Thoughts on Ace Attorney — the original game trilogy and anime series
Hey! Spoilers ahead! This is your only warning! If you have not watched the anime or played the original three games, you are going to learn things you might not want to know yet! I ended up going into a synopsis over an important aspect of the trilogy’s backstory and that will 100% spoil things for you.
Sometime around Christmas, the Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney series was on sale. On a whim I opted to buy it with zero expectation that I’d personally enjoy playing it, but I figured that at CA$20, even a single play through of one or two cases would be its money’s worth.
Three months later and 100+ hours of streaming the trilogy on Twitch — with one stream lasting nearly 13-hours for a single case — I have labeled myself as a “fangirl” of this genre.
I was also determined to finish this game before Frost Fatales, as I intended to binge watch the anime series during my travel to and from the event — of both which the event and the watching were successful.
So now I have thoughts!
Why did I become so engrossed?
Prior to working in security engineering, I worked in digital forensics incident response (DFIR), which taught me a lot about evidence handling, chain of custody, and so forth.
Thanks to a lawyer friend, I was given a reality check on how civil and criminal matters in the American context do differ greatly (my focus was primarily in the former), but it never stopped me from looking at everything I did from the point of view of my former work.
Aside from the completely bizarre way a lawyer must conduct their own investigation and how evidence is presented in court with it sometimes being modified by the prosecution on the fly, the dialogue and storytelling is paced fairly well and throughout the games you discover how incidents from early on matter in the end.
I think the best example of how it all ties together is in the third game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations, you start a case as Mia Fey, Phoenix’s mentor who an integral and supportive character in the series despite her being deceased. Phoenix himself (who is not yet a lawyer as it is set five year in the past) is accused of the murder of a pharmacy student who was conveniently the ex-boyfriend of Phoenix’s girlfriend.
This story, entitled Turnabout Beginnings, and the outcome of the case is extremely important to the final game despite being just the tutorial. In the first two games, the tutorial is not as important to the overarching story (the second game’s tutorial is important to the third game weirdly), but here it completely cements it as pivotal to how the whole game will turn out.
My field of work and the intense story writing is what really drew me in overall. It’s rather impressive that a game that frustrates me due to its lack of due process and terrifying evidence handling, that it pulls me in due to its excellent story writing and character development.
The prosecutors Miles Edgeworth and Fransiska von Karma and to a certain extent, Larry Butz are great characters.
I hate the circus
And staying on frustrations, the second game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Justice for All, has one of the most frustrating stories and yet the whole game is important to play. The first game could and did stand on its own, but when it was rereleased for the Nintendo DS (originally it was on the Game Boy Advance), an additional case was added to help tie it all together.
In this game’s third story, Turnabout Big Top, we are introduced to the Berry Big Circus (get it?) and its David Bowie-esque magician, Maximillion Galactica who has a personality so big that it literally swallows up the rest of the circus cast. As per usual, he has been accused of murder of his boss and circus ringleader, Russell Berry.
The problems with this case are vast and are hard to pin down, so let’s start with its awful music. Despite playing the HD release on the Nintendo Switch, the music pierced into my ears, literally having me state on stream that I wished that my hearing impairment were worse than it already is.
Referencing back to the bonus case added to the first game, it too had music I could not stand, but it never inflicted the horrible pain that this story gave.
But then we have the characters and boy did I ever just not like any of them.
We have Regina, the ringleader’s daughter and tamer. She’s 16-years old and is completely naive to her father’s death, suggesting that he is not gone but simply a star in the night’s sky.
Her behaviour implies that she has little education and is completely enamoured with the attention she gets. How she handles the threat against her life and her approach to practical jokes suggests how oblivious she is to the happenings around her. She consistently demonstrated throughout the case an inability to perform any level of critical thinking. She deserves so much better.
There’s a ventriloquist, Benjamin, who cannot speak coherently without the aide of his puppet, Trilo. You cannot get anything out of Ben without having to deal with Trilo’s behaviour and it becomes infuriating.
To make matters worse, Ben, who is 31, has an engagement ring for Regina, who is nearly half his age. It’s just outright gross and I was really hoping that he was the murderer, but then the game managed to find a worse outcome.
We have the accused, Max and is aged 22, who is just obnoxious and honestly probably the least frustrating because despite his big ego, you learn that he has a facade up to hide the fact he is from a lower class. He too wants to form a romantic relationship with Regina — please stop.
His redeeming factor is that while he has disputes with the rest of the cast, he does want what is best for the circus as a whole.
Then there’s Moe, a late-30s, divorced clown who ends up being the most reasonable character, but his jokes and puns are frustrating. He along with the previous led me to state that despite my prison abolishionism stance, I wanted everyone jailed because it was the best overall option.
And finally the murderer and boy did I ever hate this reveal.
After the first part of the trial, we return to investigate at the circus and we’re introduced to Acro, who is a former acrobat (get it?) and is presently confined to a wheelchair because of an injury. The paralysis-inducing injury was caused by him intervening in an attack on his younger brother by a lion.
We learn that the lion had injured Acro’s brother, Bat (ugh?), leaving him in a coma. The lion was then shot by Russell. It was revealed that Regina had as a joke gifted Bat a handkerchief laced with pepper, which resulted in the lion sneezing as Bat playfully placed his head in the animal’s mouth to impress the girl (also Bat is 22) all the while wearing the gift he had just received.
The coma Bat was in and his own paralysis left Acro extremely bitter towards Regina, who he intended to seek revenge on.
Of course, when Acro decided to take out his revenge on Regina, the letter he had slipped into her clothes as she came to deliver him food never actually made it to her. She did find it, but her naivety led her to just stick it up in the cafeteria for someone else to find. This caused her father to discover it and when he followed the instructions, he died from the dropping of a jade stone or copper lifesize bust resembling Max atop of his head.
Then we get into the ableism nonsense. The bust made its way to Acro’s room via his monkey, Money. This room is on the second floor of the circus dormitories, which is screwed up because this means that Acro is stuck up there with no ability to get down. Downstairs from him is Moe, which then led me to wonder why the hell he didn’t offer to swap room — perhaps this was offered and one’s proudness was in the way, but it’s still messed up.
Of course, for story purposes, Acro had the bust tied to a rope from the second floor and dropped it atop of the ringleader, who he presumed to be Regina. He had no clue that he was murdering his boss, who he claimed to be a father figure in his life, despite the fact that the man kept him upstairs for months.
The game decides to dial this up further: the bust is missing. The prosecution and Phoenix himself cannot find the thing. Where is it? How could it go missing? It’s so massive.
And this is the answer: Acro is called to be a witness and you’re compelled to call him out on the bust. Phoenix proudly announces that the bust is in the courtroom and is is literally contained within Acro’s wheelchair, hidden beneath a blanket covering his legs. Acro is revealed to be the murderer and you’re just left completely angry that this is where the game went.
Finally, it is revealed that Moe is the most reasonable of the cast, but it is hard to recognize this because you spent the whole time angry with everyone either because of the game’s ableism, the negligence toward’s Regina’s intellectual development, or the absurd number of older men being romantically interested in a teenaged girl.
My friend, Aura pointed out early on that she liked Moe the most due to his reasonable-ness. While I agree with her wholeheartedly, this case is engrained my mind negatively for so many reasons and consequently became a low point.
Kurain village, mysticism, and the Feys
This by far is what redeems Justice for All and is what really drives what happens in the second and third game. I’m going to recount what happens so I am sorry for this part being long. The story very much cemented my thoughts and feelings on all three games.
Mia Fey is introduced to us in the first game, but she dies in the second story, Turnabout Sisters, who is found murdered in her office first by her sister, Maya, and then by Phoenix himself. Maya is then accused of murder because she was first to the scene.
Oddly, this case and the handling of electronic data was what started to really draw me in because chain of custody definitely is not a strong suit of these games, but I digress.
In this case, we learn of the Kurain channelling method. This permits Maya to channel her sister, Mia who then assists Phoenix with helping reveal the murderer and win the case for Maya. Mia then tells Phoenix that he should watch over her sister, who then plays a role in all the games, channeling Mia numerous times.
She does not appear in the bonus story, Rise from the Ashes, as she had returned back to her home village at the end of the previous story — hence why the story exists to tie things together.
Where it really starts to matter with the Fey family is when we’re introduced to Maya’s aunt, Morgan, and her 8-year old cousin, Pearl in the second game’s second story, Reunion and Turnabout. This story discusses the abilities of the Fey family to channel the deceased into the real world, a skill that both Maya and most importantly for this story, Pearl possess.
Maya is accused of murder because she supposedly channels someone who was killed due to the actions of her client, who himself was found dead. The story reveals the internal politics of the Fey family, as Maya is from the main branch and as a result is the one to inherit the leadership of the Kurain method as her mother has been missing for long enough.
Pearl is important to this overarching story and also provides us with a game mechanic that while I am not fond of, becomes rather important for progressing through. You’re given a ‘magatama’, which is a special mystical stone you can present as a way to break through someone’s bluffs or lies with evidence to reveal the truth and progress the story — the game gives a visual clue to use the stone through the appearance of “psyche locks”.
Since Maya has been once again accused of murder, you presume that you’ve lost Mia but nope, it turns out that Pearl herself is able to channel too and you work with Mia this way. Pearl’s abilities matching that of Maya is what is driving the politics around the village and Fey family, which becomes extremely important through game 2 and 3.
One thing I didn’t mention about Maya or Pearl channeling Mia is that when they do so, they also channel the appearance of whoever it is. This means that Mia will appear in Maya or Pearl’s clothing, but also ages the body in a way that while with Maya is not unnerving. It becomes extremely so with Pearl since she’s instantly becoming a 27-year old woman.
It’s less troubling to me with Maya, who is 17, but Pearl is 8 so yeah. At least Phoenix always saw Mia as a mentor and nothing more, but still. What we learn in the third game provides some level of comfort here.
In any event, it is revealed that Morgan helped set up the murder through the help of someone seeking revenge over an unrelated matter. It is revealed that Maya never channeled the person the client wanted because the person who he thought was dead wasn’t!
She actually faked her death in a car accident with her sister being the casualty. The injuries endured required facial reconstruction surgery and she used that as an opportunity to take on her sister’s identity right down to her physical appearance. When this is revealed, it’s a fun plot twist, but it results in Maya’s acquittal and Morgan being placed in prison due to her participation in the crime.
This story becomes important and the game makes it apparent at the end of the case, but we don’t come back to the topic until the third game, which opens up with the aforementioned Turnabout Memories, which is where Phoenix and Mia meet. We are introduced to Phoenix’s ex-girlfriend, Dhalia Hawthorne, who is then revealed to be the murderer in this case.
Phoenix reveals his desire to become a lawyer, but is adamant about the person Dhalia was to him and the sort of person she is, giving the impression that he is naive about the people around him. With this in mind, Dahlia becomes important despite being dead by the time we get to the last two cases of the third game.
The second last case, Turnabout Beginnings involves Dahlia, her sister, Valerie; and her “tutor”, Terry — who seems to be modelled on a certain John Steinbeck character — in a fake kidnapping plot resulting in Terry being accused of murder of Valerie, who herself is a police officer.
So many things are revealed, but importantly it shows that Dhalia has been engaged in shenanigans since she was 14-years old, including seducing a 25-year old “tutor” into being an accessory to everything.
While as unnerving as we saw in Turnabout Big Top, it didn’t force matter more than suggestion and instead we witnessed Terry commit suicide on the stand using a poison given to him from Dhalia. This poison becomes important to the backstory behind the game’s main prosecutor, Godot.
The case is left with Dahlia under suspicion, but Terry is dead and the prosecution is fine with remaining with him accused. We’ve dealt with Dahlia twice now and now we’re going into the final case, Bridge to the Turnabout.
One of the things about the Kurain channeling method and who is to lead it is that May and Mia’s mother is still leader despite having been missing for almost two decades — the reasons for why are revealed in the first game’s fourth story, Turnabout Goodbyes. Time has passed and it is now required for Maya to begin the process to assume leadership
We travel to a temple and meet new characters including Elise Deauxnim, who is this up and coming children’s story author and is Pearl is absolutely enamoured with. Also, we meet some other characters, including someone named Iris who looks the same as Dahlia with just a different hair colour. She doesn’t have the same cold demeanour though?
This of course had me on edge because she was found guilty of murder and the game makes it clear that execution soon follows. Has Dahlia escaped death row and has escaped from prison? What is going on? I was pretty terrified of where things were going because this was the last case and we were getting some extreme concentrations of coincidences and occurrences simultaneously.
And then Elise is suddenly found murdered! Then we discover that the rope bridge to the building where Maya is has somehow caught fire (and oh boy it is the same bridge as the previous story), Pearl is missing, and now Phoenix has been swept away by a fast moving current below the bridge because he wanted to rescue Maya.
The breaking of tension here was incredible and while we are fortunate to learn that Phoenix has been rescued and is alright, his arch-rival and long-time friend, Edgeworth has been tasked to defend Iris at Phoenix’s request. It is confusing because isn’t Iris just Dahlia?
The part of Edgeworth playing defence attorney as opposed to prosecutor is a strange but enjoyable change and he discovers what it is like to play the role Wright has had for so long. We do eventually learn that Dahlia was in fact executed just recently, so who the hell is Iris?
We endure a trial where Edgeworth and his adopted sister and fellow prosecutor, von Karma face off, with the day ending with no verdict, so now we’re to move forward and figure out what has happened to everyone.
The bridge has been given a temporary fix and we run into Pearl (phew) and strangely Godot, who did not show up for the first portion of the trial but will for the second because Phoenix is now out of hospital. However, where is Maya? We did briefly lose Iris, but now she’s back and we’re trying to unlock a chamber that suddenly went from having a single lock to multiples. Why?
Eventually we perform some investigations and at some point it is revealed that Elise is infact Misty Fey, Maya and Mia’s mother and Morgan’s sister. Oh yeah. Morgan is still around and it seems that Pearl has been visiting her in prison. We also learn that Dahlia has been visiting Morgan in prison. Oh yeah. We also learn that Dahlia is Morgan’s daughter. Oh yeah. We also learn that Iris is Dahlia’s twin sister, which means that we have our answer to who the hell Iris is — phew.
This is of course a trope that gets overplayed, but with the whole spirit channeling we’ve dealt with for the past three games, it actually isn’t that bad here and in my opinion works well.
So who murdered Misty? Larry’s art (oh yeah he’s an artist now and has assumed the last name “Deauxnim”) suggests that she flew across the bridge while it was ablaze — but that is impossible, right? How did Iris do this if she was found on the other side and the bridge was on fire?
This is where the big reveal comes in: we’re in court and we’re trying to figure out Iris’ innocence and Phoenix is now facing off against Godot. It finally dawns upon him: Maya is not missing and the murderer is in court.
Where is Maya? Simple: she is right here and is channeling Dahlia. But why would she do that? Does that mean that Maya killed her own mother? Well, it is pointed out that Maya reached out to her sister in a panic and Mia suggested she channel Dahlia.
The spirits are not aware of who they’re being channeled by (unless a clue is left in the physical world such as Maya did by leaving a note asking for Mia’s help) and has assumed that Maya was so distraught from having killed her mother that she committed suicide that it was in fact Pearl channeling her since it was what was arranged between her and Morgan.
But surprise for Dahlia! Mia is right next to Phoenix in court and she is being channeled by her step-sister, Pearl. This leaves Dahlia confused which then reveals that it is Maya! Dahlia disappears and now we’re left with Maya having to testify to what happened.
It turns out that Godot had killed Misty in an attempt to save Maya. Misty on purpose channeled Dahlia and was working with Godot in order to protect Maya in the first place. Dahlia had no clue to what had happened.
Godot is then revealed to be Diego Armando, a defence lawyer and former love interest of Mia who held a grudge against Wright for not stopping her being murdered.
Iris is found to just be the receiver of the body of Misty and wasn’t actually the murderer — at worst she desecrated a body, which is oddly similar to the game 2 story, Farewell, My Turnabout. Iris would blindly follow her sister’s wishes and did so because she felt that she had to.
It’s also revealed that Diego was poisoned by Dahlia in the same way that Terry had, but managed to survive albeit with a five-year long coma and severe damage to his nervous system. This resulted in him requiring the use of goggles to aide in his vision. Because of their glowing red in the dark, it resulted in a clue Maya gave in her testimony.
Maya is saved, Dahlia is eternally damned to know she failed to do what she sought out to do, and Godot consumed four dozen cups of coffee in two days.
Also the Dahlia Phoenix thought he was dating was actually Iris and Iris was in fact love with Phoenix, so there’s that reveal.
The anime tries so hard
The thing about the above is that what I described is really just the surface of the whole game’s story mechanics and imagination. I honestly am not giving it enough justice in how I describe the events as I haven’t talked about the backstory of Miles Edgeworth and Larry Butz in any detail. Their relationship with Phoenix is rather interesting and that is where I think the anime is a bit stronger than the game despite overall being weaker.
The Ace Attorney anime series largely sticks to the stories from the original trilogy for the most part save for excluding the bonus case from the first game, the addition of some backstory (of which I feel is important and missing from the game), a case on a train that wasn’t in the triology, and that the stories are a bit out of order — I don’t think it is consequential however.
Additionally, the pacing in the anime does not match the game, which I feel took a way a bit of the magic that we got in all the games.
There were a few changes that I felt were either not the best or were for the best. I believe that they were done to fix some pacing or to permit the reordering of stories.
For example, Lotta Hart shows up in the first two games as a pivotal character, but then Larry takes her place as photog during Reunion and Turnabout, which I think worked because one of my complaints of the second game was a lack of him — yes, I did miss the guy.
Maggey Byrde from game 2’s first case, The Lost Turnabout should have been left in sequence in order to provide pacing for the follow up case from game 3’s, Recipe for a Turnabout. Why I found this disjointing is simply because game 2’s last case, Farewell, My Turnabout was made the first season’s finale.
However, the anime really shines on the backstory behind Larry, Miles, and Phoenix. Phoenix credits his being a defence attorney because of Edgeworth coming to his aide and while the game spends some time giving details on their backstory, they really rope it in better in the TV series. It really is what makes the anime compelling to watch even if the pacing is out of whack.
What is next?
If you want to see all of my play-throughs of the trilogy, they’re up on my YouTube. They were some of my best streams I feel and they’re also the first that have gotten a lot of people watching recordings of.
Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 15th at 5 PM PT, I’ll be live on Twitch streaming Great Ace Attorney Adventures, which I guess is a prequel of sorts. I’m super excited and I hope you all will come watch.