Philip Pullman, author of the much loved His Dark Materials trilogy, once said, “The public doesn’t know what it wants until it sees what you have to offer”. I’m a firm believer in that. As someone who consumes copious amounts of media on a daily basis (at this stage who isn’t?), I know for a fact that I could never have come up with half of the wildly imaginative stories I frequently fall in love with. I never would have thought I’d identify so strongly with an adolescent mermaid. Not for a second would I have considered the possibility that a freeware visual novel about a school for the physically challenged would make me reflect on my own life choices. If you’d told me in 2005 that some of the best fun I’d ever have in a video game would be playing a defense attorney, I would have laughed in disbelief.
And yet, Capcom’s Ace Attorney games have become some of my favorite games of all time and I’m far from the only one. The franchise is one of Capcom’s biggest now, with fans all over the world clamoring to each new iteration like cheap lawyers to a workplace accident. To the outsider, their popularity must seem bizarre. On paper the whole thing sounds positively batshit bonkers. Part courtroom drama, part pulpy pop culture satire and part supernatural anime, the disconnect between all its elements is practically cavernous and yet, the Ace Attorney series somehow manages to keep all its plates spinning and the whole thing comes together for an experience that is so much more than the sum of its parts. A major part of that is the music. Naturally, over the course of 6 games, composing duties have jumped around a bit. Today we’re going to focus on some of the music from the first three games in the series by Masakazu Sugimori, Naoto Tanaka and Noriyuki Iwadare. Let’s take a look at how their music has helped Ace Attorney become as beloved as it has.
Any Phoenix Wright fan is very familiar with this word. Objection! is your secret weapon. In game, when you catch a contradiction in a witness’ statement, this music flares up and oh boy do you know you’re onto something. There are basically two small melodic cells fighting for your attention here; a sharp repetitive square wave beeping in the foreground and a softer synth chirping away every so often in the background. The chordal stabs help make things intriguing and the subtle piano keeps it funky.
Once you’ve caught your target on something, it’s time to throw some evidence at them and disprove them entirely. That’s when you’ll hear Pursuit and know that you’ve really got them on the ropes. They’ll squirm in the witness box, their lies will get frantic and Phoenix will deliver punch after punch knocking them back every time. It’s still strange, even to me, to think that this kind of situation could provide the adrenaline rush it does but it really REALLY does. The driving rhythm and contrapuntal melodies in Pursuit go along way towards making the courtroom feel like a boxing ring where you’ve just taken the upper hand. They’re fumbling. You’ve got them where you want them, now take them down. It’s all much more exciting than it has any right to be.
Dick Gumshoe – It’s Detective Gumshoe
As a bass player, Ace Attorney was as much fun to listen to as it was to play. The soundtracks are full of melodic, interesting and downright funky bass lines. This theme for the hapless but lovable detective, Dick Gumshoe, definitely has a slick bass line, but it also has some pretty beautiful harmonies in its lead synth lines and some really interesting percussive elements too. As most of this music is looped until certain in-game triggers are hit, it’s a good thing it’s so multilayered. Every time you hear it you’ll hear some melody or lick that you didn’t hear before.
When people ask me what my favorite pieces of music are, I sometimes have to stop and review my audience. Sure, I love the third movement of Brahms 3rd symphony as much the next guy, but the truth is that most of my favorite pieces are humble, melodic affairs, most of which come from video games. Maya Fey, the theme for your charming and spirtually talented partner Maya, contains what is absolutely, undeniably one of my favorite melodies in the world. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s that sharp 5th in the bass, maybe it’s the playfulness of its motion, maybe it’s the countermelodies playing off that motion, I honestly have no idea. All I know is there is something about this piece that makes me, and many other Ace Attorney fans, smile from ear to ear every time I hear it.
As you’ve probably noticed, this is not the type of music you’d expect to hear in your average courtroom drama. Which is good because, as you’ve probably noticed, Ace Attorney is not your average courtroom drama. Undeniably, the most remarkable thing about these games is how they somehow get away with all their remarkably disparate narrative elements. For me, the music is a very important part of that. The intensity of pressing a deceptive witness feels less silly when the score is egging you on. Investigating crime scenes is a lot less tedious when it sounds like you’re in Miami Vice. If you haven’t played the Ace Attorney games, you’re missing out on one of the most unique, bizarre and just plain fun gaming experiences you’ll ever have. Sure, the stories are preposterous, but with music and characters this charming, I don’t think you’ll have any objections*.
*I regret nothing.