Innovation is necessary to keep any franchise alive, but at the expense of characters that fans have grown attached to, I wondered if it was worth it. Could Capcom really pull this off without alienating either longtime fans or curious newcomers? The task seemed daunting. Yet, if any series could pull a transition like this, it would be this one.
To acquaint those of you that are unfamiliar with the Ace Attorney series, you play as a defense attorney (in this case, Apollo Justice) who has to prove his clients innocent of murder. While that may sound strange -- and it is -- the concept translates into a rich adventure game experience.
Much of the game takes place in the courtroom, but you also have to do a good amount of exploring and talk to numerous people in order to piece your case together. When Apollo begins, newcomers will have the option to learn about pressing witnesses, finding contradictions in testimony, and presenting evidence from the court record, while those familiar with the series can skip the tutorial and jump straight into lawyering.
Apollo Justice has some additional features in its gameplay, too, which keeps things fresh for veterans of the series. For example, thanks to detective Ema Skye's obsession with forensic science, you'll be performing various experiments at crime scenes and on pieces of evidence, like in the last chapter of the original Phoenix Wright. These investigations can probably be best described as minigames, but they're not cheap gimmicks thrown in for the sake of the stylus. Rather, these scientific forays add an element of immersion to the gameplay. Furthermore, Capcom was smart enough to change things up, so that you're not performing the same experiment over and over throughout the game. There's a number of different things Ema will have you do as Apollo progresses, and each task makes sense with the case at hand.
Also making a return from its brief appearance in the first game is the ability to examine evidence. While the stylus controls can get wonky at times during examinations, being able to look over the items in the court record is a definite plus. I wondered why this wasn't a part the second and third games when playing them, and was glad to see the feature reinstated in this iteration.
In lieu of the Megatama (which let Phoenix Wright know when people were hiding things from him), this game includes a bracelet that alerts Apollo when people are lying. This action, called "perceiving," zooms in on witnesses and slows down their testimony so that you can catch their nervous tics. This can get frustrating if you can't find the spot of tension and have to play slow-motion testimony again and again, but generally the tics are easy to find. As long as you don't have too much trouble with it, "perceiving" is another fun add-on to the game.
Of course, even the great gameplay would be for naught if the cases and characters didn't have the same charm as we've seen in the previous Ace Attorney games. Fortunately, this isn't an issue for Apollo Justice. Not only do a few old favorites show up in this title (some are even vital to the storyline), but the new characters can hold their own, too. They're just as dynamic as the previous cast, and have their own unique quirks to enjoy.
As for the cases, those also don't disappoint. In my opinion, this game has the best compilation of cases in the series, simply because each and every one was enjoyable. None of them drag on too long (even though they are long) and none will force large doses of irritating secondary characters down your throat. It was somewhat disheartening to find that the game has only four cases (as opposed to the first and third Ace Attorney titles, which have five); however, the last case is truly epic (more so than ever before), and even features a case within a case.
Controls: The DS is perfect for adventure games like Apollo Justice, since the stylus is perfect for point-and-click exploration. If the stylus isn't your cup of tea, though, you can also use the D-pad and buttons in (except during scientific experiments and item examinations). You also have the option to yell beloved phrases like "Hold it!" into the mic when the time is right; however, there's no actual word recognition. You can yell "I drink your milkshake!" or anything else you can think of, which takes some of the fun out of this feature.
Visuals: Apollo Justice is, without a doubt, the best looking game in the Ace Attorney series. Although the visuals mostly consist of the bright (and usually wacky) art from the previous games, Apollo (unlike its predecessors) includes animated CGI sequences. Not only do they look great (for the DS, of course), but they help to immerse the player in the cases and drama.
Sound: The midi compositions in this iteration are excellent and always catchy. While there will be a few familiar tunes, most of the soundtrack is completely new. For example, Apollo's "objection" theme is different than Phoenix Wright's "objection" theme. You'll find yourself maxing the volume or putting on headphones when certain songs come on, because they're just that good. The voice acting is limited to short phrases like "Gotcha!," but is still an integral part of the game, and fortunately is performed well.
Story: Each case is its own story, but there's also one overarching storyline throughout the game. The plot is completely over-the-top, but in the Ace Attorney series, that's not a bad thing. The melodrama is not only engaging, but also charming because of the quirkiness of it all. Plus, you're sure to be thrown by a few twists and surprises. Apollo Justice also includes much of the silly humor that we've come to expect from this franchise, which balances out the seriousness of the plot.
Difficulty: For the most part, you can make it through the game "easily" while still feeling challenged. That's not to say that the game is easy, though, because you have to pay close attention and use critical thinking in order to find all the clues and win your cases. There might be parts that stump you, forcing you to guess, and there might be parts that you figure out light years before the characters. No matter what the difficulty, though, it's always rewarding to show the right piece of evidence and hear the word "Objection!" coming from your DS.
Final Score: 9.0/10 -- Apollo Justice has some big shoes to fill, but fortunately, that's not a problem for the game. Those who've played the Ace Attorney series before will find this installment to be familiar, yet refreshing at the same time, while newcomers will learn why these games are so appealing. Is it the best in the series to date? That, like Ouendan vs. EBA, really only comes down to a matter of preference. At the very least, though, Apollo Justice is a very welcome addition to Capcom's line of defense attorney titles. The only major fault I could find with the game is that it had to end.