The Ace Attorney series has garnered quite the following ever since the release of the first game on the DS outside of Japan. Of course, the games used to be more commonly referred to as Phoenix Wright, but that had to be changed when Apollo Justice came out. Apollo Justice deviated from the first trilogy with the introduction of a new main character and a major uphaul of his predecessor, which were met with some rather strong reactions on both sides of the coin. While the new cast had its own charm, and a couple of familiar faces made recurring appearances, I still found myself missing the old cast. At the same time, however, Trials and Tribulations wrapped things up pretty tidily, so attempting to pick up right where that left off would’ve complicated things.
When Ace Attorney Investigations was announced, my ears perked up right away. I liked the short window of time in Trials and Tribulations where you played as Edgeworth, so I was happy to see that he got his own game. However, the fact that you won’t see the inside of a courtroom much through the game, the lack of trials, and the shift into third perspective piqued my curiosity. An Ace Attorney game out of the courtroom? Why, that’s like taking a fish out of water, right? I mean, a lawyer and prosecutor’s place (especially ones with snazzy objections) is in the courtroom, is it not? Well, let’s see about that.
This time around, you step into the shoes of not a lawyer like Phoenix or Apollo, but rather a prosecutor, namely the titular Miles Edgeworth. For the uninitiated, he was Phoenix’s main prosecutor rival in the first game, though he did also help him out on occasion. This game takes place a month after Trials and Tribulations, but before Apollo Justice. It doesn’t spoil much of the previous games, but you’ll understand the references better and recognize more characters if you’ve played the previous games – or at least the first three games since nothing from Apollo Justice gets mentioned. In the tradition of the series, each case involves murder (and dead bodies), and it’s up to you to piece together what happened, figure out who the culprit is, and prove it. Like in the other games, there’s some logically questionable parts (more on that in a bit), but nothing that hampers enjoyment of the game (at least with the help of a dollop of suspension of disbelief), and it does manage to throw some curveballs. The cases are all connected to each other, though they’re presented in scrambled chronological order, and the timeframe in which most of them occur seems awfully narrow considering what you’re trying to go up against. Then again, the series never did pride itself on its realism.
Characters from the first three games make appearances, which should make longtime fans happy. Some of them play a direct role in the case at hand, others can be overlooked if you don’t wander around and talk to people. Of course, you also have your traditional perky female sidekick in Kay Faraday. It’s amusing watching Kay and Edgeworth interact, and she’s a pretty good foil for him, considering she goes around proclaiming how she’s a great thief and how much of a stickler he is for upholding the law. The game also retains its humor – I loved how Edgeworth would say something perfectly polite and gracious aloud, but then think something laden with sarcasm. It’s also highly entertaining watching Edgeworth get flustered when Wendy gushes over her “Edgey-poo”, as well as his and Gumshoe’s respective reactions to Franziska’s whipping sessions (Edgeworth mostly shrugging it off unless he’s the target, Gumshoe flailing and panicking). The new characters have their own quirks, though some of them could’ve used some more development to set them apart from previous characters.
I boggled at the fact that throughout the entire game Phoenix himself is never mentioned by name, let alone appears in any substantial capacity (sorry, Phoenix fans). I figure they could be trying to to avoid spoilers to encourage people to play the other games, but really now, he’s the protagonist of the first three games and broke multiple prosecutors’ winning streaks. Granted, he does get a small cameo in the third case, but you still don’t ever interact directly with him. But then this is Edgeworth’s game, so I suppose Phoenix’s lack of any real role in the game (other than a source of inspiration) does make sense in way.
Most of the action occurs on the top screen, while the bottom screen is used for the menu, putting together facts in Logic mode, and examining evidence and scenes. The character portraits look sharper and cleaner, and they’re at a three-fourths angle rather than the head-on angle in the previous games. The backgrounds and pieces of evidence also look fairly good. The walking sprites are expressive and well animated. The game switches back and forth between using the sprites and the portraits, though when the game starts using portraits, that’s an indication a major conversation is imminent. During arguments/rebuttals the portraits are used, much like they were used in testimonies in previous Ace Attorney games. The story scenes are purely stills, but they do look fairly nice and convey the events. Of course, while they’re a bit more polished from previous games, they don’t push the DS’s graphical capabilities, but they still manage to look nice.
The music in this game sounds more piano heavy than the previous versions, which were more midi based. It suits Edgeworth’s character, and it’s easy on the ears. However, I have rather mixed feelings about the new confrontation theme. At first it sounded odd to my ears because it didn’t quite jibe with the variations of the theme in the previous four games. After a while, though, the new theme sort of grew on me. By the end of the game, it started to lose some of its luster because it plays so much through the course of the game. Though the new pursuit theme does get the adrenaline pumping a bit, as well as acting as a dead giveaway that you’re close to solving the case. The character themes, namely this version of Edgeworth’s theme and Shi-Long Lang’s theme, were fitting as well. The sound effects serve their purpose and include the familiar audience murmuring and the pound of a gavel. The voice clips do fit the characters overall, and hearing them in succession during an intense tete-a-tete adds to the excitement, though one character sounds as though she has her nose pinched and speaking in monotone, which contradicts with her laughing every time you talk to her. Thankfully, you don’t have to hear her that much.
Unlike the previous games, the perspective is now in third person, and you control Edgeworth’s movements directly. Still, given that this is mostly a point-and-click, the controls are pretty straightforward, and you can use either the stylus or buttons. I personally ended up using some of both, the buttons for things like walking around and the stylus for things that have no corresponding button or are more easily done with the stylus, like checking evidence more closely or pinpointing a spot to deduce. You can hold down a button to use the mic if you prefer to put it to work – or want to channel your Chords of Steel like Apollo, either/or.
There’s more of an emphasis on investigations due to the lack of trials in this game. As you question people and investigate, important details will be stored away as pieces of Logic somewhere in the expanse of Edgeworth’s noggin. By themselves, they have limited usefulness, which is where Logic mode comes in. Connecting the right facts together leads to new information that brings you closer to solving the case, which can result in anything from another topic to ask someone about to moving to another location to investigate further. At times you’ll also have to deduce, meaning point out a contradiction on the scene with the evidence currently in your possession.
Of course, even outside of a courtroom, you still get the frenzied repartees, namely picking apart people’s testimonies (arguments in this game) and driving trucks (and evidence) through the gaps. You’re first presented with their whole argument, then you get the chance to go through it part by part. You can press each statement, which can yield new information and at times an amendment to that statement, or present evidence to debunk that part of their argument. However, any missteps in deducing, logic, or arguments will decrease your truth meter, and if it runs out completely it’s a game over. Fortunately, you can save at any point, which helps a lot.
As compelling as the first playthrough is, this game has the same Achilles’s heel as others in the series and of its ilk: it’s stringently linear (despite the illusion of choice you’re given near the end of the game), so once you’ve gone through this, you’ve seen everything there is. There’s not even any sort of extra ending to see, though considering how short and tacked on any extra endings in previous games have been, that might not be a bad thing. You can fast forward through all the text if you play through the game again after beating it, which is handy if you’re trying to get to a certain part more quickly. Sure, you could play through it again if you really enjoyed the story, but you’ll already know what to do in terms of the investigations and arguments, which saps most, if not all, of the suspense.
The fact that you’re confined to one area during investigations does make things a bit easier in the sense you’re not running from place to place. However, it is still possible to miss something, leading to running around talking to people and investigating the same areas. Checking for any areas to deduce or whether there were any information left to link in Logic Mode usually took care of that, though. Most of the time, it was sort of intuitive as to what to do, but there were times when Edgeworth practically said the answer outright without actually saying it, which sort of stole a bit of thunder, as figuring out yourself is more satisfying than having the solution handed to you on a silver platter. The meter takes less of a hit when you make a mistake than in previous games. However, it only gets refilled about two or three times a case, so letting run too low is still not a good idea. I never came close to a game over once. Thanks to the ability to save at any time, you can easily just save beforehand, then reload and try again if you get something wrong.
It’s admirable they tried something new, and it worked surprisingly well. Being able to walk around and talk to people and investigate different parts of an area rather than selecting everything from menus was a nice change of pace. I almost expected to have to prove someone guilty in court at some point since the previous games have you proving someone not guilty, and you’re playing as the other side this time. However, you can easily draw comparisons between some of the characters in this game and ones of previous games. With as many characters as there are in the Ace Attorney series, I suppose that might be somewhat inevitable, and for the most part they still work well enough. That being said, the antagonist in the last case and the one in Rise From the Ashes, though I felt the former seemed kind of like a pale imitation of the latter.
The story can get rather tense at times, and I often found myself glued to my DS wanting to see what happens next, feeling triumphant whenever I disproved someone’s argument, but also wondering if they’re going to pull out something else. I have to say, they do know how to spin a good mystery, even with the occasionally dubious logic (the sword part and heavy reliance on handedness in case three comes to mind, though there’s nothing quite as bad as the gun bit in Apollo Justice here) and me being able to predict a couple of major twists before they happened. Though one thing bugged me about the final evidence in the last case: I find it hard to believe that blood dripping from a wound will fall neatly on only one spot, especially considering the person apparently didn’t notice that blood was dripping from his wound. Also, there’s a line between invoking tension and just dragging things out to the point they become tiresome, and as much as it pains me to say it, this game came close to crossing that line. I do normally like long cases, and I initially thought “Whoa, this’ll be tough” when I saw who the final boss would be, but this one just had too many fakeouts like “This is your last chance”, “No, THIS is your last chance!”, and “No wait, THIS is, we swear!” at the end that finally nailing the criminal didn’t feel quite as triumphant as it should have. I still enjoyed the game overall, and I’m never opposed to anything involving Edgeworth, but I did feel that the game didn’t end on quite as big a bang as previous games.
While the Ace Attorney games have picked up traction outside of Japan, the visual novel type of games don’t exactly have widespread appeal. The fact that you have a slightly higher degree of interaction this time around does help in that regard, but the game is still about 90% text. However, the fact that this is the fifth game in the series when it was supposed to end after Trials and Tribulations does speak for its popularity. Some might not like the changes or might be initially a bit thrown by them, but others will relish the chance to play as someone other than a defense lawyer, particularly someone like Edgeworth.
For those of you worried that the shift in perspective changes things, rest assured that many of the elements that make the Ace Attorney games so compelling to play through are still here, even if in a somewhat different form. You still get your fancy finger pointing objections, you still get to play detective, and a lot of familiar faces show up. I also liked the bit of forensics from Ema’s appearance, but knowing how her career aspirations turn out in Apollo Justice, I couldn’t help but feel bad for her. While I’m lukewarm towards Oldbag as a character in and of herself, I did like the fact that she appeared just because of Edgeworth’s reactions to her. I do wish there was an option to save without having to return to the title screen, but that’s not a huge issue, and it doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the game.
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Ace Attorney Investigations manages to pull off some changes while retaining elements that make the series so enjoyable. The cases were linked together well, and none of them felt like filler like some of the cases in previous games did. Edgeworth proved to be a compelling protagonist, and reading his inner thoughts was even if he was a bit heavy handed in the hinting at times. There are a few logically questionable bits if you look closely enough, and the last case started to drag in the final parts. Overall, however, this is a strong entry in the series.