The elephant in the room when discussing the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is the argument that it’s not really a trilogy. The three games which have just been remastered and rereleased under the title — 2007’s Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, 2013’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, and 2016’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice — are indeed respectively the fourth, fifth, and sixth mainline games in the Ace Attorney series of courtroom dramedy visual novels. But nevertheless, many long-time fans were surprised at last year’s announcement that the remasters were being marketed in this way, since there’d never really been a sense that the originals were intended to be read as a single continuous narrative.
Ace Attorney fans have been a bit spoiled in this regard in the past. Most video game trilogies are loosely connected when you really look at them, but the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy truly is what it claims to be: three games developed by the same creative team that come together to form a single story, paying off in a highly satisfying conclusion that weaves almost every thread from start to finish back together. The same is even truer of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, a prequel duology that was in the works alongside the Apollo Justice-era games when they were first released, and which only really pays off once you’ve played both halves to the end.
By contrast, the three games now united under the Apollo Justice name are each far more stand-alone. Eagle-eyed readers will probably already have noticed that although Apollo Justice gets his name in the collection’s title, Phoenix Wright resumes his top billing for the latter two individual games therein, which really says a lot about the sometimes-awkward push-and-pull drawing this compilation rerelease in different directions. But still, they had to call it something to differentiate it from the Phoenix Wright Trilogy, and none of this is Apollo Justice’s fault, so I think it makes sense as a title. It just has the unfortunate side-effect of creating an expectation that the Apollo Justice Trilogy isn’t quite up to delivering on.
Like its easily flustered main characters, the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a bit all over the place, especially when compared to the two tightly authored collections that preceded it. If you try to regard these games as a single narrative, there is a glaring tendency for cliffhangers never to be followed up on and important plot points to be quietly dropped between games. Add in the previously alluded to confusion as to who exactly is meant to be the protagonist around here — which leads to supporting cast often being built up only to be unceremoniously shuffled offstage, to ensure that the later games can accommodate all of the half-dozen or so contenders for the role of series lead — and things start to look a tad messy.
Even if you’re not the kind of player to get bogged down in lore details, the more practical mystery-solving elements across the three games suffer to a degree from the same vagaries. Almost every Ace Attorney game has introduced something new to differentiate it from what came before, but in these latter games, it feels less like a solid foundation is being continuously built upon and more like a well-designed extension that was nevertheless started before proper planning permission was secured. The balance of bringing in new investigation mini-games versus relying on more traditional conversation-and-deduction sections shifts noticeably across all three games in the Apollo Justice Trilogy, as does the attitude towards how many “helpful” (your mileage may vary) hints assistant characters should offer unprompted.
None of these are new criticisms though, and indeed I’m drawing a lot on my knowledge of the reception to the games’ original releases here. This unevenness isn’t a failing of the remasters, although the bundling of the three games together does serve to highlight it. Lest we forget, these games were originally released across almost a full decade, including the largest main series production gap to date; and while the key development team stayed largely the same, directorial duties were handed off twice in that time, with series creator Shu Takumi first stepping back to a reduced role in the production, before departing entirely to focus on spin-offs after Apollo Justice’s eponymous debut. If it feels like this collection is attempting to unite a group of games released during the most disparate phase in the franchise’s history, that’s because it’s literally what’s happening.
Fundamentally, this isn’t actually a bad thing. Don’t just take my word for that, either. General consensus among fans is that one of the games in this trilogy is up there with the Ace Attorney franchise’s all-time highlights. Which of the three games presented here that is, on the other hand, is hotly contested, but that in itself is a recommendation. Split opinion on the matter speaks to diverse personal preferences being fairly catered to, as opposed to any definitive dips in quality.
The thing is, some disjointedness doesn’t prevent the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy from containing some of the best and most compelling writing in the entire series. On a literal case-by-case basis, these three games can confidently stand on a par with the Phoenix Wright or Great Ace Attorney collections. Some of the individual stories are stronger and more memorable than others, but that’s always been true of every Ace Attorney game; and some of the most iconic characters in the franchise only emerge after the seven-year in-universe time skip between the two mainline trilogies.
It’s hard to imagine how the franchise could have stayed fresh over six main instalments without the addition of Phoenix’s adopted daughter Trucy, who frees up previous assistant characters Maya Fey and Ema Skye to enjoy some much-deserved character development; or the series’ first non-posthumous female protagonist Athena, who joins the fray as the tertiary playable character from Dual Destinies. The advent of Apollo and Athena as strong and distinctive co-protagonists eventually forces Phoenix to undergo a transformation from a standard anime leading man whose point-of-view we’re meant to assume is much like our own, into a far more defined character in his own right.
While it’s legitimately disappointing to see promising sources of evolving drama cut off between games, there are positives even to this. It would be unfair to categorise the games in the Apollo Justice Trilogy as beholden to a status quo; they continually advance the series in both plot and gameplay, but the lighter touch with the out-of-context callbacks makes for a more welcoming experience for new players. Although I would still urge anyone new to the series to begin with the Phoenix Wright Trilogy for maximum appreciation, there’s no real barrier to starting here instead if you prefer the look of the franchise’s Apollo Justice era. And while the trilogy format might render this last point somewhat moot, it’s worth saying that you can play these games in any order: all the content in the remaster is unlocked from the beginning, so you don’t need to progress through Apollo Justice to play Dual Destinies, for example. Heck, you don’t even need to play each game from Case 1 if you decide you want to jump in halfway through instead; bit weird if they’re brand-new to you, but you do you.
On a technical level, the remasters themselves are beautiful to look at, with the sole exception of some noticeable pixelation on the 2D character models when playing at 1440p, which is the locked resolution for an undocked Switch, and the default resolution on Steam Deck. This shouldn’t bother anyone playing on a monitor or TV and, for some, might not even count as a negative, considering that the remasters’ movement away from pixel art to smoother lines has been a point of contention among long-time Ace Attorney fans for years already.
The 2D background art has received a noticeable overhaul, with a softer watercolour look compared to the Phoenix Wright Trilogy, which helps to make character sprites stand out more. The six-year gap between Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies was already made obvious by the series’ shift from 2D to 3D graphics, resulting in the first remastered game here looking to have received a much more significant visual upgrade compared to the two newer games. It’s another example of this trilogy’s noticeable inconsistencies, but once again, it’s not so much a negative as a quirk you can’t help but clock when viewing them side-by-side, but that doesn’t impact on the individual games’ enjoyability at all.
In addition to its three main titles, the Apollo Justice Trilogy bundles in two additional story chapters and six alternate outfits for the main playable characters, all of which were originally released as paid DLC for Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice; as well as a comprehensive gallery of artwork, animations, and music from all three games, which also grants access to the brand-new animation studio.
However, pieces of previously Japan-only DLC still haven’t been localised, so Anglophone completionists will have to continue wrestling with their lack of access to the Turnabout Deduction quiz and the Basara-inspired DLC alternate outfits for Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena. (Yes, sadly, marvelling that tiny twink Apollo is actually rather jacked remains the domain of Japanese 3DS owners.) A completionist who already owns the originals with all their available DLC on the DS/3DS might do well to bear in mind that the only brand-new material of any weight here is the animation studio. Whether this is disappointing or not will likely depend on your desire to be able to easily play these games on modern hardware, accompanied as it is by more detailed artwork and the introduction of an accolade (a.k.a. achievement/trophy) system.
OK, so, what does all that leave us with? A Trilogy that’s maybe not really a “trilogy”, but is a collection of three very good games, the excellence of at least one of which is statistically going to become the hill you’ll gladly die on. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Apollo Justice Trilogy brings classic games that were becoming increasingly hard to get hold of to the convenient comfort of your PC, Switch, or last-gen PlayStation/Xbox console of choice. A brief opening screen even contextualises this rerelease as partly an act of game preservation, an issue it’s refreshing to see Capcom directly acknowledge, even if their concern doesn’t come as a surprise given their recent track record with remakes and remasters.
The Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a little less consistent when compared to the two collections that preceded it, but it’s still doing the good work of bringing a gem of a series to new platforms and audiences at a time when these games otherwise risk being left behind. Whether its slightly shaky attempts to position itself as a stand-alone trilogy will prove an effective draw for new players remains to be seen, but of course it’s an absolute must-play if you’re already a fan of the series — and if you were drawn into the franchise through the last two remastered collections and haven’t encountered these three games yet, you’re in for a particular treat.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy launches today on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC (via Steam) for £40/$50. This game was reviewed using a Nintendo Switch copy of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy provided by the publisher.