Objection! How Ace Attorney makes you feel smarter than you really are

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I love mysteries. I like to watch dramas and play games that revolve around solving a crime and figuring out “whodunit.” So it’s amazing that it took me so long to get into the Ace Attorney series.

About a month ago, I picked up the Ace Attorney trilogy, and I’ve been powering through every game since then. Right now, I’m about to finish Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. But playing through this series made me realize something about these crime-solving games that hadn’t quite clicked before: they make me feel really smart!

But obviously, I’m not a genius or anything. Any casual gamer should be able to get through an Ace Attorney without a hitch. So how does the game make me feel so smart, even though I’m not an ace attorney myself?

Constructing the moment of “Eureka!”

In order to make the player feel like a smart lawyer, the writers for Ace Attorney had to carefully construct each scenario to make the player truly feel that moment of “Eureka!” This dates back to series creator Shu Takumi’s vision for the game.

Takumi originally envisioned a detective game that had players solving crimes and picking apart people’s testimonies. After realizing that witnesses usually give testimony in a courtroom setting, the main character was changed into a lawyer. Takumi wanted to make players feel the thrill of pinning the crime on a guilty man.

For those of you who’ve played the first Ace Attorney, you know that in the first trial, the criminal is made clear at the start of the chapter. Despite knowing who the murderer is, the first case still manages to deliver that satisfaction of finding the guilty party.

This case is more focused on the “how” instead of the “who.” For this trial, Phoenix Wright is assisted by fellow lawyer Mia Fey. Throughout the trial, Mia directs Phoenix in the right direction, showing the player how the game’s trial system works. This first case pulls the player immediately into the thrill of serving justice to criminals.

It’s all in the convenient dialogue

By the next trial, Phoenix must learn how to be a lawyer on his own. This is where the game stops blatantly holding the player’s hand and lets them figure out who the murderer is and how they did it on their own… sort of.

Ace Attorney is a series that prides itself on making a fun game that anybody can play. So it would be going against the series’ philosophy if they made the player deduce every detail. But that’s the thing about Ace Attorney. After the tutorial is over and the game stops spoon-feeding the player directly, it expertly switches to subliminally dropping hints as part of a natural dialogue.

For example, there are plenty of moments throughout the series where a witness may say something along the lines of, “Yeah, of course that guy committed the murder. Unless you think the real murderer flew away or something.”

This type of dialogue doesn’t totally give away the right answer to the solution, instead subliminally guiding the player to the right answer by dropping hints in the dialogue. But most players are none the wiser. They have their “Eureka!” moment and select the right piece of evidence. To them, this was a natural extension of the character’s dialogue, and this is what Ace Attorney excels at.

But Ace Attorney isn’t the only series that does this. On a similar note, most trials in Danganronpa work the same way. By creating lovable characters with natural dialogue, it’s harder to notice when the game is practically serving the right answer on a silver platter for you. Note: If you don’t wish to be spoiled for the first Danganronpa, please skip the next two paragraphs.

In the second trial of Danganronpa, our perception is that the victim in the murder is a female. However, since the scene of the murder was the boys’ locker room, which only male students have access to, the characters are having a hard time understanding what happened. The students deliver dialogue such as “how did the victim gain access to the locker room?” Going through every possibility, the only logical conclusion is that the character is in fact, a male.

By going through this extensive dialogue, the player has already figured out one other thing about the case: If the victim has to be male, the murderer should be as well. These two points are crucial in solving the case, and yet they again give the player the feeling of “Eureka!” despite the game spelling it out plainly for everyone.

Making players feel like real ace attorneys

So by the time you play through a game like Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, you probably feel amazing. You feel satisfied. You feel like you solved all the mysteries on your own. But in reality, the game did most of the legwork for you by feeding your brain information.

Honestly, it’s incredible that a game can invoke that sort of feeling. While there are moments of actual puzzle-solving in both of these series, it’s awesome that anybody can play them and feel that same sense of accomplishment. All it takes is a good writer to make you feel like a true ace attorney.

Adam Sherrill
I love all kinds of video games. I personally find the most enjoyment in JRPGs, Visual Novels, and pretty much anything Nintendo makes. I'm always open to discovering new types of games, so I'll be happy to check out anything someone suggests.