Video Game Review from the Vault: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

(Posted to my Facebook page on December 30, 2014)

Just finished Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Once again, I’ll share my thoughts.

As the fourth installment in the Ace Attorney main series, jumping away from Phoenix Wright is a risky play. The game takes place at least seven years after the events of Trials and Tribulations (Or, for a slightly more accurate picture, about nine years after the fifth case in the original Phoenix Wright game). You play as new attorney Apollo Justice. Your mentor, Kristopher Gavin, was contacted by a client, and you soon find yourself defending Phoenix Wright himself. Phoenix, it seems, lost his Attorney’s Badge after an incident seven years ago, and now works in a bar playing the piano. You also soon meet his adopted daughter, the magician Trucy Wright.

From there, like the games before it, Apollo will take on four different cases as he progressed through the story and slowly unwravels a mystery that begins with the first case. The story has its ups and downs. On one hand, the twists towards the end of the story are very well done, and I ended up liking the arc of the story. On the other… well, the characters in this game aren’t nearly as strong as the other games. The main Prosecutor, Klavier Gavin (younger brother of the aforementioned Kristopher) isn’t an awful character, but is by far the least interesting Prosecutor we’ve seen thus far, not holding a candle to Miles Edgeworth, Franziska von Karma, or Godot. Save Phoenix Wright (As well as Prosecutor Payne and the Judge, I suppose), every character from the previous games are gone. Like I said, we never see hide nor hair of Edgeworth, Maya and Pearl Fey are never even mentioned, and Dick Gumshoe only shows up briefly in a flashback. The new head detective is Ema Skye, who was actually a character in the original Ace Attorney. This gave me some hope, but unfortunately Ema isn’t terribly interesting and doesn’t have the same charm or drive that Gumshoe had. Fortunately Trucy, Phoenix, and Apollo do a good job, but without a good supporting cast, the cases in this game feel much weaker than in previous games.

The gameplay mechanics are mostly the same, but a few additions have been made. As I mentioned previously, the 3D manipulation and examination of evidence that was last seen in Case 5 of the original game has returned, but it’s never really fully utilized, which is disappointing. There are a few mini-games you play with some of the scientific analysis tools that Ema Skye brings, but they’re usually just one-offs and add little to the experience. The meat of the game are still the investigation and trial sections, and they play out mostly the same, but you now sometimes have 3D representations of the crime scene to help you picture what happened, which is helpful, but not utilized enough to really be noticed. The biggest change is the new “Sense” system. Sometimes when a witness is on the stand, Apollo will have the chance to detect doubt in a witness, at which point, he’ll analyze the witness as they slowly speak, looking for a nervous twitch they have that will reveal their lie. I have mixed feelings about the system, and I think it’s ultimately negative. It isn’t terribly fun to slowly scan your witness again and again looking just for a small twitch, and one time I had to use a walkthrough because the twitch was so small and annoying.

The difficulty on a whole for this game is fairly low. The puzzles are pretty straight forward, but sometimes you’ll get tripped up because you’ll find yourself with several prices of evidence that accurately solve a situation, but the game wants one specifically. It’s a shame that each of the pieces can’t move the game forward, which would give the player a little more wiggle room and not slap them too hard on the wrist for a simple mistake.

I don’t think I mentioned this in the previous games, so I’ll mention it now, but the music, animation, and artwork in these games are really something else. The backgrounds are all very detailed, the characters look distinct, have their own little movements that will help your learn their feelings at a given time. The backgrounds in Apollo Justice have actually gotten a bit of an upgrade since the original trilogy, along with the animations, and really make the game a treat to play through as they’re just a pleasure to look at (With the exception of one particular character… not their best work…), and the music, once again, can set the mood perfectly, be it for sleuthing around, or for pushing a witness to the brink and making the breakthrough in a case.

So, in the end, Apollo Justice is a competent Sequel, but nothing more. It seems like what really killed the chance of being great were the characters. It was a ballsy move to remove nearly every character and replace them, and I don’t think it worked out particularly well for them. It’s still worth playing for Ace Attorney fans because of the interesting story and cases, but it’s at the bottom of the totem pole for me.

I give Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney a 3 out of 5.

Next up will either be Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies or Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Keep your eyes peeled, because I’m excited to give those a shot.

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