Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review

By Kevin Tavore,
The Phoenix Wright series has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. What exactly is this courtroom simulator that you can only play on handhelds? This can’t be remotely realistic, right? And what country is this supposed to represent? These questions swirled through my mind as they do in many of yours, no doubt, and so I was delighted when I learned the series would be coming to a console I own. Finally, I could dig into this lauded series in an effort to discover whether the hype paid off or not. After spending many hours with it, I strongly believe there’s conclusive evidence to reach a verdict. I hold that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is guilty of being a great series.

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The games’ premises are simple enough: you’ve got a client and you’ll need to defend them with zeal in the face of criminal prosecution. That much should be obvious from the title, and the courtroom gameplay is thrilling. You’ll interrogate witnesses, bluff having information you don’t and present evidence that punches holes in the testimony in the pursuit of truth and justice for your client and the victim in the case. It sounds simple and, conceptually, it is. The entire game is fairly scripted and while there are opportunities to make mistakes, it’s usually pretty harmless to push the witness on an irrelevant point and to present evidence that’s not relevant. More importantly, with a bit of thought it’s often quite clear exactly what evidence to present and in what order.

As I describe this, it sounds dull but the experience playing is actually energizing because you’ll be invested in the story. This will be a case you’ve investigated from the beginning against seemingly impossible odds. Through your own grit, you’ll have withstood the mounting evidence against your client and found the minor contradictions in the testimony that give you a chance to uncover each episode's mystery. It's a wonderful feeling when you have a eureka moment and realize exactly what the pieces of evidence mean; and as you move to object with the series' music blaring in the background, you can't help but smile and enjoy the moment. You solved the mystery.

The courtroom experience has a ton of charm to it and the payoff is great, but it's not without faults. Most of the time, I'd realize what evidence I needed and throw it out and the game would do the rest of the work with Phoenix deftly navigating the testimony to use my evidence. But there are occasions where I'd solve the puzzle and offer the evidence I thought should work and for various reasons, the game wouldn't accept it. I'd be penalized and have to try again on a slightly different statement or with a different piece of evidence despite my mind knowing exactly how I thought the evidence should have played out. The game's difficulty is forgiving so I never failed due to this, but there were multiple occasions where I barely scraped by and it'd have been a very bad feeling to lose progress over a misunderstanding of the developers' intentions.


One detail that surprised my inexperienced self is that the courtroom is only half the game. In this fictionalized America, the attorneys not only make legal arguments in court, but they also conduct all of the investigation to defend their client while the prosecution hides all the details it can. This investigation plays out like your standard adventure game and visual novel. You'll move through various areas and on the way you'll talk to witnesses and examine your surroundings to find important clues and get the information you need. Once again, it's simple but surprisingly fun even for someone like myself that usually dislikes the genre.

The key is that you'll always feel like you're on the verge of a breakthrough. Each episode starts with a story shrouded in mystery and it slowly unfolds through your investigation and in the courtroom. Your path through the areas is very linear if you're paying attention and that helps to ensure you're always moving at a brisk pace. You'll uncover a detail in a witness statement and that will clue you into examining an object in another which you'll eventually use in court. Not every word matters, but enough of them do that it keeps you intrigued and constantly on your toes. The pacing is perfect and right as you're getting tired of investigating, you'll usually be ready once again for your next day at trial.

The stories of the episodes are the star of this show. These aren't mysteries you're meant to solve immediately, but as a passenger in Wright's shoes you'll be spun tales of murder, betrayal, twists and turns that are unique and fun. The characters you interact with are loaded to the brim with charm and many of them recur so that you can learn more about them and grow with them as the series progresses. Even as I write this, I'm looking forward to picking up my last case where I left off and learning who really did it and where to go from here. The story sucks you right in and the ride is a blast.


The achievements are fairly easy overall, with the vast majority coming from story completion. Beyond that, there's a host of miscellaneous achievements that require you to complete simple tasks like asking specific questions in certain episodes. The only expansive achievement requires you to have conversations about the series' trademark meme, "ladder vs. step-ladder." Overall, the only real challenge here is time. To complete all three games, you're looking at close to 40 hours of playtime if you don't run through with a guide, skipping every conversation.


We've known courtroom dramas are exciting and engaging for a long time. Who hasn't been swept up in an episode or two of Law & Order: SVU while flipping through channels? There's something thrilling about watching a case unfold before your eyes and to see justice ultimately brought to light. The Ace Attorney Trilogy nails that feeling perfectly. It'll take you through captivating mysteries that have plenty of twists while still leaving you satisfied that you solved the crime rather than being drug through to the end. It'll let you pretend to be an attorney and find the gaps in testimony that reveal the true story. Most of all, it'll be an experience you won't find anywhere else.
8 / 10
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
The reviewer spent approximately 15 hours defending his clients and uncovering corruption and mysteries. Along the way, he unlocked 8 achievements for 165 Gamerscore. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the publisher.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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