I've been reading different people's opinions on the game and the reports have been pretty mixed. I think everybody had different expectations of the game, especially given how hyped it was when it came out, and maybe some folks are feeling a bit let down by it as a whole. I'm going to touch on a whole bunch of different things here so I'll try and give them headings. But certainly, I can understand why it was the second best-selling DS game in Japan the week of release, after Kingdom Hearts 35-whatever days (which incidentally received a 3/10 from Edge magazine, whereas AAI received a 6!)
In the same way that Legend of Zelda games have reliable, constant elements that they just wouldn't be Zelda without, AAI acknowledges a lot of previous Ace Attorney incidents and in-jokes. In fact, it bridges the Phoenix and Apollo arcs quite well, and the only blatant retcon was Edgeworth's 'first case', as Mia's one with him was his debut. But they got around that by having him never actually make it to the trial which was quite clever. As a long-standing fan of the series, a lot of enjoyment for me came out of spotting the little Easter eggs hidden throughout the game, the little references to past cases and cameo appearances (and the oh-so-inevitable stepladder joke!) However, the difference with AAI is that they really did go out of their way to make them just that - Easter eggs. You have to go hunting for them by examining everything and pressing everyone, and that's the reward for taking your time with the game.
They really attempted to make AAI standalone in terms of storyline, rather like Apollo Justice - but in contrast to Apollo Justice, the reinsertion of previous characters actually worked in the context, unlike the insertion of Phoenix in AJ, which completely took the focus away from Apollo and to me had a detrimental impact on the game in terms of Apollo's character development (I'll accept Ema, but only just). However, I don't think it is possible to make an Ace Attorney game completely standalone. They could get away with the vague references to Edgeworth's past history, as they were just there to explain canon things like his fear of elevators and so on. But you really know nothing about Manfred bar the occasional reference to shady dealings, and I think a lot of the depth between those two was lost with the omission of that. It was also a good opportunity to get Edgeworth's thoughts on that, and from a characterisation perspective it was a shame they passed up that opportunity, although I did glean a lot from the way Edgeworth responded to him, which pretty much proves llamaramauk's brainwashing theory. Manfred only appears briefly at the start of 5-4 so the flow of the game didn't suffer too much because of that. However, I can understand why they did it, for the sake of not bogging down a new player with unnecessary backstory - from the point of view of someone who's played all the games, it made no difference to me as I have that backstory already, and I suppose it encourages new players to pick up the other games. I can appreciate that they're treading a fine line between a genuine fanservicey spinoff and a standalone game in its own right - after all, they wouldn't bother with a new format if all they were worried about was keeping the fans that they've got.
So yeah, I think the balance was acceptable. I would've liked a bit more Phoenix in it, but again, they're trying to make it a separate series, so I can understand the necessity of the vague references.
Now, onto the actual fanservice! Yeah, Cammy Meele was kinda ridiculous XD (I actually thought Rhoda was sexier than Cammy, but there we go.) Not Mia-in-Pearl's-outfit kind of ridiculous but still pretty ridiculous nonetheless! Edgeworth's reactions to her were utterly hilarious though 8D So yeah, comedy fanservice is okay with me, and Cammy had enough depth to her later on to counter her lackage of chest coverage XD
Which brings me onto...
Now first off, let me say how delighted I am at Edgeworth's Britishness XD In a fic once somebody picked me up for having him say the word "Bloody" because it was a British epithet, but he says it a couple of times in AAI so yay for that! aphephobia commented that his dialogue was a bit wonky at times, using words like "C'mon" etc. I'll be honest and say that I really didn't notice anything jarring. Game Miles speaks/monologues just like the Miles that I write, so nothing really seemed that off to me. Having a whole game's worth of Miles speech/monologue, I did wonder if they'd be able to keep his character going in a way that was consistent with how he'd been previously, yet demonstrating the change that had taken place in him as a result of his interactions with Phoenix - with the added challenge of not making him too boring. I think they did a mostly excellent job of this throughout, especially the contrast between young Miles and older Miles. One thing I'm really happy about is that, way back in 1-4, Manfred called Miles an idealist, and they've still managed to get that across now, after everything that's happened to him. They didn't overload with the flowery phrases, I thought, but there was enough there to show he still believes the revealing of the truth to be something powerful and inspiring, explaining why he pursues it with such dedication.
And even the way in which young Miles and older Miles express this same thing is contrasted. With young Miles there's a lot more fire and passion behind his words, whereas with older Miles that passion is still there, but tinted with a bit more wisdom and experience. Young Miles is brash and cocksure of himself, older Miles is confident and calmer, but some of that fieriness resurfaces from time to time (and frightens poor Gumshoe XD) I do also love the fact that they acknowledged that Edgeworth spaces out a lot when he's thinking - being very guilty of this myself, it's nice that they have the odd time where Kay says "You're talking to yourself" or "You spaced out there!" Again, it gives him a bit more depth and shows he's not on the ball 24/7 when there's something on his mind.
Partners - Kay
Now, this brings me onto the partner system, namely Kay and Gumshoe. Now, I know a lot of people dislike Kay and say she's a Mary Sue who can't put a foot wrong and everybody loves her. But I think we need to go a little deeper here. Her backstory's fairly decent - 10-year old Kay had the ability to be friendly and say hi to everybody without being too annoying (although kicking Edgeworth? HILARIOUS XD And he just took it! He's been living with Franziska way too long XD Loved that neat little sidestep he did the second time around though!), and the relationship between them all develops in a casual way over the course of the case. That's all plausible - you can understand Gumshoe's empathy with her, same for Franziska as someone closer to her own age and with a bit of guts; and Edgeworth is forced to interact with her initially but is a total gem later on (that cravat scene was really touching!) Again, it all works, and the scene towards the end where she shouts to Edgeworth to dive to one side - that's in character for Edgeworth, we know he freezes up a bit in that kind of situation, similar to him picking up the gun in 1-4 because he was a bit dazed by the situation and wasn't really sure what to do. So that relationship between them all is there, and casually established - but because Edgeworth doesn't remember who she is, Kay has to go through that whole thing all over again, proving her worth as an assistant and only revealing the link at the very end of 5-3. Although the game jumps around a lot in its timeline, I think this worked in terms of Kay's characterisation. Edgeworth was initially quite hostile towards her and regarded her as more of an annoyance than anything else, so Kay had to earn his trust, which is in keeping with his character.
Now, this brings me onto the Mary Sue thing. I think Kay has plenty of faults - she's far more headstrong than Maya ever was; hers is more of an outer strength compared to Maya's inner strength. And in addition she's very outspoken. She knows full well when she's being arrogant or offensive and it comes across in her poses and her dialogue, whereas most the insults Maya ever delivered were primarily accidental in nature. Phoenix despairs over Maya a lot of the time, whereas Edgeworth frequently disciplines Kay when she's about to run off and do something stupid. 17-year old Maya and 17-year old Kay are two completely different kettles of fish. Kay's there to egg Edgeworth on when he needs it, but she also has her own agenda and interests, which Maya never really did. I think overall she's more of an intellectual match for Edgeworth than Maya ever could be - Maya has more abstract smarts as pointed out by kartoon_kween and that's something Edgeworth doesn't do so well. I think they could've done a lot worse with Kay's characterisation - now that I've seen her interacting with Edgeworth I think a Maya-ish clone would've been an awful idea and I'm glad they didn't go down that road. As for her interactions with everybody else, I think the reason Franziska likes her is because she remembers Kay from when she was younger - if they spent too much time together I can see Kay would start to grate, but they're of similar minds when it comes to judging people so they have that in common. And Gumshoe is kind of a given - after all, we all love Gumshoe dearly but who in the game has actually treated him like a proper pal? Even Phoenix and Maya's interactions with him were fairly distant. That swiss roll probably touched his heart XDDDD
So yeah, with Kay I think there's probably an inner depth to her still to be explored, which wasn't helped by her not coming in until 5-3, but her outward character I think is a good match for Edgeworth. Edgeworth treats her a bit variably at times - sometimes he seems to regard her as a student/protege and will happily lecture at length, other times as a proper partner to bounce ideas off, and other times he patronises her completely. I guess this demonstrates that he doesn't really quite know how to treat her yet, which goes back to one of his earlier comments about finding it difficult to get close to people. Kay does seem to give as good as she gets a lot of the time, though. I think they'd both get kinda carried away with some train of thought without Gumshoe there to ground them! Kay in turn appeared to find her own boundaries over the course of the game; or at least, I don't recall her going on so much about stealing trinkets and so on in the 4th and 5th cases.
Also, with the partner scheme, Edge critiqued it, saying it stopped Edgeworth from establishing proper character relationships, but to be honest I think it was the best thing for the game, really. The partner system is not an integral part of the game, it's really no different to going back to Wright and Co Law offices and asking Maya for clues as to where to go next. Most of the character development takes place over the course of the case. You get some golden lines through the partner button, but half the fun comes from having somebody different there from time to time. I don't think I would've bothered with it nearly as much if it weren't for that.
Partners - Gumshoe
I also wanted to talk a bit more about the Edgeworth/Gumshoe dynamic. Now while this game demonstrated the kind of thing that I'd envisaged, namely Edgeworth doing the thinking and Gumshoe doing the legwork, it still seemed as if there was something missing. Some people say they hate the way Edgeworth treats Gumshoe in this game, but from a characterisation perspective, Edgeworth does have to be hard on Gumshoe all the time - without that constant drive, Gumshoe would've probably been out of a job a long time ago. Edgeworth does give him praise when it's well deserved, as evidenced in 5-5, and things he says in other places, about being able to find a partner you can trust, show that he really does value Gumshoe. And when Gumshoe does things that are really stupid, like losing Edgeworth in the haunted house which lead to him being held hostage, it seems Edgeworth just makes enough pointed comments to make Gumshoe feel guilty, and that's as far as it goes. Their relationship is at the point where Edgeworth knows exactly what to do in order to discipline him and keep him working hard so he remains useful, and Gumshoe knows where he stands and can therefore be someone Edgeworth can rely on to come through with the evidence, as he does in 5-5.
I enjoyed 5-4 because of the background it gave to how Edgeworth and Gumshoe met. Bratworth wasn't particularly impressed with Gumshoe but could see his loyalty would be useful, whereas Edgeworth knows Gumshoe will come through with what he needs when it really does matter, and that trust probably means more to Gumshoe than any of the horrible things Edgeworth does to him at other times. People are right, he's mean to Gumshoe in both thoughts and actions - and it's a shame he does look down on Gumshoe so much in his internal monologues, because I was hoping it was the kind of thing where he's horrible to Gumshoe to keep him working but inside actually thinks a lot of him. But at the same time, from a characterisation perspective, he does have to work with the man every day, and much as Gumshoe does have a heart of gold, I think the amount of exasperation Edgeworth feels at times is fairly justified. I suppose it's that give/take partner relationship which makes them bear through each other's faults, and thus Edgeworth fights his corner at the pay review XD
Partners - Franziska
Really, there's not much to critique here. Franziska's characterisation in 5-4 was excellent - the two of them bounce off each other so well and I got so much enjoyment from clicking on everything to get Franziska and Edgeworth's comments on them. You can relate a lot of older Franziska's facets to her more precocious younger self and see how they've developed. It is nice to see that competitiveness brought out - as just that, competitiveness, rather than older Franziska's desire to just beat Edgeworth in court and be done with it. I still feel like I've not quite explained that as well as I want to, but hope somebody understands what I'm getting at with that. There's some great set-pieces with Franziska in both 5-2 and 5-5 - I appreciate her much more as a character than I did in Games 2 and 3.
Uhh, what else...
Oh God, Larry and Oldbag were GOLD in 5-5. Absolute comedy gold. One of the things I loved in 3-5 was interacting with Larry as Edgeworth, and it was fantastic to do it again here, especially watching Edgeworth's Steel Samurai dreams being dashed with the appearance of *DOOM* Larry dressed as his hero! It again reinforces the fact that Larry is a character that drifts in and out of Phoenix and Edgeworth's lives - in the credits Larry mentions he hasn't seen Phoenix for ages. Oldbag was also fantastic - lots of interesting little snippets about her during 5-5 that would make good fic material (I totally missed the fact she was married till she mentioned her husband, but looking at old sprites she does actually have a wedding ring in 2-4!) But to be honest, the total highlight was Edgeworth's reactions to the pair of them, especially "HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN TWO DAYS IN A ROOOOOOOW?!" when Oldbag showed up XDDDDD Oh, and and when Franziska is trying to bait him about the Steel Samurai being Larry and Edgeworth goes "Can you... not speak to me for a minute?" Love love love the dialogues in 5-5, totally brilliant! Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten Ema appearing in 5-3 - she was okay, but it reminded me how sad it is that she turned out so annoying in Apollo Justice!
Also some little cameos in the form of Lotta Hart, Missile and of course, the boating Phoenix, Maya and Pearl! I liked the way they didn't force Lotta Hart on you this time around but she still comes up trumps with some evidence. In this case it was a good example of the returning characters augmenting rather than distracting from the cases and spoiling the experience for a new player.
I actually really like Rhoda Teneiro and Cammy Meele. Cammy's transformation in particular really caught my attention, I thought it was really well done and characterised. There's definitely a lot of history under the surface between those two - again, good fic material.
Tyrell Badd as well is one who has an interesting backstory that deserves some fleshing out. Explaining his speech pattern for starters. Shot in the lungs, perhaps? Who knows! Would've loved to have seen a bit more veteran-rookie interaction between him and Gumshoe actually. Though you know, when I first saw him I was like "OMG IT'S GUMSHOE'S DAD!!!!" He should've beeeeeeen XD
Colias Palaerno - oh, he was such a sweetie! Probably the next campest in terms of gestures and outfits after Armstrong and Ron DeLite though XD I don't know if anyone else was hoping he didn't turn out to be the bad guy while at the same time wondering what the hell his breakdown sprite would look like if he was. I was glad he turned out to be a genuine good guy, he was fab.
Now, Calisto Yew... I liked her when she was being an attorney, but as Shih-na she was just cardboard. Interrogating her in 5-5 was honestly boring as anything, her dialogue was really bland and they just didn't give her any backstory to speak of. Why did she get involved in the smuggling ring in the first place? Did she go through law school just to meet the requirements to join the Yatagarasu? How did she manage to worm her way into Interpol? I can appreciate her being a cold, hardened criminal and not caring about anything much, hence dropping Alba in it after she'd been arrested, but even so, there was just not a lot to her. However, somebody else pointed out to me that Shih-na's very lack of substance is the reason you don't tip her as Yew till towards the end, and in addition it represents her nature as a mole for the smuggling ring, that she doesn't really have an identity of her own. That made me revise my view of her a bit. I admit I hadn't tipped her Shih-na as being Yew till she laughed - that was a good plot twist that I didn't see coming. In actual fact, I didn't tip her as the villain in 5-4 either till towards the end.
Quercus Alba - I'd had him tipped as the baddy fairly early on simply because he hardly appeared and there was nobody else it could be. Now, I liked him because breaking him was really tough. There were times when I got annoyed and thought "ARGH DIE ALREADY", but you can appreciate from a characterisation perspective that he's not breaking because he genuinely thought he was invincible, right up to the very end. This fits in quite nicely with his ultimate (and somewhat anticlimatic) breakdown sequence, in which he crumbles away to becoming a very old man, having finally had his castle broken down from beneath him brick by brick. He reminds me somewhat of Manfred von Karma in that respect - and breaking him down was as satisfying as beating Manfred in 1-4. I don't think any of the other ones are quite as good in the series as these two, they really felt like a proper challenge. In 2-4 breaking Engarde was more of a secondary to getting Maya back, and in 3-5 you couldn't really take it that seriously because it was a blimmin' exorcism XD And 4-4 was decent but Apollo wasn't really much of an intellectual match for Kristoph, I felt, and it was Phoenix doing it all, so it wasn't really as much of a direct confrontation. Yeah, he was a fairly nonexistent baddy till towards the end, I do wish they'd inserted him a little more throughout, but when Edgeworth did get the chance to take him on it was pretty good. His theme is pretty awesome too!
Shi-Long Lang - Awesome character, definitely a lot of potential if he pops up in future games. He got enough of his backstory revealed to make you understand why he acts the way he does, though it would've been nice to see some of his own thoughts on it rather than hearing those of others. But at the same time, I think he's got too much pride to ever mention it or make a thing of it - this happened, and that's that, as far as he seems to be concerned. I think they did a great job with his portrayal, he has far more depth as an antagonist than Klavier ever did, and you can actually see the transition from derision to respect towards Edgeworth. They managed to make him tough but likeable in the beginning when he was Edgeworth's enemy, making you want to earn his respect, and then when they're standing next to each other and working together to break Alba, it's a really great thing to see. I really like his sprites and facial expressions too. Again, I feel like I have a good handle on his speech and mannerisms that I could write him. I didn't have this kind of connection at all with Apollo Justice, most of the characters in that I just couldn't step into their shoes and write, and aside from the occasional gen piece with Apollo I don't really use AJ characters at all in my writing.
I think the thing with this game is that there were enough unanswered questions and unelaborated backstory for myself, as a writer, to work with. I really enjoy filling in the gaps with fic - either I fit within canon or I go AU entirely, I don't have much of a middle ground in that respect. The characters were fleshed out enough for me to be interested in them and to characterise them effectively while still having enough creative freedom to invent new situations for them to be in or to explain things that aren't explained.
So yeah, that's most of the characters that really grabbed me. The other side characters definitely don't have quite so much personality compared to the ones in the Phoenix arc, and actually Apollo Justice, the side characters were pretty decent in that. I actually got a bit fed up of 5-3 part of the way through because I wasn't enamoured with Lauren Paups or Lance Amano. I think out of the lot of them, Lauren was the one I disliked the most. She was just whiny and annoying, and Kay delivered this absolutely blistering summation of her character that just made me think "Oh dear, but yes, trufax." So yeah, Lauren was just irritating, and Lance just didn't have any depth to him to make me actually care enough about breaking him, compared to Quercus Alba in 5-5.
Which brings me onto pacing. This game is one you've got to take your time with - bar a few hostage-taking scenes there really is no high drama or lives at stake to make you want to race through the game to its conclusion. This is Poirot kinda pacing compared to the Starsky and Hutch of the Phoenix arc, and much of the satisfaction comes from the core character interactions. I did enjoy untangling the murders, especially 5-5 because it was so complex and everything came together right at the end, but for me most of the fun came from the actual investigating and piecing everything together. The logic system is quite well-worked, especially the moments where an incident happens (like LaBlanc falling off the balcony in 5-2) and like a flash of realisation, Edgeworth generates a bunch of concepts and you're forced into logic mode to piece them all together. This made the logic system linear without feeling like you're being puppywalked - you know when you need to use it if you've looked at everything that needs to be looked at and the game hasn't moved along. In that respect, it's not like earlier games where you're moving from one place to another fruitlessly trying to figure out what you haven't done or who you haven't spoken to. So the game isn't slow because of getting stuck, it's slow because Edgeworth walks from place to place, he investigates, he thinks, he argues, and he delivers a conclusion; and the game is paced to match this. Most of the tension comes from the quality of the dialogue in the confrontations, especially in 5-5.
So yeah, the only place where I actually got bored was 5-3 - the rest all had enough quality writing to keep me engaged and interested in getting to the bottom of the murder in question. I think perhaps I got more out of the game than other people did because Edgeworth was almost exactly like how I write him. There weren't many things he did that conflicted with my perception of him - I think the only difference would be young Miles, and it makes me glad I didn't attempt to write him before now. I think I've got much more of a handle on how his character has transitioned now, and also on his interactions with Franziska. Those two made a brilliant investigative pair in 5-4 and I think aphephobia summed up their relationship pretty well in her comments on 5-4, saying there was a lot of pressure on the two of them to perform well and theirs is less of a sibling relationship than people may have assumed previously, mainly because of Franziska's competitiveness. There are definite echoes of this in 5-5 which are quite interesting to see, but Miles definitely has the upper hand simply in his objective acquiescence, although he does go out of his way to acknowledge Franziska's own skills later on.
The game wasn't ridiculously easy like Apollo Justice; there were quite a few bits where I did get stuck in the cross-examinations, but it was certainly a lot less stupid than the Phoenix arc games where you often had a piece of evidence but it wouldn't let you present it where it ought to go, or you had no idea what you were meant to be presenting. Edgeworth's monologues give enough of a hint as to what line you're going down next, without being too patronising which was a nice change from AJ. Removing unnecessary evidence regularly was also helpful and in character for Edgeworth.
Man, I'm getting tired but I've been thinking about all of this for ages and I wanted to get it out! It was mainly Kay that I wanted to write about because so many people seem to dislike her and I think she's got the potential to be a decent character in later games. I shall write fic so people end up liking her, muaha XD
In terms of fic ideas, there are lots of things I'm really interested in. I think having exposed the Amano group Edgeworth would definitely be on their hitlist, and that'd be interesting to explore. The relationship between Cammy and Rhoda is also interesting and worth digging into. As for slash fic... sorry, I don't see Lang/Edgeworth from a characterisation perspective. They just have such disparate ways of thinking despite having the same goal, that I can't really see them as being compatible in a relationship setting. But if anyone's seen any good Lang/Edgeworth fics on the Meme, I would be very interested to read them to see how other writers pull it off.
I'm sure there's some other stuff I wanted to write about... oh yeah, the sprites - some people said the sprites were really animeish, and I'd agree with that, you only have to look at the character profiles and compare the old with the new to see they've all got very anime eyes and the white mouths. But I think for characters like Kay and Ambassador Palaeno, who are quite expressive and upbeat, this suits quite well. I thought Larry's sprite was kinda awful though, his earlier ones were much nicer and more expressive with a more even colour tone.
Ummm... I think that's pretty much it now. I think the only cases I didn't like in the game were 5-1 and 5-3; 5-1 only really because I'd already played it before both on translated demo, actual demo and in Japanese, and 5-3 because I didn't like the side characters in it. The rest had pretty solid cases, good characters and the plotline of the smuggling ring running through it all gave it a nice thread to follow.
So yeah, would love to hear other people's thoughts, hope you all enjoyed the game too!