|Ease up, Nick! Sometimes a little self-awareness is fun. Isn't that right, avid video game player?|
The fourth wall is a convention originating in theater performances in which an invisible wall separates the "real world" inhabited by the audience from the world of the actors inside the performance. The term comes from a convention in which indoor scenes are depicted with the actors situated within a "box set" with three walls, with the audience being able to see what is going on through an implied fourth wall. This convention is sometimes violated in what is termed "breaking the fourth wall." These terms are used analogously in other artistic media, including video games, in which the screen could be said to be a "fourth wall" through which the audience can view the game world. Within the context of video games, the fourth wall may be broken when a character addresses the player(s) directly or otherwise reveals knowledge of being inside a game.
The Ace Attorney series occasionally plays with the concept of the fourth wall using metafictional irony. Namely, characters sometimes make comments related to living in real life and not inside a video game or a fictional mystery story.
- During Dick Gumshoe's second cross-examination in Turnabout Sisters, Wright objects to the notion that Mia left a dying message, despite it being a common trope in murder mystery fiction, requesting that they "talk reality".
- During the first cross-examination in The Monstrous Turnabout, if the second statement is pressed, Apollo comments to himself, "I wish trials came with a reset button."
Leaning on the fourth wallEdit
Within the canonical game world, there are occasional instances of "leaning on the fourth wall," in which a character appears to reference the fourth wall, though not in a way that requires direct knowledge of the "real world" beyond it. Each game contains instances of a character explicitly referring to buttons and touchscreens on the device running the game as a way to teach game mechanics to the player, but such instances do not actually contain direct references to the audience and could have some other meaning to the in-world characters that makes sense to them. The live-action film uses futuristic technology such as holographic images as a way to explain some of these references to gameplay. The closing credits contain scenes depicting various characters speaking to the audience, but this could also be explained in-universe as simply an unidentified individual listening to them.
- In Turnabout Samurai, Gumshoe objects to Maya Fey's use of the word "pal", claiming, "That's MY endearing character trait!"
- At the Hotti Clinic, when the patient with crutches is examined during Farewell, My Turnabout, Director Hotti (or rather, his impersonator) states that he hasn't moved since the last time Phoenix Wright was there. This is a reference to the fact that said patient is part of a static background.
- Near the end of Turnabout Succession, Apollo Justice, Klavier Gavin, and Trucy Wright briefly turn their heads facing the player when they mention that the Jurist System is watching the trial by video camera.
- When examining the microphone at the visitor's room in The Magical Turnabout, Athena Cykes tries to ask the guard trivia questions, but the guard "answers in the blink of an eye without batting an eyelash... or moving a muscle!" This is another "static background" joke.
Blurring the fourth wallEdit
In some instances in the series, the fourth wall is made ambiguous.
- The first time "Guilty Love" is played in Turnabout Corner, Apollo Justice is aware of it playing, implying that Klavier Gavin is actually playing the track in the game world.
Breaking the fourth wallEdit
The series does not explicitly break the fourth wall within canonical content, but demos and bonus content do so frequently. Demos generally contain lines in passing that explicitly describe the characters as being inside a demo, as well as declarations to resolve various plot threads in the main game. The Ace Attorney Theater skits in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice begin with the judge explicitly telling the player that the events about to unfold are gags and not meant to be taken as canon.
In particular, the Special Episodes in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney include numerous instances of breaking the fourth wall as a primary comedic technique. The characters often talk about the events of the game as if they were watching them from "outside" as a sort of play, even making references to the "fans" playing the game. Reunion is a self-aware parody and reenactment of On a Dark and Stormy Night, while later episodes parody scenes from later story chapters. The Special Episodes also take the opportunity to poke fun at the Ace Attorney and Professor Layton series, for instance with Maya Fey referencing Godot in Reunion and Patty Eclaire referring to the Professor Layton games' habit of including puzzles that have nothing to do with the lead in, or a lead in that comes out of left field to make the puzzle fit. Breaking the fourth wall also serves as a convenient way for the characters to discuss the game's development.