When my son was around eighteen months old (that’s one and a half for those who have never had to buy children’s clothes), he went through a phase where he was really into a capella music. Now to a degree this was manufactured by my wife and I – better Pentatonix than Barney, amiright? – but it got to the point where Silas preferred to listen to songs without any instrumentation. Wanting to add some variety to his selection, I started playing Smooth McGroove when he and I were playing together on the weekends (since we usually don’t get to hang out together on work days). He got to listen to a capella, I got to listen to video game music – it was a solid compromise that worked pretty well for us.
Naturally I preferred to listen to music from games I knew, but generally I didn’t take the time to pick and choose individual songs – I just let a playlist run in the background while we were driving cars down the slide or cooking burgers on his toy kitchen. Because of this, I heard a lot of tunes from games I had never played before, and the music of one series stood out to me as particularly catchy. That series was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a series of games I had heard of many times but never actually played myself. Spurned on by the music, I did a little research to see what Phoenix Wright was all about. The games seemed to be right up my alley – investigating crimes, courtroom drama, questions of the potency of the law and how effectively the law is implemented – and getting access to the original trilogy was a pretty easy thing to do. So I picked up the first game and decided to give Ace Attorney the ole college try.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I could not have predicted the degree to which I would fall in love with the Ace Attorney series. In a little over a year it has risen from “this game I heard of a few times” to one of my favorite video game series. It now stands proudly besides series such as The Legend of Zelda, Fire Emblem, and Paper Mario in my estimation. And like those games, music is a big part of what makes the series special and memorable for me. The Ace Attorney games have some pretty incredible tunes, and I particularly enjoyed many of the songs in Ace Attorney Investigations (which I just finished yesterday as of the writing of this article). So today I thought it would be fun to explore some of my favorite songs from the series and to share them with you!
Note: I’m gonna be linking a lot of music in this article. None of the YouTube videos belong to me – if you enjoy the tunes, be sure to like their videos and support those content creators. As for the music itself, it belongs to good ole Capcom.
My wife has this running list she keeps that we refer to as the “Protect List.” It is our personal alternative to the list that some couples keep of celebrities who, if you ever managed to successfully hook up with them, would not count as cheating (this apparently has a name but I am certainly not about to Google it). The Protect List is full of real life and fictional people that my wife considers it her duty to protect from harm, because they are too good and pure for this world. If I were to have my own Protect List, Detective Dick Gumshoe would sit at the very top.
The song Dick Gumshoe is a simple one – the melody is easy to follow and there’s a catchy, uncomplicated bass in the background. The song plays whenever Gumshoe arrives at the scene and often marks the beginning of an investigation, as he is generally one of the first folks you meet for most of your cases. Gumshoe is portrayed as a bumbling but well-meaning detective. His heart is in the right place but he isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. Because he is the homicide detective for many of the cases Phoenix works, his theme appears many times throughout the series and it becomes something of a comfort to hear it playing. Like a child’s lullaby, this simple tune takes only a couple of listens to become familiar. The same sort of familiarity as a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re stuck in bed with a cold.
There’s a more upbeat version of Gumshoe’s theme in Ace Attorney Investigations subtitled I Can Do It When It Counts, Pal! that is used to pretty great effect in the game. While Gumshoe is still portrayed as a goof in Investigations, the game highlights his noble spirit and there are a lot of great moments where his role in crime solving is more significant. We also see him develop meaningful relationships with other characters, and when this version of his theme plays in those moments it moved me to a genuine emotional reaction. He’s such a good person and I just want Edgeworth to finally raise his salary!
THE STEEL SAMURAI
Imagine, if you will, your favorite childhood TV show. Now imagine that show’s theme song. How does it make you feel? There are probably elements of nostalgia, for sure, but not simply in an “awe, that takes me back” kind of way. If you’re like me, thinking back on such a song fills you with energy – it gets your feet moving and makes you want to stand up, dance around, play fight your siblings, whatever. It doesn’t just remind you of your childhood; it gives you a bit of that childlike spirit back.
The Steel Samurai theme song captures everything about the songs of the children’s shows I grew up watching. It starts out intense and upbeat and fills you with the desire to get up and move. The Steel Samurai is presented in the game as the kind of show geared for kids that adults love just as much. Many of the adult characters in the series are big Steel Samurai fans, and the various sagas of the show appear time and again throughout the games. I was quite surprised during Investigations to find out that even Miles Edgeworth is a fan of the Steel Samurai, and watching him trying to be all closeted about it when he knows more about the lore than most of his coworkers is quite the sight to see.
One of my favorite moments in Justice for All is the first time that Phoenix’s cell phone goes off and we get to hear his ringtone. Phoenix acts like it is such a silly thing for his assistant Maya to be into the Steel Samurai, but I don’t see her getting the show’s theme song as the ringtone on her personal cell! The Steel Samurai is the kind of show that drags you in no matter your age, and this catchy tune is the perfect song to capture the addictive nature of the show.
MASK DEMASQUE VERSUS THE ACE DETECTIVE
Trials and Tribulations features the first case in the Ace Attorney series that isn’t a murder investigation – at least at first. Phoenix becomes the defense attorney for the phantom thief Mask Demasque (there should be a little star in the name but my tablet isn’t about to do special characters), who is later accused of murder. The man behind the mask turns out to be the wimpy, shy, totally boring Ron Delite, a character that I honestly identify with quite a bit except that I’m not nearly as adorable.
Demasque has a rival, a self-proclaimed Ace Detective whose mission it is to stop the phantom thief. This character, Luke Atmey, is the only person to have recovered an object stolen by the thief. However, there’s a lot more to the story of Mask Demasque that meets the eye, and the whole case leaves you questioning the real identity of the thief until the very end. I loved the back-and-forth of this case, and I particularly enjoyed getting to defend and investigate an elaborate heist rather than the typical murder scenario.
Both of these songs use similar instrumentation and it shows the connections between the characters. Mask Demasque’s theme is fun and energetic, and the opening fanfare perfectly captures the feel of a gentlemen thief. Conversely, Luke Atmey’s theme is a little more subtle, but it hints at the madness within the man who will ultimately describe himself as “the tragic clown.”
Trials and Tribulations features some of the most interesting opposition that Phoenix Wright has ever had to face, both when it comes to the game’s main prosecutor as well as the villain who makes her way throughout the course of the game. Dahlia Hawthorne may appear to be a beautiful young woman, but it doesn’t take long for the woman to reveal that her cruelty knows no bounds. Just when you think she couldn’t be any more evil, she surprises you by crossing a new line. Then, there’s the most mysterious of all prosecutors:
Godot claims to have risen from the depths of Hell itself to face off against Phoenix Wright. He appears to have a strange grudge against the defense attorney, for reasons unknown for most of the game. The reveal of Godot’s true identity is done subtly and brilliantly – looking back, there are actually clues pointing you to it well in advance, but they are just vague enough that without knowing the final conclusion it takes some serious thought to put them all together. His theme, The Fragrance of Dark Coffee, has a smooth jazzy feel that fits his poetic (if also dramatic) personality.
Both of these tunes perfectly fit the characters that they are associated with. Hearing them out of context immediately brings those people to mind, and all of the emotions and drama associated with them. Dahlia’s theme is beautiful but full of sorrow and mourning, while Godot’s is soulful and mysterious. These songs play throughout the game as their associated characters appear and influence the story, and every time I just want to sit and listen to them for a minute before proceeding with the game.
AN IMPRESSIVE CAST
When I first started playing Ace Attorney Investigations, I was a bit concerned about the lack of time spent in court. After all, the court scenes very much define the traditional Ace Attorney experience – it felt weird to be missing them. While after finishing the game I still feel the same way, ultimately the drama and the quirky characters all managed to draw me in anyway. I was particularly impressed with the music of this title and I felt like many of the characters had strong, memorable themes.
Detective Badd has one of my favorite character designs in the series, and his theme The Truth Isn’t Sweet fits with his aesthetic. The instrumentation is a mix of rough electrical guitar mixed with light melodic percussion that captures the apparent contradictions of Detective Badd. His role in the story is compelling, as he’s keeping a lot of secrets and it’s hard to tell whether he’s the kind of person you can trust or not. I enjoyed his every appearance on screen, though, and the mentor role he played for Detective Gumshoe.
Another character whose theme I love from this game is Kay Faraday. Her song, The Great Truth Burglar, utilizes instrumentation traditionally associated with Japanese music and they are some of my favorite instruments to hear. Though I only played Investigations recently, this song gets stuck in my head all the time now. It’s chirpy and fun, much like the character who pairs right along with it.
I can’t talk about my favorite songs from the Ace Attorney series without talking about my favorite of the bunch. It’s the song that ultimately drove me to want to check out the game, the song that plays when Phoenix has victory just within his grasp, and the song that is now the ringtone on my personal cell. Simply called Cornered, this song appears primarily in the first game of the series but has remained my favorite throughout all the other entries I’ve played so far.
Cornered is a song that fills you with fighting spirit the moment you hear it. My wife at first thought I had changed my ringtone to the Mortal Kombat theme, and a coworker asked me once if my ringtone was from Street Fighter. But Cornered doesn’t represent the excitement and energy of a physical fight – rather, it is the song that plays when you finally have the upper hand in the courtroom. The feeling that wells up inside when this song plays, when at last you present the right evidence to turn the trial around and to put the prosecutor in their place, is without equal. It drives you to want to finish, to keep pressing on in order to find your way to the truth at long last. The song inspired me to play the first game, inspired me to defeat Edgeworth and even the wicked Manfred von Karma, and then to explore the rest of the series. It’s a decision I’m glad I made, because I have truly enjoyed becoming an avid fan of Ace Attorney.
What about you, adventurers? Have you played the Ace Attorney games? What are some of your favorite songs from the series? Do you have a game that you decided to check out because of hearing the music first, or hearing others talk about how great the music is? Let me know in the comments below, and I hope you’re leaving today with at least one song stuck in your head!