I had two questions when I started playing the Edgeworth game: how would the role reversal of playing as a prosecutor work, and how would the transition from viewing static screens to walking around environments work? And the answer to both was the same: less of a change than you’d think, but that’s okay.

Or at least mostly okay. In the earlier games, your responsibility as a defense attorney wasn’t to prove that there was reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant had committed the crime: you instead had to prove that some other specific person must have committed it. Given that, you’d think that acting as a prosecutor would be a piece of cake: you’d just have to build up a not-hopelessly threadbare case, and you’d be set. Which would, I suppose, lead to a morally and ludicly unsatisfying game, so the designers took a different path: the investigations didn’t take place in courtrooms, but instead took place in other settings where there was another prosecutor present, typically one with more power than Edgeworth, and who wanted to railroad somebody whom Edgeworth was on the side of. So it ended up with Edgeworth switching roles, acting more like a defense attorney.

Which, on one level, was a bit unsatisfying: if they’d found a way to pull it off, I would have preferred a bigger break. But I’m not exactly sure how they could have pulled off a real role reversal within the game’s legal system while leaving the protagonist sympathetic. And Edgeworth did do more ferreting out corruption than I remember Phoenix Wright doing, so from that point of view he did show prosecutorial virtues.

The mechanics looked a little more different, but ultimately ended up being functionally quite similar to those in the earlier games as well. Instead of switching back and forth between a half-dozen or so different areas in the city gathering evidence, you’d move around one or, occasionally, two rooms, looking at different items in the rooms, with key items (e.g. a murder victim’s body) expanding into a view that looked very similar to the views in the previous game. And, rather than having at most one NPC to talk to in each area, you had several NPCs to talk to, all in the same room. So the upshot is that you had about the same amount of stuff to look at, the same number of people to talk to, but there was less mindless clicking to go from place to place, and almost none of the hoping that you’d somehow triggered an action in location A by performing an unrelated action in location B.

Another key aspect of the design of games in the series is how it presents a search space for you to navigate in when finding the correct next action. The designers have continued to stay away from the very large single search space that largely characterized the second and third games, which helps reduce the frustration when you’re stuck and doing an exhaustive search; and they’ve continued their practice of introducing a separate search space in the form of a new mechanic, this time in the form of logical deductions based on separate pieces of evidence. Which, I thought, worked rather well: the new mechanic is a natural one (we’ve all been frustrated when playing the earlier games that we can’t just point out connections that are staring us in our face), and the search space for the new mechanic is always small enough that you never get stuck. So, yay for progressive refinement: I won’t say that this is hugely superior to the way the mechanics of earlier games played out, but it’s certainly no worse, and is a pleasant change of pace while leaving the series’s core game mechanics solidly in place.

And then there are the characters: as always, it’s nice to visit old friends. Edgeworth has certainly learned the lessons of the first characters; Gumshoe’s vulnerabilities show a bit more than before. Most interesting to me, actually, was the portrayal of Franziska von Karma: you see her as a tough but vulnerable young teenager, you see her as older and having learned a few lessons. (And, of course, you see her whip over and over again.)

The upshot is a game that fits rather more strongly within the existing contours of the Ace Attorney series than I expected. But I like those contours, and I like the different angles on those contours that tweaks to the series continue to provide. We’re five games into the series, and it’s still very much on my must-buy list; there aren’t too many other series that I can say that about.

Not a lot has been written about this game, but I did enjoy Harry Milonas’s musical take on it. And this Edgeworth/von Karma anime music video is rather charming…

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