ACE ATTORNEY INVESTIGATIONS 2 / Capcom / Nintendo DS
Ace Attorney is a formulaic series, and formulaic series have been Capcom's stock-in-trade since the early '90s. Given that, and given the previous Ace Attorney Investigations game was basically a running fanservice-fest for fans of the original trilogy of Phoenix Wright games, you know what to expect coming in here. Either you're down for more of the formula or you're not, and if it's the latter, there's no point in going any further.
Of course, writing the first game off as nothing more than a formulaic fanservice-fest is unfair, because it was also a fairly well-written mystery that really suffered only from relying on "deus ex machina" developments a little too much and a somewhat poor (rushed-looking) localization. I gave it the same 3/5 overall I gave this one, which is in the same vein; Investigations 2 is actually a little better written, with an overarching mystery that ties all of the cases together and is genuinely unpredictable for much of its going, though it does sometimes go to the well of pulling unexpected developments out of someone's butt to move the action forward.
And while Capcom decided not to bother trying to localize this one, it's available to the West anyway thanks to a highly polished fan translation by a loosely affiliated team of dozens who assembled through the Court Records fansite. In spite of the large number of participants, this effort was actually highly organized, and the final product not only looks more professional than Capcom's own in-house effort with the first game did, it retains the authentic flavor of Ace Attorney dialogue as well!
Investigations 2 picks up very shortly after the events of the first game
, with underage Kay Faraday still hanging about as Edgeworth's assistant for unspecified reasons. An attempted assassination of the visiting president of the nation of Zheng Fa leads into a whole bigass, complicated, twisty-turny mystery spanning five cases that we'll have to solve by alternately investigating crime scenes for clues and arguing it out with opposing forces in battles of wits and evidence.
The game's engine is pretty much indentical to the first; the one big addition here is the new "Logic Chess" battles, the first implementation of a timed questioning segment in Ace Attorney history. It's a bit similar to the "psyche-lock" system of Phoenix Wright 2 and the Apollo Justice games in that you're gradually breaking the defenses of intractable witnesses and suspects, except that it's entirely dialogue-based as you navigate a branching menu of choices. A timer is ticking off as you ponder your options, and going down the wrong branch also leads to time being removed and having to start from the beginning again. It's an interesting development as it adds a sense of real-time pressure to questioning that has been absent in the series to this point, but it can also feel very arbitrary and frustrating, and in some cases represents a serious spike in challenge that doesn't always seem fair.
Otherwise, the gameplay is the same as it was in the first game. The courtroom scenes of the original Phoenix Wright games have simply been transplanted out into informal conversations in public, and the crime scene investigations now consist of lawnmowing areas for clues with full-body sprites visible, but otherwise the core series formula hasn't really changed much at all.
Logic Chess and deduction playing an increased role in investigations make this game more challenging than the prequel, which I felt was easier than pretty much all the rest of the series to date. Unfortunately, that challenge doesn't always seem fair, with Logic Chess sometimes seeming like you just need to arbitrarily pick menu options until you win, and deduction at crime scenes sometimes involving arbitrarily talking to people or checking areas for a second time when there isn't any real compelling reason to. There's also a trade-off in that you almost never investigate scenes where you travel between different screens; investigations are generally contained to one small area, which makes them simpler overall, even if there are sometimes certain developments that make them difficult.
Reportedly, part of the reason that Ace Attorney 2 wasn't even considered by Capcom for localization is that the team was disbanded immediately afterward and sent to work on different projects, which means this is likely the terminus of this branch of the series as well. It was a neat little trip back into the world of Gyakuten Saiban pre-Apollo Justice while it lasted, however, and it's at least good enough to be a mandatory play for big fans of the series. Those who aren't established fans should start with the mainline Phoenix Wright games and then work their way here if they're into them, however; I could definitely see someone coming in cold finding the structure of this game obnoxious.