The original concept for Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was quite different from the final version of the game, Capcom reveal in a new development blog post, where they show off some rare original documentation that was written up during the inception of the first game.
For starters, Phoenix was originally supposed to be a private eye, rather than an attorney. The game would have begun with him discovering a body at the office of his client, a lawyer, and being cornered and arrested by the police on the spot. The lawyer assigned to defend him would have been inept, and so the plan was for Phoenix to take up his own defense. At one point, a member of the development team even suggested making Phoenix a hamster.
While these early ideas were being mulled over, the game was titled Surviban: Attorney Detective Naruhodo-kun, which was a combination of the words “survival” and “saiban” (court/trials).
Other names being tossed around at the time were Naruhodo-kun’s Screaming Trials, Naruhodo-kun’s Outrageous Defense, Isn’t That Great, Naruhodo-kun?!, Boogie-Woogie Innocence, The Beautiful Verdict and even Gyakuten Saiban, which eventually went on to become the series’ final title.
Takumi reveals that the first Ace Attorney was nearly cancelled when two of the game’s development staff left the company, but Shinji Mikami and Atsushi Inaba saved the project by assigning a member of the Resident Evil team to help out.