- For the equivalent gameplay mode in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth and Gyakuten Kenji 2, see Argument. For Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, see Witch trial.
- The gameplay articles on this wiki describe game controls in universal terms. This means that some of the controls may not be relevant to the medium through which you are playing the Ace Attorney games. Mentions of the touchscreen refer to the touchscreen functionality on the Nintendo DS and the iOS. "X", "Y", "L", "R", "Select" and "Start" refer to buttons on the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS. The "+" and "-" buttons refer to the small buttons in the middle of the Wii Remote.
|We prosecutors painstakingly question every detail in pursuit of the defendant.|
|While we lawyers believe in and defend our clients to the end.|
|When both sides go all-out against each other, that's when we discover the truth.|
Trials are acts within episodes of the Ace Attorney games that take place in the District Court. The defense attorney participates in a criminal bench trial, representing his or her defendant against the accusations of the prosecution. The defense attorney's main method of attack is through the cross-examination of witnesses brought forth by the prosecution. Cross-examinations can lead to the uncovering of contradictions between testimony and evidence, as well as new information and even an opportunity for the defense attorney to call a witness. However, to keep their argument going, the defense attorney must be wary of the judge's confidence in them, which is represented by a health bar which the judge can damage via penalties.
A trial act works very similarly to a single scripted event from a location in an investigation act, except the event takes up the entire act. That is, the protagonist is forced to go from the defendant lobby to the courtroom and back. During the course of a trial, the defense attorney may be required to answer questions (sometimes internally with themselves), present evidence to prove their claims, and cross-examine witnesses.
The main gameplay element in a trial act is cross-examinations. Following every witness testimony, the defense attorney is compelled to cross-examine the witness, and the player can view any statement in the testimony by pressing the left/right buttons on the touchscreen (or left/right on the d-pad, or A) to view the previous or next statement. The player can get a hint concerning the proper course of action by continuing past the final statement. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, if the player incurs three successive penalties or is forced to restart during a cross-examination, a "Consult" (X) button appears, which pinpoints a statement of interest in the witness testimony. This feature returns in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, but is possible after two penalties rather than three and can be toggled on or off in the options menu in the title screen.
The player is given various functions with which to act on a statement of interest. The usual options during a cross-examination are to press a given statement for more information, or to present evidence that contradicts a given statement. However, alternate methods of cross-examination are sometimes used.
The defense attorney can ask for more details on a selected statement. The result of pressing a statement varies greatly across cross-examinations. The attorney may, for example, be given a chance to "press harder" or to present evidence to support a claim. Pressing a statement can also force the witness to modify their testimony and/or add new evidence to the Court record. Pressing usually does not lead to penalties, although there are occasional exceptions.
Pressing can be initiated by pressing the "Press" button (L/+). On the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, one can also yell "Hold it!" into the microphone. This function is activated on the DS by holding the Y button, while on the 3DS, there is a microphone icon on the bottom right corner of the touchscreen. On the Wii, the player can shake the Wii Remote.
The defense attorney can present evidence from the court record to point out a contradiction in the witness's testimony, or simply to prove a point based on the statement in question. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, profiles can also be presented. Sometimes, the player is asked to present evidence to prove a claim or answer a question.
To access the court record in order to present evidence, the player presses the "Present" button (R/-). To present evidence, the player selects the evidence and then presses "Present" (X). On the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, one can also yell "Objection!" or "Take that!" into the microphone. This function is activated on the DS by holding the Y button, while on the 3DS, there is a microphone icon on the bottom right corner of the touchscreen. On the Wii, the player can thrust the Wii Remote toward the motion sensor as if pointing at the witness. Presenting the wrong evidence will normally result in a penalty.
- Main article: Bracelet
Apollo Justice has a bracelet with which he can sense tension in a witness. In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, during a cross-examination, a bracelet button (X) will be colored and animated if Justice senses tension, and it will be grayed out if Justice does not sense tension. If the icon is activated, Justice can press it to focus on the witness as he or she makes the statement in question.
- Main article: Mood Matrix
In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, Athena Cykes can read emotions in people's voices and analyze them using Widget's Mood Matrix program. This provides an alternate mode of cross-examination, in which the player examines the emotional outputs of a witness when making their statements. Usually, the goal is to find inconsistencies between a statement and its emotional output. However, sometimes one or more emotions overwhelm the others, and the player must find the source of the emotional overload. During these cross-examinations, "Press" (L) is replaced by "Pinpoint" or "Probe". The player can then use the d-pad or touchscreen to select the emotion or object of interest, and press "Pinpoint"/"Probe" (X) to confirm the selection.