A retrospective on ‘Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’

This past winter break, my good friend John Wintroub recommended that I play the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, especially since the HD-remastered trilogy bundle was on sale for $16 on Steam. Ace Attorney is a visual novel adventure game made by Capcom that originally released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and the English version was released on the Nintendo DS in 2005. For this article, I will focus on the first game while I will write about the second and third games at a future date. Outside of playing several visual novels on the iPhone, this is a type of gaming experience I have rarely experienced. Because of this and how well it’s written, Ace Attorney provided an unique and thrilling gaming experience I will never forget. Spoilers for Ace Attorney ahead.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review: Please the court - The AU  Review
Phoenix Wright pointing at a witness in Ace Attorney

Ace Attorney follows rookie defense attorney Phoenix Wright as he investigates crimes and uses evidence in court to defend his clients and discover the real culprit behind the crime. Assisting Phoenix is Maya Fey, a spirit medium in training and the younger sister of Phoenix’s mentor, Mia Fey. During these cases, Phoenix battles against many prosecutors including Miles Edgeworth, who Phoenix knew in elementary school.

First, I have to praise the soundtrack of this game. In a visual novel without much voice acting, the soundtrack is the dominant noise in the game, and never once does the music get repetitive. Naoto Tanaka’s score perfectly represents the tone of the events of each scene the music is played in. The best example of this is the track, “Suspense,” which plays during the most dramatic moments in each case. The electric, yet subtle fast-moving beat fills me with tension every time I listen to it; I even listen to it every morning to help wake me up.

Since Ace Attorney is more of a case-by-case story than an overall narrative, I will discuss each case to explain why I love the game as much as I do.

1. The First Turnabout

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Screenshots for Nintendo Switch -  MobyGames
Larry Butz’s innocence is proven in Ace Attorney

The game starts off with Phoenix’s first case as a defense attorney under the tutelage of Mia Fey. Phoenix’s friend, Larry Butz, was arrested for the murder of Cindy Stone and under Mia’s supervision, Phoenix uses evidence presented in court to prove his friend’s innocence and discover that one of the witnesses, Frank Sahwit, was the one that murdered Stone with a clock resembling “The Thinker.” It serves as a nice introduction for the game, showing how to use evidence to contradict or add on to witnesses’ statements while setting up how the cases in court will go moving forward. The game teaches you how to play through Mia, making me like her as a mentor. This was a great introduction, and the impact of the case is felt after how the next case starts.

2. Turnabout Sisters

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Walkthrough: spoiler-free guide solutions for  every case | RPG Site
Maya Fey finding her sister, Mia, dead in Ace Attorney

If you liked Mia from the last case, that is too bad because the second case immediately starts with her getting killed by the same “Thinker” clock and her sister, Maya, finding her dead body. Maya is accused of the murder after a note was found of Mia writing Maya’s name in her blood. During the trial, Phoenix proves the witness that “saw” Maya kill Mia, April May, was lying and that there was a bigger conspiracy that led to Mia’s death. After Phoenix confronted Bluecorp CEO Redd White, he was framed for Mia’s murder, forcing Phoenix to prove his own innocence in court against Edgeworth. Phoenix stands up for himself, proving White was the murderer since Mia had evidence of White’s extortion and blackmailing crimes.

This was the first case to introduce investigations, adding to the thrill of finding out the culprit of the crime. Ace Attorney‘s first real case already packs an emotional punch with Mia’s immediate death and to spend time finding your own answers make this a satisfying journey. The introduction to Edgeworth is fantastic as it sets up what kind of character he is and how much room he has to grow. Edgeworth is the perfect adversary for Phoenix and battling him in court is a joy to experience for the first time.

3. Turnabout Samurai

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Nintendo Switch Gyakuten Saiban: Talking to the director of the Steel Samurai series
Phoenix talking with director Sal Manella in Ace Attorney

The last two cases in Ace Attorney are emotional gut-punches; luckily, the third case provides a more light-hearted journey as Phoenix and Maya investigate the death of Jack Hammer, who was found dead in a Steel Samurai costume. Will Powers, the man who plays the Steel Samurai in the TV show, is arrested after his presence was unaccounted for during the time of death. However, as Phoenix investigates, he learns that producer Dee Vasquez was blackmailing Hammer after an incident five years ago, causing Hammer to confront Vasquez. Vasquez pushed Hammer off the steps in self defense and he was killed as a fence post impaled him while Powers was sleeping in the dressing room after Hammer drugged him with sleeping pills.

The witnesses in this case are absolutely hilarious. You interview a grumpy old security lady, a kid who is the biggest fan of Steel Samurai and a funny-looking director named Sal Manella. The case is very fun, causing an intense yet light-hearted story. Considering the insanity that is to come, this case is a breath of fresh air.

4. Turnabout Goodbyes

Ace Attorney on Twitter: "Don't look so down. Feel how it feels to feel,  Edgeworth!… "
Edgeworth conflicted about his feelings after the trial in Ace Attorney

Before a final DLC case was released for the Nintendo DS version, “Turnabout Goodbyes” was the final case of the first game. This case is incredible with the fantastic writing and the development of Edgeworth. Edgeworth is arrested for the murder of Robert Hammond, the defense attorney of the DL-6 incident. The incident involved Edgeworth’s father, Gregory, getting murdered in an elevator after an earthquake locked Miles, Gregory and the suspect, Yanni Yogi. Yogi was found innocent by Hammond, but his reputation was ruined. Yogi got a letter, setting him up to get his revenge by killing Hammond and Edgeworth, which he then killed Hammond and nearly killed Edgeworth before Edgeworth escaped on Lake Gourde. It is revealed that the prosecutor for the current case, Manfred von Karma, was the one who sent Yogi the letter and killed Gregory 15 years ago.

The reveal that von Karma was the one behind both cases blew my mind. It was unexpected, but, in retrospect, everything makes sense; a testament to Sku Takumi’s writing. Also, Edgeworth’s has clear development, as he confesses to the murder of his father after he was found innocent in the Hammond case. He was haunted by a dazed memory of killing his father for 15 years. Proving Edgeworth’s innocence is incredibly exhilarating, giving me total elation when he proves von Karma was behind everything. Edgeworth was finally free, questioning his future. Since he is not a social butterfly, watching him interact with our other main characters after the trial was sweet to see. This case made Edgeworth my favorite character in the game due to his incredible character growth after the realization of his dark past.

5. Rise from the Ashes

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Walkthrough: spoiler-free guide solutions for  every case | RPG Site
A photo of Damon Gant, Neil Marshall and Lana Skye in Ace Attorney

“Rise from the Ashes” is a much more complicated and longer case than the previous one, making it one of the most draining missions I have ever completed in any video game. Two months after Edgeworth’s trial, Ema Skye, a student who aspires to be a scientific investigator, comes to Phoenix’s office and begs him to represent Lana, her sister in her upcoming trial. Although Lana admits to killing Detective Goodman, the victim, Phoenix decides to represent her. This case is insane as it introduces so many new gameplay elements, such as finger-printing analysis, video analysis, rebuilding things and spraying chemicals to view hidden bloodstains. After long hours of investigating and multiple postponed trials, Phoenix and Ema figure out the truth.

Two years prior, serial killer Joe Darke took Ema hostage. Prosecutor Neil Marshall came into save Ema, but Neil wound up dead and Darke was unconscious. The killings were investigated by Angel Starr, Jake Marshall (Neil’s brother) and Goodman. Working above them was Lana Skye and Police Chief Damon Gant. Darke was found guilty and executed, but Jake was not satisfied with the case, so he disguised himself as Goodman to steal the files, then fled the scene after the files were already gone. The real Goodman was killed in the evidence room and his body was transported to the original crime scene through Edgeworth’s car, unbeknownst to him. Lana simply was taking the body out of the trunk when Starr witnessed this event. It turns out that Gant killed Goodman since he wanted to reopen the Darke case. He even had Lana dispose the body, since he controlled her in the prosecution office because Ema was involved in Neil’s death two years ago. Actually, Gant was the one who killed Neil, and, since Ema pushed Neil in the dark, he was able to frame Ema for the murder before Phoenix proved Ema’s innocent. Gant was behind everything and Lana was free.

The way this case was written is mind blowing to me. There were so many twists and turns that I had a difficult time keeping up with what was happening at times. I love a good mystery and this case displayed one that I will never soon forget. Also, during this case it is revealed that Edgeworth was the one who convicted Darke with falsified evidence, causing him to rethink his purpose in life and leave for the time being. Seeing his further development made the addition satisfying and I cannot wait to see him return in the second game.

Overall, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a brilliantly-written game with fantastic character development and amusing moments. I enjoyed this game and I cannot wait to play the second and third games. It is available on every console, PC, IOS and Android (There is nothing stopping you from buying this game except an empty wallet). Stay tuned for my review of the second and third games.

Rating: 9/10

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