Crime and pun-ishment.
While it’s since been followed by a string of sequels, crossovers, and spin-offs, the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy remains the most mechanically straightforward and narratively cohesive collection of games in the visual novel series to date. This compilation represents the first time that PlayStation and Xbox owners will be able to get a taste of the Ace Attorney series’ wonderfully absurd brand of pun-filled courtroom drama, but an absence of any new supplemental content or gameplay tweaks means it doesn’t make a compelling case for returning fans.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice For All, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations collectively amount to around 60 hours of gameplay, with each game broken down into a series of individual trials comprised of several days of crime scene investigation, courtroom cross-examination, and no shortage of Phoenix Wright’s signature objection-raising desk slams.
The cases themselves hold up remarkably well thanks to writing that seamlessly swings from po-faced seriousness to tongue-in-cheek farce, and an overarching plot that takes storylines introduced in the first game and satisfyingly ties them off in the third. I enjoyed returning to the original games’ methods of witness interrogation which, aside from the ‘Psyche-Lock’ mechanic introduced in the second game, remain far more direct than the increasingly experimental and supernatural cross-examination techniques that were brought in with subsequent sequels, to varying degrees of success.
Having said that, there are still instances where these games’ staunchly linear design means that presenting evidence that seems like it should clearly contradict a specific piece of testimony can still be dismissed by the judge, resulting in a cross-examination system that can increasingly get bogged down in trial and error (a meta pun, perhaps?) the further you get in each case. I did find myself wondering how much better these games would be if Capcom had rejiggered them somewhat to allow for multiple paths that arrive at the same conclusion so that I didn’t need to constantly manually save my game and reload it each time the logic of the case became overly obtuse.
The overall look is now clean to the point of being overly sterile, like evidence that has been completely scrubbed of fingerprints.
Capcom is touting this release as featuring high-resolution graphics optimised for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, but the truth is that the bulk of Ace Attorney Trilogy’s visual overhaul was introduced in the iOS version from 2013 and has just been sharpened slightly to suit modern HDTVs. The hand-drawn characters and environments are certainly very crisp, but the overall look is now clean to the point of being overly sterile, like evidence that has been completely scrubbed of fingerprints. The sharpened look is by no means ugly, but it has lost some of the charm that made the original sprite-based character models and animations so endearing.
It’s also disappointing that this release of the original Ace Attorney Trilogy hasn’t been retrofitted with the text log that featured in later instalments. There is an enormous amount of dialogue to page through in these games, and unless you have the concentration of a surgeon it can be easy to miss details along the way that you have no way of referring back to unless they’re included in the court record as direct evidence, which can result in you targeting pieces of testimony with less of a silver bullet and more of a shot in the dark.
In fact, this compilation hasn’t really been supplemented with anything at all – it’s the first three Ace Attorney games. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s effectively a port of a 2014 3DS game that was a port of a 2013 iOS game that was itself a port of three Nintendo DS games, each of which were ported from the Game Boy Advance. Ultimately, this compilation remains worthwhile for newcomers, but long-term Ace Attorney fans should eye it with an amount of wariness that a seasoned judge would offer a repeat offender.