Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Introduction

With Turnabout Trial 3, Shu Takumi felt the grand finale effectively tied up all the loose ends, giving the protagonist a proper sendoff. Despite this, he and the rest Capcom took note of the fanbase it had garnered over the years and felt compelled to make a standalone sequel. They became especially motivated once the original game had been released in the West under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, stunning everyone when it became a sleeper hit. By then, the Game Boy Advance had been succeeded by Nintendo’s next console: the DS. Its novel dual screen gameplay allowed the console to achieve a level of commercial success that continued the company’s dominance in the handheld market.

Taking advantage of the new technology, some staff members proposed for the game to be rendered in 3D as a way of making a big impact on the DS. Eventually, they settled on a 2D presentation akin to the original trilogy. Nonetheless, some 3D elements remain in the final product, being the first installment in the series to feature videos created using motion-capture. Such were the lengths Mr. Takumi and his team went to make this game that they visited real courts to study the legal process. The fruit of their labor was released in April of 2007 under the name Turnabout Trial 4.

As the series had been as much of a success in the West as it was in its native homeland, localization was already underway by August of that year. Alexander O. Smith, who helped write the English localization, returned for this installment as well. After twenty-two meetings between Capcom’s American and Japanese divisions, they finally had a new name for the protagonist – one fitting for an attorney who fights to keep his innocent clients from receiving a guilty verdict: Apollo Justice. From here, they decided to name the game after him in a similar manner to his predecessor. Thus, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was released in North America, Europe, and then Australia in 2008. Does this fourth installment succeed in elevating an already impressive canon to a new level?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This entire review will contain unmarked spoilers for Apollo Justice and the series thus far.

Two men were playing poker in an underground room of the local Russian restaurant, the Borscht Bowl Club. One competitor was said to have lost the game, causing him to fatally bludgeon the other with a glass bottle. The surviving man called informed someone of the crime and that the police would arrive shortly.

A defense attorney named Apollo Justice is waiting in the defendant’s lobby minutes before a trial is to take place. As his first case involves him defending a client from murder charges, he is understandably quite apprehensive of the trial. His mentor and boss, Kristoph Gavin, reminds Apollo that he had dined with his client the night of the murder, assuring him they could not lose the case. Meeting the defendant for the first time, Apollo is taken aback by his calm, collected demeanor – a decidedly odd attitude for someone potentially facing a life sentence. The defendant tells Apollo there was a reason why he left his fate in the hands of a greenhorn as opposed to a seasoned veteran such as Kristoph, and that it would be revealed in due time.

When the trial begins, Apollo Justice and Kristoph Gavin stand at the defense table across Prosecutor Winston Payne. As the defendant takes the witness stand, the judge expresses regret seeing the man in such a state, saying that it had been some time since he last saw him. It is here that we at last learn the defendant’s name: Phoenix Wright. He stands before a judge for the third time in his life for the murder of a man named Shadi Smith.

For those who have reading up on the history of the Ace Attorney franchise, this development may lead to some confusion. Fans will remember that, not wishing for the series to devolve into a shadow of its former self, Mr. Takumi expressed the importance of knowing when to end a story. Phoenix Wright’s very presence would appear to fly in the face of what he said. In his defense, Mr. Takumi originally wanted Apollo Justice to be a soft reboot of the franchise, featuring an entirely new cast with the title character serving as its protagonist. It was due to a mandate from Capcom that he was forced to relent and have Phoenix serve a role in this new game. Though I don’t mind his return, there is a problem concerning how the writers justified keeping him around. Apollo Justice takes place seven years after the events of Trials and Tribulations. A few months after defending Iris in court, Phoenix was disbarred, putting an end to his career as a lawyer.

Already, we have run into this game’s first problem. This was a terrible plot point that only succeeded in subverting Phoenix’s accomplishments in the original trilogy. Retroactively, it makes the words of Phoenix’s inspirational speech at the end of Trials and Tribulations ring hollow knowing the death knell of his crusading ethos would be sounded shortly afterwards. However, the primary reason for why I dislike this twist can only be fully disclosed once I’ve discussed the ending. For now, all you need to know is that Apollo Justice does not put its best foot forward in the first few minutes.

In any event, shortly after learning the defendant’s name, Apollo is then made to cross-examine him so he can get his side of the story. As before, a witness’s testimony is divided into multiple, shorter statements. Witnesses in this series will frequently lie to save face or be factually incorrect through no fault of their own. Either way, this necessitates you calling them out on these discrepancies. Sifting through each piece of evidence in the court record is the key to discovering any contradiction. Then again, with Phoenix’s obtuse testimony, you’ll run into a brick wall attempting to do this, as there are no obvious contradictions. There’s no need to panic; all you have to do is press each statement to get more details. It’s clear Phoenix is hiding something from the defense, so after you press his entire testimony, he amends it with an additional statement. From here, you can finally bring this new statement up and select the correct piece of evidence so Apollo may formally object in court.

Though the gameplay is recognizable from previous entries, there are a few noticeable changes. To begin with, you can no longer present character’s profiles as evidence in court unless specifically asked. I can imagine some fans were disappointed in this change, as it effectively cuts the amount of evidence you have available to you, making it easier to brute force. I personally don’t really mind; though this mechanic led to a particularly memorable moment in Trials and Tribulations, it was irritating more often than not. Either the solution would be unclear to the point of absurdity or they were perfectly clear in real-world terms, but difficult to express with the interface. Ultimately, the good didn’t outweigh the bad, so I feel it was for the better that they excised it.

Between the original, domestic release of Trials and Tribulations and Apollo Justice, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney saw its overseas debut in 2005. Several new features were added to the original Turnabout Trial for its DS port. To begin with, the interface was sustainably improved. In the original Game Boy Advance versions, players had to sort through evidence one piece at a time, making it daunting in later episodes when the court record invariably had more than twenty items in addition to a sizeable profile list. The presentation was also tidied up with graphics looking noticeably smoother and the second screen making everything less cluttered. The most noteworthy feature, and the biggest draw in its native Japan for people who already owned a copy of Turnabout Trial, was the addition of a fifth episode.

Dubbed “Rise from the Ashes” when the game was localized, this bonus episode introduced a new feature: the ability to examine objects up-close. By selecting the “Check” option in the court record, a 3D rendering of the object appears on the touch screen. By using the touch pad, you can rotate the object, allowing you to examine it from any angle. A prompt will appear if you highlight the cursor on a specific section of the item. By selecting it, Phoenix and his assistant would comment on the object. This added more variety to investigation phases, as examining objects in close detail often resulted in discovering important information Phoenix needed to stand a chance in court.

As it would turn out, the real reason why they made their first appearance in “Rise from the Ashes” was to foreshadow their implementation in Apollo Justice. Because Apollo Justice was the first installment specifically developed for the Nintendo DS, many of the mechanics introduced in “Rise for the Ashes” return. This time, they’re here for the entire game, as you’ll learn before the first episode ends when you’re made to examine a bottle at one point to find a hidden piece of evidence in it.

Speaking of which, when it comes to opening episodes, the Ace Attorney series followed an interesting trajectory. Not many people think highly of the aptly titled “The First Turnabout”, as it was essentially a glorified tutorial that arguably failed to introduce the core mechanics. “The Lost Turnabout” was based on a similar template, though getting to the culprit involved several more steps. Its biggest weakness concerned how convoluted its setup was, as it involved Phoenix getting amnesia so newcomers could have the mechanics explained to them. “Turnabout Memories” took the form of a flashback episode, which was a far more organic method of justifying a tutorial, as it was from a greenhorn’s perspective. Moreover, many important plot points were introduced in that episode, and the culprit turned out to be one of the game’s central antagonists. This was a stark contrast her counterparts in the first two games, whose importance to the plot ceased as soon as you finished their respective episodes.

Why did I bring any of this up? The answer is simple: despite its glaring misstep, Apollo Justice has what could possibly be the best opening episode in the entire series. Anyone who has been following the series up until this point knows how these kinds of episodes go. They usually begin with you dismantling the testimonies of people who obviously did not commit the crime before the prosecutor calls a new, decisive witness to the stand. As soon as you see this person, you know, however unlikely though it may be, that they are the true culprit. Indeed, upon seeing said witness, Olga Orly, for the first time, one would assume that she must have murdered Shadi Smith. Every witness who wasn’t a major character or the defendant in an opening case has been the killer without fail.

The game even seems to entertain this notion, as halfway through her testimony, Olga, who had been affecting a meek personality, reveals her true colors in a manner not dissimilar to Dahlia Hawthorne. She is actually a professional gambler with nicknamed “Quick-Fingers”. From here, you learn that she helped Shadi cheat in his poker game against Phoenix, though the latter still prevailed. Enraged that he lost, Shadi hit Olga on the back of the head with a glass bottle. This would appear to give Olga a motivation for killing him. Here, a savvy player would wait for the moment when she slips up so they can implicate her as the guilty party. That moment will never occur.

Apollo senses something is amiss, and Phoenix takes the stand once more, asking the new defense attorney who he thinks the true culprit could be. You’re then presented with the list of profiles for the people involved in the case. It’s possible to present Olga’s profile, which Kristoph encourages as he calls her a liar. Ironically, going along with how a typical opening episode flows now seems like the worst possible thing you could do. It is at this point some players may even recall a famous quote from Sherlock Holmes.

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

There are only five profiles to choose from: Phoenix Wright, Winston Payne, Olga Orly, Shadi Smith, and Kristoph Gavin. Winston, being the prosecutor, had nothing to do with the case until it was brought to court. Phoenix is both the defendant in an Ace Attorney episode and a central character; the odds of him being the guilty party are nonexistent. Finally, though the series has featured at least one suicide by this point, the manner in which Shadi Smith died makes such a supposition ludicrous. It would appear that Olga is the only viable suspect left. After all, Kristoph Gavin is Apollo’s mentor. Theirs is a relationship similar to that between Mia Fey and Phoenix Wright in the first game. This is where you must go completely off the rails in order to find the truth. Though the particularly astute may notice Kristoph knew something he shouldn’t have, the average player will likely feel a sense of dread as they present his profile. Phoenix praises Apollo for his perceptiveness, astounding both him and likely the player as well.

None of this is a mistake. After accusing Kristoph of murder, the once-helpful person who explained the game mechanics to you is now more openly malevolent, wanting nothing more than to see Phoenix walk away in handcuffs. When he finally takes the stand, he and Phoenix have switched places, as the latter is now Apollo’s co-counsel. Kristoph’s testimony is practically flawless, though he is ultimately brought to justice. Defying the series’ formula we don’t even learn of his motive for murdering Shadi. Almost everything about this case was executed perfectly. It flows like a typical opening case only for it to have a conclusion that wouldn’t feel out of place in a finale. The culprit is a character you would initially have no reason to suspect, and the most incredible moment occurs after the case is finished. Apollo realizes receiving a piece of evidence that managed to turn the entire case around in his favor was a little too serendipitous. It is then revealed Phoenix had forged the evidence, knowing that when it was presented, Kristoph would contest its validity, thus implicating himself. This demonstrates how much Phoenix’s character has changed in seven years. The once easily flustered defense attorney now utilizes a guile approach that would put all of the most unsavory members of the Ace Attorney rouges gallery to shame. We had experienced all of Phoenix’s trials through his eyes, so it’s interesting viewing his character from a perspective that has yet to fully experience the craziness the average Ace Attorney episode entails. It allows him to be developed in ways not feasible when he was the protagonist.

As a logical ramification of Kristoph’s incarceration, Apollo finds himself out of a job. Though infuriated at Phoenix for restoring to a tactics of dubious legality, he decides to visit his office after receiving a call from him. Phoenix’s law firm has transformed into the Wright Talent Agency. It is now run by his daughter, Trucy. Despite her young age, she is a professional magician. Apollo learns from Trucy that Phoenix was struck by a car and is in the hospital recovering. Fortunately, Phoenix was not badly hurt, only leaving the incident with a sprained ankle. He wishes to hire Apollo to find the person responsible for the hit-and-run, intending to litigate when their identity is revealed.

Thus, the second episode, “Turnabout Corner”, begins. With it, you are brought to your first investigation phase. They function identically to similar portions in the three previous installments. You can examine anything in the immediate area, though only certain hotspots will result in dialogue. It is not necessary to examine everything, but the often humorous dialogue between Apollo and Trucy helps flesh them out as characters. As usual, the game won’t allow you to continue unless you’ve procured every piece of evidence available, so there is no need to worry about being trapped in an unwinnable situation. When a character is onscreen, Apollo can talk to them to get important information. When all else fails, he can present evidence to them, which often opens up new dialogue options.

As Apollo and Trucy investigate the city in search of Phoenix’s vehicular assailant, they happen upon an old associate of his: Ema Skye. She was one of the many new characters introduced in “Rise from the Ashes”, serving Maya Fey’s role for the episode. She aspired to become a forensics officer, but failed her final exam, thus ruining any prospects of acquiring her dream job. These days, she makes end meet as a detective at the local precinct, thus replacing mainstay Dick Gumshoe. Right now, she is investigating a murder that occurred around the same time Phoenix was injured. I can imagine some fans were put off by her newfound cynicism, but she provides an interesting, alternative justification for why Apollo needs to do the police work for her. While Gumshoe was repeatedly shown to be terrible at putting the pieces of a case together, Ema is entirely dispassionate about her job. Even so, the cheerful sixteen-year-old she once was isn’t completely gone, as Apollo has the chance to dust a part of crime scene for fingerprints just as Phoenix did nine years prior. When they conclude their investigation, they discover a young woman at the Wright Anything Agency. Introducing herself as Alita Tiala, she requests that Apollo represents her fiancé in court. It is from here that the game could be said to at last begin in earnest.

When Apollo Justice was first released, many longtime fans disliked the title character for replacing the universally popular Phoenix Wright. I can understand why there would be animosity lodged toward him, especially in light of how Mr. Takumi and his team justified Phoenix being unable to directly aid him. However, I found myself liking Apollo as a character. Though he tends to get easily surprised whenever the prosecution refutes his statements not unlike his boss, he is a distinct character from him. He is noticeably louder and fierier than Phoenix as evidenced by the judge ordering him to quiet down when he yells “Objection!” for the first time.

Apollo’s distinct personality from Phoenix’s even has an impact on the gameplay. Because Apollo does not possess Phoenix’s magatama, Psyche-Locks do not appear when someone is hiding the truth from him. Though he resorts to more mundane methods to gain sensitive information in the investigation phases, during trials, he has a mystical item of his own: his bracelet. As you will discover in the first trial phase in “Turnabout Corner”, whenever Apollo is in a situation in which he cannot present evidence to refute a witness’s testimony, he can use his superhuman perception to learn of a witness’s secret. When the option is available, you can tap the bracelet graphic on the bottom screen. This causes the witness to repeat their statement in slow motion.

If they are hiding the truth, they will begin to react strangely when made to repeat a certain part of the statement. For example, the first time you use it, you will notice the witness’s fingers twitching as he explains that he called the police on his cell phone. From here, you can present evident to contest their claims. Though it doesn’t quite have the same impact as breaking five Psyche-Locks, I found this to be a great new addition. In a lot of ways, you have to be just as perceptive as Apollo when deciding on the statement on which to use the bracelet.

I also found myself enjoying the dynamic between Apollo and Trucy. Similar to the relationship between Phoenix and Maya, their reactions to the innumerable strange things that occur in the average Ace Attorney court session provides a lot of humor in what would otherwise be a fairly serious murder mystery plot. Though the dynamics are similar, it’s distinct enough to the point where Mr. Takumi clearly wasn’t quite hitting all the same notes. Being the daughter of Phoenix Wright, she quickly proves to have many of his traits as she unravels a witness’s deception at one point. It’s as though she was given Maya’s childish enthusiasm, but with many of Phoenix’s sensibilities that manifest under the right circumstances. Playing opposite Apollo’s enthusiastic personality, they work really well together.

Naturally, no critique on an Ace Attorney installment would be complete without commenting on its central prosecutor. In a similar manner to finding out the identity of that of Justice for All, both Apollo and the player might be taken aback when learning the prosecutor is “Mr. Gavin”. No, the now-disgraced defense attorney did not escape jail and become a prosecutor. Instead “Mr. Gavin” refers to Kristoph’s younger brother, Klavier. Going into court against him, many players would assume that he shares many of his brother’s mannerisms by being a ruthless prosecutor. Actually meeting him in court reveals that he’s an easygoing person who is only interested in discovering the truth. Even when he does tease Apollo, it’s in a manner that utterly lacks malice. A suspicious person might think he is hiding his true nature, but it turns out he really is entirely on the level.

Like Apollo himself, Klavier is something of a point of contention. Fans claim it’s a nice change of pace given the historically antagonistic nature of an average prosecutor in this series. Detractors believe that Klavier doesn’t add any tension to the proceedings. Though I wouldn’t consider him my favorite prosecutor, I personally reside in the former camp. It serves as an effective meta twist that cleverly plays with the series expectations. I also appreciate how he isn’t prone to slapstick antics like his two predecessors; even by this series’ standards, they were gratuitous. Don’t be fooled – the prosecutor choosing not to antagonize Apollo doesn’t make the latter’s job a walk in the park. You will need to be just as astute as you were in previous installments to help Apollo acquit his clients.

All in all, “Turnabout Corner” is a solid episode. It’s set up in a subversive fashion wherein several plot threads are thrown at you at once. A ramen cart is stolen, an audience member of Trucy’s magic show pilfers one of her props, Phoenix is struck by a car, and a doctor is found murdered in the middle of this chaos. Apollo doesn’t even get to meet his client before the trial begins. The writers then proceed to do an excellent job tying everything together in the end, revealing that these seemingly random events were connected all along. With a stellar introductory episode and a strong follow-up, the first half of Apollo Justice is masterfully executed. It’s a shame, then, that the same couldn’t be said of the second half.

Many Ace Attorney fans are aware of an alleged jinx surrounding the third episode of any given installment. Of the original trilogy, Justice for All was probably the most responsible for this stigma existing. Its third episode, “Turnabout Big Top”, features a roundly annoying cast with the sole exception of the victim. The respective third episodes of Phoenix Wright and Trials and Tribulations were actually good, so any criticism lodged toward them tends to focus on their comparative lack of relevance to the overarching plot than being actively bad in any way. The validity of the third-episode jinx is highly subjective, but I can definitely say that if the writers attempted to dispel the perception in Apollo Justice, they failed miserably.

In the interest of fairness, I will admit this game’s third episode, “Turnabout Serenade” isn’t nearly as irritating as “Turnabout Big Top”. In fact, there are quite a lot of things I like about it. Apollo and Trucy are investigating a murder that took place at a concert hall during the performance in question. In a brilliant touch, you’re given control of a mixing board at certain points. Your goal is to listen to certain parts of a song by isolating tracks, using suspicious noises as evidence. For example, the signer happens to pass by the crime scene and her microphone picks up the fatal gunshot, demonstrating that the crime took place earlier than everyone thought.

“Turnabout Serenade” also comes out ahead of “Turnabout Big Top” by being more obviously relevant to the overarching plot. Not only is Klavier’s character greatly expanded upon, the episode has the courtesy to introduce two important characters: Valant Gramarye and Lamiroir. The former is a magician and who was a member of the same entertainment troupe as Trucy’s biological father while the latter is a musician from the fictional country of Borginia. Both characters play a major role in this episode, and their true importance is disclosed in the next. Up until now, characters of vital relevance to the backstory were typically introduced in the first episode in which they were directly mentioned. Though I appreciate the writers establishing the major players before the finale, “Turnabout Serenade” could very well be the most poorly conceived episode in the series.

The defendant of this episode is Machi Tobaye, a young, blind musician who cannot speak English. Though the prime suspect being a 14-year-old boy isn’t untoward in of itself, this premise falls apart the second you apply any kind of logic to the situation. The writers want us to believe that a prepubescent boy fired a .45 caliber revolver without injuring himself, carried a 250-pound man across the arena, and is a secret Interpol agent based on the letters written in blood by the victim. The murder weapon was especially egregious, for it is explicitly stated that the gun would dislocate an untrained person’s arm. In a series that has historically stretched the suspension of disbelief as far as it can go, this premise still manages to be jarringly awful. Apollo even disputes these claims early on only for Klavier to dismiss him offhandedly.

The real culprit is Daryan Crescend, a member of Klavier’s band and a law enforcement officer. He and Machi had smuggled a substance from Borginia called a Borginian cocoon. Though it can be used to rid someone of an otherwise incurable illness, one could manufacture a deadly poison with it as well. As such, smuggling them out of the country is punishable by death in Borginia. The case is solved when Apollo convinces Machi to confess to his crime in the United States where the crime is not punishable by death, leaving Daryan the only smuggler with no alibi. Interestingly, there is an explanation for why the case turned out so disastrously. Mr. Takumi worked under the assumption that Daryan was using his position to manipulate the investigation so he could throw Machi under the bus. Though it might have been a serviceable explanation, Mr. Takumi forgot to make this aspect clear in the dialogue.

Worse yet, catching the killer proves to be an exercise in contrivance. Deducing his identity involves knowing where everyone was at any given moment, which itself requires Apollo to find out how they performed a magic trick. Valant, the one who helped engineer the trick, refuses to tell Apollo how they pulled it off, citing the classic magician’s code: “a magician never reveals their secrets”. Indeed, one witness fails to mention that she heard the fatal gunshot during the second act and not the third, which is when you’re initially led to believe it took place. It was likely to maintain the illusion, but she had no practical reason to do this. So while I wouldn’t rank “Turnabout Serenade” lower than “Turnabout Big Top”, I perfectly understand why fans consider the former one of the series’ worst episodes alongside the latter.

Discussing the Ending

While “Turnabout Big Top” was incredibly problematic, the superb “Farewell, My Turnabout” followed immediately afterwards. Though it wasn’t quite enough to mitigate the damage caused by the game’s inconsistent quality, it did end Justice for All on a reasonably triumphant note that reminded players of Mr. Takumi’s talent. Does the finale of Apollo Justice follow a similar pattern? Unfortunately, the answer to that is a resounding no. In fact, I maintain that “Turnabout Succession” is the single weakest finale in the entire series.

Again, I feel obligated to begin with what I like about this episode. It starts with a straightforward premise – a reclusive artist, Drew Misham, agreed to conduct an interview with an intrepid reporter. Suddenly, Mr. Misham collapses on the table. He is pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death is linked to atroquinine – a slow-acting poison. The only person in the residence at the time the crime took place besides the artist and the reporter was the victim’s withdrawn daughter, Vera. She is immediately arrested for the murder, and it’s up to Apollo to acquit her. This trial has a panel of jurists, which was a practice that had been excised from the legal process several years before the series began, so he needs to convince them of her innocence. The murder itself would appear to be a classic locked-room mystery. You will then reach a dead-end when it becomes apparent that the reporter is innocent. To make matters worse, as Vera testifies on the stand, she collapses. She is treated at the hospital for the same poison that stole her father’s life.

It’s revealed at this point that the Mishams were involved in Phoenix Wright’s final trial. In a similar manner to “Turnabout Beginnings”, you get to witness it firsthand. Phoenix’s last client was a magician named Zak Gramarye. He had been accused of murdering his mentor, Magnifi. Everyone comments on the strangeness of this case, as Magnifi only had months to live, only being kept alive by IV medication. The climactic moment of this case occurs when Phoenix presents what he believes is the page of Magnifi’s diary, which was torn out of the book. The prosecutor, Klavier Gavin, immediately calls in a special witness in response to the new evidence. Said witness is Drew Misham, who reveals that the diary page was a forgery. An unknown client promised him $100,000 to fabricate evidence for this case. With Phoenix having presented false evidence defending Zak, the trial ends in the prosecution’s favor. However, before a “Guilty” verdict is declared, Zak disappears from the courtroom. Sometime after the trial ends, Phoenix’s attorney’s badge is revoked.

What follows is a sequence that allows you to conduct your own investigation regarding Zak’s disappearance and Drew’s death. This is presented through a program dubbed the MASON system, which is named after the character Perry Mason as portrayed by Raymond Burr. With it, you can go back and forth between the past and present until you’ve put all of the pieces together so Apollo can find the true culprit. This system has been criticized by some fans for not making any logical sense. This is mainly because Phoenix can seemingly present evidence from the future at certain points. I don’t really have too much of a problem with it because it’s heavily implied that you’re playing through a simulation of real events from the jurists’ perspectives. Nonetheless, I still have a problem with it. As if to make up for the magatama’s absence in the rest of the game, you must break Psyche-Locks multiple times in a row to see this seven-year investigation to its conclusion. Psyche-Locks worked in Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations because they were spread out. In Apollo Justice, the mechanic turns into a giant guessing game as you find out which section has the one piece of evidence you need to unlock the next conversation in the other.

Even so, the revelations are pretty incredible. With his sudden disappearance, Zak left behind his daughter Trucy. She was quickly adopted by Phoenix, and he had been making a living as a professional poker player with her unusually good perception. It’s no coincidence that two characters have this ability, as you learn Trucy and Apollo are half-siblings. Their common mother is Lamiroir, or Thalassa Gramarye. After her first husband died, she married Zak. The marriage ended in tragedy as a stage accident involving prop pistols seemingly killed her. That she was alive all along is spoiled somewhat by her age being updated in the profile list as opposed to being labelled “deceased”, but it’s still a revelation few would see coming.

Either way, after the supposed death of his daughter, Magnifi blackmailed his two potential successors, Zak and Valant to come to his hospital room and shoot one bullet square in the forehead. In the same room was a clown doll. If they had taken the letter too literally and killed him, his secrets would have been lost forever. Instead, Zak arrived first and shot the clown doll, unwilling to murder Magnifi. It’s implied that, as the father of Trucy, his biological grandchild, Magnifi wanted Zak to inherit the knowledge of his magic tricks. To this end, Magnifi sent the same letter to both of them with one minor difference – Zak was asked to arrive first. If Zak passed his secret test, Valant wouldn’t even have had a chance to prove himself. When the latter realized this, he walked from the hospital room despondent. Hearing a gunshot, he returned only to learn his mentor committed suicide. Thinking quickly, Valant rearranged objects in the room to make it appear as though Magnifi had been murdered.

Realizing he would need a skilled defense attorney, Zak turned to Kristoph Gavin. However, when he played a game of poker with him, he was privy to his dishonesty, and passed him up in favor of Phoenix Wright. Enraged that the person he believed to be a bumbler was put in charge of a high-profile case, Kristoph commissioned the Mishams to fabricate a diary page to set Phoenix up for failure. After this, he poisoned a postage stamp and nail polish intended to be used by the Mishams to cover his tracks. His plan backfired somewhat when the stamp he chose depicted the Gramarye Troupe, for Vera was a fan of theirs. They instead had the stamp framed, though Drew would use it seven years later, ensuring his demise. When Phoenix confronts Kristoph, demanding to know why he killed Shadi Smith, who was really Zak after having assumed a new identity, black Psyche-Locks appear. They would appear to indicate the sheer determination Kristoph had to keep his motives a secret.

Though the game throws quite a lot at the player in the final hours, a significant chunk of it falls flat. I will say I actually do like how in the span of one game, we know more concrete details about Apollo’s past than we ever did about Phoenix’s. While Phoenix was likely intended to be a stand-in for the player originally, Apollo didn’t take as long to move past that and became a character in his own right.

Where the game ultimately loses me primarily concerns Kristoph Gavin himself. To be perfectly frank, he is a terrible villain. He spent a lot of money and murdered two people – nearly succeeding in killing a third – just because he lost the opportunity to be in charge of a highly publicized case. While evil characters are often petty, it’s ultimately a flimsy motivation for such a detailed, intricate plan. The concept of his character is actually quite solid – essentially being a defense attorney counterpart to Manfred von Karma. However, the reason Manfred worked as a villain is because, similarly petty though his own motivation may have been, it took his perfectionistic tendencies to a logical, if terrifying extreme. He was so slighted by an otherwise insignificant black mark that he was willing to murder the man responsible for it. With Kristoph Gavin, we only know that he is willing to go to truly psychotic lengths to accomplish his goals. The question of why he would go to truly psychotic lengths to accomplish his goals is never sufficiently addressed.

The final nail in the coffin is when the object you were led to believe was the case-cracking piece of evidence is blown off instantly. What causes Kristoph to break down on the stand is when he learns that the jury system will likely pass down a “Not Guilty” verdict despite Apollo being unable to formally prove that he killed Drew Misham. Though you play as Phoenix just before the final court session, a majority of the actions he took to ensure Kristoph’s fall occurred off-screen. In other words, defying the series’ formula, and not in a good way, you don’t really actively win the final case as much as you passively watch the main antagonist lose. Giving the player such a passive role is a bad idea under ideal circumstances. Giving the player such a passive role when made to take down the main antagonist is horribly anticlimactic.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Great new characters
  • Creative story beats here and there
  • Strong introductory episode
  • Excellent music
  • New ability to closely examine objects
  • Significantly less reliance on slapstick
  • Introduces perception mechanic
Cons:

  • Questionable backstory for previous protagonist
  • Short
  • |Nonsensical third episode|
  • |Anticlimactic ending|
  • |Underwhelming antagonist|

Several years after the debut of Apollo Justice, the game was vindicated somewhat when fans warmed up to the characters. In all honesty, I think it has less to do with the merits of Apollo Justice being a solid continuation of a great series and more because its sequels managed to retroactively give this game a lot of goodwill. Indeed, when I learned that Phoenix would be disbarred by the events of Apollo Justice, I was wholly uninterested in checking this game out. Only after I learned a direct sequel was being produced did I entertain giving it a chance. It stands to reason, for I would argue the greatest weakness this game had for the longest time was that it was exceptionally poor as a chronological endpoint. In hindsight, it wasn’t surprising that the next two games took place in between Trails and Tribulations and Apollo Justice because a potential sequel to the latter would’ve involved a lot of backpedaling.

I’ve said everything I needed to say and now only the big question remains: do I recommend playing it? As strange as it may sound, I find myself in a similar situation as when I was asked whether or not I could recommend Lufia & the Fortress of Doom. That is to say, Apollo Justice is a difficult recommendation not by virtue of being outright bad, but because though quite a lot of the experience is tedious and nonsensical, there are just enough flashes of brilliance that some might consider soldiering through it worthwhile. At the end of the day, my endorsement of the game is as follows. If you intend to try this game out for yourself, do it with the intention of following it up with its direct sequel afterward. Otherwise, Apollo Justice is popularly considered the series’ low point, and it’s plain to see why. Though I don’t officially recommend skipping any of the Ace Attorney installments, you could do a lot worse than giving this one a pass.

Final Score: 5/10

6 thoughts on “Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

  1. It’s interesting reading your perspective, as I personally consider Apollo Justice to be my favorite in the series of all the titles I have played so far. Perhaps it has to do with me experiencing all of these games as a latecomer – I didn’t play the original trilogy as they were coming out, so I didn’t have the same amount of time to develop strong feelings about the characters and expectations about the series. So the whole story of Phoenix being disbarred and coming back from it was an interesting change of pace for me without feeling like something really important was violated. That being said, I can definitely understand how the ending is frustrating in the sense that the repetitive Psych-locks are a pain in the tail, and the third story feels completely ridiculous with Machi as the suspect. I’m planning to jump into Dual Destinies soon and I am very excited to continue the series!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely think certain aspects of this story have fared well in hindsight. If it’s one thing I admire about the controversial decision to disbar Phoenix, it’s that the next games address it without excising it from the canon – they did a surprisingly good job too. Much like Metal Gear Solid 2, this is a game where it paid to be a latecomer. I myself got into this game a year before the release of Dual Destinies. Knowing that a sequel was on the way did a lot to make the controversial plot points tolerable, and I also never really had much animosity towards Apollo as a result.

      I can appreciate somebody declaring this their favorite installment over the original or Trials and Tribulations. The latter is a popular choice, but I think the series managed to achieve a higher level of greatness after the original trilogy. Indeed, I haven’t actually discussed my personal pick for the best game in the series yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I’ve heard both accounts – some people have said you can’t beat the original trilogy while others have told me that the most recent game is their favorite. So I’m excited to dive into Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice to decide for myself – if Apollo Justice is any indication, I may very well end up enjoying them more despite the fact that I was very impressed with the original three when I completed them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Man, Apollo Justice is such a mixed game. I really like that they were brave enough to make such a drastic change. It also takes a lot of bravery to take a formerly established character such as Ema Skye and turn her into such a negative creature. And although they didn’t exactly do too well with his character, I do appreciate the changes they made to Phoenix. It was so nice to see him finally confident, scheming, and so capable. And I guess given how the series has developed, it was a good call making sure to keep him relevant.

    On the other hand, a lot of the series did seem like they were just throwing ideas at a wall to see what stuck, and not all the ideas were good ones. I wasn’t a fan of Apollo’s perceive ability. I like the idea in theory, but the practice could have been a fair bit smoother. It just felt clumsy to implement.

    The story beats were hit and miss as well. I really liked most of the characters, and again, this was one of their more creative entries, but its use of laws were more inconsistent than ever (Phoenix’s disbarment for presenting forged evidence when we’ve already seen a couple of prosecutors, such as Edgeworth and Manfred Von Karma, doing the same, and the whole jury system that went nowhere), I feel a lot of it got a bit too complicated for it’s own good, and some things just didn’t make sense. Getting your client declared guilty because you can’t figure out a magic trick that the prosecutor already knows how it was done is pretty ridiculous. And yeah, a lot just got lost there, such as the motive for the corrupt policeman you mentioned, anything that would make Kristoph Gavin’s doings make any sense, etc.

    I’m glad a lot of it did get folded into future entries, even if they did have to backtrack a lot with Phoenix’s character. Dual Destinies even explores a lot more into Apollo’s background and character, which was really nice. But man, I really wish this one put a much better foot forward for that new era.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s what makes Apollo Justice such a frustrating experience for me; there are so many things about it I like that they all seem like a wasted effort in the end. I did not like Ema’s arc, but though Phoenix’s was controversial, I agree that it was the best place to take his character after the original trilogy. I really liked how much of a schemer he became; the only real complaint I have about that is that it obviated Apollo’s (and by extension the player’s) own actions, though not quite to the extent where he was made completely superfluous.

      Ironically, I actually think the series became better at gauging what does and doesn’t work after Mr. Takumi left the series. The series became a lot more consistently good after the first Investigations whereas before, it seemed to be the result of throwing random ideas at the wall and hoping that something stuck, as you say. To make one thing perfectly clear, I don’t believe Mr. Takumi was holding the series back; we have him to thank for it even existing in the first place. However, I remember when I completed the Professor Layton crossover only to realize I enjoyed the two most recent installments made without his input (Prosecutor’s Path and Dual Densities) far more than I did the two most recent ones he directed (the crossover itself and Apollo Justice).

      I actually thought to myself that Phoenix getting disbarred for presenting forged evidence when Edgeworth and Manfred von Karma suffered no such repercussions demonstrated how much the law system in the Ace Attorney universe heavily favors the prosecution. Granted, it still doesn’t make much sense considering lawyers such as Robert Hammond resorted to much shadier tactics without losing their badge.

      It’s not surprising the jury system was dropped like a lead balloon because in a lot of these cases, it becomes pretty clear that the defendant couldn’t have committed the crime they’re being accused of, and solving the case without catching the culprit would outright break the story. That’s something thing I like about Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice; you can get different non-standard game overs depending on when in the final case you lost.

      Kristoph Gavin is an especially baffling villain to me. As I said, I think they attempted to make a defense attorney equivalent of Manfred von Karma, but the problem is that the actions he took to fulfill his objective were way out of proportion with his motivation. Manfred’s own actions were monstrous and wouldn’t make sense to a normal human, but there was a real, if extremely twisted logic to it. The steps Kristoph takes are the kinds of things one would expect a villain would do to if they wanted to assassinate a world leader or effect a regime change – not get back at a fellow defense attorney because he lost a celebrity client to him. I also think it was a missed opportunity that the relationship between the Gavin brothers isn’t really expanded upon. I think that’s probably this game’s Achilles heel; the reason characters do what they do and things are the way they are often boils down to “Cuz”.

      Yeah, quite a lot of Dual Destines was spent backpedaling from Apollo Justice, but thankfully, I feel they did it without making it too jarring. This new era for Ace Attorney would explore many new, great ideas, but with this game, the series basically tripped at the starting line.

      Liked by 1 person

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