There was something extremely satisfying about playing the first four Ace Attorney games. Part of it was the undeniable sense of justice when you turned the tables with a sudden realization, your facts and evidence lined up beautifully as your opponent cried, cowered, or shrieked with shocked awe in the face of your discovery. The judge slammed his gavel, the defendant was set free, and you got to celebrate yet another stunning success in the courtroom.
About that last part... Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, the newest game in the series, is one in which there is no courtroom. Rather, your cases play out courtroom-style on location, and sadly, the experience loses a bit of its oomph that made the series so special. Sure, the same quirky characters, bizarre logic, and familiar testimony/rebuttal/objection cycle remain, but this game is slower, longer, and a little less crazy than its predecessors.
You certainly can’t blame Capcom for trying to change things up a little. After four games in as many years, the original formula was starting to wear a little thin for the popular DS franchise. The most obvious other difference here is that the protagonist is no longer the goofy, confused defense lawyers Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice, but the smarter, prudish-yet-likeable cravat-wearing eponymous prosecutor. And there’s more. The previous first-person investigations? They’re now third-person affairs. There’s also a new gimmick in the form of a “logic” system for piecing clues together. That may sound like a lot, but most of these changes are largely superficial, adding little of significance when it comes to the game’s mechanics or feel. The end result, for better or worse, is an adventure that feels very similar – just not as good.
The game does start with great promise, opening with a gun at your back and a dead detective in your office. But from there it proceeds more slowly than you’d expect. In fact, the overarching narrative doesn’t even present itself until several hours in. All together, there’s a total of five interlocked episodes (or Turnabouts) that add up to about 20 or more hours of gameplay. Many of them feature Edgeworth getting wrongly accused of a crime, and hence needing to set things straight. The environments are weird enough (a deluxe airport with an elevator and a gym-sized cargo hold, plus a building holding the embassies of two warring countries, to name just a couple), but the storylines just aren’t very gripping. Case by case, you’ll be dealing with murders having surprisingly ordinary motives, and in the grand scheme of things you’ll be seeking to expose a smuggling ring. It’s not exactly exciting material for an Ace Attorney adventure, which typically give us never-could-happen oddball scenarios, and it’s all presented a little too slowly to maintain interest.
Another part of the charm of these games is the ability to hook players into their surreal soap opera-like world of one-dimensional but hilarious characters. That includes the little things like returning characters showing up out of nowhere, an insistence on calling wine “grape fruit” when the scenario is clearly designed for adults, and the ridiculous character expressions. Thankfully, Miles Edgeworth leaves all those core elements intact. And it’s funny! The quality of writing is great (besides the occasional typo), and each character’s dialogue suits them well. Whether it’s your partner Gumshoe playing the excitable, friendly idiot detective, or the whip-ready fellow prosecutor Franziska trying to outdo and belittle her opponents, they all have a way of growing on you with their absurd animations and silly language. New characters like the truth-seeking plucky thief Kay Faraday make a welcome addition as well. Miles Edgeworth himself is perhaps the most enjoyable to watch: he has a calm demeanor and slightly annoyed outlook (made all the more enjoyable if you share it) towards all the ridiculous people he has to face.
Like the previous games, there’s a standard routine of gathering facts and leads for each case, and then confronting anyone who opposes your logic face-to-face, questioning certain details and presenting evidence at opportune times in order to trip them up or gain new information. The courtroom-style legal battles are mostly the same as before (sans courtroom). You start by listening to a testimony line by line, and then selecting any text from that testimony that you find questionable. From there you can “press” to get more from the defendant, or try your luck and object, using a piece of evidence from your inventory in support. This is the real heart of the game, and though still a little too dependent on trial-and-error guesswork once in a while, it is generally fantastic as always. It’s a little too easy and you’ll feel like you’re on autopilot at times, but the comedic drama is brilliant, and there are plenty of “aha!” moments when you find a connection in that one piece of evidence.
As far as the investigations go, there’s a new feature to help you gather evidence. While Phoenix Wright could perceive a “Psyche-Lock” and Apollo Justice had his bracelet, Miles Edgeworth offers a “Logic” option. When you’re exploring and find an item of note, or make a discovery through conversation, a thought appears and becomes an inventory item of sorts. As you gain more of these thoughts, you can open up your inventory, connect the items that relate to each other logically, and make new headway in your case. The problem is, there are rarely more than two points of logic to connect, and the logic can often be as simple as literally combining lock and key. While this could be an important layer of depth for the series in future by combining more abstract concepts, it adds very little to the experience here.
In previous Ace Attorney games, when not in court you would wander through different areas with a fixed first-person perspective. Here it’s a third-person view, but little has changed in terms of controls. You use the +Control pad or stylus to move Edgeworth to something interesting onscreen, then press a button or tap again with your stylus to talk to someone or look at an item. A more important change from the earlier titles is that you no can longer roam from one area to another. Instead, the game declares “investigation complete!” when you’ve found all you need in a single area, and only then can you move on to the next testimony. While this streamlines things for those who despised the back-and-forth scavenger hunts from before, it now makes the experience too linear. You never once feel like you’re really exploring when you’re limited to one room at a time, forced to remain there until you’re done.
Similarly, the cases themselves are easy – too easy – which makes it all the more infuriating on those particular occasions when you have to point to evidence at a very specific time in someone’s testimony for no apparent reason. There are three or four times in the game where there are multiple options available, each making just as much sense as another but only one considered correct. There’s never a hint in the dialogue that you’re close, just a scene (which admittedly, is often hilarious) of you failing, and others loving it.
However funny it might be at first, this sense of failure is hardly worthwhile. You have a health bar that diminishes with each wrong objection you make (once again registered by shouted into the microphone if you wish), and if it’s fully depleted you must start back at the last point you saved. But with a game that allows you to save constantly and plays out exactly the same way each time you repeat a sequence, the health bar feels redundant. Add to that a lack of multiple endings and you have a game with little more than trial-and-error puzzles that never feel particularly urgent or important.
In fact, the entire game feels slower than the others in the series. The cases drag on far too long to stay interesting, and it doesn’t help that the unvoiced text moves very slowly on screen. It’s displayed dramatically: speeding up, stopping, and slowing down to liven up the dialogue, but this gets old in a hurry, especially when you know what to do and are simply going through the motions to carry it out. There is an option to speed up conversational text after you’ve read it once, but this doesn’t apply to the testimonies, annoyingly, which the defendant always goes through twice in each case.
The series’ real trump card has always been pitting vicious, comedic characters against you in a silly, puzzling game of logic and wits, and some of that clearly remains in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on unique, truly puzzling cases and bizarre scenarios, this game suffers from overly linear investigations, longwinded dialogue, and a lackluster storyline. The most devoted series fans will probably still love it, but newcomers should check out life as a defense attorney first. The rest of us are likely to find it entertaining enough at times, but a little too meandering, a little too mediocre to fully live up to the Ace Attorney legacy.