* I get the sense from playing this case that DWaM thought seriously about what it means to kill off a female character and use her death as a device to explore the motives of her boyfriends, and worked very hard
to make sure his victim retained agency throughout the case. Victoria Nova dodges a lot of pitfalls of bad character writing here, and her inner monologue is readable and engaging, even if it gets a bit over-the-top in the final scenes. I had a bit of trouble quite
making sense of her relationship with Lex by the endgame, but there was enough ambiguity and empathy in its presentation that it didn't seem as if she'd just written off everything that was terrible about Lex. This is pretty nuanced.
* The least satisfying character was Eve. I was warming up to her in the interrogation sequence. There, she was extremely effective, as was the gameplay. I could believe through that point in the game that she was a somewhat unstable FBI agent. But the final sequences left me shaking my head: how exactly was she not suspected of being the mole, given her close connection to Thurston? How is someone this fixated on some kind of Electra complex (????) an FBI agent? She seemed to have stepped in from a different, weaker case. It didn't help that her sprites were unexpressive and a bit dull, and while DWaM did as much as possible to make this consistent with her "hard-to-read" character, it just made her harder to sell.
(Given the limitations of those sprites, that the interrogation sequence IS
still very effective is a testament to how well DWaM does tense set-piece scenes.)
* Maybe the biggest problem - and one that's hard to address in a fair way - is that the idiosyncrasies of the Ace Attorney
universe don't quite seem to line up with the atmosphere of this case. Making Gumshoe show common sense and giving Ema Skye friends was a great
touch, and those scenes seemed to be improving
the AA universe a little. In other places, though, the goofiness of the AA universe jars with handling of some of the topics, and seems to almost be an excuse for odd storytelling choices. I can believe a magical underground door that grants wishes; I'm all on board with El Dorado as a premise. I have more trouble believing that we can simultaneously have a world where:
A) An archaeologist can be so much like a Hollywood grave-robber that he keeps trophy cases of artifacts in his room; no countries demand their return
B) Anthropologists are serious professionals who write papers and whose credibility can be damaged by participating in a goofy search for lost ruins
The AA universe is broad enough to handle both Indiana Jones and a more realistic academic.... but probably not in the same case. Likewise, I think an AA case could sensitively explore the pain of a miscarriage, and this one delves into that dangerous territory with confidence and empathy. But I don't think that same
case should include a long stay in a "mental asylum" (psychiatric hospital?) caused by a mysterious bio-agent called SIN. (The game cannot seem to decide whether SIN is a virus or a toxin, but it really doesn't matter - what's most important is that it's probably a Trauma Center
That's not to say that goofy over-the-top elements can't coexist with serious drama. They do in AA, and they could here. (For example, here's an article suggesting that the juxtaposition of wild anime stuff and reality in Persona 5
makes it more entertaining: Jeff Vogel piece
.) But this requires that each element be believable in context. For example, this slightly grittier version of Phoenix works well, because his goofy moments and his dead-serious moments gel together into a basically consistent character.
* But all of these concerns shouldn't undercut my main point - which is that I enjoyed ATTED and played it from start to finish, and was engaged in it all the way through. I cared what happened to Victoria, and I cared that her terrible, terrible boyfriends be forced to confront their screwups, and for a while I even cared about Eve. Some of the puzzles were genuinely engaging, including the one that makes great use of the Examine button, and none of the weaker ones were game-breakers. For a game of this size and depth, that's about all I can ask.