GAME: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
CASE: Turnabout Corner
CONSOLES: DS, Wii, iOS, 3DS
This is the first real case of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and my feelings are very much mixed. This is a brand new game for me, so unlike the original trilogy I can’t step back and think about the bigger trilogy. I have to judge this case as it comes to me, not knowing how the game pans out and things develop.
The reasons this might be an issue are twofold: the way the game treats the player, and the characterisation of Apollo himself. Both are firmly rooted in introductions and inexperience. The game is introducing concepts to hypothetical new players painfully slowly, and Apollo is portrayed very much as a novice attorney.
Starting at the start, this chapter reveals itself in a very plodding sequence of events. Apollo isn’t immediately called to a case defending a client, but to help Phoenix, Trudy and friends deal with a series of petty thefts and a minor car accident.
This all serves to introduce the exploratory, adventure game investigation sequences but to someone familiar with the series, waiting for events to shift into gear was frustrating. Exacerbating the situation was the continued narrative conceit of viewing Phoenix through the lens of Apollo. As a player, I know Phoenix’ supposed dark past, his weird and slightly creepy “daddy and daughter” relationship with Trudy, and his annoying vagueness to Apollo is leading to something. I love and trust the character and want to see where things lead, but Apollo needs to go through his hero’s journey, denying the call before answering it.
Eventually we do move into the nitty gritty of this episode’s murder, and it’s a classic Ace Attorney case. Family feuds among a mob family trying to go straight, a tragic fatal injury, a manipulative fake lover, medical malpractice and rivalry, all mixed in with a genuinely funny side order of panty thievery. Best of all, thanks to conspicuous kimonos and imagery, the translation has no choice but to authentically convey this yakuza family as Japanese.
While it feels like plain sailing for a while after the plodding opening, the case’ downfall comes in interactivity. The investigation sections on both days were rife with pixel-hunting and extremely arbitrary hoops to jump through. This is hardly new for the series, but these examples were too often not tied by any obvious connection but reliant on completely invisible triggers.
Even in the courtroom, the play wasn’t as smooth as one would like. Apollo’s “insight” ability is explored again, and while there is a little more freedom to using it the introduction still felt obnoxiously overprotective. The concept of spotting tells and habits in witnesses to catch them out is fun, and used excellently in L.A Noire, but the overly digital, simple animations here make it feel less exciting. Spotting a specific animation doesn’t make the player feel smart in the same way finding a contradiction does, but having not seen how the rest of the game pans out I’m cautiously optimistic that the two mechanics can be paired well once the game lets go of my hand and gives me full freedom when to use all the tools at my disposal.
Speaking of spotting contradictions and feeling clever, throughout this case were egregious instances of me making connections several steps ahead of Apollo. Almost from the start of the second day in court I had already pieced together the full sequence of events. Unfortunately, I had to let Apollo slowly put everything into place, and be prompted multiple times towards answers in painfully obvious clues, before it would let me click on the piece of evidence I knew would be crucial.
Part of me wonders if this is simply the new team not quite being up to Shu Takumi’s tight plotting, or even just being slightly less out of sync with my exact tastes as the previous games were. A ray of hope comes in the form of new lead prosecutor, Klavier Gavin, who seemed to be much quicker to jump to the right conclusions. In an ideal world, Apollo will rise to this challenge and be just as fast as his rival by the end of the game. After all, Phoenix needed plenty of help from Mia and Edgeworth earlier in his trilogy.
Gavin as a character is achingly cool. From his sex appeal, guitar riffs and motorcycle to his Edgeworth-esque interest in truth and justice above petty victory, his intriguing embroilment in Phoenix’ past and his connection to Apollo’s mentor-turned-villain from the previous case, I’m excited to see more of him.
My doubts about this game, based on comparing the opening to the earlier games, haven’t been completely erased. The mechanical rigging of the courtroom action, the tight plots that give the player exactly as much information as needed haven’t shown their face yet and an overuse of touchscreen minigames feels VERY early DS game. On the other hand, the characters who have appeared and the mystery at the centre of the case all suggest the ghost of Ace Attorney is still there, just waiting to be channelled into this new vessel.
Pun of the week: Lying mob doctor "Pal Meraktis" is a quality spoonerism.
A compelling murder filled with engaging characters, let down by a painfully slow opening and slightly sloppy courtroom mechanics.