Ace Attorney is a series of adventure video game legal dramas developed by Capcom. The first entry in the series, , was released in 2001; since then, five further main series games, as well as various spin-offs and high-definition remasters for newer game consoles, have been released. Additionally, the series has seen adaptations in the form of a live-action film and an anime, and has been the base for manga series, , Musical theatre and .
The player takes the roles of various defense attorneys, including Phoenix Wright, his mentor Mia Fey, and his understudies Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes, and investigates cases and defends their clients in court; 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 spin-off , they play as Phoenix's ancestor Ryūnosuke Naruhodō.
The series was created by the writer and director Shu Takumi. He wanted the series to end after the third game, but it continued, with Takeshi Yamazaki taking over as writer and director starting with (2009); Takumi has since returned to write and direct some spin-off titles. 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 August 2020, the game series has sold 7.7 million units worldwide.
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. 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. Dai Gyakuten Saiban introduces "joint reasoning", where the player finds out the truth by pointing out when their investigative partner Sherlock Holmes 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.
Phoenix's childhood friend Miles Edgeworth, who is the protagonist of the Ace Attorney Investigations games, is a recurring rival prosecutor character; in addition to him, each new game in the series introduces a new rival: Franziska von Karma is introduced in the second game, Godot in the third, Klavier Gavin in the fourth, Simon Blackquill in the fifth, and Nahyuta Sahdmadhi in the sixth. Most of the prosecutor characters are portrayed as powerful and arrogant characters of high social status, who favor convictions over finding the truth, and who care about keeping perfect-win records in court, with Godot and Klavier being exceptions. Similarly to real Japanese prosecutors, the prosecutors in the series often directly oversee investigations, issuing orders to the police. Japanese attitudes towards the police force are reflected in the series, with the police being represented by incompetent characters such as Dick Gumshoe, Maggey Byrde and Mike Meekins. In the world of Ace Attorney, trials only last three days, and usually end with a "guilty" verdict. The outcomes of cases are decided by a judge, based on evidence provided by the defense attorney and the prosecutor.
Takumi cited Japanese mystery author Edogawa Ranpo as an inspiration, particularly The Psychological Test, a short story which involves a crime that "unravels due to the criminal's contradictory testimony." It had a big impact on him, and was a major influence on the game. He was also inspired by stories from another Japanese author, Shinichi Hoshi, stating that he was pursuing his "element of surprise and unexpectedness."
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. In 2020, Yamazaki left Capcom.
The change in the series' setting became an issue in later games, where the Japanese setting was more obvious. Starting with the second game, the series localization direction has been handled by Janet Hsu; One of the first decisions she had to make was how to localize Maya's hometown and the mysticism of the Fey clan. She came up with the idea that the localized versions of the Ace Attorney games take place in Los Angeles in an alternative universe where anti-Japanese laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 were not passed, anti-Japanese sentiments were not powerful, and where Japanese culture flourished. This dictated what should be localized and what should be kept Japanese; things relating to the Fey clan and the Kurain channeling technique were kept Japanese, as that was Maya's heritage, while Japanese foods that were not widely known in the West were changed, such as changing Maya's favorite food from ramen to burgers. That particular change was mocked by players as the dish later became more well known in the West, and was lampshaded in the English release of Spirit of Justice, where Maya is described as liking both ramen and burgers.
Character names were also localized to use double meanings similarly to the Japanese names; the name puns were based on the characters' personalities or backgrounds, or were visual gags. Several English names were based on their Japanese counterparts, but for some characters the names had to be altered heavily compared to the Japanese versions. Smith and Anderson had a lot of freedom when localizing the names of minor characters in the first game, but discussed the names of the main cast with Capcom. Phoenix's English surname, "Wright", was chosen as his Japanese name, "Naruhodō"—meaning "I see" or "I understand"—was frequently used as a joke in the script.
Dual Destinies was given a digital-only release in the West. This was partially because of the game's tight development schedule: by releasing it digitally, Capcom was able to release the English version close to the Japanese release date. Although Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and Dai Gyakuten Saiban have not been officially localized, they have received full fan translations.
Geoff Thew at Hardcore Gamer said that the "craziness" of the game world makes the cases entertaining, but also that it "resonates on a deeper level" due to its connection to the real Japanese legal system, making the setting still feel relevant in 2014. Bob Mackey at USgamer said that the Ace Attorney games were among the best written games of all time, and that the series' strength is how each game builds up to a "stunning and satisfying finale". Thomas Whitehead at Nintendo Life also liked the writing, praising its balance between "light-hearted nonsense" and darker, more serious scenarios. Several reviewers have appreciated the series' characters; Thew said that Phoenix and Maya's banter is among the best in video games, and that Edgeworth's character arc is one of the most compelling parts of the stories.
Reviewers have liked finding contradictions; a common complaint, however, is 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.
Several reviewers have praised the series' music. They said that the greatest aspect of the series is its audio design, with the first three games using the Game Boy Advance sound chip better than any other game for that platform; he called the music phenomenal, with the exception of that in Justice for All, but said the sound effects are what "steals the show". Mackey commented that the games' small amounts of animations for each character are used well for their characterization.
Kodansha has published several manga based on the series: a short story anthology was published 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. A novel based on the series, Gyakuten Saiban: Turnabout Idol, was released in June 2016. Ace Attorney , soundtrack albums, and Model figure have also been released.
Ace Attorney characters have made crossover appearances in other video games. Some Ace Attorney characters appear in . Phoenix and Edgeworth make a cameo appearance in She-Hulk's ending in the fighting game ; 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-player appearance. 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 , with Phoenix making an appearance in the game's story.
The Ace Attorney series has been credited with helping to popularise visual novels in the Western world. Vice magazine credits the Ace Attorney series with popularising the visual novel mystery format, and notes that its success anticipated the resurgence of point-and-click adventure games as well as the international success of Japanese visual novels. According to Danganronpa director Kazutaka Kodaka, Ace Attorneys success in North America was due to how it distinguished itself from most visual novels with its gameplay mechanics, which Danganronpa later built upon and helped it also find success in North America.
The Ace Attorney series has also inspired many video games. The 2008 Capcom title , based on the , shares many elements with the Ace Attorney series. The 2013 title keeps the Ace Attorney format but swaps law for philosophical argument, and the 2015 adventure game Aviary Attorney features similar gameplay but with an all-bird cast of characters. The 2016 video game Detective Pikachu, which received a 2019 film adaptation, has also drawn comparisons to the Ace Attorney series.
Ace Attorney is referenced in several anime shows. In a murder mystery arc of the 2006 anime series Haruhi Suzumiya, the show's titular character mimics Phoenix Wright during an episode. The 2014 anime series No Game No Life also pays homage to the game during an episode.