It’s hard to believe that the time period of Ace Attorney has changed from The Not-Too-Distant-Future to the very literal here and now. The second season of the anime is airing right around the time its events are supposed to take place, and we’re watching major dates from the story pass us by. In fact, by the time the original trilogy hits the Nintendo Switch, most if not all of it will be set in the past!
When Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright was first released in the West in 2001, its time period of 2016 was a fair distance away. With 2019 upon us, and the first three games on schedule for a shiny new rerelease, it’s a good time to look back at some of the high points of the series, and the in-game events that passed us by in the last few years.
September 5, 2016: This Whole Mess Starts
A lot of things had to come together to make the Wright & Co. Law Offices what we know them to be. Phoenix Wright had to escape a murder conviction and go to law school. Phoenix’s friend Larry Butz had to become Phoenix’s first defendant, leading to his first win. The Fey family… well, they have a lot more dirty laundry to air than we have time to talk about. But things really kicked off in the game when — 18-year-old spoiler alert — Phoenix’s boss Mia Fey was murdered and her sister Maya was charged with the crime. And once Nick cleared her name (and then his own), the pair became the legal duo we all know and love.
It’s not as though we never see Mia again, of course. Between flashbacks in the third game and Maya’s spirit channeling ability, Phoenix’s mentor is never far away. This makes it slightly easier to accept her early game fate… at least until we find out about Godot two games later. But more about him in a bit.
Nonetheless, knowing I blithely went through September of 2016 without pausing to pour one out for Best Lawyer Mom has me feeling a little guilty. Note to self: mark September 5 going forward.
December 24, 2016: Christmas Is Ruined
Ace Attorney fans never forget to meme on Christmas Eve, thanks to the holiday-ruining horror that was Turnabout Goodbyes. Between genius prosecutor Miles Edgeworth getting a handgun pulled on him and Phoenix taking time to remind the court that “after midnight on Christmas Eve” is the same as Christmas itself, we have plenty to work with.
Hopefully, fans remembered to go extra hard a couple years ago, when the fateful night actually occurred. Christmas Eve (sorry, Nick, Christmas) of 2016 and the following days were a nightmare for Edgeworth, in no small part because the murder charge pitted him against his guardian, Manfred von Karma. As a bonus, it forced him to relive memories of his father Gregory Edgeworth’s death.
On the bright side, that means every Christmas since then has been a chance for Edgeworth to have a very nice time. Hopefully Nick, Maya, and the rest have gone out of their way to make the holiday a little less horrible for him.
March 22, 2018: Miles Edgeworth Shoves a Whole-Ass Bear in His Pocket
Ace Attorney: Justice for All, the second game of the original trilogy, ends with Farewell, My Turnabout — in which Maya is kidnapped and will be killed unless Phoenix procures an acquittal for defendant Matt Engarde. Bad news for Maya, but at least it’s a change from her constantly getting pegged as a killer.
With the life of a major character hanging in the balance, the time isn’t really right for slapstick. And yet Edgeworth, just returned from a journey of self-discovery after the first game, somehow manages to leave a crime scene while carrying a life-sized stuffed bear.
We’re not entirely sure how he managed to accomplish this, though many fan artists have given their take on the scene (including deviantART’s toedeledoki). The general consensus seems to be that, well, it’s Edgeworth. People just kind of let him do what he wants. Would you stop him from carrying a giant bear around? I sure wouldn’t.
Similar issues occur in later games, such as second-gen rookie lawyer Apollo Justice seeming to shove an entire ramen cart in his pocket; but that’s more a result of game mechanics and how evidence is stored in your files. But for this particular feat, where it’s clear in the text that Edgey’s just strolling out of a crime scene with evidence visible from space, I feel that’s worth celebrating.
September, 2018: Coffee Hour Begins
When your first rival is a grey-haired boy with a cravat the size of a duvet, things can only get weirder. The cast of Ace Attorney has introduced some wild prosecutors, from whip-cracking Franziska von Karma to emo samurai wannabe Simon Blackquill. None before or since, though, quite compares to the toaster-faced coffee addict known as Godot.
Even in the weird world of Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, which includes a moment where Phoenix exorcises the spirit of his college ex from Maya by yelling, Godot is an enigma. He claims he’s never lost a case… but he’s never won one, either. And while he seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to prosecuting, his main goal appears to be making life difficult for Phoenix.
Once you finish the game, you learn Godot has plenty of lawyering under his belt, along with a fairly decent reason for having it out for Nick. But whoever that person was, that version of him is long gone — with the Godot persona emerging sometime in September of last year, ready to chug some damn fine coffee and make some trouble.
December 5, 2018: Phoenix and Maya Travel to Storybook-Land with Professor Layton
Let’s take a little jaunt outside the main trilogy — because no discussion of weird events in the life of Phoenix Wright would be complete without the time he crossed paths with gaming’s other puzzle-solving hero.
Just under two years after Edgeworth’s Christmas murder trial, the not-so-rookie defense attorney must defend Espella Cantabella: a young woman accused of actual witchcraft. After clearing her name, Nick and Maya find themselves transported to a fantasy world inside a book, where they become part of a series of witch trials. And who should be within objecting distance but Professor Hershel Layton and his own assistant, young animal whisperer Luke Triton.
Of course, with this being a story that takes place in the context of both the Ace Attorney and Professor Layton games, there’s more going on than meets the eye… quite literally. But up until the big reveal at the end of the game, as far as our heroes are concerned, Labyrinthia is a full-on fairy tale country where young girls believed to be witches are slammed inside iron maidens and dropped into a pit of fire. Hooray!
December 31, 2018: Our First Real-Time Case
While never appearing in-game, the events of Northward, Turnabout Express from the anime do deserve a mention here. The made-for-TV case, written with the help of Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi, marks the story’s first real-time trial!
The events of the story arc take place on New Year’s Eve 2018, as familiar faces from the game series join a new cast of characters on a steam train. As it turns out, every guest is there for a reason: so the train’s creator, Avery Richman, can have a retrial. Avery was convicted of murder and maintains he’s innocent. If Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright can’t prove his innocence by the first dawn of 2019, he will concede defeat.
The story, part of the anime’s second season, ran in the weeks leading up to the beginning of 2019 — meaning that the story took place just slightly offset from real time! It’s kind of cool, and can’t have been accidental, but also a little startling to realize we now live in the future.
Feeling a little freaked out? No worries: according to the timeline, Phoenix has to turn in his badge in April, and then we won’t cross paths with the main games again until 2026!… Wait, that’s actually kind of depressing. Forget I said that.
In the meantime, prepare to turn your thinking upside-down once again when the original Ace Attorney trilogy comes to the Nintendo Switch later this year.