The original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney can claim full responsibility for getting me into two things that continue to reign over my free time nearly a decade later: visual novels and murder mysteries.
Like many of you, I grabbed 2005's Ace Attorney on a whim, driven by the curiosity of how this so-called "lawyer simulator" would play out. After the first trial, an experience I expected to coast by on sheer novelty took complete hold of me with its lovable characters, well-crafted mysteries, fantastic localization, and a general ability to up the stakes just when things couldn't possibly get any crazier. We're far removed from those early days of the DS, but Phoenix Wright's appeal hasn't faded for me a bit: I've devoured nearly every game in the series to date (and fallen head-over-heels for similar games like Danganronpa and its sequel), and, when I'm not playing video games, my reading choices tend to gravitate towards the sort of locked-room mysteries Ace Attorney specializes in.
If, for some reason, all of this Ace Attorney stuff is new to you, allow me to explain: The series follows the crime-related adventures of Phoenix Wright, an affable goofball who, contrary to the punchline of most lawyer jokes, believes in justice first and foremost. And while the experience would still be worthwhile if Ace Attorney presented every case as being wholly unrelated to those surrounding it, the true strength of the series can be found in how the events of each installment gradually build to a stunning and satisfying finale—which usually leads to discovering the heart of gold beating beneath the icy exterior of Phoenix's current antagonist.
It's true that reading makes up the majority of the game play, but director/writer Shu Takumi has a knack for mixing the action up enough to prevent things from getting too stagnant. Throughout the course of any given chapter, you'll bounce between grilling suspects to investigating crime scenes to squaring off against hostile witnesses via the series' famous epic court battles. And, from the first sequel onwards, Ace Attorney adds a new feature which extends the evidence-presenting, contradiction-smashing action to locations outside of the courtroom, giving players a bit more to do. By the time you reach the end of any Phoenix Wright game, you'll have absorbed an hefty novel's worth of text, but the experience is far less passive than it sounds—really, there are few video game moments more satisfying than nailing some lying scumbag's ass to the wall using simple deductive reasoning.
As a whole, each game within the original Ace Attorney Trilogy is worth playing, but, like any long-running series, it has its ups and downs. The second installment in this collection, Justice for All, feels a bit aimless, and features a two-dimensional villain who came into creation due to some last-minute rewrites—this sequel originally had Miles Edgeworth (who went on to star in two spin-off games) playing the antagonist once again, but this changed late in the production when Takumi noticed the popularity of this character, and didn't want to throw him into the role of perpetual loser. If you can stomach the few issues of part two and make it to the finale, though, you'll be treated to one of the most fulfilling conclusions I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a video game, one that explores and ties up the many loose ends of Wright and the family of his constant companion, Maya Fey.
Thankfully, Capcom's Ace Attorney Trilogy presents these original games, for the most part, completely untouched, while making a few improvements that make perfect sense in hindsight. Like the recent Dual Destinies, you can now read all of the text at your own pace, rather than watching it play out with blips and bleeps accompanying letters slowly crawling across the screen—this may sound like a small change, but it easily shaves several unnecessary hours off of each game. The music and sound effects still retain those crunchy, hissy tones of the Game Boy Advance (where the series originated in Japan), though the graphics have received some minor retouches to bring them closer to more modern standards. Visuals never mattered all that much for Ace Attorney—with the DS versions I spent roughly 60-70 hours of my life staring at the same handful of animations with no real complaints—but the efforts here are kind of hit-and-miss, depending on what the artists had to work with. Phoenix, Edgeworth, and other assorted characters look great (despite their limited frames of animation), but with assets that never had too much definition to begin with, things can get a little wonky—the Judge's beard, for example, looks like someone went crazy on it with MS Paint's Airbrush tool.
Ultimately, I'd love for these game to be presented with the same level of visual fidelity as Dual Destinies—a game with some of the best traditional character animation I've seen in years—but, speaking realistically, the small Ace Attorney audience can't support such an ambitious endeavor. Still, it would have been nice if some of DD's inexpensive additions found their way into this collection: I really missed the ability to save without being booted to the title screen, for instance, and being able to look at the last 100-or-so lines of dialogue at my discretion. Regardless of these minor issues, it's incredibly hard to deny the sheer value of Ace Attorney Trilogy, or how well these games work when presented as a contiguous whole. If you've never experienced the series before, this Trilogy presents a great opportunity to dive into some of the best-written games of all time. And, if—like me—you haven't touched the original Ace Attorneys in years, jumping back into these twisted crime stories still makes for a worthwhile experience—even if you already know whodunnit.
Though they've received a bit of a refurbishment, Ace Attorney Trilogy's graphics aren't far removed from their early '00s origins. Thankfully, the small collection of animations provided for each character still manages to evoke an impressive amount of characterization.
The music and sound effect keep the low fidelity of the GBA originals, though the impossibly catchy (and, at times, moving) soundtrack more than makes up for it.
Input remains unchanged between the originals and the Trilogy—each game is perfectly playable with standard controls or the stylus.
Each Ace Attorney game is entirely linear, but there's a lot of content in this Trilogy—expect it to keep you busy for at least 50 hours.
I would have loved to see the original Ace Attorney games receive a more thorough makeover, but, realistically speaking, this Trilogy is the best we're going to get. That's okay, though, because Phoenix Wright's strength is in its writing, which has certainly held up over the past decade-or-so. If you've never tried your hand at Ace Attorney's brand of interactive crime fiction, this handy collection provides everything you need to become a die-hard fan of Capcom's spiky-haired lawyer.