And man, I wish they'd figure out what they want to do with the name here! Is the series Phoenix Wright? Ace Attorney? Ace Attorney Investigations? Is "Investigations" going to be a separate sub-series? Blah.
Anywho. Before we start, keep in mind that I haven't *completely* finished the game yet. I'm still in the midst of the fifth investigation, so it's possible that there are some Really Cool Things (or likewise Real Annoying Things) that make or break the game that I haven't run into yet. Doubtful, but it's possible.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Egdeworth
Game type: Adventure
Time demand: You can save at most points, so however long in a chunk you like. The whole game is maybe a 10-15 hour investment? Or so?
Platform: Nintendo DS
Released: 05/28/09 JP, 02/16/10 US, 02/19/10 EU
What it is:
All right, I know I've reviewed some of the Ace Attorney series before, but for those just tuning in (or forgetting), here's a quick recap:
The Ace Attorney games in general have, up until now at least, revolved around an Adventure-style gameplay mixing investigation phases where you wander around, find evidence and talk to people, with courtroom phases where you defend your client and try to get at the truth through means such as pressing the witnesses to try to find contradictions in their story, and presenting evidence to do the same.
As the games have gone on after the first, they've also added other minor gameplay elements to mix things up a bit, such as a "magatama" to open up minigames to unlock a character's secrets, or a bracelet to ultra-focus the perception to pick up on tell-tale physical habits or reactions.
The games have been fun and charming, with memorable and usually lovable characters, at least interesting storylines, and a quirky style of humor (which is just as well, since if the games were going with a more serious or noir style, they'd have a bunch of plotholes, which aren't as big a deal with a more tongue-in-cheek, hand-wavey approach). The first three games revolved around defense attorney Phoenix Wright, while the fourth had a time-jump of several years and, while involving a couple of the old characters, mostly introduced a whole new cast (and new protagonist, defense attorney Apollo Justice), keeping most of the same gameplay.
So now that's the series up to that point, so what about this entry...?
Well, while this one has a lot of the same gameplay elements and characters, in other ways it's a big shift. Because for the first time, instead of playing as an attorney defending your client, you take on the role of Miles Edgeworth, prosecuting attorney. The game takes place apparently a few months to a year after the third and last of the Phoenix Wright games, as some comments and events show.
So how do they handle the complete shift in sides, and goals in the courtroom? Well... they don't. I'd wondered how they were going to do it, since it would seem that prosecuting a case would be a completely different style, and would mostly just involve presenting evidence, and not finding contradictions or unraveling the truth. Which is apparently true, so instead of having you in the courtroom, you instead end up pulled into a chain of crimes that you need to investigate, mostly giving the courtroom itself a miss.
Now, this doesn't mean that the game neglects the elements that were always prominent in the courtroom sections of the previous games, such as rebutting testimony and pressing witnesses. Instead, it means that they've shifted that to include it in the investigations. Along with finding and inspecting evidence, Miles also ends up interviewing witnesses, and having to defend (oddly enough) falsely accused people against the "testimonies" of others investigating the crimes, in search of the truth at the root of the matter. And when the investigations are all complete, and the truth is found, we move on, presumably for Miles or someone else to prosecute these people in an actual court later on. And you still of course collect and use evidence, mostly in these back-and-forth debates or bits of testimony.
How does this work out in practice? Well, it's a bit *odd*, after four games of the previous style, but not bad or really clumsy. They incorporated the changes pretty well actually to have a total shift in perspective while still mostly maintaining the general elements of previous games. But there's still no getting around the fact that it just feels a bit weird, and it takes a while to get used to.
And this time, the "gimmick" rather than a magatama or bracelet is Miles' calm, cool logic - in the course of investigating, you'll run across a few odd facts or thoughts that automatically get stored away in his mind, and as you investigate you can click on the "logic" button to revisit these, and connect them with each other to reach new conclusions, and further the investigation. For instance (and this is totally made up, not a spoiler for the game or anything), you might notice that a suspect's red jacket has a bit missing from it, and later on notice that a fencepost at the scene of the crime has a bit of red cloth caught on it, and connect the two facts to come to the conclusion that, despite his protests, said suspect was actually at the scene of the crime, and got his jacket temporarily caught on the post.
Actually, I lie, there's a new element of gameplay added as well. This time, when you investigate certain scenes, you can also "deduce" things. What this does is lets you pinpoint a spot on the scene before you, then select one of your pieces of evidence to connect the two, and draw some sort of conclusion from it. Say for instance (to recycle the previous example) you had picked up a scrap of red cloth from one area earlier and put it in your evidence, then later on you are investigating a dead body. You might notice that part of said corpse's jacket is missing, and select "deduce," pinpoint the missing area of the jacket, then select the cloth scrap from your evidence, to conclude that the dead body had been at that location earlier, and gotten caught up on the fence.
And how does this work as a game? Well, you have a limited amount of... well, let's just call it "HP" since it's a bar, and when it depletes the game is over, and since that's what most games use. If you get a logic connection wrong, or a deduction when you're investigating, or present the wrong evidence when you're trying to poke holes in a witness' testimony, you take a small hit to your HP. The bar refills in between phases of the investigation (which can be somewhat arbitrary), but in the meantime if you make too many mistakes before that happens, you get a game over. That's frankly not too hard to avoid most times, but the games have always been more about going along for the ride and watching the story unfold than they have been about trying to avoid the Game Over screen.
Alright, so that's the outline of how the game works. So... positives and negatives? Well, might as well start with the downsides, since that's just how I roll.
-The timeline gets confusing. Not so much between this game and the others in the series (although there are one or two odd things there), but just in the game itself. Hopefully this doesn't count as an actual spoiler, if you don't want to know the timeframes for each of the cases, though, feel free to skip to the next paragraph... but the game starts out with one episode, then the next one takes place about a day or two before it, then the next one is in between those two, then the NEXT case jumps back in time seven years, and the last one takes place after all the rest. So while the last case is the last one time-wise, the first case you play through is the next-to-last one, in Miles' own timeframe. Which just gets confusing, especially with the third one, where there's not even any time references until a good bit of the way into the game, so my assumption was that it took place after the first, and some things weren't making sense, until it became clear that it took place before it instead. Argh! It's like the farmer and scarf from Eye of the World, all over again!
-The difficulty, like with some of the other games in the series, is all over the place. Some of the things you need to progress are laughingly obvious, while others are fairly obscure. This would be somewhat understandable, since you're going to want to keep the player on their toes (and also provide somewhat of a learning curve), but a) the extremes are a bit far apart, and b) the more annoying thing is that some of the points aren't so much obscure, but instead obvious... but either you have to jump through too many hoops to finally point out the obvious contradiction, or else the game is picky and odd about just how you present things. For instance you might *know* why the description of what happened is wrong, and *know* what evidence you have that points that out, but actually breaking out that evidence at just the right time in the right way can be... hard. Which is just frustrating.
-There are some of the old crowd that it'd be really nice to see again, but we don't. (No, I'm not going to say who we do or don't see! That'd be spoiling! I'm pushing it as it is, but well, it is a disappointment. *pout*)
-Since I've picked at this in other games in the series, might as well be consistent and pick at it here: some of the things that the attorneys and cops do just would. not. fly. It's not as huge a deal, in a humorous game like this, but it can still be offputting at times.
On the plus-side:
-While there are a few no-shows that are disappointing, we also do get a lot of the old cast back, some of whom I really didn't expect, and some of whom are just... great. We'll leave it at that.
-While the shift in focus leaves me feeling a bit wrong-footed, at the same time, it's at least refreshing and mixes things up a bit.
-Did I mention that we get to go back and see some of the great old characters?
-Even with a shift from defense to prosecution, the general style of humor is still the same, which is a relief since it's always been a selling point of the series.
-Come on. Miles Edgeworth. Does it even need to be said? More seriously, while the character himself is great, now we get to see how he interacts more in depth with a whole cast of other characters, rather than just what bits and pieces we pick up through Nick's eyes. Along with some more backstory.
-A few cool new characters to add to the series (and some forgettable ones, but hey, them's the breaks)
So in general, I've been enjoying this game, as I enjoy all Ace Attorney games. I can't really decide just where each game ranks in relation to each other, but this at least generally holds to the overall standard. (Plus: Miles Edgeworth!)
Recommendation: Well, if you enjoy Adventure games at all, I'd say give it a shot. Unless you're like uber-serious and can't stand your games to not take themselves seriously or something. (In which case, how the hell did you end up reading *me* of all people?) You might want to try the early ones in the series as well IF you can find them, but otherwise this might be an interesting place to start - you'll just miss some of the character backstory/histories and so on.
But then, that'd give you something to look forward to going back and finding out!
So.. there we have it. And now my main gripe is that this is the sorta game that I'd rather discuss in a spoilery fashion... but it's also not the type of long, in-depth game that's likely to spark a lot of spoiler discussion! *pout*