The Ace Attorney series is a name that it seems has only come to fame recently, although the games have been around for a while. Australia didn't receive the DS port of the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney until 2007, a full six years after the original GBA version hit Japan. Since then, we've had a further three games, and now the latest Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth lands in stores as the fifth instalment of the franchise, and its first spin-off. While the games are known for their compelling stories and tense court battles, some might say that the games rely on outdated gameplay that has become a little stale. Shifting the focus away from the courtroom and onto the crime scenes, does Miles Edgeworth have what it takes to breathe new life into the series?
Traditionally, the Ace Attorney games present the player with two sides of law enforcement, by studying the crime scenes through static pictures to collect evidence, and then using that evidence in court in a heated battle with the prosecuting attorney. Ace Attorney Investigations purports to present a new experience, where you spend all of your time at the crime scene studying evidence, and instead of proving a suspect's innocence or guilt in court, it is done during the investigation.
Instead of playing as a defence attorney like Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice, you're placed in the lacy frills of prosecutor and series anti-hero Miles Edgeworth, a lawyer who was trained to win trials perfectly, but has since followed his own path of simply finding the truth. While at first he seems uppity, serious and supremely self-confident, he does turn out to be a very fun character, with his own sense of duty, logic and an amusing obsession with a kids Power Rangers-type show that he's reluctant to admit. He's a nice change from the lovable underdogs that Wright and Justice were. The game has five episodes, each of which revolve around Edgeworth getting involved in the investigation of a murder, and which all have something to do with an international smuggling ring.
As far as the plot goes, it's standard Ace Attorney fare with completely ridiculous crimes, over the top characters, and a whole lot of unnecessary exclamations. So, fans of the series will love it. And it is charming, but it really doesn't differ that much from past games in the series. Edgeworth is assisted by a plucky young girl with a strange profession, as well as possibly the most incompetent detective of all time, has to deal with a rival who is initially antagonistic, but eventually becomes something of a partner, and must confront an ultimate villain who thinks they are above the law. Sound familiar? The game is also of a decent length, but not necessarily because it's difficult, but because of the huge volume of conversations in this game and the amount of time needed to sift through it all. It took us around 15-20 hours to beat the game, and we would be willing to lay odds that 80% of that was pressing A to advance through the conversations. Of course, most of these conversations are well-written, interesting and frequently amusing, but it just goes to show that this spin-off still hasn't strayed very far from its 'visual novel' roots.
When you're not engaging in dialogues with witnesses, companions or adversaries, you're playing the game, which essentially has two sides. The first side is where the game rejects the static paintings of previous games, and actually lets you walk around crime-scenes filled with characters as on-screen sprites. It looks and feels a lot like the Lucasarts adventure games of yore, and makes sense seeing as the series has always essentially been a variation on that genre. The only problem is these areas often feel very cramped, as you'll usually be limited to a couple of screens to investigate. In past games, you'd be back-and-forthing between the scene of the crime, the police station, your offices and any other places of interest all the time. Edgeworth can collect evidence in his organiser, but in a new twist he can also collect information and questions which arise. These are gathered in the new 'logic' menu, and Edgeworth can combine these pieces to form deductions about the case. It's not as complicated as you might think, and basically boils down to 'find two pieces of information which are related, connect, repeat'. It's nice for Edgeworth to have his own mini-game compared to Wright's Magatama and Justice's bracelet, but it's not necessarily a huge addition to the game.
The other aspect of the gameplay is identical to previous game's cross-examinations, and take the form of 'arguments'. Frequently in Edgeworth's quest he'll come across opponents such as Interpol Agent Lang who'll accuse the wrong suspect of murder, and you'll need to argue with them to show them the error of their ways and deduce the true culprit. The way this works is your opponent will make a series of statements, which you can then browse back and forth through at will, press them for more information, and then finally present evidence which contradicts their statement and moves you along to their next argument. Generally, these sections are presented as 'boss battles' of a sort and are incredibly linear, but then again that's the nature of a hugely story-driven game such as this. They haven't even disguised the fact that they're the same as cross-examinations, as Edgeworth will still say 'Objection!', 'Take That!', and 'Hold It!' in regular conversation, which sort of goes to prove how creepily obsessed he is with his job.
The game has a lot of nice art, and close-up character portraits have a lot of detail and personality, even if their animation cycles are limited. The sprite-work in the game's investigation sections is also impressive, with colourful characters, detailed locations and actually some really cute animations. In fact, the sprite animations are so lively that we wish they'd been incorporated even more, as they are a nice way to convey the action in the story, which in the past has been conveyed through dramatic still images. As with the rest of the series, Ace Attorney Investigations has a catchy and well-composed soundtrack, and while the sound-bites on offer are somewhat recycled from older games, you'll be hearing some new 'Eureka!' and 'Not So Fast!' exclamations.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth is another good addition to the Ace Attorney franchise, but playing through as a prosecutor instead of a defence attorney doesn't make as much of a difference as you'd imagine. While the adventure game-style investigations are a welcome and refreshing inclusion, the rest of the game isn't quite as groundbreaking. In fact, we'd make our own argument that this game's arguments aren't quite as intense as the courtroom battles of the past, despite the fact they play almost exactly the same. Nevertheless, the story and characters of this game are ridiculous, hilarious and part of the reason why so many have fallen in love with this series. If you're a fan, it's definitely worth picking Miles Edgeworth up, and for others looking for a new twist on the adventure game genre, we'll let you put together your own deductions from this review in your logic menu.