Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Published by Jack Taylor August 28, 2016
There'll be no objection to this fantastic compilation, and we can present the evidence to prove it.
Ace Attorney has been at the forefront of digital offerings on Nintendo 3DS for the past couple of years, and its sixth main entry - Spirit of Justice - is coming to the West in September, shortly before the series' 15th anniversary. It might not have made its English debut until four years later, but in Japan, the first game launched for the Game Boy Advance in October 2001, and was followed by two sequels over the next three years. For more recent fans of the series who missed out on its humble beginnings, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy aims to satisfy the need by bringing the first three games - Ace Attorney, Justice For All, and Trials and Tribulations - together in the same digital package.
Ace Attorney focuses on the titular Phoenix Wright, a newbie lawyer in the first instalment who defends clients in court, all of whom have been accused of and charged with murder. It's up to defence attorney Phoenix to prove their innocence, against a range of ruthless prosecutors whose sole aim is to confirm their guilt. Phoenix has a habit of taking on clients who seemingly have little to no chance of winning their freedom, but with a range of allies and supporting characters all playing vital roles, every case is as winnable as the last.
There are two types of gameplay in each case: the court sessions, in which you'll fight for your clients' freedom; and investigations, during which you'll visit locations including the crime scene, and talk to people who are somehow involved either with the deceased, with your client, or by some other obscure manner. These investigations are key, as you'll find evidence to take to court, and by talking to as many people as possible, you'll eventually uncover the truth behind their involvement in the case and the events that took place prior. Many of these people will also end up as witnesses in court, and your job will be to pick apart their testimonies, find the flaws, and present evidence at just the right time to prove their lies and get the truth out - often in the most dramatic possible manner.
Part of what makes the first Ace Attorney game so charming is its very understated beginning. You're very quickly introduced to Phoenix and his mentor Mia Fey, as Phoenix is very quickly thrust into his first ever court case under Mia's guidance. It's a relatively simple first case and a great introduction into the series' gameplay and tone, although once the case is over, the story really takes the limelight for the first time, as interludes between cases will often throw something up that's important to the game's overall storyline; this seldom becomes part of court cases, but is finely woven through the game nonetheless. The first game's major characters alongside Phoenix and Mia are Miles Edgeworth - a prosecutor and childhood friend of Phoenix - and Maya Fey, Mia's younger sister, both of whom play key roles throughout.
The same can be said for the two sequels, Justice For All and Trials and Tribulations - each has story elements to it, but court cases usually stand as separate entities, although some do hark back to previous storyline elements and cases, which means it's clearly a good idea to play them in their intended sequence. The gameplay of each also remains very similar, although Justice For All introduces a mechanic called psyche-locks, in which Phoenix can see physical locks when somebody is hiding something; when this happens, it's up to you to get to the truth by presenting evidence to them which will help them to open up about important subjects. In the sequels, character profiles can be presented to people in the same way as evidence, meaning cases and psyche-locks can provide a little more depth to your investigations.
When presenting evidence or character profiles during a court case, making an incorrect presentation will incur a penalty from the judge, and you're only allowed a certain number of these before losing the case and having to start over from the last major point in the episode. Early on in each of the games, presenting evidence can be relatively simple, making it easier to progress through cases without incurring too many penalties, but later cases can require slightly more obscure interjections, which can sometimes be a little out of left-field. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if you didn't incur penalties, but particularly when you're pretty far into a case with only one or two penalties allowing, it can be tempting just to jump to the nearest guide for the answer, lest you have to restart that segment of proceedings. Even so, these things are normally pretty cut-and-dry, and it's purely the nature of the games that they require as much thought.
Each of the three games in the collection has been updated to fit the 3DS's almost-widescreen top screen with 3D visuals to match, although the visual style remains otherwise untouched. Because the games were originally developed for the Game Boy Advance, the gameplay doesn't make a great of use out of the touch screen, utilising it mainly for going through evidence or profiles, although you can opt to use the microphone to scream "Objection!" at the top of your lungs rather than tapping a boring old button, which is a cool touch. The only real exception is the fifth case in the first game, which was added for the Nintendo DS remake and makes much greater use of the touch screen. While this is a very nice addition and an interesting gameplay mechanic, the lack of it in the other games doesn't sully the experience, and despite some being better than others - Justice For All is many fans' favourite of the three - they all provide a great experience in their original forms.
One of the high points of the trilogy lies in the script, without any doubt; each game is superbly written and, they can be as funny as they are dramatic in many situations. When you consider the difficulty of localising these games from their original Japanese versions as well, the high quality of the writing is a triumph in and of itself. In fact, for bilingual gamers, the Japanese versions of the three games are also included within the package, and there are a number of minor (and not-so-minor) differences between them due to the localisation efforts. If you don't read or speak an iota of Japanese, this makes no difference, but it will likely be a very welcome addition for those who do. The script is complemented by an excellent soundtrack as well, again retained in its original form rather than being re-recorded, and the dramatic pieces really do help to set the tone often throughout the stories.
What makes the release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy interesting is that it comes after the release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies, the fifth game in the main series, on Nintendo 3DS. For many people, Dual Destinies will have been their introduction to the series, and while it does far exceed the originals from a technical standpoint, the trilogy still stands up today, and anyone who enjoyed Dual Destinies should certainly look into this collection, which is a steal price-wise when you consider the content that's included. For anyone who's already completed all three games, there's nothing new here, so your money is probably better kept for other games unless you want to experience them all over again. They're definitely worth experiencing over and over again, and would make an excellent addition to any collection.
The Nintendo Channel would like to thank Capcom for providing a copy of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy to review.