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Ace Attorney Games Ranked From Worst to Best

Ace Attorney is the series that got me through 2020. It’s a little cheesy to admit — Ace Attorney is, at its best, a thoroughly ridiculous (and mildly bi-romantic) visual novel dressed up as a legal drama and sporting every kangaroo court trope in the book. Not to mention, that description extends to pretty much all the Ace Attorney games ranked.

But I love the games, anyways. Phoenix Wright is exactly the kind of protagonist I like to play. He’s loyal and determined, approaches every new challenge with a healthy dose of dry wit, and fits in well with a whacky supporting cast.

The in-court gameplay is also a lot more compelling than it seems at first glance. There’s nothing quite like the final trial of Case 5, where more than one life hangs in the balance and you’re left frantically searching the Court Record for any ammunition against overwhelming odds. Just when it all seems hopeless, the prosecution’s star witness makes a tiny slip-up — Nick looks up in shock and triumph, and the music itself holds its breath as you pull out your trusty “OBJECTION!” and win the case in a turnabout that will go down in legal history.

It’s so much fun, and I’ve been recommending the series to pretty much anyone who will listen since I finished the original trilogy back in January. If you’re interested in picking up the series, join me as I revisit the series by ranking the titles from worst to best!

Ace Attorney Games Ranked From Worst to Best

Before we get started, I should clarify my criteria for this list. As much as I’d like to rank all the Ace Attorney games, there are a few that haven’t been released to Western audiences yet. I haven’t got my hands on the fan translations yet, and it feels disingenuous to rank the titles that I haven’t played compared to the ones I’ve played obsessively over the last year.

In short, this isn’t a list of all Ace Attorney games ranked — just the ones that were released in North America. If I ever get a chance to play those extra titles, I’ll be sure to come back and update the list accordingly!

With that in mind, let’s get to the actual rankings.

8. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Box
  • Platform(s): 3DS
  • Developer: Capcom, Level-5
  • Release Date: August 29, 2014

Starting off our list is Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a spin-off title released between Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies. The game combines characters and gameplay elements from both of its titular series, following Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, and their respective assistants through the mysterious world of Labyrinthia as they try to find a way home.

The thing I like best about this spin-off is the fact that it feels true to both of the franchises in the crossover. It doesn’t play like Professor Layton masquerading as Ace Attorney or vice versa — aspects of both games are present in the story and gameplay. Professor Layton and Luke solve puzzles as they conduct investigations throughout the world, and Phoenix and Maya (ever the champions of the innocent) step into court to defend young women accused of witchcraft.

The gameplay of the Witch Trial sequences is pretty similar to the other Ace Attorney games — you cross-examine witnesses and press them on contradictions in their testimonies, presenting evidence that’ll help your case when it becomes relevant. The only difference is that PL vs. PW introduces a new in-court mechanic called Mob Court, where you cross-examine multiple witnesses at once and gain new information from their reactions to one another’s statements.

The spin-off is considered non-canon, but it did mark a few changes in the main series. Professor Layton games commonly feature voice acting and animated cutscenes, which weren’t present in the Ace Attorney series at the time. From Dual Destinies onward, Nick and his companions received professional voice actors and animations beyond moving character sprites.

7. Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Ace Attorney Investigations Miles Edgeworth
  • Platform(s): 3DS, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: February 16, 2010

Ace Attorney Investigations is another spin-off to the main series, following prosecutor Miles Edgeworth through his legal adventures in Europe. There are more than a few changes to the overall structure of the game. Though you’re still following the general formula of investigating crime scenes and interrogating witnesses in preparation for an in-court showdown, you have a top-down, third-person view of the rooms and characters instead of being limited to one or two first-person angles and disappearing sprites.

The gameplay changes a bit, too. Edgeworth stands on the other side of the courtroom, meaning that he doesn’t rely on desperate contradictions and last-minute turnabouts in the same way Phoenix does. Instead, he uses logical deductions to connect evidence and present a carefully-crafted narrative to the court.

The problem is that this game is not good. The Ace Attorney series is notorious for requiring you to follow specific lines of logic. Press a detail or present a piece of evidence at the wrong time, and you face annoying penalties that can boot you back to the last checkpoint (unless you make frequent use of the Save button). Investigations takes this point to its extreme, often forcing you to trial-and-error your way through similar pieces of evidence until you present the precise one precisely when it becomes relevant.

The only reason I place it above the Professor Layton spin-off is because of its canon relevance. Miles Edgeworth undergoes significant character development between the first and second main series titles, and it’s nice to see what he was up to in that time. The game also has a Japan-only sequel that’s presumably a lot more palatable — if you get your hands on the fan translation, I’ve heard it’s worth playing the first just for the added context.

6. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Dual Destinies

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney — Dual Destinies
  • Platform(s): 3DS, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: October 24, 2013

Dual Destinies may only be sixth on our list, but don’t let that fool you — it only ranks this low because the top five games are actually that good.

The game introduces brand-new rookie attorney Athena Cykes, who joins Apollo Justice and the newly-reinstated Phoenix Wright at the Wright Anything Agency. Her keen hearing and psychotherapy prove to be a great addition to the team alongside Apollo’s eagle-eyed perception and Nick’s…well, Nick’s enthusiasm for being back in court. It’s not his fault he doesn’t have any powers.

The legal world was plunged into a so-called Dark Age after Phoenix Wright’s disbarment and the conviction of a promising young prosecutor named Simon Blackquill. In Dual Destinies, the three attorneys make one last effort to banish the Dark Age once and for all and bring truth and justice back into their beloved law.

There are few new features added to the gameplay — Athena’s Mood Matrix appears alongside the reintroduction of Nick’s magatama, and you can now view certain crime scenes from a number of different angles instead of being locked into a single view. My only complaint about the game is the art style. I’ll admit the 3D sprites breathe new life into the characters and work well alongside the animated cutscenes, but I was a much bigger fan of the stylized 2D art in Apollo Justice and found the change a little disappointing in comparison.

5. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Apollo Justice Ace Attorney
  • Platform(s): DS, 3DS, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: April 12, 2007

There’s a seven-year time skip between Trials and Tribulations and Apollo Justice, and a lot has changed for the series. Phoenix Wright is no longer the player character — following a shocking development explored in-game, Nick’s been disbarred and no longer works as an attorney. You instead play as Apollo Justice, a rookie attorney who has to prove himself in a world where the law has been corrupted seemingly beyond saving.

There’s a lot to love about this game. Though Apollo seems at first glance to be a recolored, anxiety-ridden Phoenix Wright knock-off, he quickly develops a distinct personality through his interactions with other characters (namely, a grumpy detective with a familiar face, a magician that moonlights as a legal assistant, and a rockin’ new prosecutor). He’s also got a distinct advantage in court due to his powers of perception, an ability that lets him hone in on a witness’s physical tics when they’re lying on the stand.

Apollo Justice boasts incredible, stylized 2D art and clean character animations that bring a new vibrancy to the series. I only wish that poor Apollo were actually the main character in his own game. Instead, you’re obviously expected to wonder what turned Phoenix Wright into a cynical, disheveled jerk, and his story takes center stage in a way that makes Apollo feel like nothing more than a placeholder. It’s good that he gets a bit more attention in later games, because he definitely deserves it!

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney
  • Platform(s): PC, Wii, PS4, Xbox One, GBA, DS, 3DS, Switch, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: October 12, 2001

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney establishes the formula that goes on to be relatively unchanged in future titles. The story follows Phoenix Wright in his first year as an attorney, and it’s a doozy — his mentor is murdered and his only legal ally is her ghost, who occasionally pops up to give him advice with the help of her spirit medium sister, Maya. He’s also facing a troubling adversary in the form of his childhood friend-turned-Demon Prosecutor, Miles Edgeworth.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to say about the first Ace Attorney game except that it’s worth playing. I’m of the firm opinion that the original trilogy deserves to be played in its entirety, even if the earlier games aren’t quite as flashy as the later ones. It’s a top contender for best Ace Attorney games ranked.

3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice
  • Platform(s): 3DS, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: September 8, 2016

Spirit of Justice is the best game out of the latter titles, as it takes the concepts and mechanics introduced in Dual Destinies and makes them tighter and tidier. The game swaps between two different settings — Phoenix gets swept up in the corrupt legal system of the Kingdom of Khura’in while visiting Maya, leaving Apollo and Athena to handle the Wright Anything Agency while he’s overseas. The trials alternate between Nick and his junior attorneys, the latter using their respective abilities while the former deals with the bizarre Khura’inese tradition of passing verdicts based on the final memories of the dead.

Gameplay remains relatively unchanged for Apollo and Athena, other than the Mood Matrix becoming a bit easier to interpret. The Divination Séances, however, finally level the playing field for Nick in court, giving you a new mechanic to play around with during his trial sequences (as the magatama plays more of a secondary role in his investigations these days). 

2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Justice for All

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney — Justice for All
  • Platform(s): PC, Wii, PS4, Xbox One, GBA, DS, 3DS, Switch, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: September 8, 2016

Justice for All is the second game in the original trilogy and the only one of the three to introduce new mechanics. In this installment, Phoenix gets the magatama, a magical rock charged with spiritual energy that allows him to see a Psych-Locks (in other words, he can tell when someone is hiding something from him). The magatama adds a new element to the investigation sequences — as Nick gathers new evidence and connects the dots between different clues, he can interrogate people to break their Psych-Locks and gain new information. Trying to pin the murder on every perjuring witness gets unnecessarily dramatic, so the magatama helps you resolve smaller lies and get key information outside of court proceedings.

The magatama isn’t the only new addition — we also get to meet the ever-testy, ever-perfect Franziska von Karma as she takes her turn at the prosecutor’s desk. She bears a personal grudge against Nick for ruining her family’s perfect win record and is determined to punish him with a humiliating public defeat in court.

1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations
  • Platform(s): PC, Wii, PS4, Xbox One, GBA, DS, 3DS, Switch, Mobile
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: January 23, 2004

Crowning our list of the best Ace Attorney games ranked is Trials and Tribulations, the third and final installment of the original trilogy. I love this game for the way it concludes the story of the trilogy, tying together the loose interpersonal threads of its cast. The story’s emotional beats surround Phoenix’s backstory and how a handful of coincidences wrapped him up in the Fey family’s tragic destiny.

No new gameplay mechanics are introduced in this game, so it plays very similarly to Justice for All. It is the first time you get to play as other lawyers, though. While Apollo and Athena are important in later installments, Trials and Tribulations still focuses on Nick as a sole protagonist. It’s only through flashbacks and a specific story beat I won’t spoil that you get to play as Mia Fey and another unlikely ally during certain trial and investigation sequences. 

The story is so much fun, and it’s easily my favorite installment. The lack of new mechanics isn’t so much a detriment as it is a non-necessity — while new features are interesting and add new depth to the gameplay in other installments, Trials and Tribulations is more about the story and characters.


Related Reading

That’s it for our list of Ace Attorney games ranked! It’s unclear what the future will bring for this series — some fans speculate that the next title (if there is one) will round out the second trilogy with Apollo Justice bridging the gap between the two, but it remains to be seen. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy gaming!


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