One thing which I’ve maintained throughout this lovely little sojourn through the Ace Attorney games has been that the series has never needed to indulge in any huge amount of innovation. Indeed, the franchise really hasn’t been that interested in it either, with each game retaining the same excellent core gameplay loop with, at best, only tiny additions to the format. However, even the staunchest series wants some sort of change at some point, and so, as the franchise dallies with difference, we come to Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (Android, iOS, NDS [reviewed])
Released May 2009 | Developed / Published: Capcom
Genre: Adventure | HLTB: 23 hours
For the first time in the series we step into the shoes of a prosecutor, the franchise’s constant sometimes-villains, occasionally well-meaning source of courtroom frustration. As you can no doubt glean from the title, for this entry we take control of Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s childhood friend and rival. Miles at least has earned some goodwill in the franchise as he’s the closest thing the prosecutors have to a hero but as far as the main Ace Attorney franchise goes he’s rarely gotten a chance to be the good guy he so clearly wants to be. That is at least rectified here as he finally gets to star as the protagonist in his own game.
The story begins with a murder, in the grand tradition of all Ace Attorney games. Miles returns home from a stint abroad only to find a detective shot dead in his office before a gunman escapes from under his nose, and it’s not too long before the plot spirals out into a grand conspiracy involving Interpol and global smuggling. The ways in which each case unfolds to clearly fit into the wider running narrative is very neatly done; in fact, Investigations is probably the game in the series that is the most overt in doing so. Other games in the series have had throughlines guiding their plots as well – most notably Trials and Tribulations and the original – but Investigations is the entry that does the most with it, having clear ties to the unfolding plot in every case. However, one thing that some players might find confusing is the timeline of the game, which is all over the place. Ace Attorney games are no strangers to flashbacks, but usually the cases unfold largely sequentially; Investigations however flits back and forth between its cases so if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to get lost, particularly given Ace Attorney is a visual novel series and throws a vast amount of words at its player.
For all its differences and its place as a spinoff, Investigations is still an Ace Attorney game at heart, and it’s very enjoyable to see how much Capcom remembered that; while the game is certainly a change of pace, it’s also still familiar and enjoyable to a committed Ace Attorney audience. As you might have guessed from the name, the game is mostly a smoother, more fluid version of the investigation phase, a staple of the main games. In the franchise, this is the bit of each game which takes place out of the courtroom, as Phoenix (or Apollo) gather information about the case they’ve taken on. Given that the courtroom drama is the unquestioned best bit of Ace Attorney, you might question the wisdom of adapting and expanding the investigation sections into a full game, but Investigations also chooses to bring in a change of format in order to make an entire game of investigation feel more appealing.
What I mean by that is that rather than a visual novel format where everything is conducted through selecting text boxes, Investigations more resembles a traditional adventure game. It gives you full control of Edgeworth and lets you wander about the game’s various crime scenes. Clicking on evidence lets you examine it, in turn storing stuff that might be useful later in your journal, and you can also natter away to any witnesses who might be standing around in case they’ve got anything even vaguely helpful or relevant to say. Every Ace Attorney game has its protagonist access something to give them an edge: Phoenix has his magatama that allows him to sense when people are lying, Apollo has a hyper-awareness of people’s tells, but Miles here has perhaps my favourite of all – the incredible power of… using basic logic! I’m not even joking here, and I love it; as you examine clues Edgeworth will draw conclusions about what happened, and you can then use your Logic tab to connect clues together in order to fully understand exactly what transpired in each case and everyone treats this as if it’s a superpower! Of course, there has to be some sort of threat hanging over you, and in this case if Miles tries to connect the wrong things together and comes up with bad Logic, you take a hit of damage (your health bar here is supposed to represent Miles coming to the wrong conclusion but the metaphor doesn’t quite work) and running out leads to the wrong person getting arrested.
While it never visits the courtroom, Edgeworth doesn’t let that stop him from engaging in some classic Ace Attorney Objection!-shouting. Miles conducts cross-examinations on the fly, here presented as arguments and rebuttals, but the format is the same: some relevant party rattles off a short list of statements and you have an opportunity to press each one for information and present evidence which highlights a glaring contradiction. The cross-examinations and final bits of puzzle solving as you piece together the entire truth of a case are always the best bits of any Ace Attorney, and I’m very glad they found a way to work them into this game, though I suppose I’m left wondering vaguely confused as to why they didn’t just produce a regular Ace Attorney game if they were going to jam all the regular bits into this one. Still, it’s not that I’m complaining, of course; perhaps Capcom just didn’t want us to see prosecutors getting wins on the regular, which I can respect given their heroes are usually incredibly bumbling defence attorneys.
Speaking of bumbling DAs, one thing about Investigations which I found quite interesting was how it attempted to portray Miles, and in particular the attention given to conveying how intelligent he is. If you recall, when we first met him way back in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney he was touted as a genius prosecutor at a remarkably young age, but so are most of the prosecutors we stare down at across the franchise, and Phoenix and Apollo both make their careers out of making all of them look like absolute chumps. Miles is probably the only one who comes out with much dignity and success, given his continued presence across the trilogy, but it’s easy to forget he’s supposed to be some sort of prosecuting savant. With that in mind, I really respect Investigations for attempting to restore that reputation. I mentioned earlier that the plot for this game is about a grand conspiracy, and in order to craft that not only do all the cases directly tie into that wider plot, but it also feels a lot wordier and definitely tougher than some of the previous games, a fitting challenge for Miles’ grand intellect.
I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest. I mean, on the one hand, sure, I like a challenge as much as the next person, and it’s not like there’s no precedent for tough spots in the franchise. There are plenty of times you’re expected to make a hard guess or make some logical leap that doesn’t seem to make sense, but Investigations is a lot more consistent with making you feel under pressure. Cases feel lengthy enough that it can be a challenge to hold all the information necessary to solve them in your head, and as a result the game is more inclined than usual to reiterate information over and over. While it’s very helpful for those who pick up and put down the game, it does feel like solving a problem the developers made for themselves, and if you’re so inclined to play, say, one case in a single sitting, you can definitely find yourself glazing over slightly as the same information passes by you time and time again. Add onto that the fact that the ending is by far the hardest series of cross-examinations and evidence-producing segments yet seen in the franchise, with a constant supply of failure states and back-and-forthing on whether or not the criminal of the moment can be stopped. At its best, it reminds me of the excellent finale case in the first game, but even that game’s final boss pales in comparison to Investigations, and I couldn’t blame anyone for casting their DS aside in frustration as they confound both the characters and the player over and over.
But my word is it satisfying when you finally nail them and get your charges to stick. All the Ace Attorney games carry that feeling of triumph in them, and Investigations is no exception, but that certainly isn’t a given; the finale almost tips over into brutal annoyance territory, which would have left the game feeling bitter in victory. Thankfully, the team at Capcom knows what they’re doing when it comes to Investigations. As a first foray into side-game territory, Investigations was pretty good. At its worst it felt a bit sluggish, even when compared to a visual novel series like the main games, but I respect it as an idea, and it’s hard to get over the joy of finally getting to guide Edgeworth through his own cases.
5/7 – GREAT.
Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.