I'll cut right to the chase: I think the Ace Attorney games have some of the best plots, characters, and storytelling in any video game. Rarely have I been as compelled to see what happens next as I do playing a good Ace Attorney case. So here are my top ten favorite cases from the whole series, in order!
A note on spoilers--if you haven't played some of these, I recommend not reading my write-ups of those cases! These games are too good to have the experience soured somehow. That said, I did black out all the killers and any other material I think would be better experienced firsthand.
In her first case, Mia Fey attempts to unravel the mystery of a stolen jewel and a two-faced witness.
DEFENSE: Mia Fey PROSECUTOR: Miles Edgeworth DEFENDANT: Terry Fawles VICTIM: Valerie Hawthorne KILLER: Melissa Foster, aka Dahlia Hawthorne
Our list begins with a case where Phoenix technically doesn't make an appearance. Turnabout Beginnings acts as a narrative bridge (ahem) linking elements of the game's first case to the final one, and with the knowledge of the characters and their histories, it's immediately compelling. For instance, Mia's going up against Edgeworth--hasn't he never lost a case? Who's this guy that looks remarkably like Godot? And isn't the apparent killer in this case someone who ends up getting away? How's this case going to end then? The shocking topper really warms up the player for the final showdown in Trials & Tribulations' twisted, compelling narrative.
4-1: Turnabout Trump
Rookie lawyer Apollo Justice attempts to solve a murder that took place during a poker game.
DEFENSE: Apollo Justice PROSECUTOR: Winston Payne DEFENDANT: Phoenix Wright VICTIM: Shadi Smith KILLER: Kristoph Gavin
While most AA games' first trials serve as extended (if entertaining) tutorials, this one broke the mold. Turnabout Trump was a heck of a way to start Apollo Justice, with a large variety of twists and turns usually seen in games' later cases. The identity of the killer is a genuine surprise and tears the player out of their comfort zone, suggesting that this game just may end up being a bit different from the Ace Attorney they know. It also does a good job introducing some of the new characters, and Phoenix's bizarre new personality.
1-2: Turnabout Sisters
When tragedy strikes a dear friend, Phoenix Wright has to take on a seemingly untouchable tycoon.
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Miles Edgeworth DEFENDANT: Maya Fey VICTIM: Mia Fey KILLER: Redd White
I really like this case because it immediately thrusts you into the action. By opening with the surprise reveal of Mia's death, it lays down the foundation that no one is safe in this series, which is important for a franchise that features no shortage of murders and twists. It's also surprisingly involved for Wright, who finds himself being threatened, physically assaulted, and forced to be his own lawyer! The takedown of the villain is a little weak, and this is the case that introduced the polarizing spirit channeling aspect into the series, but it's surprisingly memorable and effective regardless, especially so early on.
5-5: Turnabout for Tomorrow
Unsolved mysteries and character histories combine in a desecrated courtroom.
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Miles Edgeworth DEFENDANT: Athena Cykes VICTIM: Metis Cykes, Clay Terran KILLER: The Phantom, posing as Bobby Fulbright
Dual Destinies starts with a literal bang and ends with a figurative one with the now-standard balls-to-the-wall final case. The twist is a pretty major one that had me scratching my head until its reveal, and it was great seeing old faces meeting new ones. It suffers a tad from being split into two (with 5-4 pretty much being the "first part"), but it's still a great finish for a solid sequel.
2-2: Reunion, and Turnabout
A reunion with an old friend quickly turns to tragedy as Kurain village is struck with a spirit channeling murder!
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Franziska von Karma DEFENDANT: Maya Fey VICTIM: Turner Grey KILLER: Ini Miney, posing as Mimi Miney
While I'm not wild about the spirit channeling element of the series, I actually love all the cases where it plays a major role. I just think they do cool, out-of-the-box things with it and the general Kurain "atmosphere" is always fun and refreshing to me. I'd rather investigate a magatama-adorned altar than a police station's garage anyday. 2-2 gets bonus points for introducing Maya's well-developed extended family, like stern Morgan and cheerful Pearl. And the villain ends up being the series first sympathetic baddie, coming across as at least a little justified in the actions taken.
5-3: Turnabout Academy
Athena defends an old friend when a mock trial at an academy turns all too real...
DEFENSE: Athena Cykes PROSECUTOR: Simon Blackquill DEFENDANT: Juniper Woods VICTIM: Constance Courte KILLER: Aristotle Means
This episode suffers from one of the consistent issues of Dual Destinies, where the murder itself is overly-convoluted. However, what makes it rank this high for me is the sheer number of great characters! Super-intense Robin Newman, girl-in-a-box Miriam Scuttlebutt (who I imagine has a Helga Pataki-like voice), smarmy Hugh O'Connor and Juniper Woods are all super fun to get to know, as is the statuesque Mr. Means. There are a couple hilarious twists mixed in as well, notably one with Robin, and then a later one with the villain. It's all very funny and charming and kinda sweet.
5-6: Turnabout Reclaimed
In a strange turn of events, Phoenix finds himself defending an orca.
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Simon Blackquill DEFENDANT: Ora Shipley and Sasha Buckler VICTIM: Jack Shipley KILLER: There is actually no killer in this case! But Marlon Rimes comes closest.
I wasn't sure what expect going into this bizarre DLC case, but it ended up being the best story in the game! It's surprisngly entertaining and compelling from start to finish, with plenty of good plot developments and twists to keep me guessing. I was surprised by the guilty party in more ways than one, and there was plenty of good humor (and solid emotion) to make an all-around great case. In fact, I'd say it's the best non-final case in the series!
1-4: Turnabout Goodbyes
Phoenix must defend his courtroom rival and solve a decades-old mystery at the same time!
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Manfred von Karma DEFENDANT: Miles Edgeworth VICTIM: Robert Hammond KILLER: Manfred von Karma
The first game's story wraps up with an amazing case that really ties everything up nicely. We get the most intimidating prosecutor in the series, who challenges everything you've learned in the prior three cases, we get some much-needed development for Edgeworth, we get an origin story for Phoenix, Edgeworth and Butz, and we even get to solve a much older case that ties into the current mystery (which becomes a running theme for the series). It's a case that really has it all, and the only thing keeping it from being higher is that the last two are even better.
2-4: Farewell, My Turnabout
Maya's kidnapper demands that Phoenix get his client an aquittal, or else...
DEFENSE: Phoenix Wright PROSECUTOR: Miles Edgeworth DEFENDANT: Matt Engarde VICTIM: Juan Corrida KILLER: Shelly de Killer, hired by Matt Engarde
This classic case starts off as a sequel to 1-3, with appearances by a few of that story's characters (...hello again, Oldbag). However, it soon raises the stakes when Maya gets kidnapped and threatened, and Phoenix's aim for "Not Guilty" is more important than ever! Complicating matters is (BIG SPOILERS) the slow realization that your client ISN'T telling the truth, and is actually guilty himself! Suddenly, Phoenix finds himself in an incredible dilemma: fight for truth and justice but have Maya die, or allow a guilty man to go free for Maya's safe return? It's an incredible case for Phoenix and Edgeworth that really evaluates their characters and relationships and makes for perhaps the most tense, gut-wrenching moments of the series.
3-5: Bridge to the Turnabout
A mystery on a mountaintop leads to everyone working together to solve one last impossible murder...
Here it is--the ultimate case! My goodness, this one is just nonstop greatness. The new characters are great--Elise, Iris and Bikini--but what really shines is all the old returning cast, who each play a role in the story. After the first day, Phoenix gets hospitalized, making for a playable Edgeworth for the first time in the series during the second day! And just when you think you have it figured out, the game pulls the rug out from you, again and again! The final breakdown is super-satisfying and well-earned after a game full of putting up with Dahlia's shiz, and the ending is super heartwarming and will have any PW fan reaching for the tissues. Everything comes together here to wrap up a ton of loose ends--Maya, Pearl and Morgan, Godot, Dahlia, and Iris and Phoenix's story. A fantastic topper to a terrific trilogy.
There you have it! Runners-up include 1-5 (Rise from the Ashes), 4-4 (Turnabout Succession), 3-1 (Turnabout Memories) and 3-3 (Recipe for Turnabout). Sorry AA Investigations and PLvsPW--you didn't quite make the list! In the interest of fairness, my favorites from those are cases I-4 and P-2.
What a great series. Could get more credit, if you ask me. Post your own!
Bridge to the Turnabout at #1? What an epic finale to the original trilogy.
I hereby declare your list....valid.
...Although the lack of 1-5 is a little disappointing . From the minute you realise Damon Gant is guilty and you have to put up with that smug mocking sneer...And then you finally nail him to the wall. So satisfying.
Probably would put that in at Number 4, because I can't argue with 1 2 and 3. The rest of the list is open to interpretation I guess.
EDIT: Was Recipe for Turnabout the one with Bizarro Phoenix (Furio Tigre?) That was a pretty memorable moment too .
Yeah, one's mileage may vary with this series and its large amount of nifty moments. 1-5 is a contender for sure, but it's just too darned long sometimes! I do like the extra DS features and Gant is a really fun, great character. The two murders are pretty neat too.
Yeah, 3-3 is the fake Phoenix one. Kinda hilarious how everyone was apparently fooled by that cardboard badge...!
DD kinda slims down the investigations sequences by streamlining away a lot of the "wrong" choices--it feels easier, but it also moves a lot quicker (and it's still a long enough game), so you'd probably like that.
Technically, the first game has five cases, but 1-5 doesn't really tie into the game's overall arc--it was made much later as an exclusive case for the DS version in Japan (as the first three games were originally released there on the GBA).
That sounds like 1-4, which is the point where Edgeworth goes from being antagonist to a sort of friendly pseudo-rival. Edgeworth was the defendant, and the game does a clever job at building him up to be this formidable prosecutor in the first couple cases, then revealing the full story in 1-4 (against a TRULY evil opponent).
You should play Justice for All (the second game)! It's final case is arguably an even better Phoenix/Edgeworth story--huge amounts of growth for both characters. "Wonderful glimpse of storytelling heaven" pretty much sums up the best aspects of the series.
So AA fans--I can't be alone in thinking these games have better stories, casts, and storytelling than, like, 99% of games out there, right? With all the modern emphasis on good game stories, I don't often see these brought up, which is kind of mind-blowing to me. Is it the lack of movie-like cutscenes and junk?
@TriforceBun I think Ace Attorney's under-representation is a combination of the lack of movie-like cutscenes, the strange Americanization of the setting, the fact it's on the 3DS and, most importantly, the silly names. When people are named Larry Butz, Dick Gumshoe, Wendy Oldbag and Shelly de Killer, some people might find it hard to take the narrative seriously. Plus, the "guilty until proven innocent" aspect of the trials can be off-putting in a way.
All that said, I am, and will forever be in love with the series.
I don't think the Americanization is that weird; the only overtly-Japanese thing is Kurain Village, and that could easily just be a sort of smaller foreign village-type area akin to Chinatown or whatever. You have a point with the funky names, although that never stopped Harry Potter's overtly on-the-nose names! Salazar Slytherin, Severus Snape...and don't forget Star Wars with its Darth Sidious!