It’s good to have people who stay on top of game releases when I’m too busy to do so myself: a good friend of mine was kind enough to text me the MOMENT the new Ace Attorney 5 demo was free to download on Nintendo’s E-Shop, although I didn’t have a free moment to check it out until now.
I’d be lying if I said I was anything but a devoted Ace Attorney fan — I’ve been waiting for this game with bated breath since its announcement, a billion times more excited for it knowing that the original protagonist, Phoenix Wright (Ryuichi Naruhodo in the Japanese version), would be returning as the main character for the new game. On top of that, the series’ new protagonist, Apollo Justice (Hosuke Odoroki) would be playing a huge part as well. The game itself takes place about ten-or-so years after the first game when Phoenix was starting out as a rookie defense attorney. Now, after being forced into an early retirement, he has returned…for reasons we do not yet know.
So while I desperately try to suppress the rabid fangirl within, let’s take a look at the demo!
The demo starts with a beautifully-animated cutscene of a courtroom being blown to smithereens by a bomb; a voice belonging to Phoenix Wright (the games were 99% unvoiced save for the occasional exclamations of “OBJECTION!” in previous games) narrates the scene as he speaks to someone unknown over the phone. He mentions his new assistant, a young defense attorney named Athena Cykes (Kokone Kizuki), who will be his team’s secret weapon against what lies ahead in a supposed ‘dark time’ for law. Athena manipulates a holographic interface displaying emoticon-esque faces before closing the program, which somehow seems to take place in her necklace / digital mood ring type object.
We even catch a glimpse of Apollo, heavily bandaged (he was a victim of the explosion) and standing in the courtroom rubble while staring determinedly up at the sky… but not before we get a neat shot of Phoenix shrugging on his blazer, pinning on his Defense Attorney badge he coveted so long ago and placing a locket containing a photo of his adopted daughter Trucy (Minuki) into his pocket.
It’s a little long, but also a proper beginning to the game that gets players up to speed and excites them for what’s to come.
Phoenix is as nervous as ever, despite being far from a rookie attorney. I was very happy to notice that he’s still the same old Phoenix, despite the rough times that fell upon him in the fourth game, and yet also observe how he’s grown more sure of himself in a positive way. Athena compliments him, saying, “That was amazing, Boss!” and his response is, “Aw, it was nothing. (Nothing short of amazing, that is!)” His body language in shouting objection seems stronger too, more self-assured. He’s still anxious, but it’s a healthy dose of anxiety, and I’m happy he didn’t revert to panicky newbie as a result of his absence. The only thing that made me frown as a result of this (in the demo/first case, at least) was that Phoenix pieced together what you had to figure out for you. This is new to the games because prior to this our protagonist would only make vague hints as to what could possibly be the problem so that the player could do the real brain work. I was a little disappointed when Phoenix confirmed my suspicions without giving me the chance to try! You’re too smart for your own good now, Phoenix! Then again, this is a demo and the first case; I’m sure the difficulty will ramp up as you continue playing.
Our new assistant Athena is a bubbly “force to be reckoned with”, as Phoenix describes. The client for the first case is her childhood friend, Juniper Woods, whom she assures with confidence that her boss can definitely get her acquitted. She comes off as a very determined, hard-working assistant which is a nice contrast to the original assistant Maya Fey (Mayoi Ayasato), who was helpful in her own way but really just wanted to eat burgers. Athena really puts the pressure on Phoenix (albeit unintentionally) with her confidence in how great he is, too.
As for the gameplay, I’m happy to report that nothing has changed: the dialogue is still fun of puns and quirky comments (in the English version, the Judge makes a comment on how Mr. Wright has been “reborn” in a sense, a jab on ‘Phoenix’, and he even breaks the fourth wall by stating how the first case of a demo shouldn’t really take too long!), the testimony/cross-examination GUI is exactly the same, and you can still shout Objection into the microphone!
But the new elements that revolve around Athena are really interesting: in the demo’s example, we find out that Athena’s “power” is her acute sense of hearing, with which she can discover a witness’s true feelings by discerning emotion from their tone of voice. Apparently, this is because she studied analytical psychology; this is actually a real thing (wiki page here) but I don’t have any desire to verify if that’s how it really works. Still, at least they’re trying to make a bit of sense, right? At least we don’t have to cross-examine another parrot!
Athena does this by pulling out the holographic interface that displays from her necklace, which apparently shows how the witness is truly feeling. Emotions and images are picked up by the interface as the witness speaks and highlight one of four smiley faces on the corners of the screen: happy, angry, sad/frightened, and surprised/confused. When strange or contradictory emotions are recognized (in the demo, the witness mentions rubble landing on top of her and the happy icon lights up), Phoenix pinpoints the emotion and calls the witness out on it. The witness then re-analyzes their statement and explains the interesting emotion (she was happy because as she was about to be crushed, Apollo saved her). I’m very interested in how this system plays it and excited to see what it can do in the rest of the game!
The biggest upgrade to the game itself is, of course, the graphics: the switch from 2D to 3D animations is welcome, and only adds to the realistic portrayal of otherwise unbelievable characters by making their exaggerated movements more fluent and granting them a wider range of expressions (the switch between animations is still noticeable, though, which is more jarring in 3D than it was in 2D). For those of you still missing the nostalgia of the original games, fear not — the backgrounds are still completely 2D, although drawn more crisply on the 3DS screen.
The transitions/animations when entering the courtroom were nice, too. Instead of simply appearing in court after a fade in, the text “Day 1 — Court is Now In Session — All Rise” spells itself out on screen; when the gallery chats behind you, the camera sweeps briefly across the room; investigation environments are rendered in 3D to better peek into every nook and cranny. Although these updates aren’t essential to the Ace Attorney series, they really do help to make the world come alive and further immerse its players in the drama.
To my dismay, the demo ended before I could solve the case. It was the ultimate teaser since it cut off just as Phoenix proclaimed he was ready to reclaim his “Ace Attorney” status! I was cheering in excitement — and then the screen went black and finished off with a mini-trailer for things to come. I’m so unbelievably excited for this game I can hardly contain myself, and I hope that if you have a 3DS handy, you check out the demo too!