After a whirlwind introduction to the genre of visual novels when playing 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors for an as-yet unpublished (though definitely recorded) podcast and loving it, I jumped head-first into one of the best titles the genre has to offer – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I knew I had to start on the first entry of the series, and I fell head over heels. Once I’d completed it, I knew I wanted more, and it didn’t matter a whit whether I was following canonical order or not. And thus, due to my local game store not having the right game in stock at the right time, I wound up skipping past the remainder of the original Phoenix Wright trilogy, threw caution to the wind, and found myself accompanying brand-new protagonist (in familiar digital courtroom) in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
At first, I wasn’t sure if the comprehension disconnect in jumping from game 1 to, essentially, game 4 was all on my part or not. What the hell had happened in the intervening games? Phoenix was no longer practicing law? Even more: he had a daughter?!? Apparently, I’d missed quite a lot. But come hell or high water, I figured all things could be inferred or be interpreted in good time. (As it turns out, I wasn’t meant to have all the background, as plot holes would slowly be filled in throughout the course of the game’s overarching meta-mystery of “what happened seven years ago”. Meanwhile, an understanding of the connecting plot wasn’t essential in maneuvering the courtroom gameplay, anyway.
Despite the drastic changes in many of the characters’ lives, and the pangs of unfamiliarity at learning of a brand new protagonist that I was supposed to simply accept all willy-nilly, I quickly found Apollo Justice to be a more-than-worthy sequel, and the nominal lawyer himself a likable addition to the game’s universe, with numerous charming character quirks and the humorous relationship with sidekick Trucy Wright that becomes part of one of the game’s central plotlines. In fact, I feel the offering of characters in general is very strong in this title, sporting many who have easily become some of my favorite in the series so far: Apart from Apollo and Trucy, there’s new main antagonist/prosecuting lawyer, Klavier Gavin, along with his brother Kristoph. Ema Skye is back and takes over Detective Gumshoe in the role of police contact/sullen cop with a snack addiction (food seems to be a central theme for at least one character in each game). For some reason though, the character that I found most memorable was Guy Eldoon, the noodle maker in Turnabout Corner – a great case within its own right. Between his visual design and personality, he may be my favorite supporting cast member in the series to date!
On a big positive note, I found Apollo Justice to be quite a lengthy game. Granted, I completed the entire game by playing a few minutes in bed each night – it essentially took the place of a book for my nighttime reading, quite appropriately. I do most of my handheld gaming before going to sleep; I’ve found it’s a great way to unwind and relax, away from the spectacular distractions of my living room entertainment console. I lost track of exactly how long it took me to make my way through the story, but I spent a few months on it at least. Spending several weeks arguing the same case repeatedly, uncovering new twists and turns constantly does make it seem far longer than it really is…which is a great problem to have, in the case of a Phoenix Wright visual novel!
It’s not all plusses in Apollo Justice‘s column though. While most of the cases were entertaining and humorous, I felt that “Turnabout Trump” had a decidedly uncomfortable vibe to it, at least partially due to the unavoidable shock to the player of seeing Phoenix in the defendant’s seat for a change, charged with murder, and the disorientation of the familiar Ace Attorney world being turned topsy-turvy so suddenly. (“Corner” and “Serenade” on the other hand, were classic cases full of secrets and intrigue, and of course lots of humor.) And although many supporting characters were well designed (I especially liked the katana-concealing Plum Kitaki and the fun the writers had with the panty-snatching Wesley Stickler), some were decidedly annoying: Olga Orly’s broken English was difficult to enjoy, and Wocky Kitaki’s attempts at slang made his the most painful cross-examination of the game!
Overall, I think I’ll definitely remember Apollo Justice in a very favorable light. Not quite achieving the same impact the first entry to the original trilogy had (but then again, what game could?), Apollo is a great new beginning with a protagonist worthy of carrying his own game series. For my part, I look forward to seeing what Capcom will do with his story in the coming years!