Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishment that comes from proving someone else wrong, right? Capcom’s Ace Attorney Trilogy captures this experience into a game, while also adding a generous helping of lovable characters and interesting twists. The Ace Attorney Trilogy originally released on the Gameboy Advanced between 2001 and 2004. Although the trilogy has already seen several re-releases in its lifetime, in April, the series saw its first release onto current-generation consoles with the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. This trilogy includes the first three Ace Attorney games with updated graphics and quality-of-life improvements.
You play as rookie lawyer Phoenix Wright, who learns the ins and outs of being a lawyer throughout the series. Overall, your goal is to prove your client innocent while simultaneously uncovering the truth of each case. You do this by finding contradictions between witness testimonies and the evidence. You can’t trust anyone who testifies — everyone has something to hide, and it’s your goal to prove they’re lying with the facts of the case.
The gameplay is rather simple. Ace Attorney Trilogy alternates between two phases — investigations and courtroom proceedings. During investigations, you gather information to help your client’s case. This includes examining the scene of the crime, searching for evidence and speaking to witnesses and detectives. You also have the ability to show the witnesses evidence you find, which helps you get further to understanding what really happened. Although this sounds like a boring task at first, there’s a lot to discover at the crime scenes, including witty flavor text from the characters, which encourage players to examine every inch of the scene. On top of that, with the Ace Attorney Trilogy’s unique and quirky cast of characters, talking to witnesses can never be boring. You never know who you’re going to have to deal with, whether it’s an ex-detective selling lunch boxes or a ventriloquist who only speaks through his vulgar puppet.
The investigation portions of the game have two more interactive elements that occasionally play a role in uncovering evidence. The first is the forensics investigation portions, which is only available at the end of the first game. In this, players can dust for fingerprints and reveal bloodstains at crime scenes. The latter two games of the trilogy do not feature this type of investigation; instead, they have an additional investigation feature called “Psyche-Locks.” This feature lets players expose a witness’ secrets by piecing together the story from the collected evidence. The Psyche-Locks are a bit confusing at first, as the game does not tell you right away that you may not have all the information you need right away to finish that portion, and it penalizes you for presenting the wrong evidence. But, once I figured that out, they became a very good way to end an investigation day, as they were a fantastic tool for curating the order in which the player learned the information.
The forensics investigation was for the most part enjoyable, but the sensitivity of some of the controls for certain parts just became a frustration. For example, in one case, you have to adjust the shape of a piece of evidence to match a silhouette. What the game considered a match was very specific, and the position reset each time, making this part take much longer than it should. Even after looking up a picture of the way the shape was supposed to look in the game, it still took me upwards of 20 minutes fiddling with this one part to finally get on with the case. However, this part is only included in one case out of all three of the games, so it was only a rather minor problem in the end.
As for the courtroom, the witnesses present their testimonies to the court, and you must cross-examine them to find their flaws. After the witness gives their testimony, it is the player’s job to zero in on the statements that don’t match the evidence Phoenix had collected during the investigation. With the testimonies, you have the option to press the witness for more information or to present contradicting evidence, which causes the witness to change their testimony. This process can continue for quite a bit, as some witnesses have a lot of lies to see through. The case continues with you chipping away at untruthful testimonies until no more new information can be learned from that particular witness, or until the truth finally comes out.
Each case has you cracking multiple falsehoods from a variety of witnesses, and can last for up to three in-game days (or a couple hours of real-life time), depending on the complexity of the cases. This part of the game where the challenge comes in — you have to prove what happened! The Ace Attorney Trilogy is usually very forgiving, giving the player multiple chances to try and find the solution. Sometimes, other characters might even give hints if the player can’t immediately find the contradiction. The player has to be confident in their evidence, and can’t just accuse on a whim. If you present something that doesn’t reveal a contradiction, you get penalized. After messing up a certain number of times, the judge will throw away your argument and proclaim you client guilty, so tread carefully!
I found that for the most part, the game gave you enough information to have the average player be able to figure out the contradictions without too much of an issue. The contradictions were usually fairly straightforward in comparison to the evidence, and could be picked up on just by really thinking through the information for the case. However, there were just a few instances where some sort of outside knowledge was needed (I remember one case stumping me that needed me to know some specifics about baseball gloves that I did not know), or the information was given to you, but perhaps in a convoluted way. These moments can be frustrating (and make you feel like an idiot if you missed something obvious!), but are peppered liberally throughout the game, so the player doesn’t always feel completely stuck for an entire case.
Courtroom mode also has some moments where the player must interact with the evidence — usually in the form of pointing out a specific part of a photograph that contradicts the information presented for the case. Ace Attorney Trilogy is not too picky in this selection, and as long as the player points out the general area of concern, you can progress in the trial. In a few cases, I picked out something incorrect but located close to where the real inconsistency was, and the game treated it as if I had actually presented the correct part. These are usually fairly simple contradictions as well, and obvious once again if the player really just examines the information already given to them.
While the gameplay is very fast-paced, engaging and satisfying to prove people wrong, what really made me love the Ace Attorney Trilogy are the stories and characters. All of the characters are well-rounded and unique – even the ones with very little screen time. Throughout its cases, the trilogy tells the overarching stories of Phoenix Wright, his friends, and his rivals. These characters have fantastic development, and I became invested in their personal growth. Even the prosecutors that begin as Phoenix’s enemies are not just static forces of opposition — they each have their own story arcs where they learn that there’s more to a court case than the verdict. Some even end up teaming up with Phoenix on a few occasions
Ace Attorney Trilogy‘s writing also does a great job balancing the seriousness of a courtroom environment with humor and absurdity. Whether it’s Phoenix’s sarcastic quips when dealing with a particularly quirky witness, or the absolutely ridiculous methods to uncover the truth in the courtroom, there’s always something to make you chuckle while playing. This doesn’t mean the game has no serious moments; after all, it is a courtroom drama, and there are some pretty gruesome murders and emotional revelations. Ace Attorney Trilogy does not shy away from incorporating a lighthearted tone into such a grave subject. This gives the Ace Attorney Trilogy such a unique atmosphere compared to other crime stories and courtroom dramas, which focus on staying dark, gritty and serious. I can also appreciate good (and bad) puns, of which this game has plenty. Most of the witnesses feature very punny names that hint to the role they play, like Frank Sahwit the witness and Wendy Oldbag the, well, long-winded old bag.
While there were no new cases, Capcom did revamp the art in Ace Attorney Trilogy, from pieces of evidence to the characters. This is the first port of the game to have a significantly changed art style. The revamped graphics give Ace Attorney Trilogy a more modern look while keeping the charm of the originals.
Ace Attorney Trilogy added another quality of life improvement in the evidence search function. In the prior ports, while searching a scene for information or evidence, the player could not see which parts of the scene they had and had not already checked, leading to players overlooking vital evidence. To combat this, this port adds a way for players to see where they have already checked, making it so important discoveries are not missed. This was a very helpful addition and allows the players to be more thorough in their investigations, even while not always knowing exactly where to look.
My main issue with this port is that although the game is updated in many ways, Ace Attorney Trilogy still does not feature a text log. The latter few games in the series include a way to view text again, but this feature still has not been retrofitted into any of the remakes of the original games. And yes, while the witness cross-examination portions of the game let the player reread previous bits of text for more careful consideration, it is simply not enough. A fair bit of play time is spent investigating the crime scene and speaking with involved parties. The information you learn from these investigations are vital to understanding what really happened, and without a way to view text, can be easily missed. In the Nintendo Switch version of the game, touching the screen advances the text in handheld mode, so even something as simple as wiping the screen or putting the console down wrong could potentially cost the player crucial information needed to succeed in the trial portion of the game.
Though the game mechanics had some minor flaws, they did not subtract from my overall enjoyment of the game. I had a great time playing the Ace Attorney Trilogy, and cannot recommend it enough. With the characters, the game’s humor, and cases riddled with surprises, there was never a dull moment while I played the Ace Attorney Trilogy.