Though it may not have the cache of the likes of Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, or Street Fighter, Ace Attorney is still one of Capcom’s older franchises, and one that has seen a lot of success – both critical and commercial – throughout its lifespan. Ace Attorney, Justice for All, and Trials and Tribulations, the original trilogy of gleefully ridiculous courtroom dramas that started it all, has been released and re-released countless times since the first game launched on the Gameboy Advance in Japan back in 2001, and the results of these releases have, over the years, been mixed.
With Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, the first three games in the visual novel series have been re-released yet again, this time being brought over to modern consoles with the promise of crisp HD visuals, and the potential of finding all new and wider audiences. But have these nearly two decade-old games aged the way Capcom would have been hoping they would, or have they finally lost their charm? As anyone who’s played any of these games before would tell you- they’ve definitely not lost their charm.
"Have these nearly two decade old games aged the way Capcom would have been hoping they would, or have they finally lost their charm? As anyone who’s played any of these games before would tell you- they’ve definitely not lost their charm. "
The original Ace Attorney trilogy struck gold with how it approached the visual novel formula, perfectly balancing how much dialogue you had to read with how much interactivity the games offered, and the strength of that synergy hasn’t waned. Each of the games is structured in an episodic manner, presenting new cases and trials for Wright to wrestle with, and though the formula is generally unchanged across every episode, it is strong enough to constantly hold your interest.
Ace Attorney games are part courtroom dramas, part detective adventures, where you evaluate crime scenes to look for clues and information, talk to witnesses and persons of interest, and then take all the information you’ve gathered with you to the courtroom. The legal battles themselves are simple, but extremely fun- they’re presented more as games of logic than ordeals that require legal expertise, with Wright being required to find inconsistencies in testimonies (for the most part) and then strike them down with dramatic objections through the use of the evidence you’ve managed to gather so far.
As mentioned, it’s a simple formula on paper, but Ace Attorney games find great ways to keep things fresh and moving. Sometimes you might be required to present evidence that is flying directly in the face of an inaccurate statement, while at other times you could be required to present profiles of persons of interest to weaken the arguments or statements being made against your client. On paper, it’s a simple game of “match the following” (or the opposite, actually), but it hardly every gets old or monotonous.
"The original Ace Attorney trilogy struck gold with how it approached the visual novel formula, perfectly balancing how much dialogue you had to read with how much interactivity the games offered, and the strength of that synergy hasn’t waned."
That is also largely down to the writing- Ace Attorney is a series that embraces how stupid and ridiculous it is. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the judicial system would smile at how gleefully and purposefully ignorant Ace Attorney is of what makes for proper legal proceedings and courtroom conduct. It’s that very insistence on being silly that lends this series so much personality. Characters are, for the most part, very obviously either good or bad, and they’re all presented as eccentric personalities that seem to find just the right balance between being characters and being caricatures.
A byproduct of that is that the a lot of the potential challenge is lost. More often than not, you’ll be aware of where the case is going well ahead of time, and will have cracked it, waiting only for the game to present you with a scripted moment where you can present the single argument that you know is going to be the final nail in the coffin. But while it can be a tad frustrating to see the game taking so long to catch up with the obvious answer, the way you get to the moment is entertaining enough to keep it from being anything more than a momentary annoyance.
What helps is that every episode’s story – and as a result, the story of every game as a whole – is written strongly, and in a manner that will keep you engaged consistently. The characters are fun and endearing, and the way events unfold and cases play out is a joy to witness. It can go from being excessively melodramatic to slapstick funny to genuinely clever at a whim, and rarely do any of the games falter with any of those beats. Strength in writing is, for obvious reasons, the most important pillar holding up any visual novel, and Ace Attorney is very much aware of that fact.
"The characters are fun and endearing, and the way events unfold and cases play out is a joy to witness. It can go from being excessively melodramatic to slapstick funny to genuinely clever at a whim, and rarely do any of the games falter with any of those beats."
Though this is a great place for newcomers to jump in – or maybe even those who haven’t played the original Ace Attorney trilogy in a long time and might be looking to experience it all again – for those who’re familiar with the first three games, there’s little incentive here to come back. The obvious appeal of any remaster is, of course, touched up graphics, but Ace Attorney Trilogy doesn’t make a very strong case here. All three of the games have been brought over as is, but the lack of the originals’ art style hurts this package. It has been replaced by something that looks far less charming and seems to be lacking in the kind of excessive personality the rest of the games exhibit in spades. It doesn’t look bad by any means, but if wanting to see Phoenix Wright’s iconic finger pointing manoeuvres in HD was your primary motivation for getting Ace Attorney Trilogy, you may want to reconsider.
Although veterans may find it hard to jump on board with this offering, for everyone else, it’s as easy a recommendation as they come. Charming, witty, endearing, captivating, and never dull, Phoenix Wright’s courtroom sojourns pack every bit the (legal) punch now that they did almost two decades ago. Any opinion to the contrary merits a very loud and emphatic objection.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
The formula hasn't lost its charm; Endearing, well written characters; Snappy writing; Courtroom battles are fun and engaging.
Could have been more challenging; Not much new to offer; Art style feels a little bland.
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