Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review – Cornered Steel

An Overlooked and Underappreciated Trilogy

For as successful as Capcom has been in recent years with its monumentally selling IPs, my favorite franchise of theirs continues to be the comparatively niche Ace Attorney. This mystery adventure series of lawyers battling for the truth has always been full of heart, even amid the fan-perceived ups and downs of quality. In fact, the set of titles that embodies that mixed reception to a t is the fourth, fifth, and sixth mainline entries: Apollo Justice, Dual Destinies, and Spirit of Justice.

Taking place seven years after the third mainline game, Trials and Tribulations, these titles follow new and returning characters tackling several plights, such as the Dark Age of the Law. And now they’re conveniently packaged in the Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy, which has made the vast majority of the franchise even more accessible than ever before. For nearly a decade, this trio has been my favorite across the franchise, and this collective re-release has allowed me to see if that opinion still holds up.

Trio of Distinct Playable Characters

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy follows the titular protagonist, Apollo Justice, well, to an extent. It’s first worth pointing out that these titles are undeniably the most unconventional entries throughout all of Ace Attorney, and that’s partially due to how they regularly swap playable characters more often than before. Consequently, it’s natural to assume that the supposed protagonist here, Apollo, is falsely labeled as such, but that’s not entirely accurate. Despite the latter two games of this trilogy having Phoenix Wright in their titles, Apollo is the clear constant throughline. At this point, Phoenix’s arc has long since been completed, and Apollo is the one who undergoes the most growth.

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Apollo is a new defense attorney who, after a first case unlike any other, becomes acquainted with the legendary Phoenix Wright. Although, perhaps calling him infamous would be a better descriptor. A certain incident seven years ago caused him to become disbarred. Still, this changes in Dual Destinies onward, where he joins the courtroom once more alongside the brand-new character Athena Cykes. All united under the Wright Anything Agency, these lawyers bring unique abilities to the table to aid trials and investigations. Phoenix wields his Magatama from Justice for All, which manifests one’s lies as literal locks he breaks apart with evidence. Athena uses her AI partner, Widget, to utilize the Mood Matrix, a program that enables the analysis and reading of a witness’ emotions. Lastly, for reasons beyond his understanding, Apollo can perceive an individual’s habits with curious aid from his distinct bracelet, hinting toward lies.

At this point, Phoenix’s arc has long since been completed, and Apollo is the one who undergoes the most growth.

These various mechanics help significantly diversify the gameplay of this trilogy, which is still in typical Ace Attorney fare. Every title is divided into episodes, each comprised of a court case. Then, each case involves investigating crime on foot and actual in-trial proceedings. This is all reasonably expected, but each game has vastly different approaches to its episodes. Dual Destinies, for instance, does not have a sequential chronology, meaning the cases are told out of order, attempting to instill further tension and mystery. On the other hand, Spirit of Justice takes place across two countries, with cases swapping between them throughout the game’s duration. Plus, this entry features the standout mechanic of perusing a victim’s final memories exclusively in the new setting of Khura’in.

Strong Ambiance and Different Storytelling Structures

So, strictly in terms of variety, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy knocks it out of the park, easily surpassing the gameplay loops presented by the series’ other releases. However, also like the franchise’s other releases, the quality isn’t exactly consistent for both good and bad. Firstly, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is the most tonally distinct of all the mainline games. The courtroom’s dimmer coloration, Phoenix’s hidden agenda, and the ominous overarching elements teased and ultimately unveiled in the final episode provide an Ace Attorney experience like no other.

Compared to every other franchise entry, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has this poignant sense of loneliness that permeates its playtime. Despite Apollo having a giddy assistant in the form of Phoenix’s adopted daughter, Trucy, by his side at almost all times, as well as a relatively open-hearted rival prosecutor, the world here feels far crueler in a more insidious and less over-the-top comedic manner than before. Of course, there are still plenty of humorous exchanges bolstered by Apollo’s bitter sarcasm, but because of the circumstances leading to his employment at the Wright Anything Agency and Phoenix himself acting highly elusive at basically all times, it’s difficult to really feel comfortable in this particular entry.

This strength of ambiance can be primarily attributed to the Dark Age of the Law, a theme often more explored in tone. Essentially, the public’s trust in the legal system has grown increasingly worse following specific verdicts and revelations, such as the incident that brought about Phoenix’s disbarment. It is a commonly overlooked and misunderstood facet of these later titles that crafts a multi-sided umbrella for the corruption the cast faces. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney tackles this premise with the most elegance, while Dual Destinies is a mixed bag that comes across as diluted. While certainly not without its merits, Dual Destinies is overly ambitious, as it tries to balance the return of Phoenix Wright, the introduction of Athena Cykes, and the mysterious heel-turn of Apollo Justice simultaneously with a mixed chronology of episodes that can frustrate first-time players.

This strength of ambiance can be largely attributed to the Dark Age of the Law, a theme that is often more explored in tone.

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In hindsight, this entry’s unorthodox storytelling structure can be appreciated, but it also makes its unnecessary hand-holdy nature all the more prominent. In an effort to appeal to a new generation of players, Dual Destinies can be an underwhelming experience in the realm of figuring out its mysteries. Still, it does excel with character work. Apollo and Athena adequately share the spotlight as they confront traumatic strife, both old and new. On the other hand, Phoenix isn’t as effective as he was in the previous game, likely because you’re seeing his quintessential panic-induced inner thoughts firsthand yet again instead of the more aloof persona he adopted. However, Dual Destinies, while no longer having the more grim atmosphere seen in Apollo Justice due to intricately pursued camaraderie with a more close-knit cast, does powerfully portray an impactful sense of community and belonging within the Wright Anything Agency.

The way in which this trilogy tackles [Apollo’s] character flaws by veiling them to certain extents and not making them a constant front-and-center spectacle has only impressed me more after replaying them.

Lastly, Spirit of Justice, my personal favorite entry of the franchise, is like the best of both worlds. Partially taking place in Khura’in, a country that has purged and shunned defense attorneys, ceremonies known as the Divination Séance are held, in which the final memories of murder victims can be witnessed and perused. There’s a level of animosity and fear here that makes triumphs all the more rewarding to achieve. Plus, the heart of the Wright Anything Agency is emphasized tenfold, with Phoenix gradually coming to acknowledge Apollo as a worthy lawyer in his own right and Athena proving to be an effective co-worker. They merge to provide a sense of growth that feels meaningfully achieved alongside severely compelling strife that shakes Apollo to his core.

How Apollo Stands Out as a Protagonist

Ultimately, these three games have various purposes, but they all reveal and detail different elements of Apollo’s backstory and characterization. Whether unwittingly or knowingly, he ends up needing to confront the demons of his past. Consequently, this has long since crafted a meme of sorts poking fun at the three backstories of Apollo as if they’re for different characters altogether. However, none contradict each other, and the variation in their emphases gives Apollo significant depth. He is a youth who largely keeps to himself, suffers from repression and partially-induced isolation, and struggles with self-confidence. The way in which this trilogy tackles these character flaws by veiling them to certain extents and not making them a constant front-and-center spectacle has only impressed me more after replaying them.

Regarding case quality, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and Spirit of Justice are some of the cream of the crop for the franchise. Excelling not only with overarching story threads but also memorable one-off characters who aren’t irritating with their humor and wackiness, the cases here all leave positive, lasting impressions. The somewhat mixed bag that is Dual Destinies was previously discussed, but a vexing regularity among these three titles is their tendency to overly rely on flashbacks. Granted, all of Ace Attorney does this to varying extents, yet there are times in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and Dual Destinies where it’s far too much.

Terrific Trilogy Features, Albeit with Questionable Exclusions

Regardless of one’s opinion on this trilogy, this is undeniably the best Ace Attorney package in terms of compiled content. The DLC cases of Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice, Turnabout Reclaimed, and Turnabout Time Traveler, respectively, are included alongside the bonus in-game costumes. Further, there is an Orchestra Hall comprised of 175 songs, an Art Library housing countless illustrations of the three titles, and even the animated prologue for Spirit of Justice, as well as an Animation Studio where you can situate characters in several environments for some reason. It’s there for those who want it, I suppose. Other appreciated features are Apollo Justice receiving a text backlog option, an auto-mode where one can just watch the story play out, and a comprehensive menu selection accessible from the game’s launch that lets you pick the point where you want to play any episode from.

Regardless of one’s opinion on this trilogy, this is undeniably the best Ace Attorney package in terms of compiled content.

Further, it’s worth noting that this trilogy release features localizations in Japanese, English, French, German, Korean, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese, as well as dubbed voice lines for them all that you can mix and match. To clarify, these games aren’t fully voiced; it’s only a few specific lines and animated cutscenes. Still, this does make the package immensely more accessible. There are also achievements/trophies called Accolades you can achieve, too, and the game is transparent in telling you how to go about doing so, which is quite neat.

Unfortunately, the Asinine Attorney DLC episodes from Spirit of Justice are not included, but these were highly brief comedic what-if scenarios that didn’t offer much. They’re a strange exclusion, yet that’s far from a dealbreaker. Lastly, the presentation of this trilogy is sleek and smooth, with an impressive consistency upheld despite Apollo Justice being a DS game and the other two titles being from the 3DS. Part of me will always prefer the original sprite work for Apollo Justice, though it has been translated well in this HD remastered form.

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Given the series’ change in storytelling and character direction, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy won’t satisfy all fans of the franchise. The unconventional narrative structure won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who give it a chance and find themselves endeared to the new characters, dynamics, and plot threads will find this to be one of the most heartfelt collective Ace Attorney experiences. Ocassionally mixed case quality aside, what’s here is unabashed in its telling of a renewed age of Ace Attorney full of light confronting the darkness. The vast cast ultimately coalesces to create a world brimming with standout depth and intrigue.

The future of this series is up in the air, especially now that almost all of it is accessible on modern platforms. With it having been nearly a decade since an original release, hopefully, we can look forward to a new experience in the near future.

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (PS4)

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a package featuring unconventionally gripping character arcs and quintessential Ace Attorney shenanigans. The compelling strife of protagonist Apollo Strife is the throughline pushing everything forward, alongside an engaging multi-faceted central cast that makes the world immensely more well-rounded and full of depth. Despite the inconsistent quality across this release's several mysteries and episodes, some of the franchise's best are showcased here in newly defined form. Further, the trilogy-exclusive features, such as the extensive art gallery, music player, and ease of accessibility with plenty of playable languages, make this another Ace Attorney homerun. Still, those who have strong attachments to the original trilogy may find it difficult to become endeared to these experiences.

The Good

  • Strong Character Writing: This trilogy features shining character moments that instill genuinely heartfelt exchanges and dynamics.
  • Excellent Collection Features: The comprehensive art gallery, stacked music listener, and several playable languages make this a standout package. The two major DLC cases from Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice being included is also a huge plus.
  • Emotional, Well-Planned Cases: Many of the cases boast terrific twists and believable motivations, even for the one-off characters with limited screentime.
  • Compelling Central Protagonist: Apollo Justice, the character, is brilliantly approached in unconventional ways that ultimately craft a multi-faceted main protagonist. Him not being the constant sole focus makes his growth all the more pronounced and engaging.

The Bad

  • Strange Exclusions: While minor, the two missing Asinine Attorney DLC episodes from Spirit of Justice are odd exclusions that prevent this package from being truly complete and definitive.
  • Inconsistent Case Quality: Every Ace Attorney suffers from this fault to varying extents, and packaged releases tend to amplify this facet. The weak points seen in Dual Destinies' pacing and select moments can especially hamper the experience.
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