It’s about time Apollo Justice got his dues

2023 has been an incredible year for video games, but as I look forward to 2024, there’s one thing I’m particularly thrilled about: the chance for Apollo Justice to, perhaps, finally get the credit he deserves.

Apollo is like… I don’t know, Rey? In the same way that following on from bloody Luke Skywalker as a protagonist is pretty much impossible, so too is following on from Phoenix Wright. Over the course of three text-heavy games dense with characterization for its lead, Phoenix stole the show. And that meant, when Apollo arrived back in 2007, he had a mountain to climb.

It always felt to me like he never quite managed to summit it, too. Phoenix is still a huge part of Apollo’s story – a little more rugged and out-of-action, the old protagonist, now a veteran, trains the new. His adopted daughter becomes Apollo’s sidekick, filling in the Mia role. Ultimately, the main mystery of Apollo’s first game is tied up in learning about what happened to Phoenix between the the end of his trilogy and the start of Apollo’s.

And crucially, by the end of the game, I remember most fans only had one question: so, Phoenix is coming back as a lawyer, right? That exactly came to pass: the next two games in the second trilogy, which sports Apollo’s name, splits the caseload not only between him and Phoenix, but also between a third up-and-coming lawyer, Athena Cykes.

I really like Athena, and as a card-carrying fanboy for the original trilogy (using those words, the Star Wars comparison really does feel apt), I obviously love Phoenix. But I always felt like Apollo ended up more than a little bit short-changed.

Capcom made the right moves with him, with decisions that I feel willing to bet came from Ace Attorney series creator Shu Takumi. Shu wrote the scenario for and supervised Apollo’s first game, but not the subsequent two. As a result, the first game has a more confident feel – willing to differentiate itself, willing to make a firm commentary on Japan’s legal system, and willing to set out the stall of a quite-different protagonist with divergent attitudes and approaches to things.

Don’t argue. | Image credit: Capcom

The latter games are still lovely, but without Takumi on the team, they definitely feel more keen to stick with the status quo as established in Phoenix’s trilogy, and get back to the famous protagonist from the DS days. They’re great games, but I wish the focus had remained exclusively on Apollo a little longer. By the time you’ve got Edgeworth and Maya returning, the games are to some degree just victory-lapping Phoenix’s old games.

But despite that, Apollo is still great, across all three games. Athena, too. Both are worthy full-time successors to Phoenix, even if it’s unlikely the series will ever proceed without its originating protagonist. And now that we’re over a decade removed from the first releases of Apollo’s first game, I’m hopeful that the audience can step back and reassess Apollo not in Phoenix’s shadow, but as a brilliant lead in his own right.

Players will be able to carry out that assessment soon. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy releases on pretty much every major platform on January 25.

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