Save State Has Three Times the Fun With the Ace Attorney Trilogy

Welcome back to Save State, where our attorneys always have to be aces. I’m sure that someone out there is dealing with legal issues, so what better time is there to play the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy? It’s been quite a number of years since I last played some of the later Ace Attorney games, as I played through Apollo Justice, Dual Destinies, and Spirit of Justice a single time each and then never returned to them again. Considering a collection just released last month with all of them, I figured what a great time to continue to ignore my voluminous backlog and try a new-old title!

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a compilation of three games: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. These are the fourth, fifth, and sixth mainline games in the Ace Attorney series, respectively. I was a tremendous fan of the first three Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney titles when I was younger, and if I’m not mistaken, these were the first visual novels I actually ever played. The Ace Attorney series kicked off a lifelong love for visual novels, very similar to Super Mario RPG kickstarting my love for RPGs.

The Ace Attorney series, for those unfamiliar, is a series of detective-style visual novels where you play as a defense attorney, defending your clients accused of murder and finding the true culprit along the way. You play through investigation segments first, where you talk to a colorful cast of characters and gather evidence. After doing your investigation, you’re thrust into the courtroom where you do battle with a prosecutor, slinging objections and evidence to expose witnesses lying in their testimony, oftentimes bluffing your way to the truth behind a murder mystery plot. The games are all very engaging, and some of the plots will have you on the edge of your seat if you allow yourself to get invested.

When Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney released many years ago, I didn’t quite know what to think of it. Apparently, Shu Takumi, the creator and writer for the series, intended for Ace Attorney to end with the third game, Trials and Tribulations. When pressured by Capcom to make a fourth one, he decided that a new protagonist would be necessary, since Phoenix Wright went from a fresh from the bar exam attorney to a genius defense lawyer that’s capable of bluffing his way through the most complicated murder plots.

The new protagonist, Apollo Justice, is a young man with a keen eye and very spiky hair (at least in the front), and the very first person he needs to defend in court is… Phoenix Wright. That’s right, the previous titular ace attorney fell from grace, having apparently used forged evidence during a trial some seven years before the start of the fourth game. Phoenix, for the seven years after being disbarred, became a father to an orphaned girl named Trucy, and took up playing piano and poker to pay the bills.

The first game in the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a fun one, though it has some glaring problems. I was an immense fan of the first three Ace Attorney titles, and a large part of that is due to Phoenix Wright as a protagonist. Seeing him fall to what has commonly been called “Hobo Phoenix” had quite an impact on how I interpreted Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and its story.

The game, itself, has many more serious characters which is a far cry from the spirit mediums and Furio Tigres of the original trilogy, and those more serious characters have more difficulty balancing the humor in the story, causing a lot of it to fall flat. Compound this with prosecutor Klavier Gavin who is generally just a good guy, and you don’t even have the usual antagonism from the prosecutor’s bench to deliver humor in the middle of the courtroom.

The cases in the first title of this trilogy are a mixed bag, as well. Replaying through the first case of the game, Turnabout Trump, I was able to enjoy this introductory case much more this second time around, and I think it might just be the absolute best tutorial case in the entire franchise. The game begins with Apollo defending Phoenix in court with Apollo’s new mentor helping him along to present evidence, press the witness, and so on. Then, partway through the case, Phoenix switches into the mentor role and guides Apollo through the rest of the case. During a pivotal moment, they even play the objection theme from the very first Ace Attorney title, signaling to the player that this is a passing of the torch.

I felt the remaining cases were a mixed bag, with one having glaring inconsistencies once you have all the information to solve the crime and think back on it (I would go as far as to say that there are plot holes). The fourth case, however, is a real surprise in that it has ramifications for the entire justice system in the Ace Attorney world – no doubt inspired by current events in real world Japan which was shifting to a lay-judge system, itself.

The thing is, upon finishing Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, I felt more like this would have been more appropriately titled Phoenix Wright: From the Ashes, instead. All throughout every case Apollo is working on in his debut game, Phoenix is somewhere in the background, working on some project that ultimately winds up stealing the spotlight from Apollo during the climax in his own debut. This decision was bold, to say the least, and even replaying it this many years later, it still strikes me as a strange narrative choice.

The stories of the cases aside, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney uses a number of fun gimmicks for its investigation and courtroom segments. In Turnabout Serenade, for example, you’ll need to watch a video recording of Klavier’s musical performance (likely multiple times- I remember this being painful on the DS version where you couldn’t skip text, but it’s more bearable in this collection), and even use a sound mixing board to uncover some useful truths for when you go into the courtroom to defend the clients. While in court, Apollo has his own mid-trial gimmick: Perception.

During court segments, Apollo’s vision is astute enough that he can perceive minor tells a person may exhibit while telling a lie. These vision portions of the court trials are actually pretty involved and interesting, and usually break open the way for Apollo to expose that a witness has been lying. While in perceive mode, the witness reiterates their testimony while you look for things like grabbing the cuff of their sleeve, an eye twitch, things of that nature. The only real problems with the perceive system are that it isn’t anywhere near as satisfying as revealing a contradiction in witness testimony, and in the original DS game, it was incredibly slow to go back through the testimony this way.

All in all, replaying Apollo Justice this many years later gave me a stronger appreciation for the first and final cases of the game, though I still think the middle of the title is very weak. This is definitely an Ace Attorney game that is either for invested fans of the series, or a good starting point for those who have never played ones with Phoenix Wright. It plays simply and nearly identically to the first three Ace Attorney titles, but with some new gimmicks in and out of the courtroom to spice things up a little bit.

That being said, I think it’s time to bring this entry of Save State to a close. Join me again in the next couple weeks when I’ll likely continue playing through the Ace Attorney series with Dual Destinies, also part of the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

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