Aside from a few non-revealing pictures, this review is SPOILER FREE
"Let me get this straight... It's a game where you play a lawyer and just do court stuff......."
This was my initial reaction to the Ace Attorney
series when it first released in the states shortly after the launch of the Nintendo DS. I was a jaded little gamer back then, and it's probably fair to say I am these days as well, but this was a time when my own cynicism almost caused me to miss out on one of the more interesting ideas and game series in recent years.
Alright, first up, let's just get this out of the way: This game isn't going to change anyone's mind. This is a series of games that is so successful because
of its ingrained traditions and formula. If you haven't enjoyed any
game in the series up to this point, don't even bother. The Ace Attorney
brand seems to know its intended audience now and doesn't do a whole lot to go beyond that. And hell, it's successful enough as it is, so why mess up a good thing?
This time around players take on the role of the series' long-suffering pretty boy of a Prosecutor, Miles Edgeworth. The change in perspective may seem like a drastic one, however it's not really as big a change as one would expect. There's very little courtroom drama this time, and the focus has now shifted to the investagative side of litigation. You'll spend about 90% of the game rooting around crime scenes, collecting clues, interviewing witnesses, and trying to build a case against many possible culprits, but their fates are mainly left to the unseen court proceedings that assumedly take place after you've finished up your "perfect investigations." Without spoiling too much, all I can say is that the story, in typical Ace Attorney
fashion, is quite awesome and loaded full of many surprises and layers that'll be sure to delight anyone familiar with the brand. It may not leave you guessing at every turn, but it's quite a fun ride the entire way through.
Other than its wacky courtroom antics and investigations (which I'll touch on in a bit), the series is also known for its excellent writing and extraordinary cast of characters. Ace Attorney Investigations
is no slouch in this department, either. While Apollo Justice
took a lot of chances with introducing an almost entirely new cast of characters, it fell on its face a lot, simply because it had to compete with the cast of the games before it. Those original characters proved to be far too strong and well-developed to overcome and poor Apollo
seemed almost too subtle by comparison. Ace Attorney Investigations
brings back all the familiar faces fans of the series know and love and that immediately gives the game clout. It doesn't have to struggle with introducing an entirely new cast while trying to make all the one-off characters that bring the whole story together interesting and likeable. I'm usually one who's all for change, but this is a series that probably has to stick with what it does best in order to remain appealing. (Ace Detective: Dick Gumshoe
, you know you want it!) Apollo Justice
still has potential, but that's something for another day.
In addition to the returning cast of characters, the series also gets a slight graphical makeover, with character bust shots being a bit more detailed than they've been before and a lot more over-the-top animations. In addition, there are also now in-game sprites used to walk around and investigate. They're not a huge deal, but they look good and are unusually expressive. The ability to actually control someone moving around a crime scene definitely feels a hell of a lot less tedious than the touch-screen peck-fests that previous games could turn into. The game also typically locks Edgeworth into one crime scene area at a time, which may seem limiting, but it avoids the problem other Ace Attorney
games have had where you can end up going back and forth between areas many times before finding what you're supposed to do next.
The series is also known for some awesome tuneage, and again, this game is no exception. You'll hear a lot of familiar tunes and various re-workings of said tunes, and every new track is just hands-down awesome. Made me wish the game had a sound test so I wouldn't have to hunt down expensive (or *ahem* hard to find *ahem*) soundtrack CDs.
Players familiar with the courtroom interplay of the previous games should have no trouble at all adjusting to the new spin on things. This is mostly due to the fact that mechanically, everything pretty much works as it did before, only with a minor tweak here or there and the change in venue and name. You're still collecting evidence by checking every nook and cranny in the backgrounds of crime scenes, talking to the right people to advance the investigation, and the "cross-examination" of the courtroom days has simply been changed to rebutting witnesses' statements, and yes, pointing out contradictions with evidence. The only "new" mechanic here is Edgeworth's ability to collect random thoughts from evidence and witnesses and use Logic to tie it all together in his head, which can easily be seen as a replacement for Psyche Locks from the previous games. I guess they didn't really need to change a whole lot, because these elements are still very fun if you're a fan of the series, but it still feels like a bit more could have been done. For all the hub-bub about being on the other side of cases, you'll still spend a majority of your time pressing statements for more info and presenting the same types of evidence.
Throughout the series' lifespan, each game has tried to add just a little something new to the formula to help keep things interesting. With the series' re-release on the DS (the first trilogy was first released on the GameBoy Advance), the developers began to experiment with DS functionality. The heart of this was introduced in the first game's re-release with its final case making extensive use of the touch screen to check various details of evidence, dust for prints, and use luminol solution to check for bloodstains. Apollo Justice
took these features even further, implementing them fairly heavily throughout the course of the game and even adding a few more. Ace Attorney Investigations
puzzlingly forgoes all of that investigative evolution other than the evidence analyzer and feels almost too bare-bones. There are several instances where you'll need to dust for fingerprints, look for bloodstains, and analyze footprints, but it's all simply done for you and added to the evidence pile. There is one new "feature" that lets Edgeworth take a virtual tour of a crime scene to spot differences before and after the crime, but this is still just your basic "walk around and look at things until you find the right thing that's wrong with it" deals. It's not really all that interesting. Taking the deeper investigation mechanics out of a game titled Ace Attorney Investigations
is simply bewildering to me, and the game could have been a hell of a lot more fun with those elements.
In the end, Ace Attorney Investigations
gave me that feeling I get at the end of every single one of these games. "I want more." These games don't necessarily have
to evolve all that much, because the stories, characters, and writing contained in them are almost always enough to carry them through, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by the omission of so many obvious mechanics that should have been no-brainers for the investigation formula. If you enjoy the Ace Attorney
games, you already have this game, so I don't even know why I'm writing about it.