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Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 2008

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NDS Review - 'Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney'

by Nathan Grayson on March 11, 2008 @ 4:11 a.m. PDT

Players star as rookie defense attorney Apollo Justice as he visits crime scenes, questions key witnesses and collects vital evidence before stepping into the courtroom to prove his clients' innocence.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: February 19, 2008

Given some of Capcom's long-standing franchises — Breath of Fire, Devil May Cry, Mega Man, Onimusha and Resident Evil — one could say that Capcom likes its sequels. Sometimes, as with Resident Evil 4, Capcom graces us with a radical step forward that not only serves the series well but also advances the genre as a whole. Not every game can be RE4, but Devil May Cry 4 is dumb, action-packed fun that definitely hearkens back to the DMCs of yore, only with a new cast of characters and an emotionally fueled story. That's essentially what you're getting with Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Apollo and company take Phoenix's spotlight, just as Nero did Dante. Fortunately, just as Nero was a worthy successor to Dante's wild legacy, Apollo is a fine addition to the now-legendary Wright & Co. Law Office. Too bad it's not exactly what Apollo was expecting ….

Ok, I'm sorry. I just spoiled the first five minutes of Apollo Justice. While Phoenix Wright may have given up his coveted role as the main character, he's far from absent during the proceedings. After an opening court case that will have you sweating, thanks to the story revelations and unusually high difficulty level, Apollo becomes the official defense attorney of Wright & Co. Yep, Phoenix Wright is no longer a lawyer. Like any good detective story, Apollo dangles juicy info about why Phoenix abandoned his calling right in front of you, but snatches it away just before the moment of revelation. Luckily, you'll be far too wrapped up in the stories of ramen peddlers who wear their merchandise, socially responsible Yakuza families, and prosecutors who are literally rock stars (Who needs dramatic finger-pointing when you have an air guitar?) to be infuriated.

Although you wouldn't be able to tell based on the anime-style "injuries" characters receive during court cases, Apollo Justice is primarily conversation-based. In order to create a compelling experience, it needs a strong cast of characters, and in that respect, Apollo Justice stands, shouts "Objection!" and delivers. Of that cast, Apollo is easily the most interesting. Oddly enough, however, he's not zany, wacky or even strangely dressed. In fact, if you were to Photoshop away his hair-horns, he'd probably find himself unceremoniously ejected from his own game. But that's why he's great: Apollo is the proverbial straight-shooter. He's a normal, justice-driven guy in a madcap world, and even though his lawyering skills are a tad green, he still manages to sarcastically question every obviously stupid action that goes on in his world — that he doesn't perform himself. The interplay between Apollo and Trucy, Phoenix's 15-year-old daughter (!), is worthy of a many a laugh, especially when "magic panties" come into the picture.

But where does this leave the gameplay, you ask. Quite frankly, Apollo Justice may be up for a John Madden award this year, which is to say that innovation is hopefully on Capcom's list of "Things to Do" for the soon-to-be-announced sequel, because it sure isn't here. Gameplay is divided into two segments: investigations and court battles. Initially, the game tosses you right into the action with a court battle. This serves two purposes: First, it shows you the ropes in a more efficient manner than law school would, and second, it whets your appetite for future cases. Court battles are action movies to investigations' textbooks; they're intense and action-packed, while investigations are slow, long-winded and occasionally unintuitive.

The first case notwithstanding, investigations precede court battles. Since Apollo isn't exactly a lawyer of great renown, it makes sense that he'd have to do all of his own investigating, but that doesn't make it any less mundane. Sure, many of the characters you encounter spout all kinds of laugh-worthy dialogue, but after a while, you'll grow tired of going back and forth between locations with no idea of what to do. You'll rejoice when the text at the bottom of the screen turns green and provides you with a time stamp; it's the game's way of saying, "Good job, now go back to the scene of the crime and pray that something happens." Investigations become mired in obscure details, and it really hurts the game's pacing.

Nearly as egregious, investigation scenes carry logic as cartoonish as the rest of the game. Here, however, that sensibility fails to work in Apollo's favor. One scene in particular has you choosing between two tiny pieces of evidence because you can apparently only fit one in Trucy's pocket. Why can't you simply tuck the other away in Apollo's pocket, or put it in the car you presumably drive around the city, or drive all the way back to the Wright Agency, drop off one piece of evidence, go back, get the other, and drop it off as well? That question is never brought up, let alone answered. The closest thing you get is an extremely apt, yet mostly unrelated line from Apollo: "I'm a lawyer, so I live for pointless procedures."

Don't worry, though; investigations aren't game-breakingly boring, and court cases pick up all of the slack and then some. Cross-examining witnesses to find contradictions in their stories is great fun and mentally stimulating. At the same time, court cases present an illusion of intensity. Really, if you wanted to, you could begin a court case, put down your DS, and leave it turned on for days; nothing would happen. Once you begin a case, though, odds are that your DS isn't going to leave your hands. Each "smack," "thwap," and "Hold it!" lends to a palpable sense of urgency that must be played to be believed. Cases themselves force you to think and rethink constantly. Thankfully, Apollo has a power that Phoenix didn't: the ability to perceive "tells" (i.e., nervous twitches) in witnesses. You'll examine every aspect of the case — characters, evidence, etc. — until your brain goes numb, but when you catch a witness in a lie and drive home that fact until he's so flustered that he starts babbling incoherently, you realize that the brain strain was worth it.

Soundly defeating your "opponents" is a fine reward on its own, but Apollo's music is the clincher. The soundtrack is impressive in both composure and fidelity, with each track evoking the proper emotion at the proper time, so when you've dismantled a witness or watched "Not Guilty" stamp itself onto your screen, the music picks up with a triumphant fervor. Of course, the soundtrack is present all throughout the game as well, and it's always a few steps ahead of most other gaming soundtracks. Then again, it does have its own orchestrated CD. A slight knock, however: Many of the tunes are remixed versions of those from previous Ace Attorney games.

Similarly, an experienced Ace Attorney player could easily point out reused characters, art and animations upon observing Apollo's aesthetics. This isn't a glaring flaw, but it feels lazy. They could've at least jazzed up the menu system or something; before long, its basic commands (Move, Present, Talk, Examine) will be as ubiquitous as those on the Final Fantasy battle menu. To make up for that, Capcom saw fit to include a suite of stunning movies that open each chapter in the game. They're stylistically unlike the gameplay scenes, but provide a nice, artsy contrast to Apollo's normal anime trappings.

A sequel in every sense of the word, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is content to merely evolve its series' formula, so if you're a die-hard Ace Attorney fan, it's doubtful that you'll see anything new here. On the other hand, the game is a great entry point for novice attorneys, thanks to a new cast of vibrant characters. Either way, if you want to unravel some crimes and have a few laughs in the process, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is your best bet.

Score: 8.0/10


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