Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review

  • First Released May 30, 2013
  • 3DS

Habeas corpus.

There was a time Phoenix Wright was the game to own for Nintendo's little dual-screen wonder. It was the kind of game no one was making on a system that was meant to do what no one else was doing. That made it special. Fast forward to 2014, four sequels and two spin-offs later, and now we have the first three games--Ace Attorney, Justice For All, and Trials & Tribulations--cleaned up, brushed off, given a simple 3D spitshine, and trotted out to the Nintendo eShop. The gameplay has remained untouched, for better and worse: You're still playing the well-coiffed crusader of justice called in to collect clues from crime scenes, scream objections when you've caught ne'er-do-wells in a lie, and ask all the right questions to make the most weird and wild collection of bad guys and gals since Adam West's Batman all lose their cool on the witness stand. The good news is that, at least conceptually, the original Phoenix Wright trilogy has held up very well over time. The problem is that it's not exactly special anymore.

It's actually a great problem to have. Point-and-click adventures and visual novels like Phoenix Wright are in vogue, and games are pushing the envelope several times a year. Even with that being the case, courtroom drama isn't exactly a crowded subgenre, and, as such, the Phoenix Wright games are still a unique snowflake in that regard. Where the Phoenix Wright games still stand out among the lot of them is in sheer charm. The streamlined anime art style, and the games' jovial sense of humor permeate everything. Phoenix Wright's world is a world of over-exaggerated reactions to everything, of eye-rolling yet brilliant puns, of unsubtle but slick pop culture references (personal favorite: The clown-based Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reference in Justice For All), and of fully formed, distinct, and wildly imaginative casts of characters with story arcs stretching over multiple games. Even though we're still dealing with murders--an overwhelming number of murders, but we'll get to that--there's such a lightness and color to the game it's hard to resist spending time with them over and over again as opposed to, say, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter's dour menagerie.

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The series forgoes any sort of CSI-style deep diving to present the player with problems of logic, and using observation to point out glaring inconsistencies in the stories of liars, cheats, and murderers instead of just rote item collection, where the game is on rails as long as you have the right item in your possession. It's not a perfect system, especially the more complex the case is. There are dozens of instances where the judge asks for a clue to prove the witness is a liar, and the clue that makes sense in real life is not the one the game actually marks as correct, but for the most part, there's a common sense to advancing in all three games. In that regard, it's still old school in the best way: the player's intellect, not their talent for scrounging, is the core of the gameplay here.

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And yet, there was an opportunity with the Ace Attorney Trilogy. Every year that passes, every time the game gets ported to a new platform, the series' GBA roots become more and more obvious, and its limitations become glaring. Its simplified anime art-style, while functional, can be seen here as consistent, but often repetitive, with the series' recent efforts towards innovation all occurring in the games after Trials and Tribulations released. The cases are almost always murders, with only rare variations to investigate a clue, or get a witness' story straight, and, more often than not, the game shows you who did it before Phoenix is allowed to figure it out. Interrogation methods haven't improved in all three games, though Justice For All's Psyche Lock system, a way of picking at a witness' testimony to get to their deepest secrets, is nice, though an even more cartoony addition than needed. But more than anything, the three games have been ported to multiple systems now, and the only real enhancements have been to the graphics. The 3DS trilogy is, to its credit, the sharpest it has ever looked or sounded. The extra real estate from the top screen has been put to good use, and the 3D is subtle, but the layering effect of all the character art is a nice, effective touch.

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Meanwhile, the 3DS has seen its own exclusive Phoenix Wright sequel that finally brings all the innovation the fancy new hardware can afford to the table. It would've been a painstaking process, no doubt, but the first Phoenix Wright's final mission brings such welcome changes to the table, using the DS's audio and touchscreen functions, that the other two games, which still haven't gotten a similar treatment, are dimmed by comparison. Instead, the only other real enhancement to this new version is the ability to play the games in their original Japanese forms, which is neat if you understand Japanese, though Jeremy Blaustein's English localization is wonderful enough as it is.

There is, of course, the off-chance that the trilogy might be someone's first exposure to the life and times of Phoenix Wright, or at least their first exposure in a great many years, and it's as refined a jumping-off point for that as can be expected. For anyone for whom this is their third, four, or fifth time around, there's nothing new to discover, aside from the convenience of having all three games in one handy digital package. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but knowing what the 3DS and this series is capable of, the games' flaws have never been more glaring, and not nearly enough has been done to overrule the objections players have had for years.

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The Good
Cleaner, wider visuals than ever before
Gameplay still holds up after all this time
Immense amount of play for a good price
Still the best bad puns in all gaming
The Bad
Many solutions still far more obtuse than necessary
DS-exclusive case in the first game shows ingenuity the other two games don't
Collection highlights lack of diverse casetypes in the trilogy
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Justin Clark played the first two games in this compilation to death on the original DS, though this was his first full playthrough of the third. This is now the 5th time in a decade he has had to explain to someone out in the real world what exactly he was objecting to so vehemently in public.
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Avatar image for kubiksc

very very glad it's about Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Trilogy. it was about time capcom figured out that it was in their best interests to port ace attorney to every platform possible, rather than just mobiles and the latest nintendo portable. a ton of people who have heard me yap about this game for a decade are finally gonna be able to give it a shot and learn why i'm such a maniac for ace attorney. I'll compare prices on

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

One thing that I have noticed in the first game is that all the witnesses are for the prosecution to utilize for its case. The defendant conveniently has no alibi or supporting witnesses. Also, plenty of the burden of proof is piled on the defense.

What the ****? I know that this is supposed to enable player involvement, but this is unbelievably lopsided.

Avatar image for Jorpho

Wasn't Jeremy Blaustein the localizer for only some of the games, with Alexander O. Smith doing the others?

Avatar image for SillySkeleton

Nice, I've been struggling to find physical copies of these DS games ever since I picked up my 3DS. I just hope this collection isn't as unreasonably expensive and immune to price drops as most other games on Nintendo's Eshop.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

We're marking off points now because the games are unchanged?

Avatar image for Aero5555

This is one of the novel games that make me wish selective amnesia actually existed.

Can't play them again. Already beat them twice minimum. Great value for those who just heard of the series, though. Don't miss out.

Avatar image for MugenTheKing

I really want this, but I don't know if I can go back through those games. They're also really fucking long (for a text adventure that is).

Avatar image for CoolCamel616

Always wanted to play these and now's my chance I guess. Hopefully something similar is released for those layton games as I've heard good things about them too and they are kind of a pain to track down.

Avatar image for Dunan

I wonder if this version also lacks the animation that was present in the DS versions. I know the iOS version is missing it.

Avatar image for g_vakarian

Should make a game based on the US justice system, could be an FPS.

Avatar image for nl_skipper

Sweet, I'll prob pick this up at some point, still workin' my way through Ace Attorney v Professor Layton (my first game from either series) and enjoying it so far, also have Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies to play, and THEN I'll prob get this if I've still got my enthusiasm for the games!

Avatar image for Halloll

and they still will not release Ace Attorney Investigation 2 outside of Japan, that game is one of the best Ace Attorney games

Avatar image for Aero5555

@Halloll It got a fan-translation. Look it up. Beat it a few weeks after the entire game was patched/translated.

Maybe you did and are just pointing out the non-official release, though. Dunno.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

@Aero5555 @Halloll Fan translations are fan translations.

Avatar image for Eric_Drav3n

Blacker than a moonless night, hotter and more bitter than hell itself... That is coffee.

Avatar image for Halloll

@Eric_Drav3n I object! That was... objectionable!

Avatar image for GH05T-666

so is this all 3 games in one?

Avatar image for sanchango

@GH05T-666 yes

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy More Info

  • First Released May 30, 2013
    • 3DS
    • Android
    • + 5 more
    • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Join rookie lawyer Phoenix Wright through the early years of his career in his quest to find the truth behind all of the classic cases!
    Average Rating15 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    NATSUME ATARI Inc., Capcom
    Published by:
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence