In the fourth Ace Attorney game Phoenix Wright loses his lawyer badge after the events of a shameful trial seven years ago. Now a questionably-dressed bum who plays piano (and when nobody’s looking, poker) at a divey restaurant, Wright passes the baton to pointy-haired Apollo Justice. His first client? Phoenix Wright! Aided by Trucy, a magician-in-training, Apollo must vindicate Wright and uncover the various behind-the-scenes mysteries that disbarred him seven years ago. Family, conspiracies, magic acts, panties and noodles cross and collide into what is technically the best game in the series yet.
There are four cases in all with really creative intertwining plots. The story doesn’t feel as ambitious as previous games probably because it doesn’t deal with the mythology established in those, which were all linked by the story of the spirit medium Fey Family and numerous prosecutors. It’s tight and entertaining nonetheless, thanks to a snappy localization headed by Alexander O. Smith, who noticeably sat out from working on the middle installments. The writing is even laugh-out-loud funny at times as the addle-brained Judge got me lawlin’ by his near-constant confusion, and the cast of characters, true to series form, is bizarre and lovable. Grumpy forensics detective Ema Skye, who snacks on chocolate “Snackoos” and is turned on by the mere hint of scientific evidence, is definitely a new favorite, along with a mountainous gangster who looks like the anime approximation of Marlon Brando wearing a baker’s apron. The new prosecutor Klavier Gavin also moonlights as a rockstar and air guitars in the middle of court proceedings, complete with accompanying soundtrack and a brilliantly detailed sprite animation that ought to pump some fists. And it wouldn’t be an Ace Attorney game without Phoenix Wright, whose presence reaches Metal Gear Solid 2-era Solid Snake levels of cool, confidence and control as the main force working behind the scenes of the narrative to help Apollo and Trucy.
It helps that the gameplay flows easier from investigation to courtroom segments. Talking and presenting evidence finally makes perfect sense – the series’ usually goofy logic is gone so it’s tough to get stuck – and the game makes good use of the DS’ capabilities so cases stay fresh. When Ema’s around you take on the role of forensics analyst. You dust (and blow!) for prints, spray for poison residue and scan items with X-rays. Pretty cool immersing stuff. Apollo also has the ability to detect the nervous tics of witnesses to tell if they’re lying, an inventive way to show off the game’s new hi-res animations and illustrations although the Judge and some other returning characters from the GBA ports still sport their dusty old sprites. The music also gets a facelift, definitely the best since the first game. There are more complicated, rocking compositions with one musical case in particular taking special advantage of the DS’ SNES-like sound system.
I’m still sentimental over Phoenix Wright’s third outing, Trials and Tribulations, for the bittersweet Godot story and original cast of characters but Apollo Justice is inarguably the best, most fully-realized entry in what I consider the flagship series of the Nintendo DS. Hopefully the next game starring original star prosecutor Miles Edgeworth won’t drop the baton with its drastic design deviation (you can walk!). That would be a most unfortunate turnabout.