Every series has that one entry that just doesn't click with you as much as others do. Usually it's the first game in the series since they're trying something new and need to set the foundation for what's to come, but in the case of the Ace Attorney series, they started very strongly and consistently delivered with all of my scores being 4.5/5 (and Trials and Tribulations even reaching that perfect 5/5). However, this is where the series starts to tumble. Everything in this game feels like "one step forward, two steps back" and the culmination of everything leads to me say "yeah, this game is the exact definition of mediocre." Even saying that feels generous, but I debated between a 2/5 and a 2.5/5 and figured the latter was more fitting as I think I'd take this game over some of the others in the same tier. To quickly sum up my issues with this game before I go deep into it, this game has so many good ideas, but for some reason the game feels the need to preach about said ideas and themes throughout all of the cases, and it leads to such a souring experience because they have to slap my left cheek with "the dark age of the law" and my right cheek with "the ends justifies the means" for instance. I'll go deeper into each case and my issues with them:
Turnabout Countdown: This case suffers from trying to be a generic introduction case after the previous two games had great ideas for introduction cases in the form of a flashback for Trials and Tribulations and a first case with a new character that serves as a prologue for what's to come in the last case. Here, while this case takes place during the fourth case, there's nothing clever about this and the mystery is so barebones and basic and seeing Phoenix back to his Trilogy self after the development of the last game feels like whiplash. They even go as far as to reuse ideas from other first cases, such as the good ol' "victim wrote the killer's name in blood" which, by the way, felt like such a stretch this time around. Simpler fix, let this case be the first case chronologically and make this Athena's first case. Sure the chronological order thing would have some more issues that need fixing, but as Athena's first case, this is even more barebones than The Monstrous Turnabout, so why not let the new character get some spotlight? Phoenix really didn't need to have this one and it hurts his character if anything since we see this first without a proper transition between the events of Turnabout Succession in the previous game to where he is now.
The Monstrous Turnabout: Easily my least favourite case in the series. The first half starts promising and has a really good first trial day, but as soon as the second half hits the quality drops by so much it puts Big Top to shame (I don't hate Big Top anymore but it's still on the lower end compared to other cases in the series). The worst part is, for some god forsaken reason they decided to ONCE AGAIN show WHO THE CULPRIT IS IN THE OPENING CUTSCENE (just like The First Turnabout and Turnabout Sisters). I already didn't really like that trope, but it gets a pass for being a part of the first game, but on the fifth? Considering the lack of relevant NPC's in this case, there's no way you don't guess who it is early anyway. The villain himself is kind of funny, but also really annoying, and I would know, I voice acted him when I was playing with my friend. The one good thing I can say is it introduced Bobby Fulbright, but that's where my compliments end as the investigations are a drag and the trial becomes so boring because the villain is so hard to take down for literally no reason.
Turnabout Academy: For the first time ever, the third case is actually the best one? Seriously, the issues I have here are quite minimal actually. Really good setting, great characters, and establishes a foil to Athena really well early on the give the player motivation to absolutely destroy your opponent in court. Only problem is, this case goes on and on about the theme of "the ends justify the means" to the point where it'll be in every third line and even Athena says "I'm sick and tired of hearing that stupid phrase" or something along those lines. If Athena's sick and tired of hearing it, didn't the developers think that the players would be too? I genuinely think this could've been the best non-final case had it been more subtle with its themes and maybe even had a different villain. Having a character with an opposing ideology to the main character AND the victim isn't exact subtle, however I'll give the game credit because if I didn't already know who the culprit beforehand, I would have actually thought it was one of the three main characters of the case.
The Cosmic Turnabout: This case is better than Countdown and Monstrous, but doesn't come close to Academy for me. It just feels like a really standard case, and I get that it's supposed to be a "Part One" to Turnabout for Tomorrow, but that in itself is a problem. Let's go back to Turnabout Beginnings and Bridge to the Turnabout. The former is a flashback case that Phoenix reads upon during the first day of Bridge to the Turnabout. We see the villain of Turnabout Memories return and get the second of the two cases Mia had against them. Using the information Phoenix learns, then he's ready to solve the current mystery set up now. The setting, while the same location, changes drastically with the area going from an empty area to somewhere that people live at and train in that are related to the Fey Clan. Here though, we get the same exact setting in both cases, to which this one is sort of underwhelming compared to other settings we've seen in the past, and "Part Two" immediately follows "Part One" with no room to breathe. The ironic thing is, due to the amount of trial and investigation days in both, it could've just been one long case. Granted, me and my friend would've been on it forever since we were voice acting and I went on a lot of tangents because of how much this game disappoints me, but I digress. I also just don't find the NPC's to be that interesting, with the show stealer not even being cross-examinable (technically?). The entire first case has two halves of the trial and the second half only has one person you cross examine who, once again, is so hard to take down for literally no reason as his attempts to lie his way out of it make zero sense whatsoever. It's not a terrible case, but just underwhelming.
Turnabout for Tomorrow: This one actually hurts. Not only is this the one final case I wouldn't put in S-tier, but I was excited to play this game and get to this case only for it to be kind of good at best. This is just such an underwhelming finale and things just happen for no reason. The main issue stems from the main villain, which is also the worst main villain in the series so far. The other villains leave such an impact, whether it's von Karma for raising the stakes and being the most ruthless prosecutor so far, Matt Engarde for his genius scheme and getting the characters and the player to really think about what a lawyer really is supposed to do, Dahlia for being the catalyst for many events in the series, and Kristoph for being the catalyst for the Dark Age of the Law (which I'll get back to that topic later). This last villain is so ridiculously boring because due to the concept being a spy that feels no emotion and doesn't know his true identity, there's not much to really connect to. Yes, Bobby Fulbright was great and one of my favourite characters in the game, but the Phantom has nothing to him and all he does is wear the face of a character I like. I get that Bobby Fulbright was dead since before the events of the game and this was just a disguise, but as a result they feel like (and are) two different characters to which I care for one and don't for the other. Worst part is, he is, yet again, way too hard to take down for no apparent reason. He makes a remark about "the dark age of the law" and how "people don't trust the court" a few minutes after Athena pulls up the Mood Matrix and finds out he has no emotion and the Phantom PULLING OUT WEAPONS AND GADGETS MID TRIAL. You can't honestly expect me to believe that ANYONE in the gallery would believe he's not the Phantom or that they would side with him. Taking down the Phantom was so needlessly long that by the end I let out a long sigh and said "finally I'm free" to my friend near 1 AM. Almost forgot, but in this case they say "seven years ago" so many times, which is completely ruined by the fact that the previous final case literally did the whole "seven years ago" thing but better because they didn't shove it down my throat and let the players see what happened themselves rather than investigating a few areas. I get that the in-universe rule is that after seven years a case is closed, but they won't shut up about that or the Dark Age of the Law to the point where it gets exhausting.
I'll give credit to this game where it's due. Athena and Blackquill are great characters, hell I like the former more than Phoenix and Apollo in this game. I honestly think this game would've benefitted more if Athena was the protagonist rather than Phoenix, especially since it would've given time to let Phoenix develop while still giving enough attention to Athena and Apollo. The music is also pretty good at times, but even then there's still some songs that really don't fit the mood, such as the song that plays during the plot twist at the end of The Cosmic Turnabout or the Phantom's theme to which both sound ridiculous especially for what they're supposed to be used for. That's about all the general stuff I can say that's good. I still have a lot of issues with this game outside of case specific things, such as the characterization of Phoenix and especially Apollo. I wish Phoenix was a mix of his Trilogy and Apollo Justice self instead of just reverting to the former. It's odd because it this game just completely throws away all of the character development Phoenix had in the previous game, which sucks because, if I'm being honest, Apollo Justice's version of Phoenix was probably my favourite of them all. Meanwhile, Apollo is so needlessly edgy and annoying in this game, especially in Turnabout for Tomorrow. He gets attacked in Turnabout Countdown and suddenly he's donning a coat, an eyepatch, and has bandages on his arm. See, I get the coat part because of the context, but the other two make zero sense as he doesn't even get injured in the areas that are covered up. Also my friend brought this up but instead of ditching the coat completely, he should've just put it on instead of just hanging it on his back or whatever. This is literally the one case where it would've made sense for an outfit change so if you're going to make Apollo edgy for a bit why not just go the full way and give him a special design for the last part of the trial? That's not a big complaint for me just a minor nitpick. Finally, the Dark Age of the Law plotline makes absolutely no sense. They claim that two major incidents alone sparked it and by resolving those two incidents, they can fix the system and remove the Dark Age of the Law. The problem is, you can't expect me to believe that fixing the two incidents will get the people's trust in the court system back. Yes both incidents are because of a larger culprit, but that doesn't mean the general public can be swayed so quickly. Think about it, when a YouTube gets falsely accused for a crime, they'll lose credibility even if they make a seven hour video debunking those allegations. With how society is, something like a court system can't be fixed by Phoenix and Blackquill shaking hands and believing in the power of friendship. Apollo Justice used this theme better because they only mentioned the Dark Age of the Law once or twice and showed us how crimes and the legal system have developed, such as Turnabout Succession and even Turnabout Serenade. The only case to really show us about the Dark Age of the Law in full swing is Turnabout Academy, and even then those themes don't feel as strong as they did in Apollo Justice because they scream "Dark Age of the Law" and "the ends justify the means" into my ear every two seconds. If you've made it this far, I thank you for your time. I come off as cynical towards this game because I've always wanted to play it, it was the game that made me start playing Ace Attorney and it ended up being so much lower than my expectations. I still need to complete the DLC case, but that's separate enough and I wanted to talk about that there so I can let out my thoughts now. Anyway, I don't want to nitpick for hours because this review is already getting really long and it's definitely my longest review so far, so now that I've got my main points across, I'll end with a general statement like I always do. Overall, I think this game is a massive step down from the standard Ace Attorney experience due to it's poor writing and execution of ideas that could have been really good, but fall flat due to how it's presented, so I will only hope that the DLC case and Spirit of Justice can bring back that Ace Attorney experience I still love today.