Friday, February 29, 2008

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney review

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban 4), is the fourth in the Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney series of point and click adventure/graphic novel games. This is also the first game in the series to be developed from the ground-up for the Nintendo DS (previous games were released on the Game Boy Advance platform before being ported to the DS), and is also the first game without Phoenix Wright (Ryuichi Naruhodo) as the main protagonist (a reboot of sort). This review may contain some spoilers (but nothing major - I swear!).

This time around the story centres around a set of new heroes - rookie defence lawyer Apollo Justice, whose first case came to a rather sticky end despite winning the case, and Trucy a 15 year old magician in training. Rest assured, despite this you will be meeting some old friends such as Phoenix Wright himself. There is a total of four cases available, each growing in both length and ridiculousness as the story progresses - and as expected ties together rather nicely through the end. The first case also happens to be a tutorial case (though you can skip the tutorial bits if you wish), where you defend the legendary Phoenix Wright himself, though its importance is far greater than the first two games first cases. New gameplay mechanisms are introduced slowly throughout the four cases.

The new storyline requires some getting used to. For GS veterans who has played the previous three games, it may be hard to play a game that does not feature Maya Fey, Miles Edgeworth and the many other main characters whom we have grown up to enjoy our pixelated company with. At times it seemed that the charm of the previous games has been lost. Phoenix for example, is portrayed here as a little bit more cynical with the legal system, and whose character has undergone much personality change since the explosive final events of Gyakuten Saiban 3/Trials & Tribulation. In fact Pheonix's determination to keep his past seven years as vague as possible proves to be an appealing centrepiece in Apollo Justice as his secrets unravel near the end which provides a Fight Club level of twist. Case 4 is almost nearly as epic as GS3-5.

Visually the game has undergone significant changes. While the UI remains the same, Capcom has redrawn most of the sprites completely, no thanks to new set of characters as well as time period. Despite that the art style remained the same. Background environments however receive the bulk of the changes, with what looks like pre-rendered 3D environments. It is certainly cleaner, though I have to admit I do not really like the new "glossier" look. The game also features FMV sequences as well as polygonal renders for recreating crime scenes. And like the bonus chapter of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, most evidence under the court records can now be examined in more detail. The soundtrack has been updated with new themes for the new characters. Sound plays a very important part, at least in one case, so this isn't a deft friendly title.

Gameplay in Apollo Justice remains more or less unchanged. There are a couple of new gameplay mechanism designed to take advantage of the DS's hardware. Some of you may remember the bonus fifth case from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney remake. Well that served as a 'testing ground' for some of the new gameplay. For example we see the return of fingerprint dusting where one taps the screen to spread white powder around a fingerprint and then blowing at the DS microphone to reveal the fingerprint. One example of a new forensic technique is creating a footprint cast and trying to match it with the shoes of the witnesses and/or perpetrator.

It wouldn't be an Ace Attorney game if it didn't involve some supernatural gimmick. In Gyakuten Saiban 2, Psyche-Lock was introduced as means to suppress mental barriers created by unhelpful witnesses during the investigation part of the game. In Apollo Justice the protagonist, through his mysterious bracelet, has a talent of being able to concentrate on a witness and study their behaviour. This allows Apollo to expose their nervousness through their body language. The new gameplay is known as the Perceive System, which requires the usage of the touchscreen to zoom in on the witness while he or she is testifying. Speaking of touchscreen, I am glad that for the majority of the game is playable via the hardware buttons.

The localisation was handled by one Alexander O. Smith, a veteran in translating such fine Japanese games like Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story, as well as the first Ace Attorney game. Thankfully like the first three localisation, any Japanese cultural reference were redone to match the different humour enjoyed in the west. However I did find some of the puns to be very terribly predictable, and dare I say it, bland. Despite that the quality of the writing is equally on par with the first three games (yes! I loved the localisation of GS2 and GS3 despite the many spelling errors - the writing was remarkable) and the dialogues are humorous as before.

Apollo Justice is actually easier than the previous games, and I meant that as a compliment. In the past a small portion of the testimony contradictions and puzzles weren't as obvious and requires the use of time wasting process of elimination. Here the evidence in your disposal is significantly less than in past cases (for example case 5 of Phoenix Wright remake), and most contradictions are very obvious that presenting evidence is a doodle. Some may view this is as detrimental to the gameplay but in a genre like this the story matters much more than the gameplay - at least that is what I believe.

If you are an ardent fan of the series, I am sure you are already playing this, or at least planning to. If you haven't played any, there is no better time to start now that all four games already localised into English. Apollo Justice may be too formulaic, but the story is still refreshing enough to please both newcomers and series veterans. One final thing: while it isn't a requirement to play the first three games to enjoy Apollo Justice, some of the back story would be better explained if you actually played the first three games.


Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, GS1, GS2 and GS3 are all available on Play-Asia, and Amazon UK.

No comments: