The Phoenix Wright / Ace Attorney Series – A Retrospective


The Phoenix Wright or Ace Attorney series as they are known in Europe, are translations of the Gyakuten Saiban series released by Capcom, that began with a trilogy of GameBoy Advance games released between 2001-2004. This series was later translated to English and released on the Nintendo DS and remains, in my opinion, a stronghold of good story telling and well developed characters, in a world where video game characters often feel very shallow and two dimensional. The general premise of the series is that you are a defence attorney in charge of protecting their client from a guilty verdict which carries a capital sentence. Now, there is a lot of reading to be done in this game, in fact the game revolves around highlighting contradictions and flaws in testimonies, so if you don’t like the idea of spending a lot of time reading then this is not the series for you. If you are prepared to give up some time and put in a little effort however these challenging games are an endearing series, with a wide range of memorable moments and a moving story.

Phoenix Wright: Aceiest of Attorneys.

Ace attorney
I’ma going to tickle that chin through your glorious cravat Edgeworth…

Gyakuten Saiban One follows the ordeals of trainee lawyer, Phoenix Wright, in his earliest trials. The opening case is his first as a registered lawyer, and the defendant is your “friend” Larry Butz, who has been charged with murder. This case also introduces Mia Fey, Phoenix’s mentor. Mia teaches you the mechanics you’ll be using throughout the games courtroom sections to become a DEFENDING GOD. The first mechanic is Pressing witnesses, you do this by highlighting dodgy sections of testimony and asking the witness more questions to get more testimony which reveals contradictions with the evidence in the Court Record. You then present this evidence at the contradicting point and show how this witness is lying. I’d advise consistently checking the Court Record as it is easy to forget some of the earliest pieces of evidence found in some of the later cases of the game. With Larry’s butt saved you move on to the other 3 cases that make up the original first game.

The second case introduces Maya Fey a constant companion throughout the original trilogy as well as prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Edgeworth is noteworthy for being a character who really develops as the series progresses from an unlikable annoyance to someone Phoenix trusts in tough situations, a person who will do anything to make sure that the truth is brought to light, and make sure justice is served. The second case also adds investigation sections which involve travelling between areas (such as the crime scene and your office) and looking for clues and talking to potential suspects outside of court. These sections provide the player with a lot of background information that they will need to use in court in order to get the Not Guilty verdict.

I will finish you with a Samurai Sushi Slice...
I will finish you with a Samurai Sushi Slice…

The Third case revolves around hit TV series “The Steel Samurai” (which absolutely needs to be made in real life). It also helps demonstrate the naming system for the Gyakuten Saiban games: Sal Manella, Will Power and Wendy Oldbag (the terror). Yeah that’s right terrible puns, sometimes these puns will need a couple of readings before they sink in, I only noticed some of them when I was playing through the series for the second time.  Whilst being terrible, these puns allow the characters to be memorable which is helpful in a game built around its many diverse and unique character traits. The fourth case is when the game gets serious, tying together the first three cases and building up to a thrilling conclusion involving a parrot and a metal detector.

DS versions of the game also have a fifth case Rise from the Ashes which was added after the original trilogy was completed and utilises the DS’s touch screen and microphone. This case explores the relationship between the police and the prosecutors and the fake evidence which is hinted at throughout the series. It also explains Edgeworth’s absence from subsequent games and introduces forensic sections. These forensic sections include taking fingerprints from the crime scene as well as the wonders of Chemoluminesence testing, or to describe it in easier terms: LUMINOL ALL THE THINGS.


Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a simple game at it’s core but delivers a thrilling story with memorable characters. Highlighting and presenting contradictions is really enjoyable and you’ll find yourself shouting OBJECTION when witnesses tell a ridiculously obvious lie. It has two small flaws however, the first is the frustration that can arise from having to leap ahead, or back steps in logic to present the correct evidence. The other flaw is the investigation  sections which are a little bland at times. This game is a solid starting point for new players and I recommend it to anyone with a DS.

Phoenix Wright 2: Justicey Bugaloo.

Phoenix's harem increases...
Phoenix Wright 2: With 100% more adorable small children.

The second game in the trilogy is Justice for All. This opens with Phoenix suffering from amnesia, after being bonked upside the head. This case also has one of the most frustrating contradictions for someone in the UK. It revolves around baseball gloves, things I have never seen, let alone worn. The older wiser Masked Gentleman now knows that you wear these on your non-dominant hand (pro-tip there). The amnesia is used to reintroduce players to the courtroom mechanics with the added improvement that you can now present people and profiles in court and literally point the finger at members of the cast. It also has one of the games better “cutscenes” which plays Tocatta and Fugue by Bach in the background.

The game then moves on to reintroducing Maya and deals heavily with the Kurain Channelling Technique. This is a technique used by the Fey’s that summons a spirit from the afterlife, that possesses the body of the summoner and changes their appearance to that of the deceased. The case also introduces the Magatama which helps to spice up the investigation parts of the game. When speaking to certain characters they will try to withhold secrets which Phoenix can see through Maya’s magnificent, mystical magical Magatama. You then present evidence to break through the lies similar to the courtroom and get to the truth. This means that these can be done only once certain pieces of evidence have been found which helps provide a structure to the investigations sections. Once completed these sections restore “health” to Phoenix.

Ah the Psychelock unfortunately you can't get through these with wire cutters
Ah the Psychelock unfortunately you can’t get through these with wire cutters

The Third case covers a murder in a circus and introduces some of the best minor supporting characters such as Moe the clown,  Ben and Trilo Quist. The game then concludes with a long and difficult fourth case that can be incredibly frustrating at times but is noteworthy for the triumphant return of several characters from the first game and for the way it introduces some very heavy themes such as suicide and co-dependency. There are also kidnappings and assassinations but I’ll hold my tongue there to prevent spoilers.

The second game is arguably the weakest of the original trilogy with the new prosecutor Franziska Von Karma being unmemorable. It is also the shortest Ace Attorney game, it does make up for this however by adding the Magatama sections as well as the introduction of a “life” bar rather than exclamation marks to reflect differing penalties based on the mistake you have made. It is worth getting in order to play through the entire trilogy as well as for the circus case.

Phoenix Wright: The Third

This advert almost looks like a movie poster... A movie I'd pay to see.
This advert almost looks like a movie poster… A movie I’d pay to see.

The third game is Trials and Tribulations which is my second favourite DS game. It has arguably the best story of the three games and you begin playing as Mia Fey. This introduces you again to the courtroom mechanics as well as Grossberg and his incredibly overactive haemorrhoids. Following this case you move back to our favourite spiky haired lawyer Phoenix as he investigates the theft of the Kurain Sacred Urn. This also introduces prosecutor Godot who I’ll get to in more detail later. The case revolves around the master thief Mask ☆DeMasque famous for his ostentatious style and the way he dancingly desends onto the crime scene. The Third case revolves around a fake Phoenix, or Xineohp as he is known and the defence of a recognisable waitress accused of murdering a man who belongs to a company that hires based on whether your name is a palindrome or not…. Well you know what they say about today’s economy, employers can afford to be choosy. You then morph back to Mia for a bit to do a short case which sets up for the final case. This is the longest case in the original trilogy and ties together the story from all three games very well. The ending is arguably one of the best I’ve played and will bring a tear to even the manliest of eyes.

I need to get myself a visor like his...
I need to get myself a visor like his…

Godot… This fella deserves a short mention for being the best prosecutor in the series. With a cup of coffee in one hand and always ready to disagree with Phoenix whilst remaining unbelievably cool he is one of the most memorable characters in the entire franchise. What lies beneath the mask, well you can find out that for yourself. Oh adding to his coolness factor is that fact his ringtone is his own theme song which just happens to be one of the best pieces of music in the game. As they say, “What’s cooler than being cool?”

Trials and Tribulations is a must if you own a DS. It is obviously meant to be played third and joins together all three games into a narrative that is one of the best seen amongst video games. It acts as a goal for modern games to strive for when creating a universe full of recognisable characters with their own stories and roles to play. Whilst this was supposed to be the end of the series, thankfully this was not the case and the series was revived in the form of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban 4)

Apollo Justice: Keep on Lawyering.

The times they are a-changing.
The times they are a-changing.

Apollo Justice is an odd beast. It looks a lot like the original trilogy of games but feels very different. The game relies on a habit mechanic during trials, which involves Apollo (Younger, Smaller, Smarter? Phoenix) concentrating on a witness’ posture to discern if they are lying. It also involves “tells” a small movement of the body made when nervous. In theory this sounds cool and it does add something interesting to the courtroom sections. In reality this can be incredibly frustrating with certain tells being incredibly hard to find (I’MA LOOKING AT YOU BRUSHEL) The 4 cases are all fairly memorable and it does a good job at reintroducing the forensic sections from Rise from the Ashes. An advance warning here, there is no way not to look like a tit whilst blowing air into your DS microphone on a packed commuter train, the other way to get the DS microphone to pick up sound (short bursts of LOUD NOISES) is also inadvisable. The final case also has one of the longest investigation sections in the game which takes you on a journey through time and space which can be incredibly confusing and frustrating if you don’t keep your wits about you. Whilst Apollo Justice feels different to the first three games it is still fun to play with memorable characters and a decent story even though it struggles to compete the story told in the original trilogy.

There is a special place in witness hell for you Brushel...
There is a special place in witness hell for you Brushel…

Miles Edgeworth: Ace Dectective

How exactly does one wear a cravat?
How exactly does one wear a cravat?

The last game released under the Ace Attorney name in Europe is Miles Edgeworth: Ace Attorney Investigations. As you can guess from the title you play as Miles Edgeworth, who combines with faithful detective Dick Gumshoe (one of the only characters to appear in every Ace Attorney game). The art style is very different to the other Ace Attorney games and uses Sprite art rather than anime-style static drawings. Another difference to the other Ace Attorney games is the fact that very little occurs in the courthouse, instead you investigate crime scenes and combine pieces of Logic together in order to ascertain what has happened at the crime scene and apprehend the true criminal. Whilst a little jarring at times this is a fun mechanic and a refreshing change. This game is well worth a look at even though it is a spin-off from the Gyakuten Saiban series as it feel a bit more interactive. It also introduces a villain notable for having a ridiculously awesome breakdown after a long and gruelling series of testimonies and rebuttals to get him to confess. There was a second Gyakuten Kenji game released in Japan but it has never found its way to English speaking shores. Similar to this is Phoenix Wright vs Professor Layton, however this has been hinted at getting a European release at some point in the near future. Well that about wraps it up for the Phoenix Wright games.

I said Hold it!
I said Hold it!

Let’s settle this out of court.

Ohohoho. That’s not it Pal. This series has a movie. A movie which is actually fairly watchable, released in 2012 by Japanese director Takeshi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer)  this movie follows the plot of the first game fairly faithfully. The directing from Miike has led to the movie feeling more adult that the games with more time being spent on the more disturbing parts of the game. Whilst this movie has not been released in Europe it is possible to watch a subbed version online and it’s worth it for having the best movie scene involving a parrot and a metal detector. Phoenix Wright has also appeared in fighting game Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 where his signature objections are used to crush the life out of a cast including: Ryu (Street Fighter), Frank West (Dead Rising), Thor (Um… Thor) and the Incredible Hulk. Difficult to learn, he is fun to play and has a Turnabout mode which turns him into a Hulk destroying badass.

I have no idea what the words say but this is definitely Phoenix Wright
I have no idea what the words say but this is definitely a Phoenix Wright movie.

The final thing to mention is the various orchestrated albums. The first of these is called Gyakuten Saiban meets Orchestra 2008 and shows how video games can have scores that rival blockbusters. The second album is Turnabout Jazz Soul which does exactly what it says on the box and is memorable for its jazzified version of Godot’s theme: Fragrance of dark coffee. This can instantly make anyone feel that they are a detective in a Noir novel……. (Initiate  monochrome mode)

Fog, darker than the bruises on my soul.
Fog, darker than the bruises on my soul.

He sat back and cast a weary eye over the words written on his typewriter. The contorted splatters of ink trying desperately to convey a story. His hand moved to the glass of whiskey and he leant back to watch the sun slowly descend through the smog covered sky. Cold and dark, he thought, just like this city. He drifted back to the keys and the sounds of his maddened typing pierced the silence. Love is like a bullet, he wrote, it passes into you through a small gap in your armoured soul but when it eventually leaves creates a gaping bloody hole that can never truly be filled…..

And then the song ended. Well, see what I mean, instant Noir fiction like an injection of the 1940’s directly to the jugular.

Right time to get things back on track.
Right time to get things back on track.

This wraps up this retrospective of the Gyakuten Saiban franchise. A series close to my heart and one I hope I’ve convinced you to have a look at. It’s a must if you own either a DS or a 3DS. They have also released the games on the Nintendo Wii store if that is more your jam. The real reason for this retrospective is the fact that the next instalment (Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies) is dancingly descending to the 3DS very soon something I’m excited about, as you may have guessed. In the meantime I’ll get ready for my next review as the Masked Gentleman. I hope you’ll join me next time when I’ll be reviewing Pokemon X and Y. Feel free to comment and leave feedback, I’ll reply the first chance I get. This is the Masked Gentleman out!

Ahh, the days of my youth… like the scent of a fresh lemon… you see?

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