In the last three Ace Attorney games, we've followed Phoenix Wright through just about every crazy twist of events imaginable. We've been with him through the loss of a close friend, seen him accused of murder at the age of 21, and pulled for him while he fought for his life after nearly being burned alive. But Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney starts with a shock that trumps all of that: Phoenix has been disgracefully stripped of his attorney's badge and has been working as a professional poker player for the last seven years. And did we mention he suddenly has a 16 year-old daughter? There's no way this is the same noble, never-give-up defense attorney we know, and loyal fans of the Ace Attorney series will undoubtedly feel betrayed at the start of this fourth installment.
So what is going on here? Seeing our beloved spiky-haired champion of truth getting run through the mud is hard to swallow at first, but try not to get too outraged - like in previous Ace Attorney games, not all is what it seems at first. Trials that seem completely unrelated are actually more intertwined than you could have ever imagined, and as always, the truth eventually chokes its way out via many shifty witnesses and persistent investigation.
Because Phoenix's character is a large part of what made the previous games great, the bar is set impossibly high for Apollo Justice from the get-go. Maybe we're biased, and maybe it's the seemingly disgraceful way the torch is passed, but Apollo just doesn't have the same charm or character depth as his predecessor. His adversary, rockstar prosecutor Klavier Gavin, consistently outshines him in both likeability and character depth.
But what Apollo lacks in substance he makes up for in secret powers - namely a fun addition to your truth-seeking repertoire called the "perceive" ability. Like a poker player finding an opponent's "tell," Apollo can focus on minute changes in behavior by zooming in and using the stylus to point out subconscious tells like facial ticks and perspiration that correspond with certain key points of testimony, and then call the witness out on his lie. It's a welcome change of pace from Phoenix's secret-detecting magatama charm, which, although fun, didn't add as much to the gameplay in previous games as Apollo's power does here.
Aside from Apollo himself being a downgrade, the rest of the gameplay is still exceptional. Although the updated DS features are somewhat underwhelming, including using the stylus and microphone for fingerprinting, using luminol spray, and casting footprints, (a lot of the same stuff we saw in Chapter 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney), there's something to be said for not messing with a good thing. The core gameplay is identical to previous installments, and the upgraded features are used like a garnish to an already delicious dish. That said, people who are looking for something new that utilizes DS's capabilities will be disappointed.
At heart, the Ace Attorney series has always been about telling a good story, so in a way it's hard to weigh its merits without giving away some major spoilers. You'll have to trust us on this one - it's worth sticking it out to the final chapter. In the end, Apollo Justice delivers the same winning formula we've come to expect, throws in some refreshing new twists, and leaves us satisfied yet still eager to see where the story will go. If Apollo is to continue in the starring role, let's hope he shows some depth in the next installment so we're not still pining for Phoenix to rise again.
Feb 19, 2008