It took me a while to get around to playing Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. I’d enjoyed the earlier games in the series, but I’ve played through enough video game series (and, for that matter, read enough book series) to know how these things go: the initial spark that makes the first game special gets more and more hidden in the later iterations, they add new mechanisms for the sake of novelty rather than because they actually improve the game play (indeed, the new mechanisms are at least as likely to hurt the gameplay as to help it), and, after enough iterations of the series, I’ll feel sad at best, indifferent at worst.

I’m in the habit of playing DS games on vacations; while I did buy Apollo Justice when getting ready to go on our first vacation after it was published, I let Liesl monopolize it, spending my time on The World Ends With You instead. Liesl reported enjoying it, though, so I figured there was still something there, and I gave it a try when we went on a trip recently.

And, sure enough, it’s fun. As the title reveals, you play a new main character, but that doesn’t mean that Phoenix has gone away: in fact, he’s your client in the very first trial, and he’s a presence in later trials as well. Capcom did treat his presence in an intelligent fashion, though: while Phoenix returns, the game in general doesn’t refer to the story arc from the first three games; many series would instead rehash the same events, crushing them under the weight of still more dramatic revelations.

As expected, there are pointless tweaks to the mechanics of the system, but they’re not too bad. It’s the first game in the series to be developed for the DS (the original trilogy first appeared on the GBA in Japan), so they felt compelled to occasionally show you that they’re capable of doing 3D tricks, and they replaced the pointless psyche-lock mechanic from the second and third games with a pointless perception system. All in all, though, Capcom was pretty restrained on that score: the 3D effects are quite rare, and the perception system didn’t bother me until the last trial. (It got really bad then, though, with a couple of places where you had to do huge amounts of tedious searching to find the right place to use it.) In fact, they slimmed down the mechanics in one way: they went back to the old system of only being able to present evidence, as opposed to being able to present both evidence and people, which meant that your search space was cut in half in the inevitable occasions in trials when you get completely stuck.

So: all in all, pretty well done, and they avoided stepping in some potholes that some companies might have fallen into; I’m certainly glad to have played the game and will happily play the next game in the series as well. Or at least that was my opinion until I got to the last trial. There, they added another new mechanism, and a quite different one: you spent time going back and forth between different time periods to reveal Phoenix’s backstory and to understand what lay behind the trial that you were currently fighting. To my surprise, this worked quite well, leading to a very satisfying resolution to the game.

Which put me in a good mood, a mood which thinking about the game further after finishing it only increased. Apollo differs from its predecessors in other subtle ways as well: the NPCs were less over-the-top than in the previous games, and while I enjoyed that aspect of the previous games, I think the developers made the right choice in turning down that knob this time. The game’s prosecutor also has an interestingly different nature than in the prior games, occasionally even helping nudge you to uncover the truth rather than leaping at any flaw in your argument to find your client guilty. (Don’t get me wrong, I thought Edgeworth was a great character! And I’m quite curious to see what his game is going to be like, which sounds like it will be a much more significant reset in the gameplay of the seres.)

All in all, Apollo Justice is a bit quieter than its predecessors, perhaps in its own way even a bit more lyrical; it’s very, well done, it’s certainly not at all what I feared that it might be, and it may even be my favorite game in the series.

I didn’t find much in the way of other blog reactions to Apollo Justice, though I’m pleased that Schlaghund also enjoyed it

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