More of the same or something completely different?
Spin-offs are a hit-or-miss affair. No matter in what medium, it’s been tried again and again to varying success. Sometimes it’s obvious the money cow had to be milked if it wanted or not and sometimes the new entry in an established storytelling universe was even better than its original.
Apollo Justice and Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth use the tropes of the Ace-Attorney-series, but reinvent franchise and show that it’s still possible for games to surprise the audience…if it wants to or not.
(Japan 2007, developer/publisher: Capcom, platform: Nintendo DS, original title: Gyakuten Saiban 4))
Rookie attorney Apollo Justice tries to fall into the footsteps of Phoenix Wright and gets involved in a case which made the former defense attorney lose his job.
Same old, same old
The game mechanics are mostly unchanged (investigation and courtroom parts), but unlike the original three games, the mumbo jumbo nonsense is kept to a minimum, so is the drama to a certain degree. Humour is again one of the main problems as it’s silly to the point it destroys the atmosphere and more serious investigation work.
But the final case makes one easily forget all its shortcomings when the player can jump between the past and present to find the connections between the witnesses and evidence. Even if some cases are a bit long and ridiculous, it’s an interesting approach to storytelling and gameplay.
Throw in some new investigative tools and skills
Improvements are made not only in storytelling (less complicated, a bit more realistic), but also in gameplay: more investigation tools and now even recreating the crime scenes in 3D (the cutscenes are also more elaborated, even if some are too long) make for a more varied experience.
A new feature which is the culmination of what the other games always hinted at but never really pulled through, is the Perceiving ability: In previous titles, one could usually press and show evidence to make progress in the story by looking at the witnesses’ facial expressions and therefore decide when these actions were most likely to be used. Now it is essential to look at some minor changes when people deliver their lines. This is done by scrolling up, down, left and right and pointing out the small details at a specific part of the statement.
Unfortunately it sometimes makes it extremely difficult to find these spots (in some instance sweat under the armpits which can easily be overlooked) and additionally press the witness for further info. There aren’t so many of these mini-games and most of them are manageable, but it would have been wiser for the developers to give more hints or a better overview (like on the top of the DS screen) as a helping hand.
Not a disappointing spin-off by any means
Even with so many tools at hand and locations to visit, witnesses to press and evidence to handle, the gameplay feels much tighter due to better logic and more accessibility (finally dispensing of the “show people as evidence” technique which made the former games unnecessarily more difficult). There are still some instances when guess work is required, but those are much fewer than in the other instalments.
Therefore this is the pinnacle of the Ace Attorney series and even with Phoenix Wright only as a consulting character (though he becomes a crucial part in the investigation), story and gameplay are better interwoven than ever before.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
(Japan 2009, developer/publisher: Capcom, platform: Nintendo DS, original title: Gyakuten Kenji)
Prosecutor attorney Miles Edgeworth finds himself in the net of a smuggling ring which brings death and political intrigue to the scene.
Overhauling graphics and game design
Unlike Apollo Justice and the other Phoenix-Wright-games, the first-person perspective is changed to a third-person classic adventure style. Gameplay is also different to a certain degree.
Prosecutor Edgeworth can be controlled directly with the direction-buttons (or a rather clunky touch-this-run-there method) and has to find evidence and interrogate witnesses. Although this was done in previous games, the focus usually is on investigating only one location. This results in a lack of freedom but also avoids mindless running around before-visited places.
The interrogation part (which is divided into argument and rebuttal) is very much like the courtroom trials (with a life bar which decreases after any errors), so pressing witnesses and presenting evidence is daily routine.
In the matrix
What is new and rather fun to play with is a tool which recreates the crime scenes in a virtual reality environment. Any new information one finds is added and the place changes. Additionally, Edgeworth has to deduce from certain clues what it all means. He either connects logical thoughts or points at places he thinks are contradictory to former witnesses’ statements.
OBJECTION!! HOLD…the humour and ridiculous storytelling
Even if the game mechanics are more refined and varied than in the original Phoenix Wright-series and Apollo Justice, the cases themselves and the story overall don’t hold the player’s interest for very long.
Something which was always detrimental to the storytelling becomes a major point of disappointment here: the sense of humor.
Not only is the last episode convoluted as hell and overcomplicating matters, the constant change of mood with circus-like comedy destroys most of the atmosphere. Add even more anime overacting, pathos and unnecessary slow-text-movement, and it becomes a bore to go through all the text at some points.
What remains is an interesting evolution of the franchise which unfortunately falls flat in the storytelling.