Immaculate hair. Horrendous puns. The never-ceasing pursuit for justice. DEDUCTION: It must be another Ace Attorney game. Eureka!
Today, I took receipt of the latest in the series, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, and just a couple of hours’ play reveals that, new third-person perspective and minor alterations to the case structure, it’s essentially the same game it always was.
As someone who often bemoans a lack of risk-taking among game developers, and sequels which do little to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, championing the Ace Attorney games might seem like hypocrisy. But then few games feature such memorable and brilliantly-written characters. Name any other game series you like, and you could slice out just about every other character apart from the hero and fans wouldn’t mind too much. Yet an Ace Attorney game without at least two or more of Gumshoe, Edgeworth, Oldbag, Maggey Byrde and Ema Skye would be unthinkable. It’d be like Lost without Locke or Sawyer or Desmond, or 24 without CTU or Chloe.
It’s the kind of game where a returning bit-part character brings back fond memories, or where an incident can resonate across more than one sequel. I find it hard to think of any videogame character that’s had as interesting and complex a character arc as Miles Edgeworth. And it’s just beautifully written. People all too readily dismiss the series as little more than a visual novel – admittedly, the games are incredibly linear, but that’s hardly the point – or that it’s too cartoony, or it doesn’t take itself seriously enough, or have enough guns or swearing. But the cases are often astonishingly complex, the dialogue (of which there is reams you’d easily miss from not clicking on incidental background details) is interesting, clever and beautifully delivered, and it’s genuinely very funny indeed. It makes subtle little references that are pure fan service without ever seeming smug, ties itself in knots with twists and turns, but always unravels everything come the climax of each case. And its logic, though often bizarre, retains a remarkable consistency. Seasoned players can solve the kind of conundrums which would befuddle newcomers, simply because they’re familiar with the Ace Attorney mindset.
True, if you ever get a step ahead of the characters, you’ll often find your deductions hit a brick wall. It’s still a little too rigid in the restrictions it imposes on the players regarding where and when you can present evidence. But it’s a minor blemish on a series that continually surprises and delights, even within its fairly inflexible framework.
Playing a new Ace Attorney game for me is the videogame equivalent of settling down with a DVD boxset of a favourite long-running TV show. You’ve got a fair idea of what to expect, and it’s perhaps not quite the event it once was, but you don’t mind because you still love it with every fibre of your being. You savour every moment, until the tragic day when you’ve reached the end. And then you wait for the next one to come along, cast its spell, and temporarily take over your life all over again.