Ace Attorney, known in Japan as Gyakuten Saiban (逆転裁判 lit. Turnabout Trial ), is a series of mystery and legal drama-themed adventure games, created by Shu Takumi, and developed and published by Capcom.
The games has players assume the role of a defense attorney who investigates cases and defends their clients in a fictional court setting (loosely based on the real-life Japanese court system). The playable defense attorneys are Phoenix Wright, his mentor Mia Fey, and his understudies Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes; they find the truth by cross-examining witnesses and finding inconsistencies between the testimonies and the evidence they have collected. The cases all last a maximum of three days, with the judge determining the outcome based on evidence presented by the defense attorney and the prosecutor. In the spin-off series Ace Attorney Investigations, the player takes the role of prosecutor Miles Edgeworth and in the prequel series The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, of Phoenix's ancestor Ryunosuke Naruhodo.
While the original Japanese versions of the games are set in Japan, the series' localizations are set in the United States (primarily Los Angeles), though retaining Japanese cultural influence. The series has been well received, with reviewers liking the characters and story, and the finding of contradictions; it has also performed well commercially, with Capcom regarding it as one of their strongest intellectual properties. The series has been credited with helping to popularise visual novels in the Western world. As of December 31, 2021, the Ace Attorney series has sold 8.9 million units worldwide, making it Capcom's eight best-selling IP.
The art director for the series is Tatsuro Iwamoto, with Kazuya Nuri, Takuro Fuse and Kumiko Suekane doing other illustrations. Ace Attorney has also been adapted into other media, which include manga, stage plays, musicals, pachinkos, a live-action film adaptation, novels, its own amusement parks and an anime series.
The Ace Attorney games are visual novel adventure games in which the player controls defense attorneys and defends their clients in several different episodes. The gameplay is split into two types of sections: investigations and courtroom trials. During the investigations, the player searches the environments, gathering information and evidence, and talks to characters such as their client, witnesses, and the police. Once enough evidence has been collected, the game moves on to a courtroom trial section.
In the courtroom trials, the player aims to get their client declared "not guilty". To do so, they cross-examine witnesses, and aim to find lies and inconsistencies in the testimonies. They are able to go back and forth between the different statements in the testimony, and can press the witness for more details on a statement. When the player finds an inconsistency, they can present a piece of evidence that contradicts the statement. The player is penalized if they present incorrect evidence: in the first game, a number of exclamation marks is shown, with one disappearing after each mistake the player makes; in later games, a health bar that represents the judge's patience is used instead. If all exclamation marks are lost, or the health bar reaches zero, the player loses the game and their client is declared guilty.
Several Ace Attorney games introduce new gameplay mechanics to the series. Justice for All introduces "psyche-locks", which are shown over a witness when the player asks them about a topic they do not want to discuss; using a magatama, the player can start breaking the psyche-locks by showing the witness evidence or character profiles that proves they are hiding something. The number of psyche-locks depends on how deep the secret is; when all locks are broken, the topic becomes available, giving the player access to new information. Apollo Justice introduces the "perceive" system, where the player looks for motions or actions made by witnesses that show nervousness, similar to a tell in poker.
Dual Destinies introduces the "mood matrix", through which the player can gauge the emotions of a witness, such as tones of anger when mentioning certain topics; if the player notices a contradictory emotional response during testimony, they can point out the discrepancy and press the witness for more information. Dual Destinies also introduces "revisualization", where the player reviews vital facts and forms links between evidence to reach new conclusions. Spirit of Justice introduces "divination séances", in which the player is shown the memories of victims moments before their deaths, and must find contradictions in the victim's five senses to determine what has happened. The crossover game Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney introduces simultaneous cross-examinations of multiple witnesses, with the player being able to see and hear reactions from the different witnesses to the testimony and using this to find contradictions. The Great Ace Attorney introduces "joint reasoning", where the player finds out the truth by pointing out when their investigative partner Herlock Sholmes takes his reasoning "further than the truth".
The Ace Attorney Investigations spin-off series splits the gameplay into investigation phases and rebuttal phases, the latter of which is similar to the courtroom trials of the main series. During the investigation phases, the player searches for evidence and talks to witnesses and suspects. Things the player character notices in the environment are saved as thoughts; the player can use the "logic" system to connect two such thoughts to gain access to new information. At some points, the player can create hologram reproductions of the crime scene, through which they can discover new information that would otherwise be hidden. Ace Attorney Investigations 2 introduces "logic chess", where the player interrogates witnesses in a timed sequence that is visualized as a game of chess, with the player aiming to destroy the other character's chess pieces. To do this, they need to build up their advantage in the discussion by alternating between speaking and listening, and then choose to go on the offensive.
List of games
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - (2001)
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney - (2007)
- Gyakuten Kenji 2 - (2011 - Japan only)
- The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures - (2015)
- The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve - (2017)
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy - (2014)
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney HD - (2016)
- The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles - (2021)
The series was created by Shu Takumi, who wrote and directed the first three games. The first game was conceived in 2000 when Takumi's boss at the time, Shinji Mikami, gave him six months to create any type of game he wanted to; Takumi had originally joined Capcom wanting to make mystery and adventure games, and felt that this was a big chance for him to make a mark as a creator. The game was designed to be simple, as Takumi wanted it to be easy enough for even his mother to play. It was originally going to be a detective game, with Phoenix being a private investigator, but at one point Takumi realized that finding and taking apart contradictions was not related to detective work, and felt that the main setting of the game should be courtrooms.
Takumi felt that the best way to write a mystery with a good climax is to reveal various clues, and then pull them together into one conclusion, and not have multiple possible endings. He said that the biggest challenge with that was to make the gameplay and story work together; the goal was to make the player feel like they have driven the story forward themselves, with their own choices, even though the game is linear. He only spent little time on writing a backstory for Phoenix before writing the first game's story, and instead made up dialogue and developed Phoenix's personality as he went along. He came up with the partner character Maya because he thought it would be more fun for players to have another character with them, giving them advice, than investigating on their own.
After the first game's development was finished, Mikami told Takumi that they should make an Ace Attorney trilogy, with a grand finale in the third game's last case. Takumi had originally planned to let Edgeworth be the prosecutor in all episodes in the second game, but during the production the development team learned that the character had become popular. This led to Takumi feeling that he had to use the character more carefully and sparingly; he created the new prosecutor character Franziska von Karma, to save Edgeworth for the game's last case, and avoid a situation where he – a supposed prodigy – loses every case. As Takumi wanted the three first Ace Attorney games to be parts of a larger work, he avoided making a lot of changes between games: art from the first game for main characters such as Phoenix, Maya and Edgeworth was reused, to avoid having the previous games look outdated in comparison to newer games in the series; and no new gameplay mechanics were added for Trials and Tribulations, as Takumi was happy with the gameplay after having added the psyche-lock mechanic for Justice for All.
For the fourth game, Takumi wrote the scenario and took on a supervisory role. He had wanted the series to end with the third game, as he felt Phoenix had been fully explored and that his story had been told; he said that it is important to know when to end a story, that he did not want the series to become a shadow of its former self, and that he did not see any reason to continue it. Despite this, the spin-off series Ace Attorney Investigations was created, being directed by Takeshi Yamazaki and produced by Motohide Eshiro; Takumi returned to the series to write the crossover Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. He also directed and wrote Dai Gyakuten Saiban, which was described as being the first entry in a new Ace Attorney series. He said that he has mixed feelings about the series being developed by other Capcom staff, comparing it to a parent sending their child to their first day in school. Yamazaki and Eshiro went on to direct and produce the main series entries Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice. Due to exhaustion after working on Dual Destinies, Yamazaki split direction responsibilities with Takuro Fuse for Spirit of Justice, with Yamazaki working on the scenario, and Fuse on the art and gameplay.
On November 2017, it was reported that a new title for the Nintendo Switch was in development. Not much was known about the game other then that it would be released during the 2018 fiscal year and be the very first title in the Ace Attorney franchise to be specifically developed from the ground up and released for a home console system (as previous games available on home consoles were ports of handheld console titles). Later in December 2017, Eshiro confirmed work was in progress for a new title (though he did not clarify whatever it was the Switch game or another different game) and gave a promise for "exciting news" that will make fans "very happy". The game turned out to be the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy HD.
Media and merchandise
The Takarazuka Revue, an all-female theater troupe, has adapted the series into stage musicals: 2009's Ace Attorney: Truth Resurrected, which is based on the last episode of the first game; 2010's Ace Attorney 2: Truth Resurrected Again, whose first act is an original story, and whose second is based on the final episode of the second game; and 2013's Ace Attorney 3: Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, which is set before the events of Truth Resurrected Again. A stage play based on the series, titled Gyakuten no Spotlight, ran in 2013, and was written by Eisaku Saito. A 2012 live-action film adaptation of the first game, titled Ace Attorney, was produced at the film studio Toei and directed by Takashi Miike. A 2016 TV anime adaptation of the series, Ace Attorney, was produced at A-1 Pictures and directed by Ayumu Watanabe.
Several manga based on the series have been published: among those are a short story anthology published by Kodansha in Bessatsu Young Magazine in 2006; Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth were serialized in Weekly Young Magazine in 2007 and 2009, respectively; and another manga, which is based on the anime, was published in V Jump in 2016. To date, three novels based on the series were released since June 2016. Ace Attorney drama CDs, soundtrack albums, and figurines have also been released.
Ace Attorney characters have made cameos and cross-over appearances in other video games and other media. Some Ace Attorney characters appear in SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS. Apollo Justice and Pearl Fey appeared as alternate costumes in the 2007 sport game We Love Golf!. Phoenix and Edgeworth make a cameo appearance in She-Hulk's ending in the fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds; in the game's update, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Phoenix appears as a playable character. Phoenix and Maya are playable characters in Project X Zone 2, while Edgeworth makes a non-playable appearance. Phoenix, Maya, Apollo and Rayfa Padma Khura'in appeared as guest cards in Puzzle & Dragons. Phoenix, Maya, Edgeworth and Franziska were all playable in the mobile game Monster Hunter Explore in 2017, as part of one of its temporary crossover events, and a Phoenix transformation is available for a companion character in Monster Hunter XX. Music from the Ace Attorney series is featured in Taiko Drum Master: Doko Don! Mystery Adventure, with Phoenix making an appearance in the game's story.
The lawyers' signature mannerisms, such as finger-pointing and cries of "Objection!", have become well-known, and have been parodied in pop culture such as episodes of several anime series. Apollo and Klavier Gavin make a cameo appearance in the anime adaptation of Lucky Star. The series has also inspired other titles such as the 2013 browser game Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, which keeps the Ace Attorney format but swaps law for philosophical argument, and the 2015 PC game Aviary Attorney, which features similar gameplay but with an all-bird cast of characters.
The Ace Attorney series has been well received by critics, and has performed well commercially: in December 2009, it was Capcom's 9th best selling series of all time, and in October 2010, they called it one of their "strongest intellectual properties", with more than 3.9 million units sold worldwide. By December 2013, the series had sold over 5 million units. In the United States, the first game became surprisingly successful, forcing Capcom to prepare at least three additional runs to meet the demand.
Reviewers have generally liked the story, characters and finding contradictions but some common complaints, however, are the games' linearity, as well as how the player sometimes has to resort to a trial-and-error method due to the games only accepting specific pieces of evidence, and how testimony statements sometimes need to be pressed in a specific order. Some reviewers have criticized the lack of changes to the gameplay and presentation throughout the series, while some have said that fans of the series would not have a problem with this.
- Capcom | Game Series Sales
- Gyakuten Saiban Library - a fan blog that provides translations of interviews, essays and other materials concerning the development of the series. Updates irregularly.
- Court Records - a well-known Ace Attorney fansite.