Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- Original Soundtrack
Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- Original Soundtrack
March 31, 2004
Buy Used Copy
Since the Ace Attorney series made its United States debut in 2005, game critics have almost uniformly praised the series’ soundtracks. The surprise hit text adventures have been welcomed fondly by American audiences, but considering the game’s generally minimalistic presentation, only text and relatively static (but full of personality) character portraits, the music plays a major role in the series’ storytelling. The Game Boy Advance soundtrack to Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- (later remastered for the US DS release Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations) testifies that it maintains the series’ high musical standard and can compete against the video game music canon at large. Is this a case Phoenix Wright would defend? Let us seek the truth.
The core of the soundtrack, the music from the trial sequence (tracks 2-9), does not drift too far from the formula established by the first two games in the series, which is no major complaint. The music for the trial sequence has always been emotionally agile: they speak quickly, establishing their emotional content immediately while maintaining suspense throughout the game’s action. They have also always sounded natural when played out of order to react to the flow of the game’s different cases. All of these qualities remain in Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations-. The music remains effective, but there is a definite sense of déjà vu in the trial music.
That said, this game’s effort for the trial sequence deserves to be examined for its own merits as well, so here goes. The first major track in the sequence, “Trial” uses baroque flourishes within a dramatic pop / rock setting to combine the stately courtroom with its earthly members as the basic facts of each case are introduced.
“Testimony”, the track that accompanies the bulk of the action in the Ace Attorney trials, is a subtle but effective track. The track features a number of staccato lines interweaving to create a continuous rhythm. However, occasional moments where all parts stop the momentum of the piece create suspense while depicting a witness whose testimony is not entirely truthful. This suspenseful nature is augmented by generally static, cyclical harmonies that are occasionally interrupted by very surprising harmonic shifts. The latter parts of the piece, which a player will only hear if he is struggling with a witness that is particularly difficult to crack, add more sustained legato melody lines to the track and make the entire track feel both more dramatic and stable. It is as if the music were saying witness really is telling the truth, which is always bad news for Mr. Wright’s client.
The allegro version of “Testimony” takes the same music from the original (complete with the sustained melody lines from the later half, ups the tempo, adds a drum track, crescendos into a sudden key change that adds a new background rhythm idea, and then moves into an entirely new section of music. This section maintains the interlocking staccato feel from the opening, but the lines are different now, and the harmonies move much more quickly for a very dramatic effect.
The other pieces in the trial sequence are used for special events, and they are very simple pieces aimed at producing a particular affect. “Ryuichi Naruhodou ~ Objection!” is about the same tempo as “Testimony ~ Moderato”, but more harmonic direction gives the piece a sense of urgency, and the B section has an almost jazzy chilled out character that comes with Mr. Wright finding that crucial contradiction in the witness’ testimonies. Similarly, “Pressing Pursuit” has nearly the same tempo as “Testimony ~ Allegro” but adds tremolo lines, and a repeating rhythmic motive under a heroic melody to really emphasize the high drama of the turnarounds that give the Ace Attorney series its name. This track is one of the few effective uses of the infamous orchestra hit that is so popular on cheap MIDI keyboards. Finally, “Telling the Truth” brings back the baroque character from “Trial” but this time it brings drama. Another track devoted to the high drama of Wright’s signature turnarounds, the intense minor key baroque ornaments are augmented by dramatic, rhythmically driven melodies. The piece comes off a bit awkwardly at times, but they make the piece more surprising, which fits with the track’s purpose very well.
While the core trial sequence is certainly the centerpiece of the soundtrack, the music that occurs outside of the trial is what really tells the game’s story, and gives each of the games its unique character. Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- features very convoluted cases, all of which relate to one another in surprising ways. Each character’s storyline finds itself entangled in another character’s mystery totally unaware that there even is a mystery. Iwadare prepares us for this aspect of the game immediately with the dramatic “Prologue”. The piece starts and opens with dramatic arpeggiated chords, but it is the fugue inspired middle section of the piece that so resembles the events to follow. The subject is a mysterious melody that would not feel out of place in the opening to a Hitchcock film, and as the counterpoint continues, the harmony becomes thicker as the different lines intertwine. It feels very much like the story of the game to me. I would have liked to see this middle section fully realized instead of stopping at the point that all of the voices were introduced, but even as it stands it is an interesting way to introduce the whole of the game.
One of the major new characters in Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- is the mysterious prosecutor and coffee connoisseur Godot. His musical theme, “Godot – The Fragrance of Dark Coffee”, is one of the most memorable additions to the series. It is a very relaxed, lounge tinted jazz tune lead by a memorable saxophone melody that is tinted with melancholy and occasionally hints at full fledged sorrow, particularly as the melody first comes to a close and turns the leading role over to the piano. More of this emotion is explored in the piano’s exploration of the saxophone melody. The mellow melancholy still predominates, but there is more flavour of the sorrow in this track.
There are many other memorable character themes in the soundtrack, though none quite as much so as Godot’s. “Kamen Masuku ~ Listen, Pleeeeeeeease!” and “Aiga Hoshiidake ~ I Just Want Your Love, That’s All” are infectious melodic creations that call to mind circus music. “Trés Bien”, despite having uncharitable levels of saccharine, is always stuck in my head, and I honestly don’t mind it all that much. I have similar sentiments for “Takabishiya Department Store”, though that track is not nearly as syrupy or as infectious as the former track. “Toranosuke Shibakuzo ~ Swingin’ Zenitora” is a high-powered and exciting track that straddles the line between rock, blues, and jazz. It is one of the catchiest ditties in the series this side of “Oo-edo Soldier Tonosaman”. “Erisu Tenryusai ~ Simple Melody” is a sublime creation as well, relaxing, yet engaging and beautiful.
There are some character themes that disappoint, such as Larry Butz’s halfhearted pop tune, and the overbearing but not terribly memorable “A Painful Declaration, and a War Song”. “Chinami Miyanagi ~ Distant Traces of Beauty” also fails to stick with me, despite being effective in game. For the most part, though, the character themes are as energetic and as memorable as the personalities they represent.
In addition to characterized location and character themes, Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- features some very beautiful elegiac tracks as well. “Detention Center ~ Elegy of the Arrested” is a very simple but touching piece, and my favourite in the series of the detention tracks. “Recollection ~ I Blame You”, is the most expressive track on the album to my ears, and “Recollection ~ Oboro Bridge’s Scenery” is only a step below the two former tracks in how it speaks to me. “Recollection ~ The Bitter Taste of Truth” is the only track in this vein that disappoints me, and it is not so much that it is a bad track, so much as it just does not seem to capture the complexity of Godot’s situation quite as well as it could. The track is still a degree worse than the other three even without that considered, but it seems more a disappointment with the story considered.
I’ve covered the majority of the soundtrack thus far. All that remain are what are, to me, the most disappointing aspects of the album: the tracks for the ending and the introductions to the cases. None of the case introductions are terribly bad, they just don’t carry the same emotional weight that those in previous games did. “Recipe for Turnabout” is my favourite of them all, as it really seems to build to a dramatic conclusion. “The Stolen Turnabout”, however, does not do much for me at all, and while “Original Turnabout” tries to make a very effective use of the Gyakuten Sisters’ theme, it never reaches the weight of the situation that I think it ought to.
The two ending themes, “Endless Victory” and “End” are not terrible. The latter in particular starts off very well, but descends into mediocre sentimentality. It is not mind numbingly so, but I still find it a little campy. “Endless Victory” is far worse in that effect, although it starts out painful, and just stays in that realm. As I said, these are not terrible tracks at all — they do create the effect they want to, they just are not quite where I would personally like them.
As far as the bonus disc that comes with the album, I would not go out of your way to attain it. All you get is a sound effects collection, updated sound versions of the “Gyakuten Sisters’ Theme” and “Psycho Lock”, and a medley of snippets from some of the series’ catchiest track. The “Gyakuten Sabian 3 – Special Blend Mix” is just about the only track on the bonus track that’s really interesting to listen to. The tracks are arranged pretty well to give the medley a nice dramatic shape, but it still is not all that well constructed, and feels more like a miniature best of album than a track in and of itself. There’s a nice performance of Godot’s theme, but you can get an even better blend on the series’ jazz album.
All things considered, I think Ace Attorney -Trials and Tribulations- absolutely lives up to the standard of the series’ music, and is a pretty fine release on its own. It doesn’t bring much new to the table in the courtroom, but I feel it uses the DS’ sound board more effectively than any of the previous releases and the material stands well even if you are not used to the series’ courtroom standards. The material unique to the game is very strong and memorable as well. While it does not feature any of the very identifiable material for some of the series’ most important characters, it does have very memorable, emotional, and characterized material for the characters that it introduced to the series. I personally enjoy this soundtrack most out of the very good Ace Attorney soundtracks, though it does not have quite the high points either of the two former games did, I find it more consistently engaging. Strongly recommended, and this is coming from a man who is known to not be terribly fond of composer Noriyuki Iwadare, so you should definitely check this one out.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on January 18, 2016.