As the nights close in, you’ll do well to find a better game to cosy up on the couch with.
HairyArse about Castlevania: Lord of Shadow
Now in its fifth instalment, the Ace Attorney series has proven itself the grand daddy of DS point-and-clickers. The DS is an ideal device for these kind of games, and no other series has provided so much new content. The newest addition, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, approaches the tried-and-tested formula from a fresh angle, placing you for the first time in the role of prosecutor, rather than defence attorney. And, seeing how the legal system of the Ace Attorney universe follows bizarre and cartoonish rules, this means that as prosecutor, you’ll spend your time investigating crime scenes.
Interestingly, the game was originally proposed to feature budding forensic scientist Emma Skye as the lead character, which would have made more sense, given the game’s CSI leanings, but Edgeworth was instead chosen as he was more popular with the fans. Edgeworth was originally introduced in the first game of the series as a decidedly unlikeable and crafty adversary, but he has softened up as the series has gone on. Still, this may be the most un-relatable protagonist of an Ace Attorney game, yet. While Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice were both rookie goofs learning the ropes, Edgeworth is a stony-faced veteran with a taste for luxury and an upper-class vocabulary. You are playing as a man who owns an expensive tea set.
The game, like all others, presents you with a series of criminal cases (all murders). Instead of ending at court, the focus is on the crime scene and on making the correct arrest. Typically Edgeworth or one of his friends will end up accused for the murder (Edgeworth is a magnet for trouble), by some antagonistic detective on the scene: it is then up to Edgeworth to do his own investigation to prove that the accused is innocent, and, in the process, identify the real murderer.
Despite not featuring traditional courtroom sequences (though one case does take place inside a courthouse), many features of previous games are carried over. As usual, you investigate crime scenes for clues. This time, however, instead of looking at static scenes in first person view, you explore the environment as Edgeworth from a third-person viewpoint. Clues are now stored in Edgeworth’s organiser, which serves the exact same purpose as the “Court Record” in previous games. You also continue to listen to the testimonies of characters, and then offer your rebuttal (this game’s version of a cross-examination), when you spot an error or lie in what they say, backed up by evidence you have collected.
The difference here is that investigation and testimonies all occur within the same scene. Now, instead of following a investigate-court-investigate-court chapter-based pattern, the game throws both investigations and testimonies at you within the same chapter, so gameplay is more streamlined and varied.
A new feature is “logic”, in which Edgeworth connects facts within his head to unveil new truths. You are presented with a screen of facts that Edgeworth has noted, and you must connect the facts in pairs. This is an excellent representation of working things out, but in practice it is not very taxing. You will rarely be presented with more than four facts at once, so guessing the pairs is as easy as looking for the square peg for the square hole. For example, if two facts happen to be about a fireplace, and the other two facts aren’t, it’s natural to assume the fireplace facts go together. Once connected, this triggers Edgeworth’s monologue on what the connection means. It rarely feels like you did any of the deduction yourself, even if you knew what the connection meant in your own head. All you did was stick two obvious things together.
Unfortunately much of the game is too easy, in this way. Typically the evidence you must present to refute someone’s argument is obvious (some red herrings would have helped here), and if it wasn’t obvious enough, Edgeworth will often give you far too blatant a clue as to what you need to do. “He wasn’t wearing that coat yesterday,” he might say, in a made-up example, “and I can prove it!”, before you present a picture of the guy not wearing said coat.
Exploration and investigation is also painfully easy, now, as you no longer have a choice of multiple places to scour. The game now works one scene at a time, and doesn’t allow you to progress until you’ve discovered everything needed, at which point it rewards you with an “Investigation Complete.” This takes a lot of frustration and guesswork out of proceedings, but the game has never felt so linear. The game will spoonfeed you what you need to do, and Edgeworth will often comment on what he needs to examine, or who he needs to talk to. It sometimes feels like the game is on-rails, and you are only a passenger along for the ride.
The simplicity of the game makes it feel like more of an interactive novel than ever, so you had better enjoy reading. The strength of Ace Attorney games as always been in its fun, comical stories, but it is annoying as ever to follow along with the slow text, which cannot be sped to a more natural reading speed.
Edgeworth’s game makes the same mistakes as previous games in the series. Despite being easy for the majority of the time, the game still demands you do things its way. Knowing the killer ahead of time, and knowing the right evidence to prove it, is no use, and the convoluted path is the only path. Which is fine, in terms of plot, but unbelievably frustrating in terms of gameplay. And there will be moments where you present evidence as a rebuttal which you believe to be perfectly valid, but the game will just ignore as useless, while the required solution is no more valid than your own. The game still requires the exact right evidence at the exact right time, which is far too restrictive for the normal-thinking player. A game such as this would benefit from some extensive focus-group testing, to see the different ways in which players play, so that the game can cater to different ways of thinking.
There is also an unfortunate step-backwards in terms of interaction. Previous games slowly introduced ways of interacting with the environment through the touchscreen, which are sadly absent here. This is all the worse, considering this is supposed to be a game about investigation. All around you characters will be collecting fingerprints for you, testing for blood marks, unlocking safes, running handwriting analyses, and never do you get a chance to do any of these things, despite the fact that previous games had allowed you to do them. It only adds to the feeling that you are only around to watch the show when Edgeworth orders one of his subordinates to run a fingerprint test, the screen goes black, and then the subordinate returns with the results. It’s very uninvolving.
But to focus on the positive, the story: it is one of the better stories in the series. The tale takes place over two days (and flashes back to a case seven years ago), spanning five murder cases which all end up interconnected, cumulating in an epic final case. It is also one of the more complex stories in the series, as Edgeworth tackles an international smuggling ring, a mysterious thief, and many loose ends that seem confusing and irrelevant until they are tied up only towards the end.
As ever, throughout the story there is some self-discovery as Edgeworth once again asks what the role of a prosecutor is. His change in character from the early games is partly explained as he emerges from the shadow of his mentor, Manfred von Karma. No longer is it Edgeworth’s goal to find all defendants guilty, but instead to seek the truth. One of the more interesting moments of the game forces you to choose between following the law, and letting the truth slip away, or seeking the truth, against the law. “As a prosecutor, what I pursue is not the perfect victory,” says Edgeworth, “but the perfect truth. And if that means that the bridge I must cross will crumble beneath my feet... then let it crumble as I walk on towards the truth!” This is also a good justification for why Edgeworth is suddenly good at his job and able to get the right guy – because you might remember from previous games that Edgeworth has a habit of going after the innocent.
One problem of the cases no longer taking place in court is that solving them feels rather anti-climactic. There is no insane breakdown at the stand, no bang of the judge’s gavel, no cheering gallery, and no celebratory ticker tape. Typically, once you’ve fingered the suspect, they’ll freak out as the screen fades to white, there’s a short epilogue, and that’s it, case over. It’s part of a larger systemic problem in this game: the story doesn’t carry much emotional weight.
That said, fans will be highly pleased with the returning characters, who all act as expected. With a well-established cast with well-known mannerisms, this game is excellent fanservice. Even annoying characters such as Wendy Oldbag and Maggie Byrde will bring a smile to your face as they show up, like old friends. Some returning characters I’ll leave for you to discover, but I’ll save you the disappointment: this game sadly does not feature Phoenix, Maya, or Pearls.
New sidekick Kay Faraday is the new Maya. Indeed, she essentially is Maya, but with a snazzier dress sense. Edgeworth and Kay even continue the series in-joke “stepladder vs. ladder” argument. She is a breath of fresh air compared to Edgeworth’s strictness. She also makes a good Watson to her Sherlock: bringing a more layman perspective and making sure Edgeworth comes off his high-horse every once in a while. Her story arc, beginning in a flashback to seven years ago, and leading up to the resolution of the final case, is one of the most compelling.
Returning Franziska von Karma also plays sidekick at certain moments. She is as stuck-up as Edgeworth, which makes for some fun Frasier-and-Niles style comedy. Despite her authoritarian personality and tendency to whip everyone in sight at slightest provocation, she turns out to be a highly likeable character; the protective-yet-abusive little sister.
But the biggest new star of the show is wolf-like Interpol agent Shi-Long Lang, who always happens to show up wherever Edgeworth is. He has a disdain for all prosecutors, and believes that the best policy at a crime scene is to arrest everybody suspicious and let the courts sort it out. Everybody, he reasons, is guilty of something, after all. He’s one of those characters who you wonder whether they’ll turn out to be the bad guy, or not. Of course, I wouldn’t spoil that.
Localisation is again a funny matter, as the game struggles to contain all the Japan-centric themes. The game is overrun with Japanese flags, samurais, ninja-girls, martial artists, and Asian businessmen. Sometimes it feels as though it would be easier to simply admit that the game takes place in Japan than to continue with this charade, but the results are nevertheless amusing. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many pop-culture references this time around (I am still fond of the Kellis Milkshake reference in Trials and Tribulations), but on the whole, the comedy is all intact and suitable for a western audience. The characters all act like hyper anime-characters, but we as gamers should be used to that, by now.
So, the latest game in the series is both the easiest and most painfully linear. However, if you can look past that and accept that Ace Attorney is more of an interactive novel than ever before, then there is a lot for fans to enjoy, here. Edgeworth is a fun character see to take the lead, but only if you are used to him. Also, even though this game stands alone, a lot of references to past games will be lost on newcomers. Thus, I can recommend this game only to those used to the formula, as it is not the best entry point for newcomers. For fans already used to the quirks of the series, this is an obvious purchase.