You’d be forgiven if you missed out on the Ace Attorney trilogy, which debuted in English on the Nintendo DS way back in 2005. (It was previously a Japan-exclusive GBA series dating to 2001.) After all, the games are pretty weird. They star a spiky-haired defense attorney in what is best described as “Law & Order but anime.” Not only does that ridiculous-sounding premise work, but the series is quite possibly the best example of an ongoing crime drama in all of gaming. It’s strange and silly, sweet and charming, and now it’s the best possible time to play.
This week, Capcom released the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy on the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, a remastered version of the first (and best) three games in the series. The games are almost entirely the same as when they first launched, but without the additional DS second screen and cleaned-up visuals that make it look like a slick anime rather than a pixelated handheld game.
Genre-wise, Ace Attorney is probably best labeled a visual novel, which means that much of the experience is spent talking to characters and reading lots of text. But this isn’t the chore it might sound like: the writing is sharp and hilarious, and the localization holds up remarkably well considering how old these games are. It’s the kind of story where your assistant is a budding spirit medium who has a constant craving for hamburgers, and you have to deal with grumpy witnesses who won’t stop calling you a whippersnapper. You’ll go up against a prosecutor who wields whips in court and another who chugs coffee while wearing a futuristic eye mask. There are some moments that make the games feel a bit dated in 2019 — like a TV producer who talks exclusively in lolspeak — but mostly, it still works well.
Like an episode of Law & Order, each chapter is divided into two main parts: first you investigate the crime, gathering clues and talking to witnesses, and then you spend the day in court. The investigative sequences are generally pretty straightforward, but the courtroom scenes are where the game really shines. There’s something incredibly satisfying about cross-examining a witness and spotting a seemingly tiny contradiction that upends the entire case. Watching witnesses visibly unravel as you poke holes in their story is one of the game’s great thrills.
That said, the Ace Attorney games do use some weird video game logic at times, so I’d definitely recommend keeping a walkthrough handy. Even after playing these games multiple times, I still find myself getting stuck when I revisit them.
There have been more modern Ace Attorney games, but the original trilogy remains the series’s high point. They tell a story that, while it goes a bit off the rails in later chapters, is tightly interconnected, with each game building off the last. The fact that it’s so cohesive feels like a minor miracle considering it wasn’t originally planned that way. “The decision to make a sequel was handed down to us around the time we were wrapping up the first game,” Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi recently wrote. “In fact, we were told, ‘Why not make it a trilogy?’ This... really stressed me out, personally, because I’d just spent all of my ideas on the first game.”
But it does all come together in the end, and what’s great about the new collection is that you can experience the story in its entirety. The remastered games look great on a big-screen TV, but I highly recommend the Switch version. Ace Attorney was designed as a portable game, and it’s best experienced that way, as if you were playing through a great crime novel — one that involves ancient spirits, clueless judges, and a never-ending supply of inexplicable plot twists.
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy is available now on Xbox One, PS4, and Switch.