Capcoms Ace Attorney Series Does So Much With So Little

Capcom’s Ace Attorney Series Does So Much With So Little

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Richard Walker

First released for the GameBoy Advance back in 2001 (then ported to the Nintendo DS in 2005), Capcom's Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney swiftly became something of a minor phenomenon, gaining a cult following before spawning two sequels in quick succession, as well as a slew of spin-offs and crossovers. Following the exploits of its eponymous legal eagle, (who is named after a more mythical bird), the original Ace Attorney trilogy takes you on a series of wonderfully weird cases, involving circus performers, old seed-throwing curmudgeons, and smarmy CEOs draped in jewellery. There are few games quite as unusual as the Ace Attorney games - stranger still is that despite a heady soup of weirdness, the games really only comprise reams of dialogue. And yet, they do so much with very little.

They passed me by upon their original release; I discovered the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy when it launched, in 2019, and, in turn, gained my first experience of a so-called 'visual novel'. I was immediately taken with the artwork, typically characterful, like so much of Capcom's memorable designs - whether it's the slew of brawlers produced for the Street Fighter games, or the likes of Rival Schools, Power Stone, or Darkstalkers, Capcom's artwork has always been a uniquely pleasing thing to behold.

The same goes for the Ace Attorney games. It may seem odd, but I enjoy periodically leafing through an Udon 'The Art of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney' book, kept on a shelf in the living room, simply to pore over and enjoy the expressive character designs. In-game, they're lavished with minimal detail and little animation, but it doesn't matter. There's a crackling life and energy to every single member of the cast, from Phoenix himself to his mentor, Mia Fey, the downtrodden detective Gumshoe and Wright's prosecutor rivals: Miles Edgeworth, with his outrageous Austin Powers attire; Godot, with his strange mask and excessive coffee consumption; and Franziska Von Karma, who wields a whip in court, as you do.

Unnecessary embellishments such as character voiceovers would only serve to dilute the unparalleled qualities that Capcom has achieved with the Ace Attorney games, although, in The Great Ace Attorney spin-offs (released for PlayStation this week as The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles), fully animated 3D characters successfully retained the vim and individuality of the mainline series. But perhaps the best thing about the Ace Attorney series is the way that unexpected each case can take sharp, unexpected turns, and how a serious crime like a grisly murder can be punctuated by slapstick and levity without feeling cheap. It all works brilliantly, the music, too, helping to move events along at brisk pace, jaunty tunes worming their way into your brain until you catch yourself humming them or looping them in your head for days.

Meanwhile, the courtroom back and forth – unpicking contradictions and presenting evidence during witness cross examinations – forms only half of the story; Wright and his various relatives and colleagues, whom you also play as during the series, engage in their own investigations. Ace Attorney's protagonists take it upon themselves to collect their own evidence to bring to court (normally the job of police detectives), which unfolds during simplistic point-and-click sections that mildly test your powers of observation, and task you with putting witnesses and suspects alike under the microscope. Unraveling the true nature of a crime is never anything less than a thoroughly involving affair, hilariously unrealistic though it may be.

But perhaps the greatest crime of all is knowing that we may never see a genuinely new Ace Attorney game ever again, and almost definitely not one featuring legendary lawyer Phoenix Wright as protagonist. “I felt that Phoenix's story had been told, and that the series should not continue,” series writer and director Shu Takumi told Official Nintendo Magazine back in 2014. “Knowing when to end a story is very important and I wanted to avoid dragging it out and having it become a shadow of its former self.” You can't fault Takumi's logic – innumerable game franchises have fallen foul of overexposure, ultimately being marred by a severe case of diminishing returns. Yet, Phoenix Wright's adventures feel like they'll forever be beautifully preserved in amber, as the wonderful, one-of-a-kind curios that they are – a little bit of lightning in a bottle.

I've completed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and sequels 'Justice For All' and 'Trials & Tribulations', and look forward with relish to really busting The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles wide open. But with no sign of a new entry in the series, or any further remasters of the old games on the cards, there remain two available options to play the remaining chapters I've yet to experience. Either to play the versions ported to mobile devices, or, and this is what I think needs to happen, I'm going to have to get hold of a Nintendo DS to satiate my unending thirst for justice. A certain popular auction site awaits... Any objections?

Comments
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  • Ace Attorney is my favorite Capcom series, so this article was a nice read. I'm glad you've taken such an interest in the series as I agree it has fantastic character designs and storytelling. One of the best parts about Ace Attorney is meeting a character then seeing that character grow up over time through the series. The games also make you feel like a lawyer/detective putting the pieces together to uncover the truth along proving your clients innocence. Each case has twists and turns that can blow your mind at times when you think everything is going in one direction and then it all shifts to another. I was also a bit heartbroken when I read that they felt they should end the series with Spirit of Justice, but it ends on a nice note. Since you have not played Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice, Dual Destinies, and Spirit of Justice I do not want to give away too much. However, I will say that the games center focus on the newly established characters alongside Phoenix Wright as opposed to just Phoenix himself. I will also say each game attempts to introduce new gameplay mechanics to freshen up the experience, and while they may not be groundbreaking, they are pretty neat. You also get more of the world and characters which I find to be the strongest aspect of the series.

    In short, if you really enjoyed Ace Attorney and want more of it, games 4 - 6 will definitely scratch the itch alongside even the Investigations spin-off starring Edgeworth. I suggest going for a 3DS because I would also highly recommend Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright. It features the fun puzzles of Professor Layton mixed with Ace Attorney investigating in order to find clues and evidence, and then you get to use it all in trials just like a standard Ace Attorney game.
  • I hope they also bring the 2 Edgeworth spin-off and the 2nd trilogy to console.
  • @1 - Thanks so much!

    @2 - Yeah, me too. I'd love to see the entire series available on PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch!
  • That Shu Takumi line of knowing when to end a story is important cause it's the one thing games 4 to 6 has ignored. Phoenix Wrights story ended i Trials & Tribulations. Why Capcom decided to prolong his stay is a mystery.

    Although game 4 was written by Shu Takumi, it felt like Phoenix was shoe-horned in last minute.
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