Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney review

Without even thinking of it, I basically just recycled the first paragraph of my Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney review in this article. Oh well.

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: February 19th, 2008
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
ESRB Notes: Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violent References

If you were to try and think of a profession that would make a great video game, chances are, you wouldn't think attorney. It seems Capcom thinks differently from us, though, since they decided to make Gyakuten Saiban for the Game Boy Advance back in 2001. The game was a huge hit in Japan, spawning two critically-acclaimed sequels. When the DS came out, Capcom smelled money and ported the first game over to Nintendo's new console. With the crazy amounts of success the series received in Japan, Capcom thought it was time to introduce the rest of the world to this quirky new series. The response around the world was incredible, with the now-named Ace Attorney series becoming a huge hit. The second and third games also received ports on the Nintendo DS, both of them just as fun as the first.

Problem was, there were then no more Gyakuten Saiban games to import or remake. What was Capcom to do? The answer was simple: Build a new Ace Attorney from the ground up for the Nintendo DS! And thus, the story of Apollo Justice began.

Speaking of story, the writing in Apollo Justice is just about as sharp as it was in the first three games. The cases are full of twists, many of which are sure to catch players off guard. If there's one downside, though, it's that some of the new characters aren't quite as interesting as those from the past games. It's been seven years since the events of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, meaning many of the familiar faces have moved on with their lives. Larry Butz, Lotta Hart, Maggey Byrde, and many of the other characters series-long fans have grown to love are absent.

Sadly, while many of the new characters are well-written and likable, none of them are quite as interesting or notable as the well-established personalities from the Phoenix Wright saga. It's understandable, though, as it's really hard to improve on the amazing cast from the original series. You can't blame Capcom for falling short of the incredibly high level of character quality established in previous titles.

Trucy, you're adorable, but... You're just not Maya.

To me, one thing that really stood out in Apollo Justice's story-telling is how much foreshadowing there is. It's incredible how much of the first three cases returns in the fourth and final chapter, undoubtedly beating out any Phoenix Wright game for weaving together several separate stories so perfectly.

Being a defense attorney, it's Apollo's duty to defend his client and prove them innocent. In every case but the first, this begins with an investigation phase. During this time, the player can question witnesses, talk with their client, and even go hands-on with the investigation. Much of this phase revolves around finding evidence and presenting it to the right person to coax them into talking. Sure, it's a little unrealistic in that a lawyer never does this sort of thing in real life, but let's not let realism get in the way of fun.

Time for frog lady to meet with Justice!

The game being made ground-up for the DS really shows through in the investigation phase. Several investigative maneuvers such as copying footprints and dusting for fingerprints are now handled by the touchscreen, much like they were in the fifth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Far more interesting than simply reading a description of the item that says "Bears Bob's fingerprints". Of course, that does still happen sometimes, but at least we get to have some fun once in a while.

There's no real problem with this advanced form of evidence gathering, but the lack of time we get to mess around with it sure is. Dusting for fingerprints and getting plaster molds of footprints only happens in the second case, which is a pretty big disappointment. I would have liked to see this higher level of interactivity spread throughout the game more evenly, instead of only experiencing it once or twice in the entire course of the game.

In addition to dusting evidence for prints, players can also investigate a 3d representation of the object to look for clues. Sometimes the most important part of a piece of evidence must be discovered with a hands-on investigation! Finding a drop of blood on an object can change the entire case, so close scrutiny is key.

Once the investigation is through, the real battle begins in the courtroom. The court proceedings in the Ace Attorney world are quite different from that of our law system. It's not so much an organized trial at some points as it is an all-out war, with evidence and testimony serving as ammunition. Certainly far more interesting than what we see in real life!

Certainly a lot more colourful a prosecutor than what you'd see in Law & Order.

The main part of any trial is the cross-examination. It's at this point that the player gets to pick apart the witness' testimony, exposing lies and inconsistencies in pursuit of the truth. The trials are undoubtedly the main attraction in any Ace Attorney game, and they're just as incredibly fun in Apollo Justice as they were in the Phoenix Wright titles.

One new feature exclusive to Apollo Justice is the "Perceive" function. Available only during trials at certain points, the player can focus in on the witness and detect tension. If the witness tenses up during a part of their testimony, the player can press them on that particular phrase and point out that they were subconsciously admitting to a lie. This tensing up can be represented in many ways, such as the witness fiddling with an object they have, sweating, or just a minor twitch. It's a lot like detecting a player's "tell" in poker, figuring out when they're bluffing about having a really good hand. In this game, though, the stakes are far higher than money. Justice hangs in the balance!

However, it seems that the cases aren't quite as difficult on the whole. While the first case is somewhat hard considering how early it is in the game, the overall difficulty is a little lower than past titles. For much of the last case, I could figure out what to present and where to do it on my first try, never earning a penalty. In fact, I think I had more trouble in the first case!

That's not to say that game's a cakewalk, though. There are still some pretty difficult sections. It's just not quite as difficult as some of the previous games.

One of the first things any Ace Attorney veteran will notice when playing Apollo Justice is how much cleaner the graphics are. Benefiting from the DS' increased horsepower, character sprites are much cleaner, and the additional frames in character animations are a huge improvement over the original series' more clunky animation.

Klavier's air guitar solo is a great example of Apollo Justice's improved character animations

In the third case, there's an amazing concert pre-rendered entirely in 3D. The quality of the animation is pretty good, and the video compression is hardly noticeable. Capcom really went the extra mile making this scene. The scene is available on Youtube if you want to see it, but I recommend just waiting until it happens in-game. Seeing it in context is so much more amazing than simply watching it online.

As expected, the music in Apollo Justice is catchy and well made. Several tunes from the Phoenix Wright trilogy have returned, some of which with a few little alterations. And of course, the trademark "OBJECTION!" yells are back, re-recorded with the new voice actors.

Of course, there's also a song played over the aforementioned concert. There are no words, but the melody is great. If the Gavineers were a real band, I'd likely be a fan.

When I first heard that Apollo Justice only had four chapters instead of five, I was a little disappointed. However, in the end, the incredible length of the chapters more than makes up for this. Chapter four was at least two chapters worth of gameplay. As for whether or not I'd play it again, I'd be working on my second play through right this minute if it weren't for the fact my sister's playing it now. As soon as she's done, though, I plan on jumping right back in. Sure, I may know which characters are lying and where to present evidence, but it would still be great to experience the story one more time.


Storyline: 9.0/10
The cases are just as creative as they were in the original trilogy, with more twists and turns than a pretzel factory. However, most of the new characters just aren't as likable as the cast of the first three games. I just hope that we get some more interesting people occupying the inevitable sequel.

Gameplay: 9.5/10
Investigating and defending are as fun as ever, although compared to the Phoenix Wright games, Apollo Justice is a little on the easy side. Dusting for prints and using plaster to gather footprints is a welcome change of pace, however it only really pops up in one case. Still one heck of a great game, though.

Graphics: 9.25/10
I absolutely love the art style in all the Ace Attorney games, and with that being said, I was incredibly pleased with how Apollo Justice turned out visually. The occasional 3D parts are all very good-looking as well, and that one concert scene is just stunning.

Audio: 9.0/10
The Ace Attorney games have always been a pleasure to listen to, and Apollo Justice is no exception. With amazingly well orchestrated background music and the trademark "OBJECTION!" flying out of my DS speakers, I can safely say that Apollo Justice is a real treat for the ears.

Longevity: 9.0/10
Despite having only four cases, Apollo Justice still lasts just about as long as any other Ace Attorney title. Even though, after your first play through, you'll know what evidence to present and where, it's still worth another go just for the great writing.

OVERALL: 9.0/10
Apollo Justice is yet another worthy entry in the Ace Attorney series. The incredible writing and plentiful twists really pulled me in, making me unable to put it down until I discovered the truth. If you want a good, thinking-man's game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is the right game for you.

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1 comment:

Mohammed said...

Cool! I'm probably going to get this game eventually...but I still havent really finished the third one yet so i'll get this after I finish T&T. Thanks for the review!