The judicial system has fascinated me for years, with TV shows like Suits and Law & Order usually satisfying my hunger for justice. But never have I played a game in which the main role is in the courtroom, especially since I’ve evaded the legendary Phoenix Wright to this point. Sure, I’ve encountered him in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as a playable character, however it’s within the Ace Attorney series that Mr Wright is really supposed to shine.
For the first time though, Phoenix Wright is making his way to the latest generation of consoles as the main protagonist of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, which brings together the first three titles of the series – Ace Attorney, Justice for All, and Trials and Tribulations. Given that these games originally released in Japan back when the Game Boy Advance was hot property, will they still hold up after 15+ years? I’m here to present all the evidence I’ve gathered and ultimately deliver the final verdict.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a collection of visual novel adventures featuring Phoenix Wright as a defense attorney and it’s your role to aid him in proving the innocence of his clients. There’s plenty of murder afoot and in order to absolve the suspects in these cases Phoenix must take it upon himself to scour for evidence and find holes in testimonies. It won’t be easy, but with the spirited Fey sisters by his side, he’s always got a helping hand when the going gets tough.
Before delving into the gameplay and the storytelling must be praised; throughout the three games the cases are utterly enthralling. If you think you’ve already seen every kind of complex murder case, think again, because the tales told across the 14 cases here will intrigue, excite, shock, confuse and, at times, blow your mind. Whether the murder takes place on the set of a TV show, in the peaceful sanctuary of mediums, or in the dead of night on a lake, the outcome is seldom clean cut. The narratives are intricately woven to ensure the motives, actual events and the back-stories all tie together for some gripping courtroom drama.
Even the dialogue, all of which is displayed in text only, is excellently written to enable the player to instantly get a grasp of a character’s personality alongside the visual representation. And that’s crucial with the cavalcade of quirky, rather unique folk that feature as witnesses, law enforcement and suspects. It really does showcase a variety of characters; ranging from uptight prosecutors and a bumbling detective, to a TV star and an esteemed surgeon. Whilst there’s a serious nature to the accusations, comedic relief from certain regular characters is often just around to corner and usually comes at just the right time. It helps you to do your job when the interactions with these often over-the-top individuals are consistently interesting, even if a little long-winded.
In order to do his job though, Phoenix Wright must gather the necessary evidence before and during a trial. One such way is by talking to different people and presenting items of interest to get some kind of reaction or critical detail that can be relied upon in court. As you’ll move from location to location, it’s also worth examining areas where the suspect works or the crime took place, as further evidence is often found via such method. The scouring of a place is very simplistic, with the magnifying glass shaped cursor making it known when there’s something worth clicking on. This isn’t the most exciting activity, it has to be said.
Whilst it won’t go amiss to remember what’s been found, everything important is added to a Court Record to refer to at any stage. You’ll be referring to it a lot once the sessions in court begin, for the trials are all about using the evidence to undo the lies and potential cover-ups. In the most part, you’re role is to listen to the prosecutor’s argument before cross-examining the testimonies of whoever is called to the stand. The options are limited to pressing them to elaborate on specific statements or to present contradicting proof against their claims. It’s very rewarding to piece things together and choose the right evidence, but there are penalties for incorrect claims and too many will see the judge find your client “GUILTY”!
As you progress through the cases, and advance through the trilogy, new features are introduced into proceedings; such as spraying crime scenes for blood and dusting for fingerprints. Despite being pretty basic actions, these still manage to keep the game moving forward alongside other little nuances that are added. The core gameplay remains the same though, so if you don’t enjoy one of the games, the rest won’t do anything remarkable to change that. What’s good to see however, are the over-arching storylines which run in conjunction with the cases at hand.
In terms of visuals, you wouldn’t realise the age of the three instalments as the hand-drawn artwork has been enhanced to a very respectable standard. The character designs are well defined and their attires are beaming with vibrancy to suit their often extravagant personalities. Even the locations have been improved, although some do suffer from being over-used and their blandness then comes to the forefront. As far as the audio is concerned, and well, the BGM sounds dated but it’s still able to create a tempo that fits the bill, thus adding to the atmosphere.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy isn’t a collection that’ll entice people in who lack patience and don’t enjoy reading reams of text, that’s for sure. For those who love their storytelling though, I’d challenge anyone to point me in the direction of a game that hooks them in with such a thrilling selection of tales as this does; the cast of characters help ensure there’s plenty of intrigue. Defending the clients and solving the mysteries feels incredibly satisfying, especially given how complex some of the cases can get. Sure, the activities to gather evidence won’t be too exciting and the familiar locations do get tiresome after a while, however it doesn’t detract from the overall experience too much.
I find Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy guilty of being a re-release that we very much need. It’s bloody great.