can question the people once more now you have more information. The frustrating part about these is that there are no wrong answers at this point – you HAVE to look at literally everything, ask everyone about everything, and present the right items to the right people, otherwise, you’ll become stuck really fast.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is awesome and the things you’ll find and reactions you’ll get are priceless, but it’s the fact that this portion of the game feels like a trial and error segment where your best option is to just click on everything and shove everything you pick up into the face of each person you meet. Who cares if you’re talking to the killer and you show them the murder weapon or the only piece of evidence you have against them, they’ll just shrug it off as you move to the next piece of evidence to force upon them!
Replaying these after many years made me remember how much I loved this game. Remembering how to navigate around the various scenes, uncover hidden objects, press people for more information by using the right item, and seeing what quirky comments the scriptwriters have come up with. However, what I had forgotten, as I’d not seen them on a big screen before, were the visuals – which I’ll touch on later…
The court is in session
The core gameplay mechanic in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy has to be its court sessions. Utilising the items you find and any information you gather during the investigative segments, you’re tasked with pushing the defendants and witnesses for more information as you try and uncover inconsistencies and lies within their statements. This is where you really have to listen to what they are saying and push to read between the lines. You’re never penalised for pushing too hard or too many times, so go crazy, push the person on the stand until they can’t be pushed any more in order to clarify what they mean and try to make them stumble with their testimony.
Once you spot your chance, present a piece of your evidence or answer the correct multiple questions on screen as to why they are lying in order to force the witness/defendant to change their testimony once more. In Danganronpa V3, we have truth bullets which we used to distinguish the truth among the lies, in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy we have nothing but our common sense and the Court Record. That’s right, you can refer back to your trusty record whenever you wish in order to see what evidence you have which can be used against the liars.
Unlike the Investigation parts, you can actually lose the game during the Court Room segments. Every time you answer the wrong point, present evidence which is nothing to do with the statement on the screen, or fail to speak up when you should do with your mighty “Objection!?!”, you’ll begin to lose health (or it could be respect or credibility, I guess). Once that reaches zero, court is over, you lose, the defendant is found guilty and you must replay that particular Court session once more. So, not only do you need to be careful with what evidence you present when the game asks you for some, but you also need to be careful about presenting things when you’re not 100% sure it contradicts what the witness/defendant is saying.
Check out the slider below for a visual comparison (drag the slider if the image hasn’t loaded up).
The one thing I’m not too keen on within the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy remaster is the ‘new’ visual style. Don’t get me wrong, as you can see from the above comparison (slide to see the two versions), the remaster looks simply stunning in comparison to the original NDS version. However, there’s a lot of artistic effects which have been implemented in various scenes. I’ve noticed very rounded edges and feature-less characters whilst zoomed out within the courtroom as if the characters have no face or definition. If I was to guess what’s happened, it appears a filter has been placed over the original images in order to boost them to a higher resolution – this results in very clear and clean images with the side effect of blocky colours hiding certain features.
It’s not a major issue and I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t even notice or care, but it’s something which stood out to me as I was hoping for a more defined and detailed experience (graphically) as we saw with the anime.
Soundwise, the game is as I remember it on the 3DS in that platform’s remaster – Objection!, Hold it!, the banging of the gavel… it’s a nostalgia trip everyone will enjoy, well, everyone other than convicted criminals! It would have been nice if we would have been given full voice acting, or even if we were given some grumbles or one-liners to ease up on the silence whilst reading the text, but I guess it’s a straight forward graphical improvement and not a remake of any kind. Saying that, the music within the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is amazing, once again making my hair on my neck stand to attention through sheer nostalgic memories of playing this many, many years ago.
Where to go from here?
Okay, so you’ve completed the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (after around 20 hours or so of solving crimes) and you want to dive into more of the thrilling adventures of Phoenix & Friends – what options do you have? Well, if you have a Nintendo 3DS then you’re in luck as there are five more games for you to sink your teeth into!
• First, we have Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney; this is the fourth game in the AA series and acts as a sort of ‘reboot’ as you play as a new set of characters. This was a regular NDS release and later came to Mobile devices.
• As this concept didn’t sit well with the fans, Capcom brought back Phoenix in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies; the fifth game in the series. This is on both the 3DS and Mobile devices
• Next, you have the sixth instalment with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice. This is also on the 3DS and Mobile devices.
• The seventh game is Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney! That’s right, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright come together in a tale which deals with time/dimension travel as you solve puzzles, deliver court sessions, and travel across a map as you figure out what’s going on. This game is on the 3DS only and has an equal balance between both AA and PL gameplay styles.
• Finally, there was a ‘spin-off’ created called Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. This game is the black sheep of the family as it has a point-and-click gameplay style over the usual Visual Novel-based investigations. This is out on the NDS and Mobiles, should you wish to check it out.
Ace Attorney has become a rather big deal since it’s Nintendo DS outing (the original GBA version never left Japan and didn’t really feature in the spotlight). Not only is there Manga and the aforementioned Anime, but there is also a live-action movie and it’s spawned three musicals. For a game which is essentially Judge Judy crossed with a corny episode of CSI, that’s quite an accomplishment!
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Remaster is an essential purchase to fans of the series and those who like Investigative Visual Novels. Sure, the game has simply received a new coat of paint over it’s pixelated 4:3 ratio grandfather, but the game looks and feels like something you would expect to see release in 2019 as a new product. I would have liked it if the images and certain characters had greater detail upon them, and less of a filter-like overlay, but that’s just me being picky, the game looks amazing in comparison to the original.
Bar a few changes here and there to modernise the gameplay, fixing the spelling errors, and adapting the game to a single screen, the core gameplay and experience is the same we’ve had on the NDS, Wii, Mobile devices, and the 3DS. If you’ve not played any of the series before, just listen to Maria VonTrapp and “Let’s start at the very beginning; A very good place to start…” with The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy£26.99
- - Three story arcs, 14 cases, lots of chapters = many hours of entertainment
- - Some of the best comedic writing around serious undertones within a Visual Novel style game
- - Full of a cast of loveable and relatable characters who'll pop up throughout the series
- - Cases which make you think about what you're doing, rather than spamming a single button
- - The music is great and the visual enhancements look amazing(*)
- - The price seems a little steep, but you are getting a lot of content over the three stories
- - (*) Despite the visuals looking great, certain scenes look less detailed than the original and more like a filter was applied