Game: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Genre: Courtroom Simulation
Platform: Nintendo DS
The Phoenix Wright series, love it or hate it, was a big hit both in the United States and in Japan. I know that not everyone could get on board with the bizarre Japanese lawyer series, but the games were generally well-received and got good reviews. After the Phoenix Wright trilogy ended (only last year in the States, though it’s been done for quite some time in Japan), Capcom decided to start anew with a brand new rookie lawyer, a spiky-haired kid named Apollo Justice.
When I originally heard that the next Ace Attorney game would star the new kid on the block and not my beloved Phoenix Wright, I was actually pretty disappointed. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to enjoy playing with a new lawyer. I grew really attached to Phoenix and company over the course of the three games. Still, I couldn’t let the opportunity for more crazy courtroom action pass me by, so I gave Apollo Justice a go. What I came to find out was that not only did Apollo Justice exceed all of my expectations, but actually was a superior game overall to the Phoenix Wright trilogy.
Apollo Justice was actually the first game in the series that was created specifically for the Nintendo DS, and it consistently feels like a much better fit for the system. Don’t get me wrong; it’s no secret that I adored the Phoenix Wright series. However, all three of those games were ported from older Japanese Game Boy Advance games, and the implementation of the DS’s unique features was minimal.
Graphically, Apollo Justice is only minimally better than its predecessor, but a change is still apparent. Environments and characters are just slightly more detailed and look a little better this time around. The basic interface remains the same, with several cases requiring investigations and courtroom trials, and the gathering of evidence and information is critical to making sure your (always innocent) client is not declared guilty of a serious crime (always murder).
However, some new touch-screen-specific minigames have found their way into Apollo Justice, and the game is much better for it. Though they’re usually simple, they are still entertaining and are also crucial for finding information that will make or break your case. The best part about these games, which range from determining fingerprints to finding traces of a deadly poison, is that they’re different for every case, so they never get stale. Another new element is Apollo’s ability to perceive if witnesses are lying by focusing on their body movements. Kind of like knowing when someone is bluffing in a game of poker, Apollo has an uncanny ability to figure out when people are not telling the truth.
There are only four cases in this game, compared to the previous game’s five, but that doesn’t mean the game is any shorter. Actually, the final case also involves a case within a case and an extra investigation unlike any we’ve ever seen before in a Phoenix Wright game. Therefore, the game is jam-packed with gameplay and has more than enough content to make you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
However, none of these gameplay elements would mean anything if the story for Apollo Justice didn’t live up to its legacy. The Phoenix Wright games were always heavily story-based, and even though the characters were kind of outlandish, most of them were also loveable. The series has a rich history and a complex backstory, and Apollo Justice didn’t ignore any of this.
The story that unfolds over four cases in this game is wonderful. Almost all of the characters are brand new, although Phoenix does return as a supporting player. As always, the first few cases raise some serious questions that the fourth case manages to wrap up like magic. Everything ties together perfectly in this well-written game, and the dialogue is as humorous as ever, with even more silly references to American pop culture (such as a rock star prosecutor who sometimes talks in song lyrics).
My only major criticism for this game is the same for every other in the series: the complete lack of replay value. This is the kind of game that you probably won’t play for awhile after beating it the first time, if ever. Each playthrough will pretty much be exactly the same. In the future, I would like to see more, like alternate endings, bonus characters, or some kind of new game plus content. However, what’s there is good, and this handheld game offers a single-player mode that’s three or four times as long as some next-gen game campaigns.
My other complaint, which is minor, is that there are a few characters that seemed blatantly absent from the world of Apollo Justice. I won’t name names so as to not ruin any part of the game for anyone, but I wanted to know a little more about what happened in the seven years that preceded Apollo Justice. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was a deliberate move, and the answers are going to be given to me in a future installment.
To put it simply, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney takes everything that works about the Phoenix Wright series and then adds more. Longtime fans of the lawyer series will not be disappointed with the newest installment, but there’s so much fresh content that newcomers can jump right in and not feel overwhelmed by the game’s history. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the new guy, but now I am eagerly awaiting his next day in court.