Review | Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy

Look out world, there’s a new team of legal eagles at the Wright Law Offices Wright Anything Agency. Once confined to the small pair of screens that were the Nintendo DS and 3DS, developer CAPCOM finally brings Ace Attorney titles four through six to the big screen in the ‘Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy’. Though technically they aren’t officially numbered, these games are very much a continuation of the original three Ace Attorney games starring Phoenix Wright and his penchant for solving murders (and the occasional theft) on the fly.

The original localised Ace Attorney games were an unexpected hit for the company, who proceded to bring just about every game over to the states. Naturally, a solid set of games with Phoenix means we need new protagonists to keep the show going, and who better to do that than Apollo Justice in these fun, great visual novels.

But “Not so fast”, lemme show you why these games (and this series) are a household name for my family and I.

“Strangled” and “choked” are key words here. (CAPCOM)

Thinking Outside the XBox

The Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a set of three Ace Attorney games that launched on the Nintendo DS and 3DS over the last 14 or so years.

  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies and its DLC case
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirits of Justice and its DLC case

These games are visual novels first and foremost. Assuming the role of Apollo Justice, Phoenix Wright, and Athena Cykes, you’ll be reading swaths of text, collecting evidence on and off investigations, and pointing out contradictions in statements made by the witness and prosecution. More specifically, you’ll have to think about the facts of the cases you take on and answer questions or poke holes into the accusations made about your client.

The Ace Attorney games have two modes of play: investigations and cross-examinations. When you’re investigating a case, you’ll have to examine crime scenes and other related areas to gather evidence and talk to witnesses. Some witnesses are forthcoming with information, others are more skittish and will require prodding—either with evidence or through insights the playable character has, such as Apollo’s ability to sense when someone is tensing up or Athena’s incredible power to sense emotions from people’s voices. These minigames help mix up gameplay very well and they’re fun to pull off once you get the hang of them. Apollo’s has you finding a person’s stress point as they’re testifying and pointing it out while Athena’s has you finding the ‘wrong’ emotion detected within a testimony. Outside that, be prepared to do others peoples jobs, like dusting for and matching fingerprints

Off the field, you’ll be in the courtroom. These courts pit the defence and prosecution face-to-face as they battle it out to get their desired verdicts. Typically the prosecution will state their claim, call up witnesses, and it’s up to you to break their defences by pressing testimonies sentence-by-sentence, finding contradictions (or outright lies), and presenting the necessary evidence, pointing out problematic areas on diagrams and 3D models, and so on and so forth. If the court cannot reach a verdict, it drags onto the next day and leads to another investigation sequence or one final courtroom showdown.

Doing other people’s jobs is a lawyer’s past time. (CAPCOM)

Without bringing up the game’s story yet, I can tell you that Ace Attorney’s puzzles are fun to work out. Each statement you break down brings you closer to the truth and it can be immensely satisfying once you figure out the meaning of a particular piece of evidence sitting in the Court Records. But even when you are not doing the lawyer stuff, it’s always fun to watch cases play out between the eccentric protagonists, picky and brash prosecutors, the easily convinced judge, and the outright weirdo witnesses that will all work together to rag on the defence whenever possible. Don’t come into these games expecting jury duty—you’ll laugh and even cry on the way to the finale.

My siblings and I have been playing these games for years, as they’ve been coming out. More specifically, I played them first and they monkey see’d, monkey do’d—because of course, all their good taste comes from me, but I digress. Having this collection on the big screen is great, because as I was playing through these games once more, my family and I were glued to the screen trying to figure out the right answers and remembering fun story beats as I pressed on. The downside is that, occasionally the game’s logic may betray your thinking: you might be thinking too far ahead and might present the wrong evidence even though, logically, Apollo and co. should be able to reach the same conclusions with said evidence, or pointing out specific areas gets annoyingly specific, and the game’s cursor can be a bit finnicky with an analog stick—but those don’t come too often.

This collection also made that much easier to do. Though these games were made with two screens in mind, CAPCOM has done a great job adapting them to one giant television screen. Apollo Justice’s HD sprites look crisp, even if they’re not the dirty-looking pixel art that I love from the DS games. While Dual Destinies and Spirits of Justice, the 3D entries, have been made to run at 4K and their animated cutscenes can finally shine at 720p-ish instead of on a 240p screen, if at that. Not only that, the trilogy offers many nice quality-of-life options such as auto reading, unread text skipping, text box transparency, being able to save effortlessly at any point (very useful, trust me), and even a story mode that lets you sit back ‘n relax as the game quite literally plays itself.

Gameplay aside, these games are ultimately visual novels first and foremost. You not only need writing that’s engaging but also proper pacing and, really, good build-up to the climax of the case and the game as a whole. Each entry offers a moral story leading up to the finale and, after playing these games again after many years, two of these entries are great at this and one of them falls flat on its face. It’s best if I explain each entry—no spoilers, I solemnly swears.

These are capable legal eagles, I assure thee. (CAPCOM)

Lawful Upbringings

When Apollo Justice’s game first launched in Japan way back when, it was the latest entry some years after the original three Ace Attorney games on the Gameboy Advance. This entry follows the story of a greenhorn lawyer aptly named after the title of the game, who ends up taking his first case a lot sooner than he expected. This entry in the series is an unexpected favourite of mine, as it not only takes twists and turns with the usual formula from prior games and makes each of its four cases an unexpected rollercoaster.

Phoenix, once a lawyer loved by many for his keen ability to defend, has lost his attorney’s badge and has become a deadbeat dad—complete with wearing sandals even in the coldest of weather. Why this happened and how it got to this point is told really well through unexpected breakthroughs in each case and how the game ties everything up in the end with its messaging on (Japan’s) legal system is fantastic. Playing this game again has only made it appreciate it even more. The cases are fun (barring Case 3’s padding), the characters are fun and ridiculous as can be, and this is the entry that actually left me holding back tears in the end.

So, many years later the series would continue once again in the form of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. The ‘first’ 3D entry in the series, Dual Destinies takes our beloved characters into the 3D space, complete with the exact style of animation found in prior games. You might like it, you might find it weird to look at—Particularly Apollo, as he looks like a blob of brown play-doh with teeth when he get caught off guard. We also get a new lawyer in the Wright Anything Agency by the name of Athena Cykes and, per tradition, a new main prosecutor. The series’ traditional synthetic music has been redone by orchestra, with Noriyuki Iwadare’s music being a highlight of this entry.

It’s all in the heart, these emotions. (CAPCOM)

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like Dual Destinies when I played it back then. And playing it today, I don’t like it anymore than I did back then—and I went in with an open mind, trust me. Dual Destinies starts off with a “bombastic” case, its beginnings throw out everything Apollo Justice’s game set up and get ignored for good. Once again, the “Dark Age of Law” (totally not used by this series more than once), is running rampant for some reason and watching this retread of a story arc over the course of this game.

The new prosecutor, Blackquill, and the main cast offer fun backtalk between one another, but moment-to-moment conversations can’t really cover up just how much of a slog Dual Destinies is to go through. I take issue with Phoenix’s character, who feels like they’ve regressed from prior entries, and I couldn’t help but take issue with Apollo’s character, who seemed to be more aggressive than he’s ever been compared to what he’s had to deal with before. Dual Destinies also sheds the “examination” button and keeps them exclusive to crime scenes, losing out on much needed flavour text that I enjoy from the Ace Attorney games.

And more importantly, the cases have high stakes but were arguably much less interesting than some of Phoenix’s earlier games. Mind, as this series continued, each entry gets wordier and wordier and this entry particularly suffers for that because of constant flashbacks and explanations that end up circling right back to points argued 20 minutes before. This is the only game I turned on the “unread text skipping” function for, and in the end I couldn’t finish it—it’s finale may appear grand, but its more like something out of a Professor Layton game without the charm. I had more fun reading the ‘Great Ace Attorney’ over this entry, and I’m not particularly fond of that game.

Big hearts come with bigger mouths. (CAPCOM)

And now we’re left with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirits of Justice. This entry takes Phoenix Wright out of “America” and into the heart of Kurai’in, a secluded land in the mountains with a dark that envelopes it: and of course, our boy Phoenix finds himself unintentionally setting off a rebellion just by doing his job. This entry splits perspectives between Athena, Apollo, and Phoenix as they run into trouble and tackle it head-on. Spirits of Justice is where the series really found its footing, not just with what they can do with 3D but also with its writing. This game is a favourite of mine, despite building off Dual Destinies.

Spirits of Justice offers more than just animated cutscenes this time around: you’ll be seeing motion captured in-engine scenes and new ways to investigate evidence and point them out to the prosecution. Being able to examine everywhere is back and the chatter between cast members is as fun as it always is. But this game is also the longest in the series, each cases taking up more and more of your time. Pacing is an issue at times, but points of discovery and gameplay break ups such as the Divination Seance minigame make this entry particularly engaging.

Even better, leaving the country to another that’s struggling with its own sense of ‘justice’ makes for a compelling story. Phoenix Wright keeps his composure even when things get really bad for him, but his abilities to think outside the box and dish out the occasional comeback against a people who are very much against him makes for a great read. The revelations made in this game are great and you won’t be disappointed with Spirits of Justice.

Side note, but these two 3D entries have a fun little extra: it’s fun watching the localisation team squirm as they really try hard to convince the reader that, yes, Ace Attorney really absolutely positively takes place in America. You’ll see what I mean.

Imagine ramen with no salt. (CAPCOM)

A Trilogy With No Legalese

This collection also comes with goodies in the form of concept art, music from each of the games (as well as being able to set them to the main menu), a gallery where you can view individual sprites and backgrounds, and more. Looking at the concept art was great, my siblings rightly screaming out “That’s what they were going to look like?! What a goober” at some very particular sketches of certain characters. This section of the game is great and contains spoilers, obviously, so come back to it once you’ve finished the games.

Heck, I think it’s a good idea to play the original Ace Attorney trilogy, currently on Game Pass, not because you need to (each entry is a clean slate of sorts) but the build up and pay off for character stories will only be sweeter when you find out how things came to be. I love the original trilogy and I won’t pass up on a moment to recommend it, and I hope to see this series continue in this decade.

Barring a middling ‘middle’ entry, The Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy brings a set of great games from a series I love to the big screen. There’s no beating the bush around this one: this collection does Apollo Justice.


The previous one was only 30 bucks. This is a hard sell for 50.