I’m willing to admit that the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney changed my life. It was my first time trying a visual novel and was the game that introduced me to the greater Japanese video game industry. Without it I would have never played some of my favourite games of all time. This is also a testament to how influential the game is, spanning a series still going today, a ton of Japanese exclusive spin-offs and influencing titles, like Spike Chunsoft’s Zero Escape and Danganronpa series, and the visual novel genre as a whole. Its incredible writing and gameplay loop redefined how developers approached the genre, and while the main Phoenix Wright series hasn’t done much to evolve in recent entries, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy brings the series’ golden entries to modern consoles, including PC, PlayStation and Xbox platforms for the first time ever. The jury is out on whether Capcom’s newest port of these titles does them justice, so should newcomers jump into the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy?
The first entry in the Ace Attorney series follows protagonist Phoenix Wright, a rookie defence attorney, as he fumbles his way through court to deem his clients innocent, joined by his assistant and mentor’s sister, Maya Fey, and rivaled by prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. The genius of this original title isn’t only its perfect introduction to its cast and world or its incredible charm and hilarious writing, but it’s also the underlying sub-narrative that slowly develops between Phoenix and Edgeworth as the story progresses, culminating in a final case (not counting the bonus fifth case) that helped define just how excellently series creator and writer Shu Takumi could handle shifting from a chaotic and light-hearted tone to an immediately serious and emotional one. Seriously, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney will have your heart racing and eyes watering one minute…and cross-examining a parrot the next.
While the prospect of fulfilling the role of a lawyer may not immediately sound like the most exciting video game, especially given the bumbling incompetence of Phoenix at first, the Ace Attorney series is so beloved for both its aforementioned fantastic writing and tonal control as well as its rewarding and challenging cross-examination and investigation gameplay systems. Cross-examining a witness in Ace Attorney involves initially listening to a statement provided by them in court, followed by pressing each part of it for more information or matching what the witness has said up with the evidence the player has in their court record (a sort of evidence inventory) and matching it up with the contradicting statement. As each entry in the series progresses, these sections get more and more difficult; however, the player isn’t heavily penalized for failure, instead they’re just made to reload their most recent save, which is hardly a negative since you’re able to save at any time in the game. The investigation sequences work how they would in other titles of this nature, you simply interview witnesses or persons of interest and examine the areas relevant to each case for clues. These are two tried and true elements that have defined the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series for almost two decades now, and while more recent entries in the series have attempted to add more features on top of them to mixed reception, this gameplay format has and will endure for as long as this series exists.
The sequels included in this package, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney- Trials and Tribulations, help to introduce more characters and offer new and intriguing cases to the series, but if you ask me, the series has never been able to top its initial entry. While I’m quite fond of Trials and Tribulations and would easily call it the second best in the series, I’m more mixed on Justice for All, the second game in this collection. While I love Justice for All’s new rival prosecutor, Franziska von Karma, and Phoenix’s new assistant and Maya’s cousin, Pearl Faye, the game seems to favour the series’ more wacky sense of humour throughout the game up until the final case, which is by far the longest portion of the game and feels like a complete tonal departure from the rest of the game up until that point. This would be fine if the cases before were at least fun, but I’m just generally not as fond of them as I am of the ones in the first or third games, with Justice for All’s third case, Turnabout Big Top, being one of the lowest points in the series. However, for all that the second entry falls short on, the third entry, Trials and Tribulations, more than makes up for it, diving more into the past of Phoenix and his mentor, Mia, and wrapping the original trilogy up in a satisfying way (that later entries would go on to undermine). The games also make it a point to reference events and characters from previous entries, with some surprisingly reappearing in the sequels, so definitely make it a point to try each entry even if some cases are definitely more enjoyable and well written than others.
These entries in the Ace Attorney series are some of the most ported Capcom titles in the publisher’s history, initially starting on the Game Boy Advance in Japan and not making it to English-speaking countries until they were released on the DS a few years later, then initially hitting consoles as Wiiware downloadable titles, which have since been de-listed, then finally releasing on the iOS, Android and 3DS with ‘HD remasters’, which are the versions that have now found their way onto PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. While the original GBA, DS and Wii versions used the original pixel-art visuals, these ‘remasters’ now have completely remade artwork and animations made for HD displays, and while most of the backgrounds retain their original charm and design, stretched out on a 1080p display the character portraits can certainly look uninspired and lifeless, especially compared to the pixel-art counterparts. Part of me wishes Capcom had opted to port both the Wiiware and HD versions over to this release so that players could choose between a 4:3 aspect ratio but with the original art style or these new drawings and animations as purists who prefer the pixel-art like myself would much rather play the games with the original artwork, even if it meant compromising the game’s 16:9 aspect ratio. While the new artwork has grown on me a small bit with time, especially played on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld screen where it’s less emphasized, I would have appreciated the option to switch between the two a lot more.
The adaptation of these games from Game Boy Advance and DS has come a long way, however, and these versions of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney titles seem far more like full remakes than simple ports as the entire user interface and HUD have been re-imagined for home consoles, and previously touch screen-exclusive elements, like portions of the first game’s bonus case, have been completely re-contextualized for use with a traditional controller. However, it is worth mentioning that the Nintendo Switch version allows full use of the touch screen, should the player find that more convenient. Another thing worth mentioning is that the soundtracks for all three titles have fortunately been left completely untouched, as they are some of the greatest soundtracks you will find in a video game ever. All three were composed by separate artists as not to get repetitive, and they help retain Ace Attorney’s amazing balance in tone while also generally being brilliant pieces of video game scores in their own right. The series’ ‘Cornered’ compositions have gone down in history as some of the most excellently dramatic pieces of music in a game and understandably so; the games just would not be the same without them. It’s just frustrating that Capcom didn’t implement some features from their previous collections, such as the art and music galleries found in the Mega Man Legacy Collections and Devil May Cry HD Collection so that these could not be enjoyed separately from the games and justify the title’s price tag to returning fans.
Despite some low points in the second game, and this being one of Capcom’s more underwhelming collections in a while, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is an easy recommendation to series newcomers and those who are new to the visual novel genre as a whole. These games are absolutely timeless, and this release preserves them excellently for modern consoles, especially with the handheld capabilities of Nintendo Switch. I only wish Capcom had included the option to revert to the original visuals, but regardless, what you get here is more or less the same Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney experience, and it’s hard to not recommend the golden era of one of Capcom’s best franchises.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 9th April 2019