The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is making a souped-up return to form on consoles everywhere. Now's the perfect time to get busy in court!
As the name suggests, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a bundle of three games in Capcom’s long-standing franchise about being a lawyer who enthusiastically disagrees with everyone all the time. If you weren’t able to deduce that at first glance, then you might just want to forgo these titles completely.
Much like being a practicing lawyer, the Phoenix Wright games involve little to no guesswork or intuitive leaps that can’t be explained. This trilogy is firmly grounded in detective work, courtroom etiquette, and a hardcore puzzle background. The piece de resistance, however, is the wacky and wild veneer that it wears with aplomb.
The Ace Attorney trilogy is a collection of the first three mainline games in the expansive series: the original Ace Attorney, the divisive Justice For All, and Trials and Tribulations. The titles have been given a visual overhaul which gives them a very current feel in terms of the quality of the graphics. While there are a number of other Phoenix Wright games out there which may be well more known now after enjoying some popularity on consoles like the 3DS, this bundle is definitely the last word when it comes to content and getting the most well-rounded experience.
The games play out very much like the cross-section of a point and click adventure game and a visual novel. Add one part anime tropes, and shake well to mix. This is potentially most noticeable in Trials and Tribulations, which is as mechanically polished and coherent as any finale should be. The central conceit in basically any Phoenix Wright game is simple: you’re the namesake lawyer, and your job is to MacGyver your way out of some of the world’s most absurd legal situations.
Forget what you know about the law from watching Suits or any other dramatization where court appears to be about two, wildly attractive opponents exchanging clever words in measured voices. Phoenix Wright is chaos, and you have to embrace it if you really want to enjoy it.
Ever wanted to solve a case that went from identity theft to blackmail to multiple homicides all in the space of one day in court? Ever thought to yourself, “Gee, NCIS would be so much more interesting if someone on the force was a spirit medium”? The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy has answers to both the above and more. It’s hard to top a murder case as your cold open, but if there’s one thing that these Capcom titles are good at doing it’s an admirable job at trying to consistently up the ante.
One should note that making sense of Phoenix Wright’s overarching narrative is difficult when it spans multiple games in the trilogy and most of it is garnered through interacting with these elaborate cases that have dramatic twists. Each title is split up into a number of seemingly unconnected cases that lead up to a shocking climax and a reveal that links them all. Given that the subject matter and the crimes are often vastly disparate, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that getting to the end of what a Phoenix Wright game is trying to tell you often involves a major suspension of belief.
Luckily, you’ll likely find yourself too wrapped up in the brightly-colored minutiae of the courtroom experience to actually wonder whether or not solving a case about a masked jester actually advances Phoenix Wright’s personal plotline in any way. After each game’s tutorial, you’re left largely to your own devices as case after bizarre case gets thrown your way. There’s a familiar pattern to the proceedings in each of the episodes making up their own segment of the game: you investigate, proceed to trial, and get thrown a curveball, and repeat till your client’s found Not Guilty.
An investigation is a mix of talking to suspects, key figures, and collecting evidence from a crime scene. Note: none of these are things that you do as a practicing lawyer. You’ll have the chance to tighten the screws on people from Justice For All onwards which introduces an interrogatory system known as Psyche-Locks, allowing you to target the core of what someone may be hiding from you before you head to court. However, once you’re in front of the judge, some of the more recognizable Phoenix Wright clichés come into play.
If you’ve been on the internet in the last decade, you’re probably familiar with Phoenix Wright’s famous pose – one arm extended, finger pointed at someone invisible rival, and “Objection” emblazoned across the screen. You’re going to see this sight a hell of a lot in across these three games, whether it’s coming from the player or from the prosecution, so you better get used to it. The courtroom procedure can be boiled down to two distinct parts: cross-examining, and presenting evidence. No points for guessing which of the two involves a healthy degree of objecting.
As mentioned above, the court system used in Phoenix Wright is a beast of what seems to be America (based on the game’s bastardized fantasy location) and Japan’s various formalities with a hearty helping of irreverence. No matter how inaccurate, the back and forth in the courtroom is frankly electrifying even though it’s punctuated by long swathes of the player pouring over the mountain of evidence at hand and wondering how best to nail the true culprit.
You’ll get the opportunity for said nailing during the cross-examination phase: after the game’s given you a pass at a person’s monologue, allowing you to formulate some initial thoughts about guilt and about what their weak points might be. As they deliver their testimony again, you can either choose to press them for further detail or to object heartily.
Be warned, though. More often than not, you’ll be asked to back up your misgivings with some evidence and failing to do so will dock you points with the judge. Lose enough of these, evidenced by a health bar at the top of the screen, and you’re cooked. Being kicked back an hour or so because of a courtroom fumble can be frustrating, so it’s good that the PS4 version allows you to save pretty much at any point in the game; solving the latest murder puzzle is only a reload away.
Surviving in this courtroom about being attentive, alert, and quick to trust your gut when you smell a rat. Sure, you may have your fair share of misfires early on, but that’s also part of the charm of Phoenix Wright – it examines so many fallible characters through a humorous and humanistic lens and treats your own failings the same way, which stops you from being discouraged.
That being said, it can be exceedingly hard to keep track of what you’ve presented and what the various stories are, especially when characters make repeated appearances across episodes and the complexity of information becomes incredibly daunting in each game’s final case. It can be hard to follow for even veterans, so don’t be ashamed if you find yourself resorting to a guide – there’s no right way to play this game, so long as the culprit is caught.
All in all, it’s really in the way that the sum of all of Phoenix Wright’s parts comes together for a campy, thrilling time. The individual mechanics are serviceable enough on their own, but it’s within the wider tapestry of the zany plot, the off-the-wall characters, and the way that the game turns everything you know about cases you’re just about to close on its head which keep things fresh in a franchise that’s about two decades old. Those who have been Ace Attorney fans won’t regret picking this up again, and if you’re a virgin to the series then this is one of the best introductions you’re ever going to get.
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is out now on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4. Screen Rant was provided with a PlayStation 4 code for the purposes of this review.