Visual novels can be very hit-and-miss at times. Without the right story and dialogue married to the correct balance of interactivity from the player, they can too often descend into dull melodramas where player agency is reduced to skipping through an endless stream of cutscenes. So when the very first Ace Attorney confidently strode onto Game Boy Advance in 2001, it took the limited scope of the genre and used your involvement to create a fun and exciting courtroom adventure that spawned two equally brilliant sequels.
And while the Ace Attorney series has found its quality levels fall and rise over the years in the spin-offs that followed, the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy remains the franchise’s absolute pinnacle. All three sit among some of the best games to ever grace Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS (which they were ported to for their Western release, starting in 2005), selling over 6.7 million copies worldwide, and now they’ve been tarted up and optimised for another successful Nintendo platform. If you’re completely new to the series then we envy you; you’ve now got the chance to experience probably the best set of visual novels outside of the Zero Escape and Danganronpa games.
Combining Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations, this trio of courtroom dramas follows the legal career of the titular lawyer as he takes on a series of increasingly difficult and often purposefully convoluted cases. All three games split their action between crime scene investigations – where you’ll examine elements on-screen point and click-style in order to gather evidence and context – and courtroom-based exchanges.
The latter serves as the bulk of each game and, rather conveniently, presents the most rewarding and enjoyable experience. Here you’ll be presented with the accused and a series of witnesses. As a plucky defence attorney, you’ll listen to the testimonies of each one then compare to the evidence that’s been presented to the court. By performing cross-examinations of these testimonies you’ll then have the option to ‘press’ the witness or defendant to find inaccuracies or intentionally withheld details and ‘present’ evidence that potentially contradicts their statements.
So yes, it’s 'Law & Order: The Video Game', but what sets those first three Ace Attorney games apart from those that followed is creator Shu Takumi’s excellent writing. Each case finds the right balance between classic anime theatrics, disturbing crime details and moments of heartfelt levity, and while some cases really double down into that grey area where ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are blurred, its logic helps you develop a gut feeling of who to believe and who to disprove.
In-between courtroom sessions you’ll be out and about conducting investigations, inspecting locations for clues, collecting information for the Court Record and interrogating suspects, witnesses and more. You even get the special case added to the DS version of the original Ace Attorney, which introduced the ability to inspect evidence more closely. Both Justice For All and Trials And Tribulations are included in full, and they’re both still a riot to play, while Justice For All’s frustratingly short length feels like less of an issue now it’s been packaged together with the rest of the trilogy.
The Ace Attorney series has been ported plenty of times already, so it was only a matter of time before Mr Wright made his way to Switch. Thankfully, these new versions have fared far better than the ones that popped up on Wii, with enough optimisation – including resizing and cleaning up every frame to make them look better than ever both in docked mode and in handheld/TV modes. HD Rumble helps give those shaky moments of exclamation – including Wright’s classic lines, naturally – that extra bit of vibrating heft.
For longtime fans, Ace Attorney on Switch doesn’t bring anything new to the mix per se bar some touched up graphics, and despite the lack of features introduced in later games – such as the ability to spot tells and ticks when looking for lies and a greater emphasis on crime scene and investigation details – all three are still brilliant examples of how a game series can be both instantly enjoyable for new players and deep enough for returning sleuths. Sure, the lovely 3D character models of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies are certainly easier on the eye, but the 2D animations seen here still pop off the screen with plenty of character in 2019.
The original Ace Attorney is – dare we say it – almost 20 years old, which is remarkable when you consider just how well it holds up 2019. Sure, it’s been ported plenty of times and the jump to Nintendo DS certainly helped shake off the retro cobwebs, but as a piece of interactive history, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is as utterly addictive and truly rewarding as it was back at the turn of the millennium. Whether you’re brand new to the world of virtual defence law or a veteran attorney, Phoenix Wright’s first adventures are still a fine set of cases to undertake.