I fell in love with Phoenix Wright when the first Ace Attorney came out for the Nintendo DS in 2005. I grew up with the LucasArts point-and-click adventure games of the mid-to-late ’90s, but nothing could fill that puzzle-solving void in my life once LucasArts moved on after Escape from Monkey Island’s 2000 release.
Phoenix Wright is fantastic. Just like with those LucasArts games I adored, character, dialogue, and logic propel everything. The courtroom setting is a great fit for adventure gaming, with presenting evidence and interrogating witnesses working as a microcosm of more expansive, explorable point-and-click worlds like Melee Island in Secret of Monkey Island or Rubacava in Grim Fandango. Phoenix Wright still gives you opportunities to explore, with most cases tasking you to gather evidence yourself at crime scenes.
I’ve kept up with the series ever since (well, at least all the installments that Capcom actually brought to the U.S.). And now we have Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch. It includes the first three installments in the franchise, but so far I’ve just made my way through the original. I had a fantastic time going through the game again on my Switch, reaffirming Ace Attorney’s place as one of my favorite franchises.
Back in court
First off, the 14-year gap between my original playthrough and this visit to court worked out well. Enough time has passed that I forgot a lot of the solutions to these cases. It’s not like I’m playing through it fresh, but I’m having an easier time than I did back in 2005, but it’s been so long that much of it feels new again.
This collection also has some smart and convenient updates. All the in-game art looks sharper and loses the pixelated look from the DS era, and the investigation sections are much less annoying. In the original, you point and click on any object of interest in each area hoping to find a clue that would move the story along. The pixel-hunting could get tedious, and a lot of times you’d end up clicking on something that Phoenix would dismiss as unimportant. Now, your in-game cursor highlights over areas that matter (or at least trigger amusing dialogue), and your cursor will also tell you if you’ve already looked at something.
But aside from this changes, it’s the same game I fell in love with back in 2005. And this includes the soundtrack. It delights me that some of the best gaming music of all time comes from a courtroom adventure game, of all things. The music is a key part of defining characters, building up suspense, and then releasing it during triumphant moments when the case finally begins to swing in your favor.
Just listen to the song that plays during such a moment. I get excited every time I hear it.
Then you have Phoenix himself, one of my favorite game characters. He starts out as an out-of-his-depth rookie in constant need of help. His career is an eternal struggle to get innocent clients cleared of murder struggles against a corrupt legal system, cheating prosecutors, and unfair evidence. It stresses him out! More often than not, I would define his mental state as “flustered.” But he always manages to keep believing in his clients and find a way to save them.
I’m excited to play though the other two games in the trilogy. Playing through the original again reminded me just how special, fun, and likable this franchise is. If you haven’t tried Ace Attorney before, please give this collection a look.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.