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I've been going on a nostalgia quest through the Ace Attorney series lately, with the benefit of emulators, and out of all the games in the series I've played, this is the one I remember being the least hot on upon release (though even at the time I still thought it was more of the same good thing I loved), and have grown the coldest about with time.
Just on a case-by-case basis, it's not great. The first case enjoys a fairly clever major twist and raises the question of what exactly happened to our beloved previous protagonist to reduce him to his present state, yet suffers from said protagonist crossing such a major line that later games would trip over themselves pretending it never happened. The second case had better bless its lucky stars that it's in the same game as the third case, suffering as it does from an unlikable client and a borderline-nonsensical villain whose confusing actions in the summation defy logic. The third case is infamously one of the most poorly-written in the series and one of the least fun by virtue of being more focused on showing off the technology of the new 3D video sequences than actually being an enjoyable adventure interface. And the final case tries to implement an ambitious new set of ideas that don't work out well in practice, completely fails to tie together the saga tragic, doomed Gramarye family in a satisfying way, and ends on one of the most bizarre artistic choices in the franchise.
And the returning characters are mired in malaise. Ema Skye completely failed at her dreams and is left a Jaded Washout and a shell of a woman. Phoenix is infamously stripped of every good thing in his life and so drastically changed as to almost be a completely different character. Even the unseen noodle merchant is miserably unsatisfied with his lot in life. I don't want to read too much into it, but a fella can't help but pick up on a theme. It spreads a miasma of negative energy over the entire game.
Plus, if the succeeding two titles proved anything, it's that having the titular attorney's young, jovial assistant placed in peril and accused of murder is an excellent way to raise stakes, and while I get the sense they really wanted to do something new from the... everything in this game, without it Trucy just doesn't quite measure up to her predecessor.
So, did I hate it completely? No.
Apollo himself is a bit bland in his first outing, and struggles to get out from under Phoenix's shadow, but between his Chords of Steel and businesslike approach to his work, the localization still infuses him with a bit of the same bumbling charisma. His "Perception" ability is a clever evolution of Phoenix's famous magatama, which adds a new element to trials that only really got me stuck once. (Stupid sweaty armpits.) Klavier Gavin is one of their new ideas that works brilliantly, reinventing the prosecutorial rival from the focus of the story to a colleague and even a genial ally. And I don't care if I'm the only person in the world who feels this way; I loved the scientific investigation sequences and wish more of them were in later installments.
Plus, while many of them don't quite hit home (some, like Wesley, give the creepiest and least-funny characters from Justice for All a run for their money, and every male member of the Gramarye family is some combination of inconsistently and horribly written) the series' trademark colorful characters and spirited localization script are still there. I also appreciate the spins on the series' dumb running gags, like Charlie still being around, or Trucy knowing the difference between a ladder and a stepladder.
More than anything, the sense I get from Apollo Justice is frustration with the status quo; a desire to change, to evolve, to move away from the familiar same ol' same ol', but a deep uncertainty in how and where to do so. And I am pleased to say that all subsequent titles do indeed represent that evolution, both in the Investigations sub-series and in the later two iterations of the main one. But while it's not utter trash, it definitely deserves its reputation as the absolute weakest game in the series.
If am not wrong, Cap Com\'s execs forced the writers to change the story so Nick would appear as an important character, so that may explain why Polly\'s story is so weak...
And the only things am grateful this game did was not only create the characters of Polly, Trucy and Klavier but also making Polly work with Nick, because their interactions in later games is simply funny.
They forced Phoenix\'s inclusion in the first place, but the fact that he then promptly took over the game entire, made ultra-limited references to his previous supporting cast full of likable characters, including the love of his life, and has the entire plot revolving around him getting his license back are all on the shoulders of the creative team.
...I wish we\'d gotten that old tyme spin-off though. Managing a jury sounds like an excellent series evolution.
I mean, from what I know, the writers were forced to give Nick an important role (Cap Com execs didn\'t though a game with an entirely separated new lawyer would sell as well, you see).
And we technically did \"get\" a game like the one you describe in the form of Dai Gyakuten Saiban (depending on if you call \"get\" having to use a fan-patch to be able to understand it).
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