Friday, January 21, 2011

Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice

With the Phoenix Wright era of Ace Attorney games having supposedly ended, it’s come time for everyone’s favorite spiky-haired lawyer to pass on the mantle. And to whom has this honor been passed? A confident young man named Apollo; Apollo Justice, that is (are those puns I spy coming over yonder hill?). And though Mr. Wright and his band of buddies had really grown on my by the time I finished Trials and Tribulations, Apollo’s not such a bad guy.

But hold it! Why don’t we get to play as Phoenix anymore..? The answer is tragic, but simple, friend. He’s not a lawyer anymore. The trial that ended his career occurred seven years prior to this game, and just as you’d expect from anything Phoenix is involved in, it was quite sensational. Legendary, if you will. Phoenix used a piece of evidence in court that turned out to be forged. Fake. Phony. This mistake cost him his badge and his career. Fast forward, seven years later, and Mr. Wright is now a piano player at a pub--except he sucks as playing the piano. Really, Phoenix’s paychecks come from his ability to attract and entertain guests, who come to challenge him to a friendly game of poker. In these past seven years, he hasn’t lost a single game. But once more Phoenix finds himself in the defendant’s chair when his latest game ends in murder. Enter Apollo, who’s new to the lawyer game--much like Phoenix was in the first game--, mentored by Kristoph Gavin, a cool-headed defense lawyer who rose to prominence in Phoenix’s absence. Without spoiling too thing leads to another, and Apollo ends up under Phoenix’s tutelage. Oh, and I should also mention that Phoenix also now has a daughter, Trucy Wright.

But of course, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Who is Trucy really? Why (or perhaps how) did Phoenix present forged evidence? What does Phoenix want with Apollo? Where is Maya!? These are the questions that ran through my mind as I worked my way through Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.

In general, this game plays just like all other previous Ace Attorney games. Gameplay is split up between two types: investigation and the court trial. During the investigation segment you’ll try to learn more about the situation and build your defense case by gathering evidence and talking to various characters. Remember Ema Skye? Phoenix’s stand-in assistant throughout the final case of the first game? Yeah, she’s back, all grown up. And you know what that means? Forensic Investigation is back! You can closely examine each piece of evidence you come across in 3D, which, just like in the first game, is a common way to uncover more case details. Detective Skye--not particular concerned about such things as prosecutor loyalty--is far more willing to help than Gumshoe often was, if only because it gives her a chance to further indulge in the wonders of science.

Once you’ve done all you can during the investigation segment, you’ll go to court with your findings. Here, it’s you versus the prosecutor; initially Payne, with a swingin’ new hairdo, and later Klavier Gavin, Kristoph’s younger rockstar brother. In addition to presenting the odd piece of incriminating evidence, the prosecutor will attempt to get your client declared guilty by calling key witnesses to the stand. Usually these witnesses’ accounts are flawed in some way though, and it’s your job to bring blast their testimony apart, piece by piece, through cross-examination. This is done by questioning them, and, when you notice a statement that contradicts evidence, presenting the evidence in question to keep them on their toes and hopefully make them slip up. As you progress through the trial, more details of the case’s true nature will dawn on Apollo, and he’ll begin to make accusations and conjecture, which you must back up with evidence and correct logic. Inexplicably, you can’t present profiles, like you could in Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations, but that’s not a complaint, just an observation.

The biggest gameplay addition other than the return of forensic investigation is Apollo’s ability to “perceive” subtle movements in the witnesses. Many witnesses have telling nervous habits, such as fidgeting or neck scratching, that Apollo’s bracelet can pick up on, alerting him to the possibility of there being more to the testimony than meets the eye. When it’s active, you can touch the bracelet to focus, carefully examining each sentence in a statement, watching carefully for odd movements.

As usual, the cases are a little far-fetched and hard to keep up with at times, but the well-done and highly entertaining (read: humorous) writing--by now a staple of the series--coupled with the fantastically colorful cast of characters makes this a petty complaint. Trucy in particular is probably my favorite sidekick character since Wright’s stint with Ema Skye so long ago. Everything about her, from her visual design to her silly magic tricks such as the Amazing Mr. Hat, and Magic Panties (which make for a hilarious sub-plot) is endlessly amusing.

It’s taken me four games to notice, but the art design has slowly, subtly improved over the course of the series. Compare designs and artwork in Apollo Justice to that of the first Phoenix Wright game, and what you find may be surprising. Colors are more vibrant, shapes are much better defined, and the flamboyance of the character designs has been toned down just a tad, for a mildly more believable experience. The game also has more, somewhat more complex pre-rendered videos. Finally, I’ll admit to being more a fan of Apollo’s visual design than Phoenix’s. It’s pretty classy.

I’m about, oh, 40-50% through the game now, and so far I don’t feel like the game’s music is especially better or worse than any other games in the series. Along with a number of others, the “Cornered” theme (you know, the one that plays when you’re kicking butt in court?) has been remixed for Apollo with a jazzy flair, and I dig it a lot.

I miss playing as Wright..I really do. But other than the upcoming Phoenix Wright vs. Professor Layton, it seems his saga is over, at least for now. So I’m happy to know that the young man taking his place as the “Ace Attorney” seems to be capable of filling his mentor’s shoes just fine. An 8.5/10.

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