Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
HOLD IT! It's been over a decade since Phoenix Wright hit the legal scene with a slightly absurd mix of inner monologues, overwrought clients and kooky criminals. The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy collects the first three such outings for modern consoles and PC, but has time served the games well or should we lock them up and throw away the key? Before anyone condemns Mr Wright, Maya, Miles Edgeworth or any of the company they keep to video gaming's history books and the dark corners of our memory, it's time to raise an OBJECTION! and state a case for their return to the public eye.
As you might expect given the title of the package, the focus of Ace Attorney Trilogy is playing the role of a legal aid and using a combination of evidence, questioning and deductive reasoning to prove the innocence of your client in court. More than that, you're put directly into the shoes of the titular Phoenix Wright, a fresh faced defender of the innocent. Played out with a combination of text and sparse animation, tangled crime stories unfold that require you to remember vital information, spot inconsistencies and collect obscure evidence so that you're ready when your client reaches court, loaded up with counterpoints for anything the prosecutor might throw at you.
Cases begin with scenes of the crime in question - flashes of events you're duty bound to learn more about and dissect. What follows varies case by case, with the earliest ones in each game being pseudo-tutorials that lead you by the nose through the process of checking evidence, questioning witnesses in court and using the details of your evidence and character testimony to counterpoint, undermine or otherwise refute any accusation or assertions that hang over your client. Later cases become far more involved, featuring extended pre-court sessions of evidence collection and witness questioning, alongside many twists and turns in the courtroom itself. Motivations become muddy and the seemingly guilty reveal reasons for acting so suspiciously in such ways that leave you second guessing your own reasoning.
With questioning and evidence gathering being so much of the focus in terms of what could be loosely called gameplay, the quality of writing to tell the tale needs to be top notch and it's safe to say that, even over a decade after release, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is as amusing, silly and ultimately affecting as it ever was. While events and the characters caught up in them are often slightly absurd, the crimes they commit are not. It's a fine line to tread, taking such serious real world matters and presenting them as entertaining narratives and these games perform the high wire act wonderfully. Seemingly bizarre characters take narrative twists and turns that can leave you full of empathy for a situation that at first glance is beyond any sane person. Others with more mundane appearances might well twist to become monsters by the time you're done with your questioning and the truth is outed. There's little that's predictable or cliche about the way these stories play out.
One minor point that I think is worth making is that the English localization for the series was made with the US audience in mind and occasionally it shows. One key piece of evidence in the first case of the second game, Justice for All, involves a baseball glove and the expectation that the player will know the rules of the game well enough to glance at the equipment and implicitly know that the person who uses it is left handed. There aren't many instances of such cultural specifics, but it's worth noting that they might be an unintended stumbling block for those outside the USA. If nothing else, it could even serve as a little extra challenge for those of us who, having grown up steeped in American entertainment, have this kind of info tucked away in the less trodden corners of our memories.
In combination, the three games included in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy will easily take days to finish, with the cases in each taking hours at time, escalating in complexity as each passes. Fans who have long forgotten the details of the cases they worked through years ago and new players alike are going to find a lot to like about this new version, with improved, HD graphics, better quality sound and a refined interface all coming together to make a solidly entertaining look back at a classic and unusual series. When it comes to wasting time with unsatisfying stories or under-delivering on content, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy gets a resounding NOT GUILTY from me.