Eat your hamburgers, Apollo.
The Ace Attorney franchise is one of the most popular visual novel series ever made. Originally released on GameBoy Advance in 2001 as “Gyakuten Saiban”, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney made waves upon its western release on Nintendo DS in 2005. Two years later, its sequels Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations also made their way to the west, completing the original Ace Attorney Trilogy. Now an HD collection of that trilogy has made its way to Switch, bringing the fantastic story of Phoenix Wright to a new era of gaming.
If you’ve never played Ace Attorney before, this collection is the perfect time to start. Ace Attorney takes place in the near-future of 2016, where the American legal system has been reformed to expedite criminal proceedings. All trials now take place within three days, and acquittals are rare. Phoenix Wright starts the series as a rookie lawyer, eventually growing into one of the most accomplished defense attorneys in the world by the end of Trials and Tribulations. Along the way he solves long-standing open cases and crosses path with the mystical Fey clan numerous times in arcs that span not only entire games, but also the entire trilogy.
Each game features four or five murder cases to solve. Throughout the trilogy you’ll meet a huge cast of weird and colorful characters that fill the roles of witness, defendant, and murderer. Ace Attorney is famous for its cast, and for good reason. Each character is written well, with the excellent English localization from the DS games remaining in the new Trilogy collection. Though some cases are a bit underwhelming, especially one circus case in Justice for All, the dramatic and comedic chops between writer Shu Takumi and the localization team at Capcom make for an excellent read that’s stuck with me for all the years since I first played on DS a decade ago.
Gameplay is split between two phases: investigations and trials. While investigating, you’ll interview witnesses and explore crime scenes looking for evidence or key pieces of testimony. Afterwards you’ll take what you’ve learned to the courtroom to defend your client. In trials, a witness will be called to the stand to testify and you’ll be given the opportunity to press their statements until you find something that contradicts the facts of the case. Once you’ve found a contradiction, you’ll present evidence to prove that the witness is lying or mistaken.
In the past I’ve described Ace Attorney as a murder mystery novel where you need to solve the mystery yourself to keep reading, and while that concept isn’t as unique now as it was in 2005, the trilogy is nevertheless one of the most entertaining courtroom dramas gaming has ever seen. Scanning through a testimony until you’ve finally found the statement that doesn’t make sense is incredibly satisfying, and keeping up with the increasingly insane lengths that the prosecution will go to for a guilty verdict keeps the tone exciting in what would otherwise be a dull, procedural task. Some cases can be unbelievably convoluted in the most entertaining way, and seeing the villain finally break down at the end of a long cross-examination makes it all worth it in the end.
The Ace Attorney Trilogy collection on Switch features completely redone art that breathes new life into the crazy world the game takes place in. Although the new art from the iOS port was used in the 3DS collection in 2014, the Switch version marks the first time Nintendo fans will get to see it in full HD. Playing docked is a bit odd, and seeing characters originally drawn for the GBA’s 160p screen can be jarring, but everything looks incredible on the Switch’s screen. Laying on a couch and playing in handheld mode gave me exactly the experience I remember playing as a kid without having to up-res the old pixel art that was actually on my DS screen in 2005.
All three games in the trilogy are almost entirely identical to their original incarnations. One small but significant change is the addition of a magnifying glass icon in investigation segments that makes it easier to tell where you’re supposed to check for evidence. In the original DS versions, testing every pixel of the screen to see if I’m missing some key piece of evidence could be frustrating, but with an icon lighting up whenever the cursor is over something that can be examined, the investigation phase is better than ever. Besides the addition of multiple save files, there isn’t much else in the way of quality of life updates. It would’ve been nice if the collection included a text log like most modern visual novels have, but it’s a small complaint in an otherwise excellent package.
Ace Attorney remains one of my favorite franchises of all time, and I have loved the opportunity to play through the trilogy again on Switch. Though it lags a little in the middle with some less-than-stellar cases in the second game, the Ace Attorney Trilogy is still an incredible story with wonderful characters, memorable plots, and satisfying mysteries to solve. With little more than a new coat of paint, the Trilogy collection manages to be the perfect way to experience the story of Phoenix Wright whether you’re a rookie lawyer or a great ace attorney.