Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy [Switch] Review – Classic Or Cold Case?

Are games 4-6 in the Ace Attorney trilogy Guilty of still holding up years later? Find out in our Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review.

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As a child, I had a strange habit of starting popular book series’ out of order. The first Harry Potter book I read wasn’t Philosopher’s Stone, but Goblet of Fire. Goblet had a dragon on the front, after all, and five-year-old Nathan was yet to fully absorb the wisdom of not judging books by their covers.

In my defence, there was little indication that Goblet was the fourth book in the series for an outsider. I had less of an excuse with The Carnivorous Carnival, book nine of A Series of Unfortunate Events. ‘Book the Ninth’ was written right there on the cover, below the stunning artwork that drew me in.

I’ve mended my ways in the years since, tending to enjoy content in the intended order for the most part. But what the follies of my youth taught me was that a great story remains great no matter what order you tell it in. I was reminded of this fact as I checked out Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy for the Nintendo Switch.

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review

Apollo Justice points his finger accusatorily in court in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

So despite the best of intentions, I’ve never actually sat down and played an Ace Attorney game before. I’ve always been peripherally aware of the series of course. I’ve enjoyed the ‘Objection!’ memes like any self-respecting gamer. However, I’ve never taken the plunge. And now, in our year 2024, I find myself repeating the Harry Potter incident and starting the series off with its fourth entry, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.

This puts me in the somewhat unusual position of playing the re-released trilogy with the perspective of a newcomer, rather than through the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia. This review, therefore, will judge the three games presented here on their own merits, without any kind of premeditated bias. With that opening statement out of the way, let us proceed to the main trial.

Back To Basics

The judge sits at his desk in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

For the uninitiated the Ace Attorney games are a series of visual novels originally released for the Nintendo DS and 3DS. The original trilogy focused on the career of defence lawyer Phoenix Wright, and was then followed by a second trilogy focusing on another defence lawyer, Apollo Justice. It’s the re-released version of the latter we’ll be cross-examining today.

All of the Ace Attorney games, the Apollo Justice titles included, follow a fairly simple formula. You begin by investigating some kind of mystery, talking to different characters and examining crime scenes to build up evidence. You then take said evidence to court and use it to defend your client, the ultimate aim being to receive a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict from the judge.

The courtroom conflicts largely play out during the cross-examination stage, where you try and find holes in the testimony of opposing witnesses and present evidence that contradicts them. You can’t come into a trial with insufficient evidence, so you’ll always have the tools you need to proceed. The only question is whether you can use them correctly or not.

Try, Try Again

An evidence entry on a 'Deadly Bottle' from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

It’s a bigger question than you may at first think, since the Ace Attorney games are notorious for putting the ‘trial’ in ‘trial and error.’ That is to say, that the solutions to each cross-examination puzzle tend to be quite cryptic, often to the extent that they drive you to a ‘try every piece of evidence on every piece of testimony’ strategy to proceed. Or, more likely given the presence of a Penalty system that discourages such an approach, into the arms of an online guide instead.

This isn’t true for every puzzle in the game, and when they work, and you reach the answer yourself in a reasonable time, they feel absolutely incredible to solve. The game works on fairly solid logic for the most part, with most answers asking you to think about the timeline of the case, or the physical space in which it happened. The problem with the more obtuse puzzles is that they bring the game’s narrative momentum, its most important feature, screeching to a halt.

Written In The Stars

The character Big Wins Kitaki from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy talking in a Detention Center.

While their mainstream appeal may make you think otherwise, the Ace Attorney games take the ‘novel’ part of ‘visual novel’ very seriously indeed. This means the thing you’ll be doing the most of by far while playing is pressing A to move to the next chunk of dialogue. If this sounds like a negative, that’s only because I haven’t mentioned the sheer quality¬†of said dialogue yet, so let me do so now: it’s top notch.

Every character in the Apollo Justice trilogy just oozes personality, and while some of that can be attributed to their animations or visual design, the majority of it comes from their dialogue. Apollo himself is an immediately likeable protagonist, his nerves at taking on his first trial extremely relatable, his ‘Chords of Steel’ vocal warmup technique hilarious. He’s also a great audience surrogate, constantly calling into question the bizarre circumstances the games throw at you in a way that only elevates their comedic value.

The Ace Attorney games have, notoriously, always played it fairly fast and loose with how they portray the workings of the legal system. Or at least I hope they have, for Japan’s sake.

The Apollo Justice titles, however, take this idea to new heights. In the tutorial trial alone, witnesses are badgered from all sides, including the judge, evidence is introduced out of nowhere, and the murderer turns out to be your fellow defence attorney and personal mentor. And the rollercoaster only goes up from there: before long you’ll be defending an orca named Orla who’s been accused of murdering her trainer.

Final Verdict

Trucy Wright greeting Apollo Justice in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy.

These wacky antics match the anime stylings of the series perfectly, and while they may undermine any sense of legal realism, the twists and turns will still keep you engrossed for the duration of each case. And that can be some serious time: each trial session can take a good few hours to work through, and when you factor in the investigative legwork that comes before and during, a complete episode can take upwards of 10 hours to see through to the end.

This can grow tiring, particularly given the sheer volume of dialogue you’ll need to digest while playing, but it also makes the Trilogy an excellent fit for the Switch’s handheld mode. Dipping in and out to make a little progress each time is a great way to play these games. It also recreates the original DS experience well, giving those who have enjoyed the Trilogy in the past an extra hit of nostalgia.

So after all of that, what’s my verdict? Despite having no prior experience with the series, or even with visual novels in general, I found myself totally engrossed in the story of Apollo Justice. The bizarre dialogue and twisty plots made the whole thing feel like a playable anime, with stunning art and animation to match. While it may stumble sometimes with puzzles that feel too tricky for their own good, referring to a guide occasionally is a small price to pay to enjoy three fully-realised epics such as these. We the jury find Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy… Not Guilty! Of being a game you’ll regret picking up.

The good

  • Well-written, humorous dialogue.
  • Incredibly faithful recreation of the original games.
  • A great handheld mode experience.
  • A huge amount of content for the money.

The bad

  • Some obtuse puzzles slow down the action.
  • Sheer volume of dialogue can get tiring.
80 out of 100

Staff Writer
Nathan Ball is a games writer with a deeply-held passion for both the medium and the written word. You may have seen his work on TheGamer, PC Invasion, and the Scottish Games Network. Off the clock he enjoys good books, good films, and good times.