When we hear the title Ace Attorney, most of us think of Phoenix Wright: the spiky-haired rookie lawyer with a loud voice and a gift for lateral thinking. But if you’re one of the fans who picked up Ace Attorney Investigations sometime over the last decade, you’ve seen the flip side of the series — with plenty of loud voices and lateral thinking.
As the Ace Attorney series continues in game and anime form, Investigations stands out as a curiosity in the line. The difference in style and gameplay can feel a little like… well, like standing at the wrong desk in a courtroom. But it’s also a fantastic and challenging game in its own right, and if you’re still sleeping on it after ten years, it’s time to wake up and play.
Elementary, Dear Phoenix
Play Ace Attorney long enough, and you realize that Phoenix Wright is a handful. He eventually grows as a defense attorney, but it wasn’t a straight shot. Remember when you had to do the tutorial again because he got hit over the head with a fire extinguisher? Remember when he ate a glass bottle with traces of poison in it because of a girl? He’s a lovable outside-the-box genius, but he’s also a walking disaster.
And so, Ace Attorney Investigations mixes things up by putting you in the shoes of Miles Edgeworth, cool-as-a-cucumber, sharp-dressed prosecutor — and, according to a poll conducted just prior to the game going into production, the fanbase’s favorite character. Where Nick has lateral leaps of faith and eleventh-hour brilliance, Edgeworth has logic and reason.
Investigations plays more like a point-and-click game than a visual novel, but the classic elements of an Ace Attorney game are there. You have an enthusiastic sidekick and a cast of characters with punny names. You investigate crime scenes, interrogate witnesses, and get into shouting matches. But instead of the game guiding you to the next stage of play once you’ve found everything you need, you’re constantly in a position to switch between play styles and draw new connections.
As a bonus, there’s the Logic systems. Ace Attorney players know the agony of having figured out whodunit (and occasionally howdunit), but being unable to do anything about it because the right piece of evidence isn’t in Nick’s possession. As Edgeworth, you can combine facts you’ve learned into deductions, then present those as you normally would evidence.
Good Lawyer, Bad Lawyer
The Ace Attorney series was originally conceived as a satire of the Japanese legal system. Things that sound ludicrous to us, like prosecutors going undefeated for 40 years or almost every trial ending in a guilty verdict, are not that far off the mark. Between a prosecutor’s extreme discretionary power and some judges’ literal fear of handing down a “Not Guilty” verdict, Japan had a 99.9% conviction rate in 2019. In other words, labeling prosecutors as “the bad guys” in the series isn’t a particularly contentious move — and a “good” prosecutor is either a pleasant surprise or a plot point waiting to happen.
So with the occasional exception, the Ace Attorney prosecutors’ roster ends up being a long line of heels who have made a face turn at the end of their respective game. But they’re still prosecutors, which means they’re still on the “bad side.” In that respect, Investigations is fun in that we detach from that mindset and just get to see Edgeworth in his element. If you enjoyed his stint standing in for Phoenix Wright in Trials & Tribulations, this gives you even more time to run around in his shoes.
Speaking of Nick, playing as Edgeworth makes you appreciate him more, too. When the point of Ace Attorney is for Edgeworth to lose to you as you flail around with save states and autopsy reports, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that he’s a genius. In his own game, he’s free to show just how intelligent he actually is — and, by extension, how smart (or lucky) Nick is to be defeating him case after case.
The best part? There’s a sequel. Though actually that’s kind of the worst part, too.
More Ace Attorney:
- Eighteen Years in, Ace Attorney is Stuck in Its Past
- Six Ace Attorney Anniversaries That Passed When You Weren’t Looking
What Could Have Been
Unsurprisingly, the combo of serious detective work and a whole game’s worth of Edgeworth meant Ace Attorney Investigations did fairly well — well enough for a sequel. Ace Attorney Investigations II delves more into Edgeworth’s backstory, exploring his previous desires to be a defense attorney like his father. He’s also facing down the “Prosecutor Purge,” during which he risks losing his badge for not toeing the Chief Prosecutor’s line.
There are also new mechanics, chief among them Logic Chess. Like the Ace Attorney mechanic of the Magatama, Edgeworth uses this phase to slowly break down a person’s arguments. It also looks super cool, employing a futuristic 3D chessboard.
The problem? It’s never been officially released outside Japan.
While Ace Attorney has a devoted worldwide fanbase, sales over the last decade haven’t been high enough to make it a priority series. Even games in the main line have been prone to digital-only releases for this very reason. Eight years ago, Nintendo representatives said good sales of the main games “might” ease the second Investigations game toward release — but at present, the only hope for playing it in English lies in a fan-made patch.
Fortunately, the first Ace Attorney Investigations was ported to both iOS and Android in 2017, meaning you won’t have to shake the trees for a used DS copy if you’re interested. If you’ve never tried it before, grab a copy and get sleuthin’. Who knows — you might even help push the sequel a little closer to a US release.