David Low
29 Jun, 2008

Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice Review

DS Review | One small step for man.
The Ace Attorney series has got to be one of the oddest success stories in recent years. While the DS was supposed to be the system that brought new experiences to the table, an upgraded port of a 2001 Japanese-only GBA game Gyakuten Saiban ('Turnabout Courtroom') showed that the new interface could breathe new life into existing genres. It helped that an excellent new case was added that used the DS' features very well, and that the game was translated and released worldwide as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but even in Japan the series became a much bigger hit on the dual screened wonder. The novel concept, light point and click detective adventure gameplay, over the top presentation, and amusing, well written scripts have brought the text adventure genre well out of it's recent niche, and the games' success even surprised developer Capcom, who have had to issue several re-prints after sell-outs in the US. Barely upgraded ports of the two GBA sequels followed, keeping the series alive.

Which brings us to Apollo Justice, the first game to be developed from the ground up on the DS. After the excellent use of the DS features in a mere bonus case in the first game, fans salivated over what could be done in a DS exclusive entry, as much as they merely craved more of the hilarious writing and animations the series is famed for. Well, fans will get what they expect in Apollo Justice, but unfortunately not too much more. It's still got everything that makes the series great, but doesn't really add enough for a third sequel to keep someone wearied of the series basic gameplay playing for too long.

Colourful new faces, same old gameplay

Colourful new faces, same old gameplay
There are plenty of changes in the latest Turnabout, but (slightly) unfortunately most are of a superficial nature. An unfortunate lack of communication between Capcom Japan staff quickly led to a branding issue for the company when the series was renamed from the generic Turnabout Courtroom to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a major problem when the writers changed the main character for the fourth chapter. A few logo font-size adjustments later, and the now Ace Attorney brand has been passed to Mr Wright's younger clone Apollo Justice. The game bearing the new lawyer's name gains most of it's freshness from an all-new cast, but most main characters are based on the same archetypes as the stars of the previous games, so it gets a bit samey anyway. Many old faces turn up again (including, ironically, a very major part for Phoenix Wright), but there are no new characters with the charisma of, say, Trials and Tribulations' Godot. The four cases are still good, about par for the series, and get better as they go along.

More interactivity is available due to the DS related upgrade to the engine. Much like the DS specific case in the first game, you can inspect objects in 3D in classic Resident Evil style, as well as dust for fingerprints and use other more interactive touch screen related tools. The more analogue nature of these sections breaks up the otherwise boolean nature of the decision processes, but they're really just another box to tick along the way. The new version of the 'psych-lock' is also more interactive, as you use a magic bracelet (seriously!) to detect nervous ticks while witnesses testify, which is certainly more interesting than even more question asking. All the new additions are nice novelties, but they really don't change the general flow.

The gameplay remains identical to the previous games – you take a murder case, investigate the scene by interviewing wacky witnesses and collecting evidence, and then head into court to defend your client by poking holes in witness' testimony. Disappointingly, little effort has been put into streamlining the trial-and-error gameplay. In the investigation phases, gameplay still boils down to 'do everything in every order' to identify the strictly linear path through each level. You'll still be scathing your head wondering why you have to go back to a certain place at a certain time to make a character appear. In court, there are still random leaps of logic in cases, and the inability to jump the gun by presenting clearly contradictory evidence earlier (even after you've worked out the mystery you have to go through the often long-winded motions) remains annoying. Probably the only concession is that you now know if you have to present a profile or piece of evidence in court.

Yet another cast of wacky support characters

Yet another cast of wacky support characters
But for all the flaws, when you work out what has to be done, and present that right piece of evidence for the first time, the dramatic music kicks in and it all clicks again. The writing remains amusing (and the text features far fewer spelling errors then the other games), the final case in particular all comes together in a satisfying way. On top of all this, the presentation has been improved quite nicely. Everything has been re-drawn, characters are larger, more detailed and have more animation, and new environments have much more detail. There is also some integrated video which brings certain places to life. The music has also been improved, and while possibly not as good as the third game's compositions, many of the tunes are still among the series best.

If you were gagging for more after finishing the previous games in the series, Apollo Justice will be a welcome return to the wacky Japanese courtroom. For those who were previously fans but whose interest was waning, it probably features enough novelty elements to get you through anyway. The third (and probably best) game in the Ace Attorney series has not seen a release in Australia, primarily because of a large delay in the series' debut here due to a bout of local publishing limbo. Grab that on import before hearing Apollo's story, but if you already have, the latest keeps the series going competently. We can only hope Capcom really mixes it up for the next Ace Attorney - perhaps the recently announced 'Ace Prosecutor' spin off will do the trick.
The Score
Another solid entry, but the series probably needed more then solid. Weaker characters are offset by new novelties, but it will still be worth a go for fans of the idea. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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5 years ago
Not a bad review, and I agree with the lifepsan comment. I thought the inclusion of a couple of FMVs was a pretty cool DS feature myself, and the 3D capabilities got some decent use.
5 years ago
Good review, I liked PW3 better, but that was purely because it was the culmination of the elements built up in the previous 2 games. It's natural that the story isn't as gripping in this one, with its almost clean slate on the character front.
5 years ago
I agree with most points in the review, this game really should have been Ace Attorney 2, as the 2nd and 3rd in the series really didn't add anything (in-fact they took things out). Don't get me wrong though, they are great stories, especially 3. Like you David, I also think that it was a shame that it was all so samey compared to PW 1 - 3 even though it was built just for the DS (as opposed to the GBA ones). In the last case I thought that they were going to do something really cool about the jurist system integrating the 3D FMV's and taking the game on a less boolean path (ie, there are 12 juriors and you have to play the game to suit each juriors style or something like that, or maybe you have to get 80% of them to agree with you, so if you are an 'ace attorney' you would finish the game faster than a less-skilled player who took some time to warm the jury up.)

However, in a way, the strength of the Ace Attorney series is its simplicity. It has introduced many new adventure game player into the mix, who weren't used to the more complicated adventure games of yesteryear (like me). Like many games on DS, it's simplified and it works. 8/10 from me.
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Australian Release Date:
  23/4/2008 (NoRelease)
Year Made:

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