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Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Nov. 21, 2017

About Phillip Moyer

I majored in journalism because I wanted to use it as an excuse to play video games, but I accidentally got a real job along the way. Now I write reviews in my free time for WorthPlaying.


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3DS Review - 'Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney'

by Phillip Moyer on May 11, 2018 @ 12:00 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.

Buy Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

The Ace Attorney series of games, which first made its way into the Western market in 2005, made a surprisingly large splash in the portable gaming world. The subject matter — playing as a defense attorney for a number of wrongfully accused defendants — seemed an odd fit for a game. But the high-octane, visually flashy style and colorful characters took off well enough to warrant five sequels, five spin-off titles, an anime, and even a live-action film.

In this age of re-masters, remakes, and re-releases, the games have shown up again on the 3DS. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, the fourth game in the series, is notable for being the only main series game to star a protagonist other than the blue-suited Phoenix Wright who made his way into the public consciousness over 12 years ago.

Apollo Justice adds yet another layer of enjoyment in the form of an overarching mystery involving Wright, the protagonist of the previous three games. Something has happened that ended Wright's law career seven years ago, and the game slowly reveals more and more information about what happened, and how other characters you've already met were involved. It strings you along nicely and goes in unexpected directions, though the story feels slightly nonsensical if you step back and look at it as a whole.

As a re-release, the game smooths out the low-res graphics found in the DS version, and it does so flawlessly. Likewise, the occasional 3D cut scene demonstrates a step up from the old graphics — but only in terms of resolution. None of it goes above and beyond to showcase any of the new system's capabilities, but it doesn't have to; the style works perfectly on its own.

Besides the change in graphical fidelity, the game is identical to its DS counterpart, with its cross-examinations, evidence-gathering, and interviewing remaining exactly the same as it was in Apollo Justice's 2007 release.

As always, the rules of the court are so lopsided in favor of the prosecution that it borders on madness. The fact that the only witness to a crime is probably a liar won't matter, nor would the fact that the defendant could not have possibly committed the crime. Achieving a "not guilty" verdict requires the player to find the real criminal. Meanwhile, the prosecution is free to feed the witnesses some clearly made-up-on-the-spot explanations that barely account for the inconsistencies, which is apparently enough evidence to sentence a man to death.

Luckily for the player, the real criminal always seems to show up in the courtroom and make enough dumb mistakes to result in their arrest.

This lopsided court system isn't really a point against the game itself, however. It serves to paint a clear picture of a poorly designed legal system that cares more about achieving guilty verdicts than it does about discovering the truth. Trials feel like an uphill battle against all odds, where you have to follow a winding trail of contradictions, intuition and logic to fight your way to victory.

Like all Ace Attorney games, the title's greatest strength is how closely intertwined the narrative is with the story. In order to succeed, you need to pay close attention to everything you see and hear. The result is you always place yourself directly into the mindset of the defense attorney. Each twist and turn the case takes feels like a twist that you're experiencing yourself, and the fact that the odds are unfairly stacked against you in the game's universe makes you feel like you really are fighting against an unfair legal system — even if the game mechanics are, themselves, perfectly fair.

Unfortunately, the mechanics aren't always as fair as they could be. The path to victory needs to be the exact one laid out by the game developers, which leads to occasion trial-and-error moments that can be a bit jarring.

For example, in one trial, a witness mentions the victim wearing a locket, and you have in your possession a photo of the dead man very clearly not wearing a locket. However, trying to point out this contradiction only results in failure. You can't comment on the contradiction until later, when you're given another photo of the victim also not wearing a locket, which you had no reason to believe existed until the prosecution pulled it out mid-trial.

The trial-and-error moments aren't frequent enough to consider them a major flaw with the game, and the courtroom sequences are the strongest part of the experience. Sadly, they don't make up the majority of the gameplay. Players will spend most of the time investigating the crime, looking for evidence, and interviewing witnesses. In Apollo Justice, the investigations are a slog and often grind the manic energy of the game to a screeching halt.

Investigations involve going to every location, looking at literally everything in every nook and cranny, asking everyone every available question, and occasionally presenting characters with items or evidence that will make them talk more. There are occasional interactive minigames as you do forensic work, but they make up such a small portion of the investigations that they're hardly worth mentioning.

That, in itself, would be tedious, but the real problem comes when you need to revisit every single location after every single event on the off chance that something you did triggered an event elsewhere. These events often have absolutely nothing to with the actions you took, resulting in a sensation of wandering around lost until you stumble across the event or item you need to find.

In strange contrast to the lack of direction in these investigative segments, the game sometimes repeats the same information over and over, to the point of absurdity. While it's important for adventure titles to make sure that vital information isn't missed, sometimes it feels like the game thinks you're an idiot. In one instance, it shows a flashback of something that happened literally one minute ago in the same noninteractive cut scene.

To top it all off, there's little indication of what needs to be accomplished to end the investigation and move back to the courtroom. Sometimes, it feels like you've discovered everything you need to prove your client's innocence and pin the crime on someone else, but the investigation keeps on going because you missed some key detail that will eventually be important — not that you'd have any way of knowing that while painstakingly scouring the same locations over and over again.

The reason this all feels so frustrating, however, is that it gets in the way of the good bits — and there are plenty of good bits to be found in Apollo Justice. Much of the fun in the Ace Attorney games comes from its over-the-top presentation, which rockets itself so far into the realm of absurdity that it borders on surreal.

Witnesses and suspects are almost always bizarre caricatures whose antics seem so far out of place in the courtroom that you can't help but enjoy the show, even while you're trying to pick apart their testimonies. It's a satisfying mechanic that is only made sweeter by the exaggerated reactions once you prove the witness has been lying to you with hopes of covering up their own wrongdoing.

Even with its flaws, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proves the series' longevity by remaining a riveting and entertaining romp through its oddball legal world.

Score: 7.2/10

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