The twisty turnabout timeline of Phoenix Wright


The history of our favorite attorney in a blue-clad suit.

OBJECTION! The cry rings through the court. His arm is raised outward with an accusatory finger pointing at the witness stand, commanding the attention of the entire room. Silence. Even the prosecution is taken aback at this outburst. Who could wrest control of an entire courtroom so easily? What kind of bizarre character would wear a bright blue suit and contrasting magenta tie to a trial? Why would this person cross-examine a... parrot? Wait, a parrot is on the witness stand? 

Welcome to Phoenix Wright's world. It's a little crazy here.

Ace Attorney, or Gyakuten Saiban (Turnabout Trial) in Japan, is probably familiar to you. The series began in Japan and quickly gained a fan following there. Once it made the jump to the Americas, fans warmly accepted it and the attorney soon became one of Capcom's most beloved game series -- despite it being frequently described as a "cult" series. But Phoenix Wright has been in more than just video games. He's perhaps traversed almost every media format out there! So let's take a trip down memory lane... I bet there's some things Phoenix has done that you never knew about.

The original game that started it all came out in October 2001 on the Nintendo GBA. Created by Capcom developer Shu Takumi (voted most adorable game developer ever, by everyone), it was his second time directing a game but the first time working on an original property (previously he had directed Dino Crisis 2). He wanted to create a visual novel that captured the excitement of the courtroom and soon the first Gyakuten Saiban was unleashed upon the public. Phoenix Wright was born (although he went by his Japanese name, Ryuichi Naruhodo)! I wonder if Takumi knew what the future held?

The sequel, Gyakuten Saiban 2, expanded upon the first in several ways, most notable in the new gameplay mechanic called the Psyche-Lock. This essentially takes the gameplay of the courtroom and moves it out into the investigation segment (and given that people really like the courtroom scenes this was a good choice). It also featured an intense final case that turned a lot of player's expectations upside-down (but you won't get any spoilers from me)!

The final game in the original trilogy, Gyakuten Saiban 3, released in 2004 and while not introducing many new gameplay mechanics, it did wrap up the story very nicely. It took place over a longer period of time and had flashback cases as well as parts of the story where Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix's rival, is playable.  It was a suitable climax to the tale. Originally, you could tell that Takumi intended for the story to wrap up here in a lot of ways, but soon the story of Wright & Co. Law Offices would start up again -- just not in the way you might expect.

Capcom began making plans to re-release the Gyakuten Saiban series on Nintendo's latest platform, the Nintendo DS, in 2005, with a bonus storyline using the system's features. However, their American branch opted to get involved and an English translation got underway, paving the way for a release in the west under the name Phoenix Wright! The DS port released in Japan in September, with the US release only one month behind, and the European release a few months after that. The small print run quickly sold out in the US, surprising many. I was on the ground floor here, as I went to the store the week it came out on a whim and happened to pick it up -- if I had gone later I might have missed out entirely!

This original sold-out run blew away expectations and the second DS port was promptly put out the following year (although the US release barely snuck into 2007 in January). It was at the height of the games' popularity on DS that Gyakuten Saiban began to expand into other media.

A Gyakuten Saiban manga began in 2006, written by Kenji Kuroda and illustrated by Kazuo Maekawa. While it only ran for five volumes, it was still a solid success, and the manga was eventually brought over to the US by out fine friends at Kodansha.

The third and final DS port arrived in 2007, both in Japan and the US, bringing English-speaking fans the final chapter. However, this wasn't the biggest news of the year. The real deal came in April, when a brand new DS-based sequel arrived: Gyakuten Saiban 4, or Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice as it was titled in the US. This came to the US shortly after in 2008, but the big difference here was that Phoenix was no longer the main character, and instead was a tutor to the younger Apollo. While initially some fans didn't enjoy this change, they soon came to like Apollo Justice and his new cast of characters quite a bit as well.

At this point, Ace Attorney was hitting its peak in popularity and a rush of new spinoffs began to show up. First, was the Miles Edgeworth side series titled Ace Attorney Investigations. It did several things different from the main games, the most obvious one being that you had direct control over where Edgeworth was walking. It also dropped the magical abilities of previous games and focused purely on solving puzzles via "logic."

One of the craziest and coolest Ace Attorney spinoffs also began in 2009. The Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical troupe, began performing an Ace Attorney musical titled Gyakuten Saiban -Yomigaeru Shinjitsu-. Bizarrely, despite the musical being done in Japan, they used the English names of the various characters.

It was so successful that a sequel was performed later in the year in August. Impressive! And again, the sequel proved popular, leading to a third musical in January this year. While they have been silent for a bit, you can't help but wonder if there will be more in the future!

In 2011, the second game in the Investigations spinoff series was released in Japan. However, it arrived at the end of the Nintendo DS's lifecycle, thus making it difficult for the game to be released in the west, as by the time it could've been localized, the 3DS was already out. Many fans clamored for a digital release of this title but for now it appears the game will remain the sole Gyakuten Saiban title to not leave Japan. 

Phoenix also made a slight detour into Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the crossover fighting game. He was very unique as far as characters went, have three different stances and the ability to collect evidence that would allow him perform a damaging "Turnabout" move. While he starts as a weak character, surviving long enough gives him access to more powerful attacks... just like in his main game series.

Another big year for Ace Attorney! In February a live-action film adaption of Gyakuten Saiban released in Japan, directed by the famed director Takashi Miike, to a warm reception. Critics praised the excellent use of CGI and creative set design, and fans loved how it took the original concept and made it into an excellent film. It was surprisingly faithful to the story of the first game, and the characters looked as though they leapt from the game and onto the silver screen.

It's still brought up as one of the best video game-to-film adaptions ever. If you're an eagle-eyed viewer, you can also catch the creator himself, Shu Takumi, in the celebration scene at the end. 

Another big release that year was Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney. Level 5's popular puzzle-solving professor teamed up with Wright and Co. to jump into an alternate fantasy world. The game was written by Shu Takumi and featured gameplay from both of the series mixed together. It was also the first time Phoenix had appeared in 3D and had fully-voiced cutscenes. This game is currently slated to launch in 2014 here in the US, so fans will hopefully be able to play it soon!

This year has also been a big year! Just a few months ago, a stage play ran in Japan titled Gyakuten Saiban: Turnabout Spotlight. An HD collection of the original trilogy also released on iOS, allowing a whole new crowd to experience the series. And all of this leads up to one of the biggest game releases in October: Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies

In Dual Destinies, Capcom has heard your cry for the return of Phoenix. He's finally back! Apollo isn't out of the picture though, and along with him and his new recruit, Athena Cykes, Wright & Co. Law Offices seem to be bustling more than ever. The game is fully in 3D now as well, and the art style used does a great job of emulating the sprites you're used to. Will it live up to the high pedigree of the rest of the series without Shu Takumi guiding it? I suppose we'll all find out later this month!

I hope you enjoyed this look at the history of the Ace Attorney series. I also really wanted to cover some related content, like Ghost Trick and Takumi's adorable dog, Missile, but it didn't fit in exactly. Given how big the AA universe is getting, it may seem daunting to jump in, but if you're a newcomer and want to start, just begin with the first game and go from there! It's one of my favorite game series and I highly recommend the main trilogy to everyone. Now get out there and do some defending, or else I may just have to...

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Ben Huber
Ben HuberContributor   gamer profile

I'm the managing editor of Japanator by day, and a roving freelance graphic designer by night! /  more + disclosures



Also on Japanator: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies   (1)   From our database:

  • The twisty turnabout timeline of Phoenix Wright - Ben Huber
  • Ace Attorney Dual Destinies available October 24th - Tim Sheehy
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    Filed under... #Ace Attorney #capcom #Japanator Original #Nintendo 3DS #top stories #Video games



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