March 18, 2010

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth Review

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
Nintendo DS

With 4 games under the Ace Attorney belt, it's hard not to get tired of the same mechanics and gimmicks that Capcom rehashes for every year a title gets released. However, the only thing that keeps fans coming back is pretty much story and new characters. I mean, even the twists that a case possesses has become familiar, so it's hard not to just sigh at the sight of yet another new entry in the series. Now, I'm a fan of the series, but after Apollo Justice, there was just... fatigue, really.

Fortunately, this new installment adds enough fresh mechanics but instills it with the familiar characters of the original "trilogy" to form a game that satisfies the fanboy within me and makes me want more. Couple that with the usual excellently-written dialogue and trademark interrogation gameplay mechanics and you get a very welcome, refreshing sequel.

Extremely accessible for newbies, Ace Attorney Investigations re-introduces prosecutor Miles Edgeworth as a man who only wishes to search for the truth at all costs. The story has him finding the right mantra for his aforementioned goal by subtly reflecting his inner struggle. And through it all, oh yeah, people get murdered. The familiar supporting cast: Detective Gumshoe, Franziska Von Karma, Manfred Von Karma... they're here, all right. That, and a few familiar faces that range from an old bag to a smelly troublemaker. While all the characters, even the new ones like Kay Faraday or Shi-Long Lang, get their due introductions, there are still a lot of in-jokes that will thrill the franchise's established fanbase. So yes, that may either be called a ladder, or a stepladder.

True, the story doesn't match up the caliber of the original, but what game in the series has? Despite that, Ace Attorney Investigations still has an intriguing story with 5 crime scenes to investigate and solve, each one increasing in length, difficulty and complexity as each case gets solved. All the events in the game happen in a span of 2 days in the game world, and while they are all tied together by a common thematic thread, you are rarely stuck in the courtroom.

One of the most refreshing changes of the game primarily comes from the new third-person perspective that is utilized for investigating, talking and moving around, naturally.

You are assigned a partner during your investigations, so yes, an on-screen character will follow you around. Now, it's usually not bothersome (and it gives the developers excuse to let the characters converse every time Edgeworth gives stiff descriptions for every piece of evidence found at the scene), but there are times when the character actually blocks a crucial piece of the room that needs to be examined, but that's easily remedied by, well, walking to the assistant's direction. Still, when your eyes feel strained but your mind feels intrigued, it's hard to just... never mind.

Another refreshing new mechanic to the investigation is Edgeworth's ability to use "Logic". Basically, there will be times when a piece of evidence spawns a sort of "thought". When you have multiple pieces of "thought", you can press the Logic button during the investigation to bind these "thoughts" in a way that is most... well, logical.

While it can be a bit frustrating when two pieces of logic don't really work for the game, but sound logical in the real world, these cases are pretty rare. Still, one will need to be cautious when the game considers your logic to be screwed up, because on the top screen there is a sort of "Life bar" akin to fighting games. When you screw up, you suffer humiliation from your peers (usually your partner, or Franziska) and your "Life bar" depletes. When depleted entirely, the case is out of your hands and in the words of Edgeworth, "the truth is lost forever".

The life bar is also present during your interrogations (or arguments), and these are scenarios wherein you, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, are tasked upon exposing the lies (or snafus) of witnesses or exploiting the holes in logic of colleagues. These play out almost exactly the same as the courtroom sequences in the original Ace Attorney games, but the novelty is that you're able to just interrogate or argue with people outside the courtroom, meaning that there's no judge to comment on everything. Still, it's not like arguing with these people with baseless conjecture is enough to convince them of your point (especially that... last dude, urgh...), you'll need to present evidence to support your "OBJECTION!". Still, if you feel like a testimony is a bit too airtight, you can always "Press" a witness' statement to squeeze out more information. Even the most trivial of matters is important to solving a case, so keep an eye on your evidence at all times.

Because when you do expose a contradiction, you just feel satisfied with yourself. I don't know why, but that part plays a huge role in the series' appeal. Still, a bit of that satisfaction is lost when you find out that you can actually save virtually anywhere, anytime (although there is no "auto-save"). Really, a life bar becomes a bit moot when you can just load the moment right before the presentation of evidence. But you can't fault the game, it's just built with portability in mind.

There are also other things you can do in a certain crime scene. When you find something of note, the screen will magnify to that part and you can take a closer look, ala the old Ace Attorney games, in a 2D plane. When the "Examine" button appears, that's how you'll know when a crucial part of evidence is present so you'll rarely get stuck searching every nook and cranny for anything of note, because the game offers you indication of what exactly is of note.

Using evidence, you'll sometimes have to "Deduce" something about the crime scene. That means that the crime scene seems different and contradicts the facts known about a certain piece of evidence (or testimony). This may prove that the scene was tampered with, or there was something conflicting about date or time of murder.

Again, the life bar plays a part in this, and when you get the contradiction wrong, the life bar depletes.

What you may or may not get stuck with is testimony, however, and that's because the game goes on in a linear pace, so you'll need to adapt to the game's line of logic and reasoning. You can't defend a piece of evidence that should be technically correct! When the game thinks your line of logic is wrong, it's wrong, period. Alas, this has been a trademark of the franchise, and cases of this happen quite rarely anyway, so in actuality, it's a bit of a minor nitpick.

Despite the themes of murder and corruption, the game still manages to keep a goofy sense of humor, and despite introducing new and quirky characters, each of them is given a reason for existence, and a bit of backstory to boot. An airhead of a woman may turn out to be more than just a lovestruck co-conspirator, or a girl you think you didn't know is actually the one who saved your life years ago. This is one of the best things about the series, and it's glad to see it retained in this refresh of the series.

Also retained? The heavy text-based nature of the game.

The game's trademark presentation- a combination of sound effects, sparsely animated facial expressions, scarce voiceovers and flashes of light- are all left intact, and it's still as effectively done as ever. Maybe it's the well-written dialogue that seals the whole deal, but whatever the case, reading all this exhaustive text is still quite an engaging "chore", and the background music for each character is exquisitely done.

Existing fans of the Phoenix Wright trilogy (as well as the Apollo Justice game) may need to adjust to Edgeworth's stiff demeanor, but the man's charming enough and brimming with personality to deserve your 10 hours of game time. There are a lot of in-jokes and visual cues to take note of for old fans, but they're not prominent enough to alienate new players. Overall, this installment is an enjoyable return to the world of twisted lawyering that is Ace Attorney, and I couldn't be happier.

Rating: 8/10

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