• Apollo Justice Review - Nintendo DS

    Every end has a beginning; every beginning has an end; everything comes full-circle eventually. Such is the nature of life; such is the nature of the Ace Attorney series and the fates of the characters within it. For the fourth instalment, Capcom have dispensed with Phoenix Wright as the main protagonist. In his place stands Apollo Justice, a rookie defence lawyer looking to prove himself. The main question being asked was whether, in time, fans would take to him as they did to Phoenix .
    The jury is still out on that issue, to be frank. Apollo Justice, as a game, manages to go backwards, forwards and stand still all at the same time. In keeping with past iterations, all cases are split into two contrasting sections: investigation of the crime and battling it out in the courtroom. The former sees Apollo examine various locations relevant to the crime, conversing with witnesses and associated people, and finding evidence or clues that will help support the case.
    Meanwhile, the latter sees him square off against the appointed prosecutor to prove his client's innocence. Set somewhat in the future, the court of law works differently to how it does in real life with the judge making the final decision (no jury present) and the client assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. This is explained by the fact that the court system needed speeding up and to avoid getting bogged down by lengthy cases.
    It is other machinations within this design that have both progressed and regressed from the previous instalments. Apollo Justice does bear similarities to the first instalment in Phoenix Wright's trilogy. For example, the game starts a lot slower and also restricts the player to only presenting evidence as proof of a contradiction and not relevant participants' profiles (unless asked). Kicking off a new games series, this is understandable, but can feel restrictive to those who have played every game so far. In addition, now that the magatama is unavailable, there are no psyche locks during the investigation, which makes those sections feel a little less intimidating and challenging.
    Capcom has tried to balance these deficiencies by adding two new features: scientific discovery and 'perceiving'. The former echoes and expands on the concept first introduced in the re-release of the first game, where the player had to blow, rub and roll to find evidence during the case. Needless to say, Ema Skye has been brought back for such purposes; having failed her forensic exams she's now a plain old detective, and as such is your usual contact at the crime scene. Irritable, depressed and comfort-eating on Snackoos, over time Ema warms to Apollo and becomes an ally, of sorts. While they last, the scientific investigation sections are fun, enjoyable and a welcome extra to proceedings.
    Ema's personality has changed somewhat since her earlier outings, and so, as it happens, has Phoenix's. Disbarred because of falsified evidence, he is now strangely more self-assured and confident; smug, even. For those who loved Phoenix's determination and occasional naivety in the previous game, this may come as an unwelcome change to his demeanour. For others, it may be seen as a natural maturation - growing up and finally seeing just how unjust the world can be, Phoenix's character has hardened. Being disbarred wasn't his fault. But can that ghost be laid to rest?

    Phoenix is also adoptive father to Trucy, who for all intents and purposes is the "Maya" of this game. Bright, optimistic and slightly immature in parallel, she is also strangely knowledgeable and talented beyond her years. Trusting, but not too trusting, she is a likeable alternative, although she appears a little more familiar with Apollo in the beginning than you'd expect her to be. She also has the ability to "perceive", to spot flaws and weaknesses in people, which has helped her magic career along.

    And the relevance of this? Apollo also has the ability to "perceive" such signs, which are indicated by the vibration of his bracelet. During cross-examination, you can zoom in on the witness and explore their movements and ticks in close detail, while they deliver their testimony. Any deviation from the norm can be highlighted as a clue and used to counter their words. It's an interesting feature - one that requires good observation and thinking skills to assess where in the testimony the flaw could lie, and then finding the 'tick' that confirms the suspicion. Unfortunately, within the context of a court case it does lack a little believability; after all, are not most witnesses on a stand nervous to begin with?

    For all the positive and negative aspects of the gameplay, the meat of the game has always been about the story telling and characterisation, and here again it does not disappoint. Unfortunately, there are only four cases in total and there is no truly epic final case, as before. However, there is a coherent and intriguing tangent running through most of the game, with the delivery, towards the end, of probably the series' most unexpected plot twist. For most, it will come as a complete surprise, but long-time fans may have the nous to see it coming. After all, there is a reason why Phoenix wanted Apollo to defend him in the first case...

    Facing off against Apollo for most of the game is Klavier Gavin, who prosecutes by day and plays rock music by night. On the first level he appears to be somewhat one-dimensional, but as the game progresses you realise he is more complex, and in contrast to all the other prosecutors in the series so far, is not immediately dislikable. This is a good thing, as it shows that prosecutors can be just like those on the defence side of the court: seeking the truth behind a case, not solely worrying about their perfect win-record.

    There is a slightly different vibe about the game compared to the previous three, thanks to an apparently darker tone. Not that there weren't many serious moments previously, but the overall feeling inherited from this game is one of retribution and redemption, although - as always - there are many humorous, laugh-out-loud situations. It is still very much an Ace Attorney game at heart, albeit with a change of direction and emphasis. Apollo's destiny is tied to that of Phoenix and the erstwhile lawyer does turn up from time to time to offer advice and point the way. Sometimes it feels almost as much his game as it is Apollo's, to the extent that the new protagonist is forced to share the spotlight.

    Every end has a beginning. Apollo Justice lays the foundations for a new trilogy in the same way that the Phoenix Wright games did, delivering an enjoyable experience with many new characters that, in time, fans will come to appreciate and love. But every beginning has an end. The question remains, however, whether any of them will be as loved as Maya, Pearl, Gumshoe and Edgeworth, because they were less fully fleshed-out and the back-story is not elucidated to the same extent. There is also a little bit more hand-holding than previous games, making it slightly easier to get through. Despite these small problems, however, this is still essential playing for long-time fans, and for new entrants: buy this game, play it, and then get the others.

    Score: 7/10
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