This is the fifth in a series of Ace Attorney reviews and I recommend reading the others before this. This post will contain spoilers for Ace Attorney Investigations and all the games preceding it. Thanks for reading!
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth was the first spin-off game the Ace Attorney series would receive. Initially conceived of as starring Ema Skye investigating the crime scene with her forensic tools, the project was instead shifted to Edgeworth because of his huge popularity within the Ace Attorney fan community. Instead of focusing on defending clients in court, Edgeworth gets up and personal with the crime scenes, doing one better than Phoenix and solving the crimes then and there, before even getting to court. Furthermore, this game marks the first step in a new era of Ace Attorney – of games headed up not by series creator Shu Takumi, but instead Takeshi Yamazaki, hot off his work as a planner on Apollo Justice. Yamazaki’s work on the two Investigations games would eventually convince his bosses at Capcom that he was fit to head up the main series. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. What I’m trying to say is that, although initially seeming an unassuming spin-off game, Investigations is in fact reasonably important to evaluate in judging the direction the series would take from here on out.
The first case, Turnabout Visitor, immediately makes clear what Investigations can do with its new out-of-courtroom perspective. After seeing the traditional opening that informs the viewer of who the criminal is, we then get a scene of Edgeworth himself being held up at gunpoint. Phoenix has been attacked outside of court before, such as in The Lost Turnabout, but it seems more like a statement on the game’s new perspective here; the player character is now more involved in the action, rather than simply looking at the case from the past. Of course, the murder must have happened before you can investigate it, but there’s still more of a sense of immediacy to the proceedings, giving more room for scenes that have more of a thriller vibe to them.
As the body is discovered, the game’s camera reveals its resting stance; the whole game takes place in an isometric viewpoint, so as to allow for a better viewpoint of the entire scene. It’s also probably there to give a better sense of how locations fit together, although you’re so rarely allowed to travel between multiple rooms that this often doesn’t matter. In The Kidnapped Turnabout, for example, Gatewater Land fits together as well as any location from the main series, and you aren’t ever really allowed free roam to go between its various locales. I think the isometric camera is overall a success – it lacks the streamlined investigation of a point and click but the environments are never big enough for it to be tiring to walk around them, and the sense of place you gain from the camera is a boon. The little sprites that run around it also have a ton of personality, often showing that it’s not only the characters involved in the cases that are quirky; it’s seemingly everyone in the world of Ace Attorney. Even in this first case, the police investigators that fill Edgeworth’s office are filled with personality you don’t get in the static background guards of the main series.
While we’re on the topic of introducing the game’s new mechanics, we might as well discuss ‘Logic’, which sounds like the sort of thing you should have used in all the other games, but is instead a clunky new mechanic that only Edgeworth, in all his genius, claims to have. The basics of Logic are simple, and it’s certainly a mechanic that fits into the Ace Attorney series more than say, Perceive. You gather a bunch of little mysteries from the crime scene that aren’t quite actual evidence and store them in your brain. When you find two of these mysteries that can connect to form a solution, then you can move on.
The problem is in the specifics, or lack of them. Each of these little mysteries is reduced to a little sentence that is often vague enough that the logic doesn’t feel like it quite makes sense. Let’s look at even the first ever instance of Logic. The two phrases you have to connect are “Is it a coincidence the crime took place in my office?” and “The office was locked”. Connecting these two does give an answer to the former question; it’s hard to get in without a key, so it can’t be a coincidence that Edgeworth’s office was used. But it’s not foolproof logic; the existence of a master key means that any office in the building could have been used, so it might still have been a coincidence it was Edgeworth’s. Or perhaps they chose a random office to pick the lock of, or steal the key for. As the game continues, the sentences get even more vague and Logic as a mechanic often just feels like connecting the two things that seem connected without any real understanding of how those two things actually provide some new clarity.
Still, it’s a mechanic that is based on answering questions, and it provides a similar purpose to the Magatama in allowing for a couple of mysteries to hang over the case for a while, making solving them even more satisfying. Certain scenes even show it in its full potential; a sequence near the end of Turnabout Reminiscence features Edgeworth recalling snippets of testimony from across the entire case and slotting them together to uncover how the trick of the double murder was committed – it’s a moment of the game gracefully leading the player to a tricky solution, something that I think Yamazaki’s games have a marked skill at doing, which we’ll see in mechanics like the ‘Thought Route’ from later games.
I noted that the opening scene shows a game trying to prove a unique identity, but very quickly we fall into old patterns when Gumshoe, then later the returning Maggey Byrde, are accused of killing the victim by prosecutor Jacques Portsman. It seems that old habits die hard, because in every case in Investigations, you end up defending someone accused of murder. As such, it often feels like we might as well be playing ‘Phoenix Wright Investigations’, because the dynamic is so similar. The game feels like it needs Edgeworth to go against rivals with their own logic, but it needn’t be that way. The cross-examination mechanics are great, and so I’m not sad to see their return here, but it sometimes feels like in porting them over to a new style of game, they’ve bought with them the baggage of needing a defender/accuser relationship. That’s not to say that the cross-examination never works in this game; indeed, when Portsman is defending himself with his alibi, it does feel a lot more like an intense conversation at a crime scene rather than a courtroom formality. But when Portsman, Franziska, Lang or any of the other rivals in this game are accusing your friends of murder, then it all starts to feel too familiar.
It is nice to see Gumshoe again, however. Of the characters in Apollo Justice’s flashback case, I almost feel like Gumshoe was done dirtier than Phoenix. Gumshoe is the lovable doofus, and his dynamic with Edgeworth is one of those perfect Ace Attorney pairings. There’s a real sense of reluctant camaraderie there, and you can see pretty clearly how the two of them have remained friends beyond simply being forced together by work; Edgeworth is a respectable prosecutor who’s harsh with his pay cuts but otherwise fair, and Gumshoe may be an idiot, but he’s reliable. The origins of which are explained in Turnabout Reminiscence, but almost unnecessarily; their friendship was clear and charming in Turnabout Goodbyes and hasn’t lost that here. While Kay may ostensibly fill the Maya/Trucy hole in this game by her nature of being a young girl with some kind of helpful talent, it’s Gumshoe who’s actually by your side for most of the game (and being accused of the most crimes).
The rest of Turnabout Visitor is somewhat anti-climatic, at least compared to its suspenseful opening. The whole case taking place in a dimly lit office room at night gives it an almost cosy feeling; isolated from the grandeur of the courtroom, a small-scale case like this feels strangely insubstantial. I think it’s for this reason that Visitor’s length grates a bit. Sure, they have a lot of mechanics to introduce, but the whole ordeal is so weightless that it drags more than it should. It’s an odd introduction – one that fails to completely sell the game’s change of scenery while still offering a glimpse of what could become something interesting.
If the first case is a bit of a hard sell, the second case, Turnabout Airlines fails to convince of anything, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that this is my least favourite case of the entire series so far. Which is annoying, because it seems like it would hold a lot of promise; it’s set inside an airplane, which is a cool little closed-circle scenario for a murder, it features Edgeworth having to defend himself, and it has some of the game’s better gags, such as the uhh… interestingly designed suitcases.
However, the way in which the case fails to exploit any of what it has going for it is incredible; the airplane it’s set in is unlike any other I’ve ever flown, with the world’s largest cargo hold, a luxurious lounge, multiple stories connected by elevator and a gift shop with its own room on the plane. Surely the appeal of setting a murder in an airplane is to make use of a tightly constricted place with a set number of suspects and no room for anyone to get in or out. It worked for Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, which also features its lead character, Poirot, being a murder suspect and having to solve the case to defend himself, but at least there the setting is taken advantage of.
Turnabout Airlines also highlights a couple of other, larger, problems within the structure of the entire game, and there’s no better example of this than the initial investigation and confrontation with Zinc Lablanc. Edgeworth, given full roam of the crime scene by Teneiro (the names in this game are much more difficult to spell and remember than in other games), is allowed to finally look at the elevator where he found the dead body. Surrounding the elevator is a wine stain, and from the wine stain some footprints emerge, leading us to the conclusion that there must have been someone exiting the elevator – and, since the dead body couldn’t have moved, there must have been someone else in there with him. This is a perfectly simple and fine gameplay sequence. The problem comes in what I mentioned before – the game thinks there has to be an antagonist to argue against, so you then have to prove to Zinc what you’ve just found. It happens again later in the case, where you basically have to summarise what you learned in the first half for Franziska. If I had to be generous to the game, I’d say this was to differentiate Edgeworth from Phoenix as a player character. There’s even a line in Turnabout Ablaze that suggests this might have been the intention of Yamazaki and his team, with Edgeworth saying he’s not usually this unprepared. While Phoenix approaches every cross-examination while hanging by the seat of his pants, Edgeworth gets ready for each one and knows exactly what to present.
For the story this might make sense, but for the player it’s meaningless busywork and exposes a problem in parts of the gameplay loop; you’re figuring out something in the investigations which you then simply have to present to someone else. The latter part of that isn’t challenging or fun, it’s just going through the motions. I’ve complained about this in my review of Danganronpa V3 as well, and it’s a shame that Investigations didn’t take the lesson from the core Ace Attorney games; that the point of the cross-examinations is to lead the players to new discoveries or present new evidence, rather than to have them simply prove that something they already knew. Of course, not every Argument section in Investigations is like this, but the fact that they crop up at all is a problem.
The other thing that Investigations has failed to learn from Ace Attorney-proper is about stringing along the player’s interest. The gameplay flow in Ace Attorney moves from trial to investigation, with the investigation section acting as a respite for the player after the high stakes and tension of the courtroom. You start in investigation, build up some intrigue from what you find out, then have a big explosive day in court and wind down and back up again until the case’s climax. In Investigations, cases are instead split up into ‘Beginning’, ‘Middle’ and ‘End’ segments, which lends itself to a continuous rising tension. Something like this works for a film, but when you’re playing a long game and presumably finish a case over the course of a couple of play sessions, this leads to the opening and middle sections often being dull and devoid of much tension. Shorter cases like Turnabout Reminiscence that can be finished quickly avoid this, and longer cases that sprinkle in some drama as they continue and end segments on a cliff-hanger, like The Kidnapped Turnabout, also understand that this structure poses a problem for the game. But Turnabout Airlines doesn’t really go anywhere in the middle. Once you’ve proven your innocence, the case simply throws more and more evidence against Teneiro, until the end when you have enough evidence that you can show Cammy Meele was the real murderer. As such, the case feels incredibly sluggish to get through.
The characters in Turnabout Airlines are similarly dull. I mentioned I liked the gag about Teneiro’s suitcases, which I do, but otherwise she’s pretty devoid of personality except for being a bit of a jobsworth, which isn’t exactly the best trait for someone we’re meant to sympathise with. Zinc feels like a bit of an iffy stereotype, although it’s vague enough that I’m not sure of what, but he highlights a problem with some of the game’s humour, which is occasionally over-explained. He calls Edgeworth ‘insolvent’, to which Edgeworth’s monologue informs the player that insolvent actually means ‘doesn’t dissolve in water’, because we all know that a joke only improves once it’s explained. Much of the humour that works in Investigations is the character dynamics between Edgeworth and his various sidekicks, while the attempts at more traditional humour falls flat. As for the case’s murderer Cammy Meele, there’s not much to say about her. Borginian smuggling wasn’t particularly interesting in Apollo Justice, and it isn’t that interesting here either, at least until it gets expanded in Turnabout Ablaze.
I feel a bit mean going in so hard on Turnabout Airlines, so let’s turn to The Kidnapped Turnabout, a case I’m a bit fonder of. This is the third case, establishing the Investigations ‘dynamic’ with its introduction of rival Shi-Long Lang and young girl assistant Kay Faraday. Or so it seems, because something Investigations isn’t really ever credited for is bucking the trend when it comes to this dynamic; Lang is only really present in this case and Turnabout Ablaze, and while Kay appears in Turnabout Reminiscence, it’s as a child. Gumshoe and Edgeworth are the only real constants in the game, the rest are periphery recurring characters, rather than the central core of the game like Edgeworth and Maya were in their debut game. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is something we’ll explore later, but it’s worth praising the game for at least trying something different.
I think the idea of a kidnapping case where you’re actively trying to find the kidnapped party is a fun idea for this kind of game, even though it was arguably done better (but differently) in Farewell, My Turnabout. Still, it’s fun, and the opening cutscene again sets up the thriller atmosphere well. When you’re trapped in the kidnapper’s hideout, the escape room segment is also a neat way to play with the investigation mechanics; it’s no Zero Escape, but as an introduction to the case and a way to force some interaction between Kay and Edgeworth, it works nicely. If anything, though, it highlights how the game could do with cribbing some more mechanics from point-and-click adventure games. For example, finding a small key means you naturally want to test them out on some lockers, but instead you have to Logic them together, resulting in a penalty (the small key is actually for the hatch on the floor, which is a bit annoying, given that it’s basically guesswork which item it will work on).
Another mild disappointment is the resurgence of another nasty Ace Attorney trope that I wish Investigations had the chutzpah to do away with. In the case’s second investigation segment, you quickly stumble across a dead body, and it’s a shame even a game so uniquely situated to do a non-murder case doesn’t take that opportunity. In general, though, I think the actual case in The Kidnapped Turnabout is pretty good, feeling like Ace Attorney’s take on the film Fargo with a staged kidnapping falling completely off the rails as the kidnappers start fighting amongst themselves. Lauren Paups is the more innocent kidnapper who has to deal with the fact that she may have killed her own father (the Ace Attorney writers really can think of no better way to up the stakes than having someone kill their parent, eh?), Lance is the spoiled rich kid who has worked up horrendous debt, and Ernest is the over-protective father. I wish we’d spent a bit more time with Lance to make him more of an interesting figure, but there’s some good character work going on between the lines; any father that would buy a haunted house just to make sure his child isn’t arrested for murder is the kind of father who would raise a son like Lance, something compounded upon the more we learn about Ernest in later cases. I do like how unthreatening Lance himself is as a villain, however; once dragged into the open he actually does very little to defend himself, mainly leaving that up to his dad and Lang. He’s a pathetic character with a pathetic self-defence, but that’s good. Not every Ace Attorney murderer should be some cunning villain with an iron will. Variety is the spice of life.
Perhaps one of the most defining features of The Kidnapped Turnabout isn’t its case exclusive characters, however, but its returning ones. This case is full of references to the first four games, both obvious and subtle; from a Gramarye poster in the stadium to the return of Mike Meekins, Wendy Oldbag, Ema Skye, and the Blue Badgers. This case, and indeed this game, is full of fanservice. In Turnabout Visitor we see Maggey Byrde, in Turnabout Airlines there’s Franziska and a Sal Manalla cameo, The Judge is in Turnabout Reminiscence, and Larry Butz pokes his Steel Samurai costumed head into Turnabout Ablaze. Some of these cameos make sense and work well; Oldbag was always going to be in a Miles Edgeworth game, as was Larry (and putting him in the costume of Edgeworth’s favourite superhero is a beautiful touch). The background gags can be nice callbacks for the fans, and a couple of the characters I just love enough to always appreciate seeing, like the Judge.
But occasionally it feels like the game is just straining itself to put these characters in over anything original. I like the original characters in Investigations, so seeing space wasted on Maggey or Ema is just strange, especially when they appear for 5 minutes before disappearing. Ema in this case is especially odd; Gumshoe calls her in to do some forensic analysis but then she just wanders off after doing one little thing that could have been accomplished by any of the police’s faceless forensic goons. It’s done elsewhere by them, with fingerprints and luminol testing done on the Primidux statue in Turnabout Ablaze without Ema having to fly halfway across the globe. She appears, does little of value and then leaves – fanservice done in the worst way possible.
I said I liked the new characters, so let’s mention the most important; Kay and Lang. Kay is your new assistant, the daughter and heir of Bryne Faraday, a notorious phantom thief known as the Yatagarasu. I really, really like Kay, to the extent that I think she might be my favourite of the companions so far; her banter with Edgeworth and Gumshoe is great in this game, to the extent that I wish she was introduced a bit earlier. She’s a character in the same vein as Maya and Trucy, with a complicated past handed down to her from her family and a fun and upbeat personality, but that personality works a lot better matched against someone like Edgeworth, who’s much more uptight than Phoenix or Apollo. She’s also more actively involved in combating her own personal demons than those two; Maya is too often caught up in prison, leaving it up to Mia to sort out the Fey clan’s mess, and while Trucy is working hard at magic, it’s Phoenix who uncovers the nasty secrets of the Gramaryes. We meet Kay, however, actively pursuing Calisto Yew, and it’s her who leads Edgeworth along to help her, rather than the other way around. The two really feel like they support each other in their goals in a more meaningful way than most companions and protagonists in this series. I really do think she’s a great companion, managing to make a mark despite being only in three of the game’s cases.
Instead of Maya’s spirit channelling or Trucy’s Gramarye eyes, Kay is equipped with Little Thief, a hand-me-down piece of tech from her father that allows a room to be holographically projected onto another room, ostensibly for the planning of heists, but used here to recreate the crime scene at various points in time. It reminds me a little in concept of last year’s Obra Dinn’s stopwatch, but remoulded to fit the Ace Attorney gameplay of finding contradictions, as the holographic recreation changes as Edgeworth uses it to deduce more and more about the scene. It’s a great way to use Kay’s background as a thief and the game’s new perspective and gameplay innovations.
Shi-Long Lang is less of a success – if Kay is trying to replicate a Maya or Trucy-like character, then Lang is Godot from the beginning of Trials and Tribulations through-and-through. He’s full of meaningless, self-contradictory phrases and an outwardly cool demeanour that commands respect, with a yet-unexplained loathing towards the game’s protagonist. But he feels messy as a character, like he’s been placed here as a way to fill in roles the game needs, rather than being written for his own sake. In one scene, he describes his mantra as being to arrest the first person he sees and letting the courts handle the rest, in another he’s proclaiming that ‘on the path to truth there is no probability’ and asserting that evidence and logic are key. His inconsistency could be some humorous commentary on blind faith belief in contradictory texts written by your ancestors, but I think it’s really just lazy writing. That’s not to say Lang isn’t fun to be around; most Ace Attorney characters are (plus he’s got a cool theme). But compared to the rivals of the main series, Lang feels too much like a rival for the sake of a rival. It’s there because mainline Ace Attorney was doing it.
The next case, Turnabout Reminiscence, is a flashback to a point some time before Trials and Tribulations’ fourth case, as we see Edgeworth investigating a crime that takes place before what would have been his first case. Of course, with a new timeline comes a new Edgeworth. It’s easy to forget that the Edgeworth we all know and love has been changed by the events of the first game, and so playing as a younger version means making sure we aren’t playing as someone as dedicated to the truth over all else. Indeed, the Edgeworth of Turnabout Reminiscence plays a difficult balancing act between arrogant enough to match what he would evolve into, and naïve enough to still be a child; between nice enough to bear playing as, and mean enough to be a protégée of Manfred von Karma.
I think overall the case succeeds, mainly through the smaller details; his interactions with Calisto Yew and Tyrell Badd are perfect, as their personalities are tailor made to deflate the younger, cockier Edgeworth in a way that allows him to be a dick to them at first, then quickly change into someone a bit more reasonable. His conversation with Manfred near the start of the game is another highlight in convincing us that Edgeworth is still under his spell at this point. In one of my favourite details in the game, the description for the Prosecutor’s Badge item changes when you go to the past. In the present, it reads “Proof of my profession. However, I prefer to keep it in my pocket.” In Turnabout Reminiscence, it reads “My mentor says it’s more chic to keep it in your pocket.” Most players might not read this, but providing a reason as to why Edgeworth keeps his badge in his pocket, while also showing how he’s moved out of the shadow of his mentor is a lovely little touch.
It’s in this case that the various running threads of the game start to rear their heads, in a way clearly inspired by Trials and Tribulations. Although Investigations makes an effort to tie every case together in a way that no other game in the series has tried before, it’s still influenced by the main series games in the lightness of touch with which is accomplishes this. Portsman and the missing files come up again, as does the smuggling ring mentioned in Airlines and Ernest Amano of The Kidnapped Turnabout, but it never feels like these cases are working too hard in service of setting up Turnabout Ablaze. Reminiscence, with its hanging thread of Calisto Yew’s disappearance, does feel a little like it exists for the sake of Ablaze, but no more than Beginnings did for Bridge to the Turnabout. Still, it’s worth keeping the game’s aspirations of an interconnected narrative in mind for the future of the series, because I think it’s interesting how Yamazaki takes Takumi’s idea here and tries to push it further. I think it works here; there are moments (such as Shi-Long Lang’s cameo in this case), which feel like the game is shoehorning in characters for the sake of tying everything together, but mostly it’s natural, while also making the reach of the game’s mysterious smuggling organization feel extensive. When each of the game’s villains, and even some of its victims, are revealed to be various arms of this huge operation, it creates the idea of going against something much larger than the series has ever attempted before. Again, take notice of this power creep of villainy, because it rears its ugly head again, but here it’s novel and fresh and generally well-executed.
Speaking of the smuggling ring, we finally come to Turnabout Ablaze, which is this huge, ridiculous behemoth of a case. I have no idea if this is the longest case in Ace Attorney so far (I think that honour might go to Rise from the Ashes), but it certainly feels like it is. Which is why it’s almost admirable how Ablaze doesn’t ever quite collapse under its own weight. It comes close at points, such as the final confrontation with Quercus Alba, but it just about stays bearable by learning what not to do from the cases that came before it.
For example, unlike Turnabout Airlines, this case manages to sustain interest throughout with a number of false conclusions, the most obvious being the confrontation against Shih-na, who turns out to have been the missing Calisto Yew all along, and one part of the three-man Yatagarasu team. Shih-na’s real identity is a pretty good twist, something that Yamazaki’s teams have a special knack for. In Takumi’s games the identity of the main villain is occasionally shocking, but not quite in the same way; turning off the lights to see Godot’s glowing mask is pretty good, but seeing Shih-na’s laughing sprite is a real holy shit moment, something that Yamazaki keeps expanding on as he continues his run as series director. I think this propensity towards excellent twists are why some of his games can surpass the popularity of the original trilogy among fans; well-executed twists are the bread and butter of a lot of detective stories, and something that Takumi’s games are less eager to deliver.
Of course, the real villain of Turnabout Ablaze, and indeed all of Investigations is Quercus Alba, the man who cannot be tried by the law thanks to his diplomatic immunity. Ablaze features diplomatic immunity as a key theme throughout, but it never quite has the punch it needs. Every time Edgeworth is forbidden to examine a room, someone always jumps to his rescue within a few seconds of gameplay to allow him to do it. It would have been cool to actually not be allowed to examine a room, but I guess they already pulled that trick in The Kidnapped Turnabout so it can’t be done here, leaving this whole idea feeling rather neutered until you actually go face to face with Alba.
At the very least, Alba seems like a formidable villain who can’t be touched; with diplomatic immunity in the US and control of the courts in Allebahst, he’s willing to admit that he killed Mask de Masque II just because he’s so confident of his ability to get away with it. The only thing that can stop him is evidence that’s illegal, such as the video tape and the calling card. Investigations gives you a choice of whether you want to use them or not, but you end up having to anyway. Edgeworth’s monologue before the choice seems like he’s rejecting the ‘ends justify the means’ approach of Phoenix in Apollo Justice, and this is a character trait that makes sense. Edgeworth has seen the tragedy that comes from those who use illegal evidence in the form of his mentor Manfred von Karma and the Yatagarasu, so having him be insistent that he only uses legitimate evidence to seek the truth would be a nice way to set him apart from Phoenix. But since Justice for All, the series has been concerned only with the idea of truth above all else, and thus Edgeworth has to use the illegal evidence, because it’s the only way forward. Even if it’s only for a small stalling of Alba, it’s a shame that Edgeworth loses this moment to make himself a distinct playable character in terms of his morality.
In other ways, Edgeworth is the most distinctive protagonist in the series so far, because he was crafted first and foremost as an antagonist. He’s the only one to be playable before and after going through a huge change in world-view and mindset (aside, perhaps, from the brief moment of investigating as the older Phoenix in Turnabout Succession), and his overtly mean streak sets him apart from the sarcastic humour of Phoenix and Apollo. There’s also his “logical brain” that means cross-examinations mostly play like Edgeworth is on the front foot. Even when confronting Shih-na, it’s mostly Edgeworth explaining things he already knew, and Edgeworth’s inner monologue even mentions how he needs to be tactical in explaining Shih-na’s guilt to Calisto Yew. Although I’m not of the opinion that Apollo and Phoenix play exactly the same, their similarities certainly become apparent when contrasted with a character like Edgeworth.
The sense of usually being on the front foot in arguments makes the Alba fight quite daunting, as he’s always on the cusp of simply walking out the door without you being able to do anything. The final series of cross-examinations is insanely lengthy and drawn out, with six interruptions from characters butting in to give more and more conclusive evidence, with everything from a stab wound to a hot dog box being used to take Alba down. It leads to a satisfying moment of victory, but there are problems with it as well. The more twists that are crammed into such a small space, the more diminishing returns there are. When Kay steps in for the first time to stall Alba with an expert bluff, it feels good. But when even the forensics guy shouts ‘HOLD IT’ to deliver some case-breaking evidence it’s just a bit tiring and feels like the game is taking the piss a little.
There’s also a problem with tone in this confrontation. Ace Attorney has always managed to balance the funny and dramatic but it rarely mixes them in one scene. Godot’s confession isn’t interrupted by Larry Butz because these moments need some time to themselves to have maximum impact. But Alba’s confrontation is constantly peppered with moments that are occasionally funny but often just a bit annoying. I think the reason for this is that Alba himself is boring. He’s intimidating, sure, and an absolute bastard, but he lacks any kind of motivation beyond presumably the bucket loads of money that the ring makes him. This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself – there are plenty of people in real life like this – but having to spend all this time with someone whose only real personality trait is ‘evil’ means that the writers have to put in comedy to keep the player’s interest, and thus end up undercutting their own villain. My favourite villain in the series to this point remains Gant, because he combines Alba’s idea of an untouchable dickhead with someone whose actions have some depth to them, allowing him to be an interesting and formidable villain to face.
With Alba taken care of, Ace Attorney Investigations wraps up its experiment, and I’m left feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Investigations is by no means a bad game, it is simply a good game hindered. Throughout this critique, I have shown how big a debt Investigations owes to the main series; it’s not simply in the borrowed characters and mechanics, but in the way cases play out and in the themes it tackles. In an interview, art director Iwamoto Tatsuro noted of Yamazaki; “at first, he was too scared of the shadow of Mr. Takumi and he had a part that looked like a copy of Mr. Takumi. He managed to balance that better now. I don’t mean he lost that Takumi-ness, but I think there was too little Yamazaki-ness at first…”. I think, though, in the final product there’s still too little of Yamazaki. When it’s allowed to do its own thing, it thrives. The new mechanics and characters Investigations introduces are generally successful, the smuggling ring is a unique villain, and cases like The Kidnapped Turnabout show a promising set up for something interesting. But every time Investigations turns its head back to look at what came before, it trips up.
In the next entry, we’ll be looking at Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor’s Path, and how Yamazaki and his team attempt to expand on the promise of the original. Also worth noting is that I now have a patreon if you want to support me. I don’t really expect anyone to so I’m not plugging it hard but worth doing nonetheless. And while I work on getting my old account unbanned, you can find me on twitter now @twoatali. Thanks for reading!