While I was playing the fan translation of Ace Attorney Investigations 2, a very strange thing happened. My sister asked me if I was going to review it.
Considering that writing about video games is what I do, it was a totally reasonable question. But the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, because to me, Ace Attorney hadn’t registered as a game at all. Not in that ‘it’s a limited interaction visual novel’ gatekeeper kind of way, but in a ‘how can this be a game when it’s been such a huge part of my life’ kind of way.
At time time, all I could say was “just: play them. Play all eight one after the other without stopping,” and “they’re so formative for me and I love them.”
That was a couple of months ago and this post is basically going to be that post but longer. I feel it’s necessary to elaborate on both why you should absolutely play them and on just how formative they have been for me.
It’s now been a full ten years since I first picked up the first game. The morning that I started writing this piece, my best friend (whom I first bonded with over none other than Ace Attorney) texted me about the very same game. What I’m saying is that it’s certainly stood the test of time. There are eight games available in English, (though one of these is a (very good) fan translation) released between 2001 and 2013. (A ninth game exists, but only in Japanese, so I sadly can’t speak on that one yet.) Not many series last this long, and if they do there’s usually a serious drop-off in quality. I’ll admit a not small amount of bias, but I really don’t think Ace Attorney suffers this problem.
In case you have no experience of the Ace Attorney series, let me give you a quick primer. They’re visual novels where you play as a defence attorney (except for a couple of spinoff games based on one of the beloved side characters, Miles Edgeworth, who’s a prosecutor). The gameplay is split into two sections: one where you investigate crime scenes, and one where you defend your client in court. They’re both based on relatively simple point and click play, as well as puzzles such as the cross-examination of witnesses in the court which rests on using your evidence to point out where they’re lying. Much more important than the gameplay, though, are the stories: some of the best I know; both hilarious and heart breaking. They’re also full of the weirdest and most wonderful characters. More on both of those things later, but first I want to talk about theme.
One of the major themes of the story is probably best summed up as ‘supporting the underdog,’ and it was this that made me decide that I wanted to be a defence attorney just like Phoenix (the protagonist of the first trilogy) despite knowing that real legal proceedings are nothing like the game. This was my aim from 2005 until sometime around 2012, and not in any kind of abstract way: I studied law for two years and when I chose my degree (history) it was because it was a good way into the bar exam.
I slowly came to realise that law actually wasn’t for me, and loosening my grip on this aim was really difficult. Admitting to myself that the path I’d been on for eight-ish years was no longer the path that I wanted to be on was both tough to accept, and terrifying. Worse, I didn’t feel like I’d made a conscious decision to leave the path, and therefore wasn’t left with any kind of idea what I wanted to do anymore.
It wasn’t too long after this that the 2013 entry into the franchise, Dual Destinies, was released. I was having a really bad time of it during that summer, and the game truly helped. The fact that all the games are both laugh-out-loud hilarious and a quieter, more affirming kind of positive was certainly a factor. But once again, it was theme that spoke to me. Possibly the most often repeated idea is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, carry on anyway. And so persevere is what I did.
I also came to realise that while the game is most clearly about lawyers helping people who don’t have anyone else looking out for them, the supporting characters do the same thing. Well then, I thought, I don’t want to be a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to support marginalised people. That desire has come from a lot of places in my life, but I really feel like when little eleven year old me picked up Ace Attorney for the first time she was taking her first steps into becoming the fearful social justice warrior she is today. So, you can thank Ace Attorney for the fact that this blog even exists, and I can thank it for the fact that it’s rapidly becoming obvious to me that this is what I want to do with myself.
As I mentioned, they’re relentlessly positive games, despite having more than its fair share of heart breaking moments. I certainly think it influenced my opinions on happy endings. They’re essentially the stories of people who were knocked down and refused to stay down. It makes the characters incredibly engaging. I’d also go so far as to say that the entire thing is really about the Power of Love, and not just romantic love. In fact, almost none of it is romantic: it’s all friendship and families. Close female friendships of every kind can be found, as well as friendships between men that never resort to “no homo” backtracking.
You’ll also find representation of pretty much every kind of woman. Lawyer, forensic scientist, psychologist, performer, security guard, detective, and a whole bunch of spirit mediums, to name a few. In the initial games things can get a little bit fan-service-y but I think it’s been getting better, while keeping the overall (purposeful) ridiculousness of character design the same.
This blend of silly and serious is pulled off really well, and I truly recommend trying them out. If you’d like, there’s a pretty good rundown here that should help you figure out where to get started.