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Review – Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

posted on April 21st, 2008 by matt

After finishing last year’s stellar Trials and Tribulations, and damn near falling out of my chair during that final case, I immediately went online and pre-ordered the next installment of the Ace Attorney series, titled Apollo Justice. And as I did this, I realized how lucky we all are to get another lawyer adventure game so soon after the last one. It took Capcom no more than four months to give us a new sequel, which is quite possibly a miracle in the video game world.

But wait? Who the hell is Apollo Justice? Does this mean no more Phoenix Wright? No more Edgeworth? And more importantly, no more Dick Gumshoe? How could this be!? Why would Capcom stoop so low? We’ve become extremely attached to all of these characters through the course of the last three games, willingly living and breathing their crazy and complex lives. Their stories came to an apex in Trials and Tribulations, but the last thing I want to do is say goodbye.

Despite trying to hide the fact that the series takes place in Japan with some clever translation changes, it remains apparent.

Thankfully, Capcom realized that creating a completely new cast would have upset most (if not all) of Phoenix Wright’s fans and kept the most important character of them all: Phoenix Wright himself. Very early on, you are introduced to the downtrodden but legendary defense attorney. Once again, he’s gotten himself caught up in a web of lies and mystery, and it’s up to you to clear it all up. In your very first case as the young and poorly voice-trained Apollo Justice, you have to defend Phoenix Wright in a confounding murder case.

As you play through the first case, which has you reading more than you would ever expect a video game to have you do, you start to see how closely Capcom kept Phoenix Wright to the game’s overall plot arc. Just like in Trials and Tribulations, many of the game’s cases are interconnected, each one slowly adding to a full and complex story. The first and fourth cases are the ones that directly refer to the main story arc, while the second and third ones are merely vehicles to detail the character of Apollo Justice. While the ones that play out the main arc are the most intriguing, the secondary cases are still extremely compelling. And they seem to go on for a little longer than the ones in previous titles, adding to this game’s overall enjoyment and value.

While playing the second and third case, you start to see that there are many parallels between Apollo and Phoenix, especially the Phoenix from the first AA game. Apollo is young and inexperienced, and quite often confused by both the quirky characters he comes across and the general turn of events that the cases themselves present to him. At some points you hope that Capcom isn’t repeating itself, trying to reproduce another Phoenix Wright, but because they’ve created an extremely likable character in Phoenix Wright he would be very hard to reproduce.

So they just ended up recreating Phoenix-Wright-light. Apollo seems a little tougher when dealing with certain people, but you can’t really say Apollo is a completely different character. To many (including me), it’s not much of a problem, but it’s worth mentioning a retread in a universe with such a wide spectrum of characters. Having two characters that are somewhat alike in these games is like spotting the guy with the pink t-shirt. It’s just that easy.

You can also see that Capcom loves to add in that Japanese-centric weirdness, with character designs pushing the AA-branded oddities to a new level. A good example of this is Trucy, a young and ambitious magician that takes Maya Fey’s place as your trusty sidekick. Oh, and get this, the first time you meet Trucy, you’re assigned to find her “magical panties”. I don’t know what it is, but the Japanese culture apparently sees nothing wrong with helping a 15 year old girl find her undergarments. If only the rest of the world had that kind of attitude towards under-age sexuality, I’d finally have a place within society…

The static image of action in this scene is the single worst part of the entire Ace Attorney series.

Major plotline details aside, the game is essentially the same as the first three Ace Attorney games. You look for clues in the Investigation Phase, while using the uncovered clues to bring the real criminal to justice while in the Court/Testimonial Phase. In previous titles, there were a few spots in the Testimonial Phases where the writers would confuse the player with a poorly worded testimony. You would try to use a piece of evidence that you assumed made sense, but because the writers were not clear enough, you wasted a good chunk of time on deciphering the poorly worded clues. Eventually you would get past that point, usually by randomly going through your Court Record and using a piece of evidence that you would never have thought to use, but it’s still a severe problem when the only gameplay in the game isn’t planned properly. Trials and Tribulations had that situation occur quite a few times, but Apollo Justice thankfully reduces the issue. It still pops up from time to time, but it never impedes your progress like previous titles.

The biggest addition to gameplay is what Capcom calls “perceiving”, where Apollo has the ability to see when a witness is lying. Usually Apollo will notice a small quirk that the witness performs, like moving her fingers when saying a specific sentence. A player must first figure out when a witness is lying, based on what he/she is saying, and then find the specific action the witness is doing to call him/her out on it. It’s only used a few times throughout the entire game, but it’s actually pretty intriguing. A few of them are hidden fairly well, but they’re never anything more complex than simple logic. If you have a slight idea of where the lie occurs, you’ve already completed 75% of the problem. I do wish there were more examples of “perceiving”, but I’m glad they added it to the AA formula. Here’s hoping they use it again in the next Apollo Justice title.

As a game that’s more or less a book, I do want to give props to Capcom’s writers and its localization team for making the game flow so well. Each testimony connects the game’s story or case so well that most players never really notice the seams. Which is the point, really. How they write such entertaining dialog, while at the same time moving the game along is beyond my comprehension. I recently played Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law for the PSP, and while entertaining, the game illustrates that it takes real skill to make a complex story evolve through gameplay like Ace Attorney’s.

Games like Metal Gear Solid have the ability to use long cut-scenes to portray their story, but a lot of AA’s story is told through its gameplay. Major plot turns and revelations occur when presenting evidence that contradicts a witness’ testimony. And the writers must plan for that when writing the game’s story. And then there’s all the side dialogue, which is simply there to give more substance to each character’s persona. Ace Attorney games have always relied on their writers for the game’s actual design, but it’s amazing how well they do it.

This guy actually sucks much less than you’d think.

The only real problem I had with the game is how much they overshadowed the character of Apollo Justice with Phoenix Wright himself. During the first and last case, Apollo Justice is merely a tool for Phoenix to bring the big villain to justice. The last case in particular really makes it seem like this was the last game Phoenix Wright is ever going to be in, and that Capcom wanted to give him a proper send off. Maybe they were also a little scared about introducing a new set of characters when all of the franchises’ fans are still in love with the original cast. I mean, people are still going nuts over the Miles Edgeworth game that was recently announced, titled Perfect Prosecutor. You could replace Apollo Justice with any other character, and not much would change with this game. He was portrayed prominently in the second and third case, but when looking back to the game, players will really only remember the first and last case. And Phoenix Wright commanded those cases with such voracity that some would say Apollo had no business even being there.

Some may agree with that choice, while others will hope that Capcom isn’t becoming tied too closely to its past. But what everyone will agree on is how entertaining and fun all Ace Attorney games are, and that Apollo Justice continues that tradition effortlessly. Definite thumbs up.

As an aside, my list of favorite Ace Attorney games is 1 – 3 – 4 – 2, with a real nail bitter between 1 and 3. This isn’t to say that Apollo Justice is not enjoyable, rather that Phoenix Wright 1 and Trials and Tribulations are some of the best games I’ve ever played, and it would be hard for any game to surpass them. Seasoned AA fans: what’s your list?

10 Comments

  1. jay said on April 21, 2008:

    I really enjoyed AJ, too. Ranking is really tough. The third game’s not necessarily better than the first but all the story comes together to make the drama the best in the series. In other words, it wins because of plot not really strength of cases or interesting logic in cases. Here’s my order – 3,1,4,2

  2. pat said on April 21, 2008:

    im currently on the final case of the third game, so i can’t judge the whole series just yet. the first is better than the second though. i agree with that.

  3. Weefz said on April 21, 2008:

    I’ve just started the fourth trial of Apollo Justice but I have to say that I’m enjoying it a lot more than Trials and Tribulations.

    I like the forensics and evidence examination that were missing from 2 and 3, even though they’re not exactly challenging. The Psycho-locks were getting quite tedious by the end of 3, in part due to the poorly-worded clues and random item presentation that you mention in the review.

    OTOH, Edgeworth’s commentary was hilarious in 3 😉

  4. Christian said on April 21, 2008:

    grrrmmmm stupid game series I haven’t gotten into.

  5. Yellow-M said on August 20, 2008:

    I think Trials and Tribulations is probably the best overall. The connections between the cases were wonderful and the final turnabout was incredible, if at times a little too much for my bullshit sensors. I’d like to add that whilst 2 was the poorest, it did have one of the finest moments in the series on the final turnabout… a cat’s meow that starts off the most epic of times when you genuinely feel like it’s all on the edge.

    I just finished Apollo Justice, and it is in my opinion a reversal of number 2. It was compelling all the way through, and up to the beginning of the last trial it was on the verge of greatness beyond compare… They totally screwed up the ending. The trial wasn’t hard, you knew it ‘all’ before hand, the prosecutions objections were stupid… no twists, no turns left. Killer’s motive was terrible especially after all the build up. And if it wasn’t bad enough it basically asks you at the end “Would you like to win or lose the game” … I felt no sense of achievment at all.

    Cataclysmic cock-up 5000 in my own opinion.

  6. pat said on August 20, 2008:

    i just started the last case in apollo justice. i guess im not looking forward to it.

    in my opinion this is probably the most fair game in the series. in past games some of the actions you had to take (presenting things at the right times, mostly) seemed arbitrary. the series has really improved that in my opinion.

    phoenix is a better character than apollo though, and since its such a plot/character driven series i therefore think the PW arc is better than the AJ arc so far.

  7. Weefz said on August 20, 2008:

    I agree with Pat there. Apollo was a bit wet and useless. Okay in his own way but not as appealing as Phoenix.

  8. TrueTallus said on August 24, 2008:

    What’s more likable about Nick, Pat and Weefz? I too prefer him to “Herr Forehead”, but I can’t come up with an objective reason beyond the former being a bit less cynical. They both seem to be cut from the same earnest, out of touch, exasperated but determined cloth. I sort of wonder weather we have less patience for Apollo because he has to start learning the ropes from the beginning and we’ve already all moved past those first unsure shaky steps with Phoenix four games ago.

  9. jay said on August 25, 2008:

    I think that because young Phoenix and Apollo and practically the same character I prefer Phoenix simply because I met him first. Apollo seems like a copy since he was created later.

    And I agree with Yellow M on the stupidness of asking the player if he would like to win or lose. I reloaded and told it I want to lose. Then I did. It was awesome.

  10. Weefz said on August 30, 2008:

    Apollo does voice training. ’nuff said 😉

    I found Nick’s side comments more amusing – Apollo just seems… I can’t find the right word… judgmental? Arrogant, perhaps? They’re both cynical but Phoenix comes across as a nicer person.

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