Can you imagine celebrating your 20th birthday, and someone comes up to you and tells you that your nervous, short friend/mentee is much more interesting than you? Well, it’s Ace Attorney’s 20th birthday, and while that’s not exactly what I’m doing (and I’ll explain why in more detail in a moment), I have to say: as a person who’s played all of the Ace Attorney games (except for the fan translation of Investigations 2), I firmly believe that Apollo Justice is one of the best, even though most people generally rank it below almost all of the other games.
First off, let me assure you: I love Phoenix Wright. In fact, one of the main reasons I adore Apollo Justice is because of Phoenix Wright.
At this point, we’ve gone through three games with Nick as either a chaotic junior attorney who keeps forgetting the names of his clients, or a relatively self-assured Edgeworth-botherer who accidentally stumbles into and then solves various cold cases that stretch back long before his career even began. At the start of Apollo Justice, there’s no Nick to be seen — instead, we get a time-skip of seven years, and we meet this dishevelled weirdo who’s into back-alley gambling and bad piano playing.
And that garbage human turns out to be the same besuited, spiky-haired lawyer we all know and love. What a fantastic twist to start off the story: to take everything you know about the games, and turn it on its head. It’s a clever way to signal that Apollo Justice — and the games from this point on — won’t be afraid to play with convention, to subvert what people have come to expect.
And, of course, in Ace Attorney style, this rugged version of Phoenix Wright is not only disgraced and disbarred, but he’s on trial for murder. Okay, that one’s not really a subversion — that’s Ace Attorney storywriting 101.
But I have to make a small confession, here: I like scruffy Phoenix. He’s cute. In fact, the Ace Attorney series really started to lean into making its characters extremely Bad Boy Attractive around the time of Apollo Justice, with Edgeworth turning into a strict, glasses-wearing silver fox in the game afterwards, and, you know, the entirety of Klavier Gavin’s existence.
You might be thinking that this isn’t really relevant to why Apollo Justice is one of my favourites, but it totally is — Ace Attorney has always been incredibly beloved by its female audience, and every now and again, a game will actually recognise that, and the artists will lean into drawing through the lens of the female gaze. We’ve got enough beefy lads who don’t know how to talk about their feelings; I want more well-dressed lads who read books.
I promise I don’t just love the game for the hunks, though. Apollo Justice introduces a new, Magatama-style mechanic in the form of Apollo’s magical bracelet that tightens when someone’s lying — which you’ll have to prove by pointing out their nervous tic, as if that would stand up in court. It’s goofy, yes, but Ace Attorney has never really shied away from the ludicrous: Remember the witness who was a parrot? Or all the times you were allowed to call literal ghosts to the stand? How about the fact that your murdered mentor keeps inhabiting the body of her live sister in order to keep an eye on you? Exactly.
On top of the magical bracelet, Apollo Justice also introduces an entire recorded live concert that you’ll have to scrub around to answer the questions surrounding a crime, a family of magicians surrounded by mystery and tragedy, and a case that involves time travel. Fans, of course, are divided by these gimmicks — and the lack of Phoenix as protagonist — but I loved them all, and the time travel case in particular remains one of my favourites to this day because of how it wrangles a seven-year narrative into a number of shocking twists.
I think that the best (and sometimes, most confusing) cases are the ones that implicate the cast themselves — I don’t necessarily mean “oh no, Maya’s been accused of murder again”, but the ones that outline the characters’ backstories. Finding out about Edgeworth’s dad (and resulting trauma), Mia and Maya’s mother, Dahlia’s betrayal of just about everyone, and the shared childhoods of Larry Butz, Phoenix Wright, and Mile Edgeworth fleshes out the people that you’ll meet time and time again, making them more than just your rivals and assistants.
Apollo Justice takes that one step further, with every single case being intricately tied to the strange and enigmatic Gramarye family, Phoenix and his disbarment, Phoenix’s mystery child, Trucy, and Apollo Justice himself. Although previous Ace Attorney games have occasionally dabbled in backstory, we’ve never really got to know Phoenix that deeply, beyond knowing that he was friends with people as a kid, and gets really dirty when he’s not a lawyer. Apollo Justice, on the other hand, has secret family, more secret family, and a bunch of question marks around his existence right from the word go.
I may not be able to convince everyone that Apollo Justice is the best Ace Attorney game — and that’s okay. The best part of the Ace Attorney series is that none of the games are missteps, and every single one is someone‘s favourite — but Apollo gets a lot of flak, and I don’t necessarily think he deserves it. His debut game was a tentative step in a new direction for Ace Attorney, one that’s defined many of the newer games, especially Spirit of Justice, and Phoenix and friends just couldn’t be where they are today without Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
Make sure to check out our user-generated ranking of the Ace Attorney games, especially if you agree with me — poor Apollo is lagging behind.
But tell me: why do you love/hate Apollo Justice? Have I managed to persuade you with my opinions on the game? Let me know in the comments!