I absolutely love the Ace Attorney series. While most games are about the protagonist physically triumphing over something, these handheld courtroom procedurals starring defense attorneys Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice, and most recently prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, prove that you can have just as much fun playing a game about cross examining witnesses and presenting evidence as you can shooting something in the face. Honestly, when it comes to legal drama, who needs Law & Order when you could have a bunch of weirdos duking it out in court to the least plausible justice system ever devised, to the point where a trial isn't so much dramatic as it is a spectator sport? Sure, the games are barely interactive, and the logic can occasionally be frustrating, but from the over-the-top characters to the fantastic scripts to the sense of accomplishment that comes from finally getting your client off the hook in a court where "innocent until proven guilty" is a hilarious fantasy, these five DS games simply can't be beat.
While playing the latest game I knew I just had to do a tribute to everything Ace Attorney has to offer, so instead of talking about the best moments, characters, or out of place pop culture references, I decided to do a spoiler-filled
countdown of the cases themselves. There's four or five making up each game, and while most of them are definitely worth playing, I'd say these ten are my personal favorites, all of them in some way rising above the rest. So if there aren't any objections, let's get to it!
10. Recipe for Turnabout (3-3)
While I was pretty sure what the other nine cases on this list would be, I had a tough time choosing what would make the tenth spot. I realized it had to be the third case in Trials and Tribulations simply because it's the most ludicrous one in the entire series. The localization team does an excellent job filtering out a lot of the weird stuff in these games and replacing it with a very tongue in cheek self-awareness, but here it was plainly impossible, and you can feel the Japanese other-worldliness oozing from every pore. There's a dirty old man whose perversions you have to play into to advance the investigation, the criminals you deal with are plainly the Yakuza, and the chef at the restaurant this case revolves around is, without a doubt, the most flamboyantly gay character in the series, and as any fan knows, that is saying
To make it even more hilariously absurd the culprit in this case stole Phoenix's identity and impersonated him in a trial which he intentionally lost. The two look nothing alike
except for the hair, and everyone involved in the trial was too stupid to tell the difference except for maybe this game's ridiculously cool prosecutor Godot, who probably just didn't care. I don't think there's a single case in the series that better illustrates how supremely wacky a murder in the Ace Attorney world can be, and for that, it makes the list.
9. The Stolen Turnabout (3-2)
The case that came immediately before it, however, is unique in that it's not about a murder. Well...not at first. No, the second case in Trials and Tribulations begins with the theft of a rare vase, and your client is accused of being the world-renowned thief held responsible, Mask☆DeMasque, possibly the best example of one of the benefits to all of the dialogue being in text, which is that almost all of the characters can have names that would never work if someone actually had to say them out loud. Anyway, the case takes a great turn halfway through when, after proving your client didn't steal the vase, you find out about a murder that happened at the same time as the theft, and oops, would you look at whose alibi you just ruined?
In the end it turns out your client did
steal the vase, he is
Mask☆DeMasque, and the detective you had pegged for the thief turned out to be the murderer who planned everything. It's a great spin on the traditional Ace Attorney formula, not to mention your introduction to the mysterious coffee-addicted Godot, a prosecutor who's never lost a trial, because as it turns out, in another nice subversion of the series formula, this is his first.
8. Turnabout Serenade (4-3)
Klavier Gavin is cool. Now it may be obvious to point that out about a character in one of these games, especially a prosecutor/rock star, but I just feel he doesn't get enough respect as the rival in Apollo Justice. I see the argument. He's never that antagonistic, he doesn't have much of a history with Apollo or Phoenix, and sometimes it feels like he's going easy on you. But that's what makes him so cool! Because he's a naturally nice guy he doesn't hate Apollo, even though the first case gives him a damn good reason to. Sure, he and Apollo are on opposite sides of the courtroom, but that doesn't mean they're enemies. While you eventually have to earn a grudging respect from the other prosecutors, Klavier is basically Apollo's friend from the start, to the point where this case actually begins at one of his concerts, which he invited you to. Also, he has the single best animation in the series:
I just wanted to get that out there, since this is the only chance on this list I'll have to talk about the lead singer of The Gavinners. Besides that, though, there's some damn good stuff going on here, from some disability-related revelations, to the way the horsepower of the DS is taken advantage of to provide gimmicks like picking out sounds with an audio mixer and, hey! There's even a cutscene! But this case, from the location to the eventual culprit, is all connected to Klavier, and he really helps tie everything together to make it more than the sum of its parts.
7. Turnabout Ablaze (5-5)
I would also consider Ace Attorney Investigations better than the sum of its parts. I liked it overall, although it never really reaches the heights of some of the other games in the series. It might be because the courtroom is no longer the focus, or that it's more satisfying to win a case as perpetual underdog Phoenix as opposed to Edgeworth, who in his debut game certainly has the odds stacked against him on several occasions, but he's always so confident that it's not quite as exciting when he finally comes out on top. It's still good though, and the only reason this is the lone case from the fifth Ace Attorney that made it on the list is that the whole game is very much aware that it's telling one long narrative, and when you pick out individual cases to examine they don't hold up quite as well.
That said, they all tie together nicely in the end, in a complex double murder at an embassy. The highlight is the discovery of the identity of the original Great Thief Yatagarasu, a question that had been lingering for most of the game. Since two somewhat unsatisfying answers were already provided, it was great to see that when the truth was finally revealed it made perfect sense, yet was still a complete surprise. There's also a moment in this case that infuriated me, involving a choice between whether or not to present a particular piece of evidence, where I felt like the game completely betrayed not just me but Edgeworth as a character. I'm mostly over it, but this would probably be a little higher on the list if that part was handled differently.
6. Turnabout Beginnings (3-4)
There are two cases in Trials and Tribulations starring Phoenix's mentor Mia Fey, and even though the client of the first one happens to be Phoenix himself, this is the better of the two. Anyone who's played it knows what makes this such an unforgettable trial. Sure, it's cool to see a young Edgeworth, and Diego Armando looks just a little bit familiar...
I'm kidding, he's blatantly Godot, they don't even bother trying to hide it. But what makes this case memorable is the single most tragic, gut-wrenching moment in the series, when the defendant, the hopelessly naive Terry Fawles, kills himself on the stand.
I mean sure, these games can be a bit dark sometimes, since they're dealing with murder and everything, but nothing even comes close to having that much of an emotional impact.
It's made even more shocking by the fact that this is really the only trial in all of Ace Attorney that the defense completely loses, and if there's one thing it does exceptionally well it's make you absolutely despise
Dahlia Hawthorne, the manipulative bitch responsible. This series has plenty of villains, and while a few can be considered evil, not one of them has attained the complete monster status Dahlia has for causing Terry's death by, and I really can't emphasize this enough, forcing him to commit suicide.
5. Turnabout Trump (4-1)
On a far lighter note, we have the first case in Apollo Justice. It's interesting to note this is the only first case in the series that I like enough to put on this list. I mean it's not that much of a surprise that the initial trials are rarely the best, since they inherently have to show you the ropes, they can't risk being too confusing, and they all put you up against the charmingly inept prosecutor Winston Payne, but this case is different, despite the fact that it still does all of those things. First of all, it's in two parts, which definitely gives it some much-needed breathing room. Secondly, your client is a washed up, disbarred Phoenix Wright. How shocking is that? The guy you spent three games playing as is now an abject failure, yet he's somehow much smarter and more in control of the situation than he ever was in the previous three games.
Next, the identity of the murderer actually turns out to be pretty surprising, and accusing him is just one of the finest examples of those great Ace Attorney moments that the series does so well, and so often, where the situation is basically "this makes no sense at all yet based on the evidence it's the only thing that could have logically happened without my client having done it so what the hell, let's go for it." Finally, what's just brilliant is that the murder took place during a Poker game, which makes for some fantastic evidence and is actually a really clever way to introduce Apollo, a character who gets the crucial ability to "perceive" witnesses' tells. Ultimately, this is just an extremely well-constructed case, and as an introduction to a new chapter in the Ace Attorney saga, it couldn't have been better.
4. Farewell, My Turnabout (2-4)
I can't imagine I'd be upsetting that many people by saying I consider Justice for All the weakest game in the series. Whereas the first one started things off, Trials and Tribulations perfected the formula, and the games made exclusively for the DS provide some twists, upgrades, and new protagonists, the second installment of Ace Attorney sometimes gives off the feeling that it's just phoning it in. The new prosecutor is Franziska von Karma, and although she's a fantastic character with my favorite name in the series, as an adversary she's a bit lacking. When you're up against her she's just sort of petulant, and way too quick to lash out (literally), so even when she has the advantage it never really felt like Phoenix was completely out of his depth. In fact, bringing back Edgeworth for this trial makes it pretty clear that he's considered a tougher opponent.
As for the game's cases, the first and third are pretty weak, although to be fair the second is actually quite good. But when I started this, the fourth and final case, I was worried the series had exhausted pretty much all it had to offer. It brought back a lot of steel samurai stuff from 1-3, which I was never that fond of, and although Maya got kidnapped and there was an assassin involved, I still wasn't that into it. Then everything changed with the best twist Ace Attorney has ever had. Partway through, it's revealed that your client, Matt Engarde is guilty. He's the murderer. He did it. He hired the assassin. He's behind the kidnapping. He is unquestionably an evil douchebag, and now he's leveraging Maya to force you to get him acquitted. In one sudden, brilliant stroke, the entire formula of the series has been turned on its head, and you have to figure out how to get your client convicted.
In fact, the reason this case started out so similar to that one in the first game is so you would be lulled into a false sense of security, making it all the more shocking when you find out the truth. So pretty much everyone teams up to bring the asshole down, which is finally accomplished by turning the assassin against Engarde in what really ends up being one of the most satisfying moments the series has ever produced, which you can see here:
Kudos, Justice for All. No matter the shortcomings you sure finished strong.
3. Turnabout Goodbyes (1-4)
Originally the last case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, before it was ported to the DS and brought outside of Japan, Turnabout Goodbyes did a great job of wrapping things up while adding a lot of depth to what came before. Edgeworth is the client, accused of murdering the attorney who got his father's supposed killer off the hook fifteen years earlier in the DL-6 incident, a case that also has strong ties to the history of the Fey clan. Ultimately it turns out the killer in that case and the mastermind behind this one is Edgeworth's mentor, not to mention the prosecutor in the current case, Manfred von Karma. Really the second you saw that guy, you knew he would have to end up being guilty somehow, and sure enough he turns out to be the only truly evil prosecutor in the series.
What's great are all the twists the case takes and the proof that has to be found before you can even try to accuse him. The guy's ruthless, more so than anyone Phoenix had faced up until and arguably since that point. You're fighting von Karma for every inch, he clearly controls the courtroom, when the investigation is closing in on him he actually tazes
Phoenix, and before you can pin the crime on him some insane methods are required. You cross examine a parrot. And it works.
But the highlight of the case comes at the end, when Phoenix, grasping at straws, has to prove what happened to a theorized second bullet in the case from 15 years ago. A vision from Mia tells him to think crazy, and the player and Phoenix essentially bullshit their way through an explanation, before realizing, at pretty much the same time, that the second bullet must have actually hit von Karma. Then, in a moment that defines Ace Attorney better than anything I can think of, you prove von Karma got shot and still has the bullet in him by using a metal detector.
In a courtroom. Hell yes.
2. Rise from the Ashes (1-5)
And then that case got immediately topped by the only one that doesn't have the word "turnabout" in its name. As you may be aware, the first three Ace Attorney games were originally made for the GBA before being ported to the DS. To commemorate the occasion, a ridiculously long bonus case was developed for the first game, which, since the next installment would star Apollo Justice, was the last trial the Japanese team developed featuring Phoenix Wright, and boy did they go all out. After playing the first, oldest Ace Attorney game, the huge spike in production values the DS allowed for is staggering.
Just look at the opening:
Yeah, holy shit. One of the best parts of Ace Attorney is the feeling of utter bewilderment at exactly what the hell's going on that you get at the beginning of every trial, compounded with the excitement of knowing all will be made clear, and you're the one who gets to figure it out. With that cutscene this case achieves that feeling better than any other. And things are, indeed, very confusing. In fact, the sequence of events is so complex that no murder is actually taking place in that video. Unraveling things takes a long damn time, and yet it almost totally works. In one of the case's best sequences the evidence being analyzed is a surveillance tape, which you can actually rewind, pause, and fast forward to point out contradictions.
Edgeworth is the prosecutor, because no one else would have sufficed, and after the previous case revealed the history between him and Phoenix, and they went from rivals to friendly rivals, this trial is pretty much about the two of them kicking ass. When it comes down to it the prosecutors in this series are usually out for justice, and will occasionally help out the defense when the witness you're cross examining is clearly guilty, but this is where it stops being subtle and by the end Phoenix and Edgeworth are trying as hard as they can to bring down the culprit. It's very cool.
If there's one minor blemish here it's that there's one twist too many. There was a point, right at the end, where I was perfectly satisfied with the explanation that was given for everything. Unfortunately, there was one more revelation just to make the bad guy worse and the remove any shades of gray from the situation. It was kind of annoying, but really, that's a small gripe in what is otherwise an all around brilliant case, easily among the very best. Which brings us to...
1. Bridge to the Turnabout (3-5)
Considering I put four of the five cases from Trials and Tribulations on this list, it's pretty clear that I consider it the best game in the series, and my personal favorite. It's a perfect mix of an overarching story with great stand alone trials, and includes Godot, possibly the best prosecutor in the history of Ace Attorney despite only appearing in one installment. So it's only fitting that my favorite case is this game's conclusion.
Really, there's too much to say. The case itself is impossible to explain here, as pretty much no amount of detail could do it justice, or help anyone who hasn't actually played it have any clue what's going on. It's constructed almost flawlessly, and serves as the perfect sendoff to the Phoenix Wright trilogy. Really, all the characters you'd want to be here, from Edgeworth, to Franziska, to Larry, show up in some capacity. The case itself is as intricate as it is brilliant, and ties in perfectly not only with the events of this game, but of the previous two as well, providing all the closure anyone could want.
If I may nonsensically rattle off some of the great things in here, there's figuring out what the hell Larry's painting means, getting to play as Edgeworth for the first time- while facing off against Franziska no less, everything involving Godot, Mia's absolutely epic verbal beat-down of Dahlia Hawthorne, which manages to exorcise
her, and a hell of a lot more.
That last point actually brings up the fact that there's a ton of spirit channeling going on during this trial, and it really says something that the least believable part is that the Judge is able to understand what's happening. The game does a great job of tying its supernatural elements in with the (comparatively) realistic ones, which is a damn good thing considering how important this trial is to the Feys. In fact, more so than Phoenix this case marks the end of the Fey storyline. Everything involving Mia, Maya, and Pearl is resolved, and since none of them make an appearance in Apollo Justice, I kind of doubt they'll show up in any future installments. I could be wrong of course, but if I'm not, this is as excellent a way as any to say goodbye to a family of characters so hugely important to the series. And goodbyes are really what this case does so exceptionally well. Which is why as a farewell to the Feys, Godot, successful Phoenix, and the original trilogy of Ace Attorney games, it couldn't possibly be better.
So that, my friends, is all I've got to say, and if you've made it this far you either love these games too, or you think I'm kind of weird. Maybe both. Either way, thanks for reading. Klavier my man, play us out: