All cheesy lead-ins aside, the passing of the torch from one rookie attorney to another went surprisingly smooth (which is way more than we can say for the 2008 Olympic torch). Probably because the lovable Phoenix Wright himself was brought into Apollo Justice, and helped foster this transition from his legacy to Apollo’s shaky beginnings.
To all the wackiness and outlandishness that is traditionally attached to this series’ storyline, the game had a fairly solemn underlying theme, which is an oftentimes elusive creature in videogames. The Phoenix Wright games focused on finding and presenting the right evidence to determine the truth—in the fictional court, evidence was everything—the only thing that can prove your case. Apollo Justice, however, toys with the idea that the law should not be as absolute, and evidence alone may not be enough to determine rightful decision of innocence or guilt. It’s an interesting point and one I hope to see more of in sequels.
Crazy characters, cracked-out storylines and the most twisted turnabouts are definitely back in full force, even with a few heart-warming cameos and throwbacks to Phoenix’s days. Apollo Justice’s cast of characters are even quirkier and in some cases, more obnoxious than Phoenix’s former entourage. For example, there’s the pretentious grad student who can’t say anything in less than five full boxes of text and the overly-aggressive, gangster wannabe Wocky Kitaki, who has the same tendencies as the grad student but in a louder and more irritating way.
Before I launch into a full critique of the main characters and make this into an analysis rather than a review, I suppose I should move on to gameplay and the other important things that make the game tick. Continuing with the traditional model, Apollo Justice cycles through periods of investigation and then the subsequential day in court. The simple, point-and-click investigation gameplay is unchanged, except you can’t present character profiles to people anymore. Being the type to get sentimental about fictional characters and find out the finer details of their history, if any, I missed this aspect. Court gameplay hasn’t changed much either, except the logic puzzles that call on you to defend your case can be aggravatingly easy. In only a few instances did I not know the exact answer or piece of evidence I was supposed to present. More gimmicky tools are used to solve cases—a soundboard and an assortment of “scientific” solvents and devices—but fail to add any difficulty. The penalties for answering these puzzles wrong have been significantly reduced, as the game replenishes your penalty counter almost every time you re-enter court. Although this allows you to gloriously skate your way through the game, there simply isn’t as much joy in an easy victory.
Courtroom gameplay receives a slight amount of redemption with the new ability to “perceive.” Perceiving allows Apollo to hone in on a witness’s nervous tics and twitches, and to use these telling signs to reveal information they might be hiding. This is used mostly with witness testimonies that have no outright contradictions, circling back to the theme that evidence can’t prove everything. Perceiving is interesting and fun, and the only source of difficulty in the game.
In my humble opinion, no other Ace Attorney game has been able to match the music established in the very first game. Those songs and sounds blended seamlessly with the story. But I stand by this opinion as Apollo Justice’s soundtrack was often hit or miss. Sometimes the music gelled perfectly. More often it was so-so. And more than a few instances it was, “can someone remind me why there’s such happy, upbeat music playing while I’m investigating this murder crime scene? Anyone?”
Apollo Justice, while staying true to an original, winning formula, has some pitfalls that prevents me from recommending it to people not familiar with the series. You would be much better off purchasing the first Phoenix Wright game. But, if you have been following along with the Ace Attorney story thus far, this game is worth your money provided you can slog through 10 or so “justice” puns every case.