As anyone who has read my reviews knows, I tend to be very sparing when handing out 9/10s or 10/10s. While mainstream outlets tend to hand them out like penny candy when a game is promoted enough, I make games (and films, for that matter) work for those grades. I have it so that when a work earns a passing grade, even if it’s a 7/10, it’s a cause for celebration. With me having awarded no 10/10s in this block of 50 reviews, all we have left to discuss are the ones I awarded a 9/10. These are the games I point towards when talking about the hallmarks of a given era or decade, so if you’ve haven’t played them, check them out right away.
Now that the bad/middling games are out of the way, we can finally start talking about the ones I can actually recommend. This has been a great year for me personally because I managed to write three reviews that were over 10,000 words long. The best part? They’re all of games I like. Whereas before, my longest review was that of The Last of Us, I can now safely say that anyone who believes it’s easier to be negative than positive clearly isn’t trying hard enough.
I use yellow scores whenever I can’t officially recommend nor dissuade people from playing the game in question. The exact score I use depends on which way I would go if somebody pressed me enough with a 4/10 meaning probably avoid, a 5/10 meaning I’m not sure, and a 6/10 meaning play if you’re a fan. Either way, we’re officially done talking about bad games from this point onward.
Apollo Justice, and by extension, the core Ace Attorney series, had gone five years without a sequel. When a follow-up was at last announced in 2012, it had a potential to alienate longtime fans. After all, this was going to be a sequel to what most fans considered the franchise’s nadir. Not only that, but an entirely new development team had taken over its production with no involvement from series creator Shu Takumi and they saw fit to introduce a new assistant as a replacement for a fan favorite. Director Takeshi Yamazaki, producer Motohide Eshiro, and their team had more than proven themselves capable with Prosecutor’s Path, but because it wasn’t localized, Western fans remained unaware of their talent. The sole entry they were exposed to was the original Ace Attorney Investigations. While enjoyed, fans didn’t have nearly as much reverence for it as they did the original trilogy. Thankfully, despite similar factors spelling the downfall of many venerable franchises, a majority of the risks taken by the duo paid off, and Dual Destinies was, by and large, embraced by the fandom.
With plenty of unresolved plot threads floating around, there was potential for a sequel. Unfortunately, shortly after finishing Dual Destinies, Mr. Yamazaki felt a crippling sense of exhaustion, expressing the desire to resign from developing any more Ace Attorney installments. Thinking quickly, Mr. Eshiro decided a trip to events attended by fans was in order. Together, they appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con International and held a press conference in Taiwan. Feeling the enthusiasm of his fans firsthand – both Western and Asian alike – Mr. Yamazaki decided to direct the series’ next installment, to be called Turnabout Trial 6 in its native homeland.
Believing that the cause behind Mr. Yamazaki’s exhaustion stemmed from being the sole director of Dual Destinies, he decided his coworker wasn’t going tackle this new project alone – enter Takuro Fuse. Mr. Fuse had cut his teeth with the Ace Attorney franchise when he replaced Tatsuro Iwamoto as the series’ primary art director. He was the one responsible for a majority of the character designs. He now found himself sharing the director’s along with Mr. Yamazaki.
The project now had two directors and a producer determined to see it through to the end. All they needed now was a theme. Dual Destinies had carried out the impressive task of simultaneously being a return to form while also taking the canon in intriguing, new directions. The only way they could possibly top such a feat was through brainstorming sessions. With nobody being allowed to veto anyone else’s ideas, they eventually settled on the theme of “courtroom revolution”. It was to be an Ace Attorney spin on a classic tale: “the oppressed and weak defeating the strong” in the words of Mr. Yamazaki.
During the development phase, the team agreed that with Phoenix Wright making his triumphant return to the courtroom, nobody could prove a match for him anymore in his normal setting. It is from this line of thinking that they decided to move him to a foreign country with a different court system. Not only that, but promotional materials made it clear supernatural elements, which had been absent from the series for the past three installments, were to return as well. This was alluded to in its English subtitle: Spirit of Justice. Responding to fan feedback, they also decided it would be appropriate to give Apollo Justice a larger role. Therefore, while Phoenix handled cases abroad, his apprentice was to resolve problems back home. How they went about conceiving episodes was a little different this time around. Each episode had a primary writer, and they were assigned based on their strengths. Some proved apt with dialogue while others had a penchant for lending their stories a sense of intrigue. The staff often stayed in the meeting room until nightfall.
After the usual fan and media speculation, Turnabout Trial 6 was released domestically in June of 2016. Four months later in September, the game saw its worldwide release under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Though Dual Destinies was well-liked itself, several fans felt Spirit of Justice to be an improvement. In fact, shortly after its release, a particularly vocal group insisted that Spirit of Justice was the best game in the entire series. The original three games are seen as something of a sacred cow in certain subsets of the Ace Attorney fandom, yet even they found themselves admitting Spirit of Justice was a quality product. Were Mr. Yamazaki, Mr. Fuse, and Mr. Eshiro able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dual Destinies was not a mere happy accident?
With its new protagonist, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proved to be another success for Capcom’s franchise about fierce courtroom battles. Shortly after its release, a planned sequel was announced in May 2007. However, over the next few years, other members of Capcom wound up taking the series in a new direction. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of producer Motohide Eshiro and director Takeshi Yamazaki, two games that cast the fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth in the lead role were produced. Though the localization efforts for both games were drastically limited, they managed to find an audience. Because Capcom’s focus shifted elsewhere, there was no word of a follow-up to Apollo Justice for five years.
This continued silence finally ended in September of 2012 when Capcom revealed a logo for a hypothetical new installment for the Ace Attorney franchise. As if to dash the ambiguity from the beginning, the logo clearly read “Turnabout Trial 5”. In truth, development had begun in 2011. The team responsible for Prosecutor’s Path had disbanded shortly after its release and the members were subsequently reassigned to different projects. As such, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki found themselves in charge of a skeleton team.
The series historically enjoyed success on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The original trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance while Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments saw the light of day on the Nintendo DS. By the time this project started, Nintendo had launched their latest handheld model, the 3DS, in 2011. The development team was initially unsure whether to retain the series’ traditional 2D sprite-based graphics or utilize 3D character models. Ultimately, they realized that because this new entry was being developed long after the release of Apollo Justice, they needed to make a big impact. The new hardware presented the perfect opportunity for them to usher in a new era for the series.
Naturally, one of the greatest difficulties the team had to overcome was preserving the look and feel of the 2D sprites employed by the preceding installments. Takuro Fuse found himself serving as the game’s art director, replacing mainstay Tatsuro Iwamoto. Having to utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic effects, Mr. Fuse understandably had problems getting character designs to fit the series’ distinctive style. This required him to get a lot of feedback from Mr. Eshiro. According to Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki, their goal was so that their product’s graphics were superior to those of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – a spinoff game being developed around the same time by series Shu Takumi himself.
One of Mr. Fuse’s first tasks was to render a 3D model of the series’ former protagonist, Phoenix Wright. He would later call his first attempts “cringe-worthy”, but they were able to use it as a base. From there, other members of the team gave him their feedback, and they collectively refined it until they were satisfied. This process by itself took six months. Their next goal was to translate the series’ trademark lively animation style for this new engine. To this end, they employed various tricks, including using new character models for different angles. They also used the 3DS’s hardware to add dynamic camera movements and fluid character animations.
There was a shared feeling of dread among Western fans after Capcom made this game’s development known. After all, if Prosecutor’s Path never left Japan, this fifth Ace Attorney installment could very well meet the same fate. That Capcom announced the game was to be localized proved to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, Western fans would get to experience more of the series. The downside is that it came at the cost of localizing Prosecutor’s Path, for Capcom decided to skip it in favor of the newer game. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long after its localization was greenlit for it to be given a Western name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.
Capcom USA’s senior vice president, Christian Svensson, had previously suggested to make Prosecutor’s Path a downloadable title when the company predicted its sales wouldn’t cover the localization costs. Because the executives still believed this to be the case, the decision to greenlight the game came with the condition that it would be made available in the West in a digital format only. Because all 3DS games would be sold in both a digital and physical format from the beginning, this was deemed by most to be a reasonable compromise. Under the name Turnabout Trial 5, this game was released domestically in July of 2013. Its international debut came to pass in October of 2013. In both regions, the game enjoyed a fairly positive reception. Though Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney franchise in the past, this would be their first attempt at creating an installment in the core series. Did their efforts pay off? Were the students able to surpass the master?
In 2009, the Ace Attorney franchise received its first spinoff title in the form of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Fans rejoiced at the prospect of an entire game starring the fan favorite Miles Edgeworth, and it consequently fared well both with them and critics. In response to this positive reception, the game’s producer, Motohide Eshiro, revealed that he had contacted Minae Matsukawa. Ms. Matsukawa was notable for having served as the producer for the DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney along with its distant sequel, Apollo Justice. The reason for Mr. Eshiro to have contacted her was straightforward enough; he offered his services in developing a new Ace Attorney game. This project would officially begin in September of 2009, and the developers went to a “training camp” of sorts to talk about the game for an entire day for the purpose of outlining it.
Revealed in an issue of Famitsu with the name Turnabout Prosecutor 2 in September of 2010, this new game promised to see the return of Miles Edgeworth, Dick Gumshoe and Kay Faraday. Screenshots revealed the existence of a new gameplay mechanic with a prominent chess motif. In addition to revealing a few new characters, the article insisted that the game would focus more on Edgeworth himself than on other characters or past events. It went on to state that the creators wished to reveal a more human, conflicted side to him never before seen. It was around this time that the official website for the game launched.
Mr. Eshiro once again served as the producer of this game while Takeshi Yamazaki directed and wrote the scenario, sharing the latter duty with Yuki Nakamura. Ace Attorney Investigations was notable for having a development cycle that lasted much longer than those of its predecessors in the core series. Much of this can be attributed to the new gameplay mechanics necessitating Mr. Eshiro and his team to develop them from scratch. The development of its sequel ended up taking far less time due to already having a solid foundation on which they could create content. They had even gone as far as spending five days and four nights in a place dubbed the Capcom Manor to work on the game. The inspiration for this decidedly unorthodox method of brainstorming was inspired by the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The esteemed director would gather writers in a hotel room to conceive scripts for his films. At the manor, they systematically discussed the plot, formulated the new gameplay system, finalized the direction, and created sketches for a majority of the cast.
At the Tokyo Game Show convention of 2010, three new characters were officially revealed and named. A trailer showing gameplay footage of Turnabout Trial 2 revealed that many elements from its predecessor such as mentally connecting the facts of the case and utilizing the Little Thief to recreate the crime scene would make a return for this installment as well. In addition, a playable demo of the first episode, “Turnabout Target” was made available at the event. In November, the official website revealed the game’s box art and its slated release date: February 3, 2011. The day came to pass and the game was released to a positive reception.
It didn’t take long for Western fans to speculate the game’s localization plans. In what was a doubtlessly disappointing move for countless overseas fans, Ace Attorney Investigations only ever saw an English translation. Capcom then proceeded to up the ante from this controversial decision by opting not to localize Turnabout Prosecutor 2 at all. Why they decided to limit the game to its domestic market isn’t certain. Christian Svensson, the Senior Vice-President of Capcom’s USA branch at the time said that the decision was made due to estimated returns being unlikely to cover localization costs. Meanwhile, Mr. Eshiro claimed that it was due to a scheduling issue; the staff who worked on this game had disbanded, moving to different teams after finishing it. Around this time, Capcom had been under fire for many controversial business decisions. The list of grievances include releasing multiple titles with on-disc downloadable content, canceling the highly desired sequel to Mega Man Legends, and proceeding to give up on the long-running series entirely once its creator, Keiji Inafune, left in 2010.
To Capcom’s credit, they had many internal discussions on how to address this issue. Mr. Svensson said there might be potential to release the game as a downloadable digital title, thus reducing manufacturing costs. Talks about whether how they could localize this game continued into the next year. However, in 2012, Capcom announced that the core series was to, at long last, receive a sequel. This proved to be a mixed blessing, for Capcom quickly assured fans that it would be localized, but in doing so, all plans to bring Turnabout Prosecutor 2 to the West were effectively stopped.
Fortunately, all hope was not lost. Users on the Ace Attorney fan site Court-Records banded together to create a fan translation. This was not a task to be undertaken by amateurs, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, people had to submit applications, which in turn required the community’s approval in order for them to be on the team. Alexa Ray Corriea writing for Polygon described this approach as uncommon, for most fan translations allow anyone to contribute. It was similar to the Mother 3 translation led by Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin in that it’s clear the people involved wanted the translation to be as professional of a product as possible. The translation was released in an episodic format. In the autumn of 2013, a beta patch translating the first two episodes was released. Nearing the end of the following winter, work on the third episode was complete. In June of 2014, the game was at last fully translated into English, unofficially dubbed Prosecutor’s Path. There have been many instances throughout history of quality games failing to leave Japan. Was this a game worth of the fans’ immeasurable excitement?
When Nintendo launched the console to succeed their long-running Game Boy product line, the Nintendo DS, Capcom decided to create ports of Shu Takumi’s Turnabout Trial trilogy. As they were being created, the company elected to localize the three games, bringing them to North America and Europe. To Capcom’s surprise, the series, dubbed Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit abroad. While working on the DS port of the original trilogy’s final installment, Trials and Tribulations, producer Motohide Eshiro had an idea. They could make a spinoff series, casting a major character from Ace Attorney in the lead role. He met up with Takeshi Yamazaki, who had worked as a planner for the bonus episode that would be included with the debut installment’s rerelease. To his delight, Mr. Yamazaki agreed to work on it. Mr. Eshiro would later describe the meeting in his blog on the official Ace Attorney website as a “reckless suggestion with an inspiring, reckless response”. Regardless, they began meeting daily soon thereafter.
Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki quickly decided to have this hypothetical spinoff series take place on the crime scene rather than in a courtroom. Many points of contention arose from these “endless discussions”, including searching for contradictions in a crime scene, being able to play as multiple characters, and how they could possibly retain the spirit of the series without featuring a single courtroom battle. Mr. Yamazaki originally wanted to create a detective game starring Ema Skye, a character who had debuted in the bonus episode he worked on. Mr. Eshiro instead pictured Miles Edgeworth, protagonist Phoenix Wright’s rival and friend, as the main character. Fan feedback had demonstrated over the years that his popularity matched Phoenix Wright’s, and thus the decision was made. This game was to be developed as both a spinoff and follow-up to the original trilogy.
In March of 2008, the official Ace Attorney developer’s blog hinted toward the game’s existence. It referred to the game as a “NEW Turnabout, NOT Trial”. It was also stated that more information about the project would be released during an orchestral concert playing music from the series. At that time, the developers showcased a trailer revealing the game along with a new central character. Seconds after the revelation, an official website was launched. During the Tokyo Game Show of 2008, the gameplay was demonstrated, confirming that various characters from the main series such as Franziska von Karma were slated to return. Announcing the game was halfway finished by that point, they even allowed visitors to play a demo of the first episode. According to a poll conducted by Famitsu magazine, this presentation received more attention than that of any other portable game featured at the show. The game eventually saw its release under the name Turnabout Prosecutor in May of 2009.
Shortly before its domestic release, Capcom trademarked “Ace Attorney Investigations” as the game’s English title. Similar to how they showcased the game to the Japanese public, a playable demo was made available at Comic-Con in July of 2009. In North America, Europe, and Australia, the game was titled Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. The game was released in those regions in February of 2010. Due to the comparatively low sales of the series’ previous installment, Apollo Justice, Ace Attorney Investigations was not translated into any other languages beyond English, much to the chagrin of many international fans. Ace Attorney Investigations has the distinction of being the first entry in the series made without it input from its creator, Shu Takumi. Did Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki create something worthy of bearing the franchise’s banner?
With Turnabout Trial 3, Shu Takumi felt the grand finale effectively tied up all the loose ends, giving the protagonist a proper sendoff. Despite this, he and the rest Capcom took note of the fanbase it had garnered over the years and felt compelled to make a standalone sequel. They became especially motivated once the original game had been released in the West under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, stunning everyone when it became a sleeper hit. By then, the Game Boy Advance had been succeeded by Nintendo’s next console: the DS. Its novel dual screen gameplay allowed the console to achieve a level of commercial success that continued the company’s dominance in the handheld market.
Taking advantage of the new technology, some staff members proposed for the game to be rendered in 3D as a way of making a big impact on the DS. Eventually, they settled on a 2D presentation akin to the original trilogy. Nonetheless, some 3D elements remain in the final product, being the first installment in the series to feature videos created using motion-capture. Such were the lengths Mr. Takumi and his team went to make this game that they visited real courts to study the legal process. The fruit of their labor was released in April of 2007 under the name Turnabout Trial 4.
As the series had been as much of a success in the West as it was in its native homeland, localization was already underway by August of that year. Alexander O. Smith, who helped write the English localization, returned for this installment as well. After twenty-two meetings between Capcom’s American and Japanese divisions, they finally had a new name for the protagonist – one fitting for an attorney who fights to keep his innocent clients from receiving a guilty verdict: Apollo Justice. From here, they decided to name the game after him in a similar manner to his predecessor. Thus, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was released in North America, Europe, and then Australia in 2008. Does this fourth installment succeed in elevating an already impressive canon to a new level?
Shortly after the success of Turnabout Trial in 2001, Shu Takumi’s boss, Shinji Mikami suggested that they make a trilogy with a grand finale in the third game. Atsushi Inaba, the game’s producer then called Mr. Takumi into a meeting once the latter returned from a vacation. Mr. Inaba asked requested the script for five episodes in the span of three and a half months. Despite these outrageous terms, Mr. Takumi managed to get his work done on time, though one episode had to be cut due to memory constraints. Regardless, Turnabout Trial 2 was released roughly one year after the original’s debut. It too became a success, and there was only one game left to work on. Unlike the case with Turnabout Trial 2, production of the trilogy’s concluding installment went smoothly, though the development cycle lasted slightly longer, being released in January of 2004. Named Turnabout Trial 3, it continued the series’ success, helping to retain the following it gathered with the previous two entries.
A few years later in the West, the success of Turnabout Trial 2, retitled Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, demonstrated the series’ staying power. It was only logical to localize the final game as well. However, the localization process was less than ideal. With the localized title Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, it saw a release in North America in October of 2007, yet it was conspicuously absent in other regions. Despite getting prerelease reviews in gaming publications, the DS version was not released in Australia, though they did eventually receive the port on the Wii in 2010. Furthermore, it was delayed in Europe to the extent that the next game in the series, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, saw its release first. It’s speculated that ratings complications is what caused this to happen. Some fans had to wait an unreasonably long time for Trials and Tribulations to come out in their region. Did their patience pay off? Was Mr. Takumi able to defy the perceived curse involving trilogies and end this one on a triumphant note?
Upon its release in 2001, Turnabout Trial became a success in Japan, quickly amassing a strong following. Once Capcom finished development, Shu Takumi was told by his boss, Shinji Mikami, that they should make a trilogy with the third game ending in a grand finale to provide closure for all of the lingering plot threads. When Mr. Takumi returned to work from his vacation, the game’s producer, Atsushi Inaba, called him to a meeting. He told Mr. Takumi that he wanted a script for five episodes, allotting him three and a half months to finish it. As Mr. Takumi took a little more than a month to write each of the four episodes of the original Turnabout Trial, he was well within his rights to declare such a notion “completely insane”. To make matters worse, he felt he did not have any more gimmicks with which to formulate any mysteries, nor did he believe there to be any story threads he could expand upon.
Though he wanted to protest, the minute he returned to his desk, he drafted a work schedule. He gave himself two and a half months to write the dialogue for the entire game, with the remaining time being used to create the prototype and conceive gimmicks for each episode. Though a lot of doubt understandably weighed on his mind during the development cycle, he was miraculously able to meet the deadline. The only issue is that because he had run into memory issues, one of the episodes had to be cut from the final product. Despite a few minor setbacks, the game, entitled Turnabout Trial 2, was released in October of 2002 for the Game Boy Advance – roughly one year after the debut of the original.
A few years later in October of 2005, Turnabout Trial, under the localized title of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit through positive word of mouth. Such was the degree of its success that demand greatly exceeded supply. Cards became difficult to find, selling for double the average retail price on online auction websites. With the knowledge that the series had an overseas audience, Capcom allowed their localization team to work on an English version. As was the case with the original, the sequel had received a port on Nintendo’s then-newest console: the DS. Renamed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, the port saw separate releases in North America, Europe, and Australia in 2007. Justice for All was generally as well-received as its predecessor, and continued the franchise’s surprise success. Does it measure up to the strong series debut?