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Though its technical Japanese title is simply "Gyakuten Saiban 4," the American name of the game makes obvious this point: the "Phoenix Wright" trilogy is over, and a new defense lawyer is at the bench. His name? Apollo Justice.
The witness will give his testimony
The story opens with Apollo taking his first case. The client? Ex-lawyer, Phoenix Wright. Through the course of the trial, Apollo learns about the legendary man who, sadly, lost his badge seven years ago in a trial when he was accused of using forged evidence. But this is irrelevant at the time to Apollo, who seeks to clear Wright's name of murder. In the opening case, Wright is accused of murdering a "Shadi Smith," who was last seen playing a heated game of poker with Wright at a run-down restaurant. The case ends, in traditional "turnabout" fashion, with our new hero discovering more information than he could have guessed. Before long, he's working at the new "Wright Talent Agency" alongside Wright's daughter, 15-year-old Trucy Wright. And that's all I'm going to say; anything more will spoil it.
It's difficult to keep a series alive when the story of your central character is over. Thus, in Apollo Justice, the story of Phoenix Wright does continue: just not from his perspective. The game only has four cases (though each are substantially larger than some of the shorter cases in previous series titles). Of these four cases, three of them are intertwined to tell one grandiose tale of how the legal system has gone wrong, and what can be done to improve it. Capcom took on something big with this title, and the plot itself is phenomenal.
Dialogue, too, is on par with the series. A lot of the Japanese humor did translate well this time, and for those jokes that Americans wouldn't get, new lines were added, and these too work out just fine. From the panty-snatching college student to the fidgety news reporter, there's plenty of comic relief in the cast. But it's not all fun and games; there are a number of touching, emotional moments throughout the game. Of course, there's also tension to boot, what with all the mysteries to solve.
What ultimately hurts this game, unfortunately, is the cast. Apollo Justice, as a character, just didn't win me over like Phoenix Wright did. And though I'm happy with most of the new characters, and I was certainly thrilled to see a lot of return cast, it was difficult to go through the game without any sight of the Fey sisters. It can be said that the Phoenix Wright trilogy is also the trilogy of the Fey family, and the Kurain Channeling Technique. With Apollo Justice and Trucy Wright at the helm, it seems a new trilogy may emerge focusing on the power of perception. It works, but at this point, it's just not as strong a sell as the original trilogy.
Let's do some forensic tests, then
The biggest improvement from the last game to this game is in gameplay. Other than the additional case in the first Phoenix Wright title, the entire series up to this point was originally made for the Game Boy Advance, and ported to the DS for US release. As such, touch screen functions were minimal. Not so in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney! There are about a dozen new "mini-game" gimmicks that involve the use of the touch screen. Along with the "fingerprint" work from the additional scenario of Phoenix Wright, the player can now do moldings of footprints, multi-track audio analysis, poison detection, x-ray work, and a host of other new things. This is all thanks to the new detective, Ema Skye, who replaces Dick Gumshoe. Players may remember Ms. Skye from her role in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney additional scenario. These add a big element to the gameplay, and one that I have relished.
The other change is the replacement of the "Psyche Lock" system with something completely different. Working within the context of the story, the Magatama that Phoenix used is not a tool that Apollo can wield. Instead, it seems he owns a bracelet that squeezes his wrist when he detects tension in a witness. Apollo is able to "perceive" small nervous habits during testimony. Progression during trial can, at times, hinge on this ability, and each witness has a different nervous habit that can be picked up. Capcom made the difficulty increase through progression; the first few witnesses all fidget with their hands, but later on, witnesses do smaller and smaller things that are harder to catch with the zoomed-in, slowed-down camera effect. This was truly an excellent addition to the gameplay mechanics.
The touch screen functions well, for the most part. The one thing I found troublesome was examining the evidence. The camera work was shaky, and the touch screen seemed a little too sensitive as well. However, I'm just glad that now we can fully examine each piece of evidence with the touch screen.
A final change to the gameplay is that, during trial, one can only present evidence. In the court record, you can still find evidence alongside persons' profiles, but these profiles no longer serve as "evidence." This is helpful for those of us who get stuck and go into guess mode, since there are now fewer wrong answers from which to choose.
The witness distinctly heard two gunshots
The audio in Apollo Justice, in my opinion, trumps the three previous installments. The score is simply phenomenal. There are more songs, more variety in song styles, and even a performance piece used in-game. This is highlighted with the new prosecutor, Klavier Gavin, being the lead singer of a hit rock band, which allows the plot to have a strong emphasis in music. Indeed, the entire third trial revolves around a concert gone wrong, and the theme of music is very important in this game.
Sound effects are also more clear, and there are a lot more recorded voices of people yelling "Objection!" It's nice to hear different people object in court, I suppose. There's even a new phrase that our defense lawyer uses. Alongside "Take That," "Objection," and "Hold It," Apollo Justice can say "Gotcha!" after using his gift of perception. It's not much, but a fourth voice command is a good addition to the repertoire. And, as gamers will discover, Apollo's "Chords of Steel" are very important to him.
These paintings are beautiful
By far, the biggest improvement we see in Apollo Justice is in the visual department. First of all, there are FMV cut scenes scattered all throughout the game. Some are very helpful for explaining a case, while others exist simply to "wow" the player. Frankly, I loved these scenes. They really add a lot to any adventure title, and thankfully, Apollo Justice is full of them.
Then there are character animations. The best animations I'd seen from the previous trilogy were all the things Godot did with his mug of coffee in "Trials and Tribulations." But the new prosecutor, Klavier Gavin, is the king of air guitar while in the courtroom. He, alongside Trucy and a slew of witnesses, are more thoroughly animated than any character from any previous incarnation of the "Ace Attorney" series. Capcom definitely went to great strides to make this game look good. For this, I am grateful.
As with the theme of "music" in the third case, the final case in Apollo Justice puts a clear emphasis on the importance of art. Here, too, the developers did well in presenting beautiful art throughout the case. The characters are all vibrant and active, making this one of the best adventure titles to date for Nintendo's latest handheld.
If there are no further objections, I will now deliver the verdict
If only this technology had been fully incorporated into the intricate and moving tale that is the original Phoenix Wright trilogy, then those games would have been worthy of serious praise. As it stands, the weakpoint in Apollo Justice is its new cast of characters, who just are not as appealing as the old cast. Fortunately, a significant portion of that old cast still play a major role, and we can hope that the fifth game in the series will bring back even more classic characters that can make more than a mere cameo appearance.
All in all, if you've followed the series, there's no point in stopping now. Capcom has the formula down by this point, and they will only improve upon it as time passes. I anxiously look forward to the next release in this fun-filled series, and hope only for continued refinement in presentation and execution from future titles. Who knows? Maybe Apollo Justice will do a "turnabout" and prove to be even more phenomenal than his mentor!