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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice" ~ A Case-by-Case Study


Having just finished the sprawling logic-based visual novel that is the sixth Ace Attorney game, I am... impressed. I wrote previously about the franchise's success at surviving as a single-route game in the age of multiple endings, and it's definitely shown itself to be true through to the very end and into the DLC.

Going into too much detail would keep us here forever, but I at least want to touch on what you can expect should you pick up the latest game. Spoilers are low, so you won't get any plot or puzzle giveaways -- but if you want to know absolutely nothing, then maybe give this one a miss.

Alternate Mechanics in the Game

-- Psyche Locks: Yep, warm up your magatama, because they're back. There are no black locks, though, and no ridiculous amounts. You'll encounter 2-4 at a time, and (unlike in previous games) they are all breakable with what you have on you when you find them.

-- Perceive: Apollo's bracelet is still doing its thing, and the process has stayed pretty much the same. At first I thought they'd made it less annoying, but then I realised I'm just used to it.

-- Mood Matrix: Personally, I've always liked this best. It's not always easy, but there's something fun about it. Bit of warning, though -- it goes extra haywire late in the game.

-- Forensics: Ema Skye is our lead detective, and she's now a fully-fledged forensics expert! That means lots of Luminol and fingerprint dust in your future. But you only use it yourself a couple times; once you've played with it a bit, you're done, and Ema tends to have gotten 'too excited' and dusted and sprayed before you. Seems the game designers knew what the upper limit was for forensics fun.

-- Insight: Created especially for this game. And you don't use it so much as mythbust it. You're shown a pool in which are reflected the final sights of a victim, with other senses portrayed in words. It's your job to point out inconsistencies in the Insights via evidence.


Case 1: The Foreign Turnabout
Length: Short
You Play As: Phoenix Wright
With: No assistant
Versus: Gaspin Payne
Game Relevance: Middling/High
Metaplot Relevance: Low/Middling

Here we are again, at the tutorial case. You know you'll have opportunities to get reminders of how things work, you'll be up opposite one of the Brothers Payne, and you'll probably have at least one new game mechanic tossed at you. Well... you have a whole new legal system tossed at you.

In the small country of Khura'in (the home of spirit channeling, as brought to Maya's home village of Kurain), defense attorneys have been replaced with a high priestess who performs a Divination Séance, revealing the last moments of the victim's life. Defense attorneys have been done away with for a reason that's going to become a driving force of this game.

Your client is Ahlbi Ur'gaid, a young tour guide and monk whose biggest crime is overcharging you for donuts. Pay attention in this case. It may be a tutorial, but there's a lot of Chekhov's guns lying around.



Case 2: The Magical Turnabout
Length: Short/Middling
You Play As: Apollo Justice
With: Athena Cykes
Versus: Nahyuta Sahdmadhi
Game Relevance: Low
Metaplot Relevance: Middling/High

Time for more Gramarye dirty laundry! Trucy is ready to relaunch her family's act, but things go awry, and she's charged with murder during a dress rehearsal. Thus it falls to Polly and Athena to clear her name, all while finding out even more about those Damn Gramaryes.

This case brings videos back into play -- not a personal favourite of gameplay simply because it's so finicky, but used to better effect here. And because Athena is back, it's time for more of the Mood Matrix, which will be a massive part of this game.

Oh, right. And we meet new prosecutor Nahyuta, dubbed by Overwatch gunslinger and Vox Machina DM Matt Mercer. He does an impressive job at yelling in Khura'inese.



Case 3: The Rite of Turnabout
Length: Long
You Play As: Phoenix Wright
With: Maya Fey
Versus: Nahyuta Sahdmadhi
Game Relevance: Extremely high
Metaplot Relevance: Nostalgia bomb

She's back! She's back! Maya Fey is finally back!... aaaand she's been arrested for murder. Can't say we weren't expecting that, though. It's pretty much her and Nick's version of flirting.

You're back in Khura'inese court, so now you've got the double whammy of Her Benevolence Rayfa on the Divination Séance and Nahyuta prosecuting. This case introduces a variety of characters who will be coming back, as well as some game-specific lore and things you'll need to remember for the final case.

Fortunately, a little thing like being on trial for murder isn't going to stop Maya from assisting you through at least part of this case. Late in the case, though, she's got an important job to do... so you'll be on your own.



Case 4: Turnabout Storyteller
Length: Short
You Play As: Athena Cykes
With: Simon Blackquill
Versus: Nahyuta Sahdmadhi
Game Relevance: Low
Metaplot Relevance: Unexpectedly high

This short, investigation-free game feels almost more like the stuff of a tutorial case than a penultimate case, but there it is. And the big reason it's important? Athena is defending! She's got backup from friend, rival, and insufferable weeb Simon Blackquill, fortunately.

This is an extremely Japanese case, centered around rakugo storytelling, karuta cards, and the making of soba. So it's your semi-regular reminder that the localization takes place in the weird world of Japanifornia or San Fransokyo or whatever.

The real meat of this case is in the fact that Athena grows as a lawyer. We've charted Phoenix's growth, as well as Apollo's, and now we may be opening up a whole new story arc for Athena in future games, with this case being the starting point. In which case we're going to have to find her her own tiny magical assistant with ridiculous amounts of family drama.



Case 5: Turnabout Revolution
Length: Forever
You Play As: Apollo Justice
With: Athena Cykes (part 1), Phoenix Wright (part 2)
Versus: Phoenix Wright (part 1), Ga'ran Sigatar Khura'in (part 2)
Game Relevance: Everything
Metaplot Relevance: Game-changing

Yes, you read that right -- you're up against the Turnabout Terror himself in the first half of this case. But don't worry, he hasn't gone prosecutor on you; it's a civil case. Though the ramifications, and why Nick insists on fighting, will lead you into your second case: back in Khura'in, investigating a murder, with someone very close to Apollo on the line.

For the second case, you've got Phoenix next to you mentoring you, and you're opposite one of the most badass looking bossecutors in the game series. But if you thought Edgeworth updating the autopsy report was bad, that's nothing compared to someone who can rewrite the law on you. It's a tough fight, and it's a long case, but the reveals by the end are priceless.

The ending also leads into what could be a bridge into the next game, both by way of this game's events and by an old loose thread that's been re-addressed.

If you've still got some fight in your after Khura'in's legal revolution, grab the DLC!



Special Case: Turnabout Time Traveler
Length: Long
You Play As: Phoenix Wright
With: Maya Fey
Versus: Miles Edgeworth
Game Relevance: None
Metaplot Relevance: Even bigger nostalgia bomb

It's a few months after the end of the game proper, and it's time for a full-on reunion! Larry Butz reappears with a mysterious time-traveling bride in tow, and Nick finds out soon after that she's the main suspect in a murder that took place at her own wedding dinner.

You could easily call this Turnabout Steampunk, between the gears and the airship and the character designs. It's a fantastic stand-alone case that's worth every penny, both for the puzzle value and for getting to see your faves all grown up and at it again. Plus, the ending is painfully adorable.

There are also two Asinine Attorney DLCs classed as 'Theater' because they're one sitting long with minimal interaction. They're silly, fluffy dessert after the main course, and answers that lingering question of whether or not our turnabout lawyers could actually lie effectively.

Other Thoughts

Sprites: Oh my gosh. The sprites in this game are utterly stunning. A few in particular are genuine works of art (and also very spoilery, or I'd name the characters involved). It's amazing to see these games grow as they do, with the gameplay staying solid (if it ain't broke etc.) and the imagery improving by leaps and bounds wherever possible.

Interface: Thankfully, the Investigation mode is no longer a 'pixel hunt' like it was in the early games. If there's something to see, your cursor lights up; if you've covered it already, it gets a check mark. Occasionally the pad gets a bit touch sensitive when you're trying to stylus your way around, and the analog stick doesn't give you a refined enough motion to point right at that tiny scrap of paper on the floor. That aside, it's still an improvement on the old days.

Music: Hearing 'Turnabout Sisters' in the new music style made my heart grow three sizes. The new Khura'in music was gorgeous. There seemed to be a lot more recycled themes for defendants and witnesses this time... or maybe I've just got a bad memory.

Breakdowns: One of the great treats of the games (at least for me) is watching the culprits have their breakdown on the stand. If you're a fan, you know what I mean. What's interesting at this point in the series's evolution, though, is that the breakdowns have gone from silly sprite actions to cinematic little scenes -- full soliloquies, or dramas played out in the culprit's mind. You don't get the same silly violent animation anymore; rather, it's an almost heart-wrenching finale for each baddie. I was stunned over and over by how they played out. And even though I consider the best breakdown in the entire series to be the face-changing villain of Dual Destinies, there are some heavy contenders here.

Overall

I had no worries about Spirit of Justice living up to or exceeding expectations. The Ace Attorney franchise always goes above and beyond in unexpected ways, and I'm glad to see it continuing to do so. My only fear is that, with so many plot lines being tied up and Phoenix Wright being acknowledged internationally as competent, we may be coming to the end of the games. I certainly hope there's still some life in it for a while to come, though.