For what feels like forever, video game courtrooms have echoed to the cries of “Hold it!” and “Objection!”. When Phoenix Wright first debuted on Game Boy Advance, it was a modest success in Japan, but it was really with its re-release on Nintendo DS and its localisation to the West in 2005 that it and its sequels grabbed widespread popularity. There’s been a live action movie, a recent anime adaptation, and more than a few sequels and spin offs, but now Capcom have returned to the very beginning, rejuvenating the first three games with a HD trilogy remaster.
While later games have added further gameplay gimmicks, new characters and taken Phoenix Wright to new courtrooms, the original trilogy is relatively pure and consistent throughout. As each mystery (typically a murder trial) drops into Phoenix Wright’s lap, you’re tasked with working to get your client acquitted, sometimes even against their own will and beliefs. You’ll be speaking to the suspect and witnesses, investigating the crime scene and other locations to collect the clues, and then taking all of this into the courtroom.
It’s here that the series’ most distinctive elements make themselves known with barked interjections as you go through witness testimony step by step, pushing them to reveal more, prodding for holes in their statements that you can then blow wide open with a key piece of evidence. The second and third game add ‘Psyche-Locks’ on top of this, layering another form of evidence-based puzzle to the base formula.
This is a rather sensationalised and sometimes silly courtroom drama, thanks to a cast of ostentatious characters. Not only that, but they are almost universally deceitful and instances of perjury are waved away by the judge left, right and centre. The ever dependable Detective Gumshoe is always there to jump to conclusions and make an arrest, the range of prosecution lawyers are more than happy to engage in borderline witness tampering and coaching, not to mention withholding of evidence, and the witnesses themselves always have hidden agendas and facades that you gradually wear down until you reveal their true selves.
Playing on Switch, you can play all of this on the touch screen, which is always a pleasant surprise. You won’t have to wear out your buttons skipping dialogue, but can tap your way back and forth in conversations, open up your Court Record, scan scenes for clues all with the screen (though this last one would have been better if the cursor was offset from your finger, so you could see where interactive items are). Some UI elements are a bit on the small side, but I never had a problem tapping what I wanted, and there’s no real time pressure to make this frustrating if you do.
The renewed UI really does help the game feel more modern, restyling the classic UI from the DS and 3DS versions to suit widescreen displays and higher resolutions. All of the background art and character has also been completely recreated, replacing the low resolution and sometimes indistinct backgrounds and character art with much cleaner versions that look great in HD. That said, it looks a bit too pristine and lifeless, and can look a bit naff in a handful of places, such as with the deliberately blurry wide shot of the courtroom that is sometimes used.
What’s disappointing is that this trilogy remaster doesn’t really go beyond a straight remaster. Looking at other visual novels, we have the recently released Steins;Gate Elite which wrapped the original game around visuals and sequences from the anime, going so far as to flesh these out further with additional animation. The last few years have seen the first three Phoenix Wright games translated into anime that almost slavishly takes its cues from the video game’s most distinctive elements. This trilogy remaster could have gone much further than just recreating the original games and drawn from the anime to create something that feels more natural and vibrant. With the original MIDI soundtrack also kept intact, these feel like games from the early 2000s because of it.