This isn’t going to a review, at least not the more traditional sense of the word. We all know Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is fantastic. I think it’d be very fair to say that too many people it’s a perfect trilogy, offering up lovable characters you root for, villains so camp and obnoxious you just can’t help but hate them and logic puzzles so clever yet so simple that they never seem to age no matter how many times you play through them. This trilogy is still those games, which is a blessing. The fact that I can hop into the courtroom and yell, “OBJECTION!” on my laptop while sitting at a restaurant is a godsend, despite all the people no doubt startled by my sudden affront to my computer.
Perhaps the best thing Ace Attorney delivers on is player satisfaction. In terms of physical rewards or “watching the numbers go up” as a form of satisfaction as is so often expected with many modern day games, Ace Attorney offers little in the way of that. But oh boy, does that not matter in the slightest. Ace Attorney proves to be a subtle power fantasy without huge weapons or god-like abilities; it fulfils that desire that many people dream about or act out in the shower: Proving someone is lying to their face and calling them out of their bullshit.
Except it’s usually about murder and not that person who skipped in front of you at the queue at Checkers.
The gameplay loop sees the player as Phoenix Wright, fresh off the bar defence attorney, as he investigates crime scenes for clues which will later be used to cross-examine witnesses as you desperately fight to have your clients proved innocent. The individual stories themselves start off relatively simple but grow to become increasingly more complex as the player progresses, with Trials and Tribulations probably having my favourite assortment of cases to take over.
Players who don’t necessarily respond to many, many lines of written dialogue and logic puzzles (that can be bizarrely obtuse on occasion) probably won’t resonate with the dinner Ace Attorney is placing delicately down in front of you, but (and I only feel a little bad for this) they would be missing out one of the smoothest, smartest games ever put out into the public eye.
The moment of victory when a witness who’s very obviously lying about what they’ve seen starts sweating and looking away from you as you apply pressure and present evidence to out their deceit is unmatched, helped in no small part by the music which is probably some of the best Capcom has ever created. It’s the sort of exciting, moment-of-truth/victory tunes you dream of hearing when proving to your boss that yes, you did in fact fill out that form correctly, followed by the methodical and puzzling synthy tunes of a witness changing their testimony to make your life more difficult.
There’s something so difficult about making a game that makes the player feel smart without holding their hand. This isn’t a debate about difficulty in games (all games should be accessible and should be playable by everyone. Just thought I’d throw this point in here. It has no bearing on this review, don’t @ me) but rather a celebration of how successful Ace Attorney is at making you feel like a true genius. By taking a vague series of clues and evidence and piecing together the puzzle of what exactly happened is incredibly rewarding and, sadly, I think has never been achieved by any other game.
I know I keep harping on about it, but this game is all about player empowerment promoted by logical thinking and thorough investigation, and in 2019 I think that’s both valuable and a rarity. I have no problem with player empowerment, but rather how many games implement it. It’s easy to give a player a big-ass weapon and the ability to throw a car into the sun or mow down a thousand people with a single magazine; we’ve been doing that for a long time now.
Far fewer developers have sat down and evaluated how player empowerment can be outside of the obvious. With Ace Attorney, I believe Capcom purposely worked around the concept of empowerment, exploring its meaning and how it’s traditionally implemented and swam against the current to achieve the same goal but in a setting and genre that many would never have considered.
And isn’t that valuable in 2019? Look, the world is currently on fire, violence seemingly becoming an accepted part of many peoples’ lives. I don’t want to get into debates on gun laws and societal power structures, but I think a series that provides players with that feeling of being strong, of being unconquerable, by looking for truth and justice in the fairest and most legal way possible rather than through the sights of a rifle…well, it just seems kinda relevant to me right now.
It’s weird how a piece of art’s meaning can change depending on when it’s consumed. For me, Ace Attorney has aged from a satisfying, well-written puzzle game into a valuable reflection as to what our society should be life. Challenging violence by using evidence and truth rather than more violence. I just think that’s something the world needs right now. Hell, maybe you need that right now. I know I did.
Look, this game is gorgeous. The sprites and background have been polished up for modern hardware and it runs very well. Just…play this game. It’s undeniably important and undoubtedly one of the best game series ever created. Do yourself this little favour. For me, please?
Last Updated: April 18, 2019