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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.
I've seen tons of people complain about this game being the worst of the franchise. Mainly because Phoenix isn't the Player Character and because he got a laid-back Character Derailment. Others point out that the game has a lot of plot holes they aren't willing to ignore.
To them I say: not a big deal.
Let's talk about Phoenix first. He certainly Took a Level in Cynic and is more carefree. He doesn't seem to care about anything much... save for the change in the legal system. It makes sense that being tricked into presenting false evidence and getting disbarred would make anyone sour, and it gets better when you learn what Phoenix is doing to get revenge on the man responsible for the Dark Age of the Law. Simply put, a brilliant Batman Gambit spanning seven years. What Phoenix lost in likability, he made up for with magnificence.
Now the plot holes. What plot holes are we talking about? I can only think of Cases 3 and 4.
I'll be honest here: I like Apollo. He's my favorite lawyer to this day. Granted, he didn't get a lot of Character Development or backstory in this game, but the creators had to explain why on earth Phoenix is like this all of a sudden, after the happy ending of Trials and Tribulations. Given what was told about Apollo in Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice, I don't think they could have thrown in anything in this game. They would need like 6 or 7 cases total to include Clay Terran and Dhurke that far ahead. Though I guess they could've come up with something else.
I liked the thing about the jurist system, and I wasn't happy when that was dropped in Dual Destinies. It would've given room to interesting possibilities. I guess Status Quo Is God.
So overall, not nearly as bad an experience as people say, though I admit they could've handled some things better. If you like Ace Attorney, give it a chance.
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