Following up on their incredible port of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite ($14.99), Capcom is back with another outstanding port of one of their handheld titles. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies ($0.99), or Ace Attorney 5 for the sake of brevity, continues the crazy adventures of lawyer Phoenix Wright. He’s no stranger to iOS gamers, with his first three adventures collected last year in HD form in Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright Trilogy HD (Free). Fans were a little mixed about that release, with just about everyone agreeing it was a great value, but some taking issue with the look of the HD sprites, the lack of support for 4-inch displays, and missing animations. Overall, it was a really great package of ports, but not perfect. Well, I don’t think there’s going to be too many similar complaints about the job Capcom has done with Ace Attorney 5.
Simply put, the iOS version of Ace Attorney 5 is a big step up from the original Nintendo 3DS version with no compromises, save the unavoidable lack of 3D. The original game was made on Capcom’s mobile-friendly MT Framework Mobile engine, with the characters and most of the objects constructed with polygons. With the old sprite-based games, Capcom had to choose to filter, stretch, or redraw the graphics to suit the high-resolution displays of iOS devices, usually leading to some sort of compromise. That’s not a problem here, since it’s a lot easier to render polygons at a higher resolution. The result is jaw-dropping. Ace Attorney 5 was already an impressive-looking game on the 3DS, and fans of the series are sure to draw a deep breath when the camera first pans around the 3D courtroom. Bumping the visuals up to high resolution makes them seem even closer to hand-drawn animations, giving one the impression that this is the way they were always meant to be seen.
The game naturally supports a range of screen sizes, though that appears to have come at the cost of support for portrait orientation, since the game is only playable in landscape mode. The user interface has been thoughtfully condensed from two screens down to just one, Game Center achievements have been added, and all of the downloadable extras from the 3DS version are available to iOS players. You even get the entire first case for free, with the remaining four main story cases available in a $14.99 bundle or a la carte for $4.99, which means it’s cheaper than the 3DS version to boot. So, if you came here wondering about the quality of the port, be happy. Be very happy. This is, without any question, the definitive version of Ace Attorney 5, and you don’t even have to take my word for it since you can try the free episode to see for yourself.
Of course, I’m not just here to talk about the quality of the port. I mean, you could have a perfect port of Ace Attorney Investigations and I’m not going to throw much of a party because it’s not all that good. Looking at the game itself rather than the port, I’m not quite as positive on Ace Attorney 5. First, we need some context. The original three Ace Attorney games, the Phoenix Wright Trilogy, are actually pretty old, dating back to the Game Boy Advance. If you’ve played those three, you know that the series comes to what feels like a pretty definitive close for all of the characters involved, but they were popular enough that Capcom wanted to continue the series.
The first three games were remade for the Nintendo DS with an extra case added onto the first game to set up a few characters for the eventual fourth installment. It was decided the series would carry on with a new protagonist and a whole new set of characters, with Phoenix Wright added in only as a supporting character. Perhaps it was fitting, since series creator Shu Takumi had also stepped back into a supervisory role for the first time. The reactions to Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney were just about what you would expect, with strong sales but a lot of people pining for the return of Wright. The results of that were the fanservice-heavy Ace Attorney Investigations games, and ultimately, this game, Ace Attorney 5, which brings Phoenix back into the courtroom, albeit without any involvement from Shu Takumi.
This makes Ace Attorney 5 sort of a weird game for players that have been following the series on iOS. It’s both a sequel and a reaction to a game that isn’t available on the App Store. In trying to please people who were disappointed, it sweeps most of the threads that were in play at the end of Ace Attorney 4 off the table, but it still carries on a lot of its baggage, most notably former protagonist Apollo Justice, who while demoted, still occupies a lot of this game’s spotlight. It feels a bit gutless, and quality of the game suffers for taking this split approach. It suffers from the usual middle-act drag that many of the games in the series have had, but this time, the dull cases are pinned squarely on Herr Forehead, Apollo Justice, and the latest spunky young girl addition to the cast, Athena Cykes.
I should stress, you should be fine to play this even if you haven’t played Ace Attorney 4. You will have questions, and the game may or may not answer them, but none of them are terribly relevant to the story it’s trying to spin. The game stands alone almost to a fault, refusing to address the huge loose threads of the fourth game and not committing to much for the future, though it should be said that the games in the original trilogy took a similar tack towards their endings. The bigger failing of the plot is that it doesn’t do a very good job of weaving all the cases together. The second case could have been IAP for all it matters to the overall story, and the third case’s ties are fairly tenuous. The main plot runs through the first, fourth, and fifth cases, and while it’s pretty exciting and full of twists and turns, that weight in the middle drags the overall experience down. It reminds me a lot of the second Ace Attorney game, and that’s not a good thing.
Like that game, though, Ace Attorney 5‘s last case is pretty terrific and memorable. As the cap on a 30+ hour adventure game, it does its job and then some. It’s just a shame that it’s such a bumpy road getting there. It’s not even a simple matter of pacing problems. Ace Attorney 5 also has issues nailing its tone. The series has always done a very good job of having a sort of earnest goofiness to it while still being able to get serious when it has to. It’s kind of remarkable how smoothly it’s been able to handle such major tonal shifts in the past, but it doesn’t work quite as well here. While it still handles the moments of goofiness with aplomb, when the game gets serious, it gets almost oppressively dour. There’s a certain pessimism running through the whole affair, and it’s a poor fit for the game. By the time you reach the fourth case and meet your client, you’ll almost be ready to join him in his giant sighs.
The gameplay is almost identical to the previous mainline games in the series. The gameplay alternates between trial scenes and investigations. In the trial scenes, you have to unravel the truth by seeking out inconsistencies in witness testimony through pressing them for more info or by presenting evidence. These parts are quite exciting, though this installment lays hints on pretty heavily, which can be a bit irritating. The investigation scenes have you talking to various characters and exploring various locations for clues and evidence that you can use in the trial. As usual, once you have everything you need for the trial, you’ll automatically proceed, so you can’t end up in an non-winnable situation. There are a few other pleasantries, like a cursor that highlights whether or not an element of the background can be examined, or the fact that the game will occasionally toss out any evidence that has no future use, cutting down on the possibilities of chasing false leads and ideas. It’s very linear, and like the rest of the games in the series, ends up as a sort of cross between an adventure game and a visual novel, but when it picks up momentum, it’s really hard to put down until you’ve seen the story through.
I don’t know, ultimately, it’s a fine game. It’s hitting all the Ace Attorney buttons, with a huge cast of crazy characters, engaging cases with lots of plot twists, and a funny, well-written localization propping it all up. It looks and sounds better than the series ever has, it smooths out a lot of the rough edges from previous games and makes it a lot easier to play, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited, as a longtime fan, to see Phoenix Wright put on his lawyer’s badge again. There’s just a certain lack of heart to it all, something that is perhaps unavoidable in narratives that are forced to go beyond their planned boundaries. It’s such an incredibly safe sequel in all the ways that count that it’s hard to get too thrilled about it. It’s more Phoenix Wright, just like we all wanted, right?