It’s been a hot minute since I stepped into the shoes of a spiky-haired attorney, with all its finger pointing and exclamations of TAKE THAT. Thankfully it’s quite like riding a bike, in the sense that Capcom’s Ace Attorney series represents a very unique bike that hasn’t really been emulated by anyone else. Like an escape room crammed into a visual novel, the Ace Attorney series offers a type of mind bending storytelling that is so wholly unique and creative that it’s one of the few genre-defining experiences that if someone was to try and do their own, they’d be in for an uphill battle to improve it in any meaningful way. It’s an artefact that needs to be preserved – so a modern release is essentially a service to us all. Huzzah.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy represents the bookend to close off the regular timeline of Ace Attorney titles, and serves as a bridging point for the generational leap that took place between the original Nintendo DS hardware and the 3DS titles, bidding a fond farewell to the hand-drawn sprites and welcoming the age of 3D courtrooms and polygonal goons (including a clown that broke the Internet). In a series that lives off quick wit and spectacular characters, it was a transition that was carefully considered and delivered beautifully.
Part-time prosecutor, full-time Rockstar
The gameplay is as familiar as you would hope, where you fact find by navigating locales and prodding parts of the environment to discover oddities to file away as evidence, with the hopes that shoving it in someone’s face a little later pays dividends to prove that your method of deduction is solid. Your courtroom sessions provide the opportunity to do such shoving, while fencing with dialogue as you comb through testimony for slip-ups and make use of goofy gimmicks to peer into people’s emotions or nervous ticks. The update has done nothing to rid the series of its charming warts, the most egregious of which being the odd link between evidence and testimony not being as simple to deduce as one might think – while you may grasp where your hunch is going, the game will expect you to nail every individual step to get there. You need to nail a bullseye every time, there are no prizes for ‘close enough’ – though the game is accepting of this by way of infinite retries.
Where this is balanced out however is the presentation of accessibility options, with one especially game changing option. You can of course opt in to receiving hints or consultations from your courtroom companion, perhaps taking some of the guesswork out of the stranger connections – but there also exists a ‘Reader’ option to entirely automate the experience. This toggle will turn the game into a full-blown visual novel, with dialogue options and evidence chosen on your behalf to entirely bin any hypothesising and just focus on the story and its characters. I can’t help but admire how ballsy it is, as it really does eliminate the one final barrier of entry for people who don’t enjoy that facet of the gameplay and allow them to drink deeply from the richest spring of greatness within the game – its writing.
Calm down you animals
That isn’t to say that this collection isn’t gorgeous, goodness no. The first title, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney slavishly follows the classic Ace Attorney stylings to introduce Phoenix Wright’s successor of justice – a dude conveniently named Apollo (checks notes)… Justice. The game was considered a contentious piece back in its day, but Apollo is my darling boy and I will hear no ill-speak of him. Apollo’s introductory adventure has received the same love and attention seen in the original Ace Attorney Trilogy, upscaling and sexying up the spritework to let it shine on our HD televisions of the modern day as we tiptoe around the odd character assassination of Phoenix and question why a rockstar would want to continue being a prosecution lawyer. It’s weird, it’s wonderful – it’s GYAKUTEN SAIBAN as we know it.
The more modern entries in the series are the Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice titles, a more familiar romp of poster boy Phoenix Wright and company sorting out more guilty goofballs by way of madcap mental gymnastics. While they are already packing some higher visual fidelity simply due to their new(ish) nature, they still feel right at home as part of the three pack despite the clear 3DS-era texture work. A lot of this is attributed to the interface being consistent across all the titles, so navigation and functionality remain effortless and familiar even if the characters suddenly look different.
More than just a broom, y’see
Once you are done Phoenix Wright-ing the wrongs of the world, the collection also offers some neat b-sides to explore. In a series that has long held a record for banger music, you can dip your ears into the Orchestra Hall and give your favourite Pursuit track a spin alongside 149 other smashing bangers from this era of games. A huge bonus is the inclusion of the symphony versions of the series’ best orchestral suites – worth a listen to anyone with an appreciative ear – and something I’d openly list as a compelling reason to purchase the collection. An art gallery is also included, providing access to killer character art and a quick way to rewatch cutscene items (especially nice with the animated offerings in the later games). The final offering is a headscratcher, billed as an ‘Animation Studio,’ but not appearing to offer any way to actually animate what you are doing. Effectively a glorified scene builder, there is a bit of fun to be had throwing characters on the stand and seeing all their varied animation loops – but it seems to be aimed at people who want to make their own Ace Attorney machinima or comics. Neat, but with a hefty overhead to be considered useful.
Courtroom got a little bomb-astic in Dual Destinies
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a remaster with a purpose, rescuing a series of games from platforms that have long been retired and sent to a farm far, far away. Put together with the same level of care and attention afforded to the predecessor collections, what results is a timeless opportunity for any to step into the ring with the greatest legal minds of Capcom’s craziest litigators. It’s not compromised in any way, simply uplifted and set to be enjoyed for years to come.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- PS4 / Xbox One / PC / Switch
- January 25, 2024