The Ace Attorney series is a relatively new one for us on Planet PlayStation (can we bring that back?), with the original three games launching on PS4 in 2019 — long after they first arrived on western shores. We're now fully acquainted with the Phoenix Wright trilogy, but what happened next? While there have been a fair few spin-offs and side stories, a second trio of main titles introduced new characters and plot lines. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy brings those to PS4 in another collection, and after going hands on, it seems we're in for more of the same batty, and brilliant, legal drama nonsense.
Apollo Justice is the player protagonist in the first title of this trilogy, and having played the opening case, it's great to have a fresh perspective. He's a rookie defence lawyer, unsure of himself and charmingly earnest. In a surprising contrast, Phoenix Wright, the accused in this first chapter, has spent seven years away from the courtroom, and appears disinterested and cocky. This evolves a little as the case continues, but his characterisation at this early point is an interesting development.
In terms of gameplay, the court proceedings are extremely similar to the first trilogy. The Ace Attorney games are visual novels, by and large, albeit with interactive elements and puzzle-solving. You listen to what witnesses have to say, then look for holes in their story using evidence, eventually discovering the real truth. In Apollo Justice, you're able to inspect the court record as usual, but certain evidence can be explored fully in 3D for the first time, giving you a little more insight. Aside from that, the opening case introduces Apollo's innate ability to spot "tells"; a witness touching her neck when she's hiding something, for example. Presumably this will come into practice throughout the remainder of the game, although it doesn't add much from a gameplay perspective.
The second game in the trilogy, Dual Destinies, has you playing as Phoenix Wright once again, and is the first main title to make some big presentational shifts. In addition to some anime cutscenes complete with voice acting, the game adopts three-dimensional characters and environments. While the illustrated look of Apollo Justice and the earlier titles carries a certain charm, this more modern look is nice too, allowing for more expressive and diverse animations in particular.
Another new character, Athena Cykes, is introduced in this game — a green attorney who works for Phoenix. In the title's opening case, you learn she brings another new gimmick to the courtroom. Using special technology, she can "read" people's emotions and use that information to find more contradictions in testimonies. It's an interesting idea and gives Athena something unique, although gameplay-wise, Dual Destinies doesn't really break the mould from our limited playtime.
Perhaps the most different of the three games is Spirit of Justice. It sees Phoenix travel to Khura'in, where he's to visit Maya Fey, a character from the original trilogy. He quickly gets wound up in a court case, but the legal system in this country is very different. They rely on divination séances, in which the final moments of a victim's life is recalled for the court to see. Because these séances show, apparently irrefutably, what happened to the deceased, defence lawyers are deemed unnecessary. Worse, they're viewed to be just as culpable as their clients, and receive the same sentence if the accused is found to be guilty.
This premise means that, while the courtroom gameplay is mostly familiar, the presentation is quite different, and the divination séance itself is the most interesting new addition to the formula. You view a short sequence, which shows you the victim's point of view just before they die, and can use that with your evidence to find inaccuracies. While Spirit of Justice only partially takes place in Khura'in, it's a welcome change of pace to a series of games that have remained broadly the same.
The collection also contains a Museum, where you can play music, view artwork, and noodle around with animations. We haven't explored this portion too much — we don't want to spoil things for ourselves — but it's about in line with what was present in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.
Overall, our early impression of this trilogy is that it's just more Ace Attorney — not that that's a bad thing. We still need to play each of the three games in full, but judging by their opening chapters, these offer up some intriguing new characters and developments on top of a formula that, despite minimal evolution, still delivers entertaining, melodramatic stories.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy releases 25th January, 2024 for PS4. Are you looking forward to this collection? Let's hear your testimonies in the comments section below.