Ever heard anyone say that a game that doesn’t use voice acting makes much better use of its soundtrack? Well this could not be truer in regards to the Ace Attorney series, the text heavy adventure series that manages to instil enough excitement and suspense into the writing and character animations thanks to the fantastic work put into the music on each instalment. The music is so integral to the experience that at times it can be hard to separate it from the actual game. But when the bar is so high which soundtracks fumble along the way and which ones truly represent the best courtroom dramas.
Worst #1: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All
Well to start with we’ll take a look at a fumble rather than a fall. It’s hard to fault the original Phoenix Wright trilogy as a whole but Justice For All seems incapable of shaking off that middle entry feeling, the soundtrack being no exception. It’s not a bad soundtrack by any means but it doesn’t hold the same memorability as its fellow brethren, due to the fact it is far too melodramatic. There’s a lot more intensity to the soundtrack in the game which judging from the choice of cases can be incredibly fitting (such as in Case 4 and parts of Case 2) and other moments where it’s entirely out of place (such as the infamous Berry Big Circus Case 3). The cross-examination music is a very serious mystery melody which, when you have Detective Gumshoe on the stand it’s hard to feel the mystery at hand. This may seem like a petty reason but there’s a lot less fun to be had when compared to the energy infused tracks in the other two trilogy games. That being said, it works really well on the final case however and combined with the first good, delightfully gritty investigations track that is introduced here, sets it up for the most dramatic intense case the series has ever seen. Only to get to this point we have to get through the annoying jaunty tunes that accompany the Berry Big Circus and Moe the Clown (Congratulations Everybody, Again is devastating for me when compared to the original track which kicked butt). Overall there isn’t a whole lot wrong with this soundtrack; it just isn’t as beloved as the others in the series. When I pick a track to listen to from the series it is very rare that it is one that came from this game.
Best #1: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
Now we’re talking! Trials and Tribulations was a cracker of a game and the perfect finale for the trilogy to end on. We had a real villain strewn throughout the entire game who was the first real threat to our defenders lives and to accompany her, a great courtroom soundtrack to boot. Cross-Examination has never sounded better and when the Allegro builds up back to the loop around the energy is hard to contain without bopping along with it. It’s a great track that is only surpassed in satisfaction by the original Turnabout Sisters theme from the first game. Objection is another high note as more than ever it plays to Phoenix’s style of defence when he’s finally found something to cling onto to build his way back up and the full frontal barrage Pursuit provides really makes us feel like an unstoppable force incapable of being stopped. Even outside the courtroom the character specific themes are excellent with Furio Tigre’s in your face attitude hitting home in in his jazzy mix, Trés Bien and Jean Armstrong’s disgustingly sweet jingle intoxicating us as much as the dude’s idea of décor and of course, the dark, strong, aromatic sound of Godot’s Fragrance of Coffee making the Prosecutor even more enigmatic than his appearance suggests. This is a great soundtrack as a whole and one which returned the series to the more light hearted sounds of the original game that have become so iconic today.
Unique: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney
Speaking of the original game one of the nicest things about Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright was the complete update of the original court medley used in the London case of the game. But that isn’t what makes the soundtrack in this entry so unique. While it seems pretty obvious that the most unique game in the series would also have the most unique soundtrack, it needs noticing that unlike the music in the other Ace Attorney games which needed to add characterisation, emotion, suspense and excitement to the game, this game also needed to create an entire new world for us to believe in. This makes the game the most unique in sound because not only is there a mash-up between Layton and Wright styles but the world of Labyrinthia needed to feel like a fully realised place independent from the two series that collide there. And it pays off; the mob-examination music manages to capture the insanity of the task at hand with the total seriousness of the witnesses before us, as well as keeping us caught up in the moment when things start to heat up. The courtroom lobby sounds like the dank dungeon it is and Inquisitor Barnham’s theme certainly gives him the feeling of total control over the situation at hand being in full collaboration with the world around him. The chimes and lutes of a medieval band go further as to breathe life into Phoenix’s Objection theme which breaks through the witches’ court music with its familiarity before becoming something a lot darker and desperate as Phoenix tries to maintain his hold on his sceptical audience. All in all the soundtrack succeeds in distinguishing the witches court from anything we’ve seen before and the game as a whole has a magic quality that we may perhaps not see again (unless of course the duo reunite for another adventure…)
Worst #2: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
Thus we arrive at the doors of Dual Destinies. If only Layton had been attached to the project we could have seen the same care, attention and production values that the crossover received put into the latest instalment of the main series. Alas such is life, some sequels do go backwards rather than forward. But we’re here to talk about the soundtrack… it’s just hard to separate the game and the music as both seem underwhelming overall. We have three protagonists and each has their own unique Objection theme in the courtroom suite. However this loses the personal edge the other soundtracks capture so well. I always felt that each courtroom suite had a bit of the protagonist infused within it that gave us a sense of how this character conducts in court. However because the limelight is shared there’s no sense of the soundtrack coming together and instead the music doesn’t wholly sweep us along in the drama. While again the soundtrack isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t come together properly like a Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice soundtrack does. Thus while tracks like Lively People and Detective Fulbright’s Our Secret Word is Justice are really good character specific themes, the all-important courtroom lets the soundtrack down as a whole.
Best #2: Apollo Justice Ace Attorney
Apollo Justice Ace Attorney. Released in 2007 Shu Takumi had decided that Phoenix’s story was over and a new protagonist would take his place, even going as far as not wanting Phoenix to appear at all. What could have been if we had let Apollo take centre stage as was planned I’m not sure, but what we’re left with is an interesting standalone title that has perhaps the best soundtrack in the entire series. The first game to fully utilise the DS’s superior sound capabilities it gave us rocking guitar riffs through Klavier Gavin as well as a full vocalised song accompanied with music video in Case 3. But what truly stands out here is Apollo’s courtroom suite. This suite really gave us a sense of Apollo’s character, a new attorney who is more explorative in his approach and can sense the emotional state of others to help his way through the case. The cross-examination feels like your heart is beating along with the witness, logic ticks along as your mind comes to grasps with what’s at hand and Objection feels really progressive and rewarding and thus very different to the more “aha” based approach of Phoenix Wright. This leads into my personal favourite Pursuit track that really makes us feel like we’re on a high, a hero striking out evil in his wake. Add to this the lovely tunes of the Gramarye magician’s and Ema Skye’s ever so catchy theme and it’s easy to love the soundtrack here. While fans may be divided on Apollo Justice as a game, the soundtrack is excellent and I personally wish the series could have continued from here instead of pulling it back to Mr. Wright in Dual Destinies.
That’s that for my Best, Worst and Unique on the soundtracks of Ace Attorney. Next time I’ll be doing something a bit different. Hope you enjoy.