Danganronpa V3

This post contains spoilers for the entire Danganronpa series. I recommend having played the games before reading this, or you won’t understand much of it. 

Recently I held a poll on my twitter as to which game I should review this month. The choices were between Danganronpa V3, a game most people had at this point moved on from, and Super Mario Odyssey, the current hot topic. I felt sure that Odyssey would win and I’d be able to spend pages upon pages praising that game on everything it does right; on what a joy it is to play; on how it revitalises the collectathon genre, the Mario series, and “open world” gaming. But, in case you hadn’t already guessed, the surprise winner of the poll was Danganronpa V3, the third entry in a series that I hadn’t really given too much critical thought to before this review.

Danganronpa is often introduced to people as an alternative to the Ace Attorney series, which is one of my favourite video game series of all time. But comparing the two does a huge disservice to Ace Attorney. Danganronpa is a pretty bad series of video games. The first game Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc, is really an awful game, and yet it serves as the template for the rest of the series to follow. It features 16 high school students trapped inside their school and forced to play a “Killing Game” by the robotic bear Monokuma. The killing game is an excuse to have the students conduct a series of murder mysteries, all of which are infuriatingly easy to solve, and yet needlessly drawn out by a cast of idiotic characters, none of whom are in the least likeable or fun to spend time with.

The second game, Super Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair is slightly more enjoyable, and the cast has one or two memorable faces in it, but it suffers the same problems in its mysteries and its confusingly terrible ending. From my description of the games, it would seem like I wouldn’t have even wanted to play Danganronpa V3, but the series isn’t without certain charms – while the writing isn’t anywhere near the standard of Ace Attorney, it has quite a lot of energy and lowest common denominator humour that, while hit or miss, is often enjoyable in the moment. The pace is infuriatingly slow during the ‘Daily life’ sections, but during the Investigations and Class Trials it picks up in a way that can make discussions feel pretty exhilarating, even if they don’t hold up under close scrutiny. So Danganronpa isn’t entirely without merits, and those bursts of enjoyment led me to pick up Danganronpa V3 Killing Harmony a few months after it came out in the UK.

Discussing V3 [as it will henceforth be referred to] is actually slightly more complicated than it might be to discuss the other games in the series, and the sole reason for this is the ending. Throughout my play through of the game, I was warned about what was apparently the most controversial ending in the series, and while I’ll save my feelings on it for later on, its nature pretty much forces me to split this review into two parts – the game as it is before the final Chapter, and the game post-final Chapter. This allows me to discuss the characters and mysteries of the game without the need for tons of qualifications etc. So, without further ado…

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Danganronpa V3 – Discussing the Prologue to Chapter 5

Much like in the original Danganronpa game, V3 starts by trapping 16 students in a school, and forcing them to take part in a killing game presided over by robot bears. Despite the series only having 3 main entries, the simplistic start is somewhat refreshing. The second game placed its students on an island, gave us two rival robo-bears, and had to deal with the baggage left by the ending of the first game. V3 initially seems as if it rids itself of the baggage of the ‘Hope’s Peak Academy’ arc, and that’s a really promising start.[1]

One of Danganronpa’s problems has always been its interest in creating some kind of huge connected dystopian alternate reality fiction, and that’s ending up distracting from the actual appeal of the games, which are the closed-circle mystery stories.[2] Of course, by Chapter 5 the game reverts to bad habits and the entire story is once again linked to the confusing mythos of Hope’s Peak Academy, which I won’t even begin to explain here because I don’t understand it myself.

The plot follows the basic structure of the first Danganronpa to almost a fault. In the first case, it’s revealed that a female character we thought was going to be important thanks to the game’s marketing (Sayaka in DR1 and Kaede in V3) is actually a murderer. The killing game then continues for a couple of chapters after that, with the third case involving a double homicide and the fifth case being a subversion of the norm due to a trick played by the killer. As the game continues, information about the outside world is drip fed to the players and the characters. Meanwhile, the game “subtly” hints at its underlying themes, before they are unceremoniously shoved into the player’s face in the concluding chapters.

V3’s themes slightly differ from the ‘hope vs despair’ of previous titles, a welcome change given how that theming was not only overused, it was also extremely confused. V3 introduces the central dichotomy of ‘truth’ vs ‘lies’, and it’s already a much easier concept to work with. Danganronpa has often confused ‘hope’ and ‘despair’ for extremely literal concepts, rather than the vague abstracts that they are. Thus, when in those games you have characters that seek to embody ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘despair’, it’s hard to understand. How is someone who is always hopeful meant to act? Can it really be justified that someone so obsessed with the idea of hope ends up committing suicide? Or even that someone obsessed with despair ends up killing themselves instead of those who are meant to be humanity’s final hope for the future?[3] Lies and truth are solid concepts. I understand how a liar is supposed to act, and it’s also a theme that fits so much better with a game about solving mysteries.

Now, the bulk of the exploration of these themes comes in the game’s finale, but they are present in the main game. Lies become a part of the gameplay with the perjury feature, but are also explored within the conclusion and motives to the murder cases. The truth is shown to often be more painful than the lie, for example, the truth that Kaede is the killer ends up being the painful moment that kickstarts Shuichi’s own development. But the obvious example is the motive of Case 4, that Gonta found the truth so painful it spurred him to kill Miu for Kokichi, and then cover up the murder so that everyone would die rather than find out the truth of the outside world. In Case 5, this is also important; Shuichi finding the truth fucks up Kokichi’s suicide plan and his plan to end the game through confusing Monokuma. Finding the truth in this case invalidates Kokichi’s sacrifice and ends up killing Kaito.

The problem is that Danganronpa V3 is often confused with what it wants to say with its theming. It seems to be that lies can lead us to the truth. That’s certainly the aim of the perjury feature. This also lines up with how the revelation of Kaede’s death ends up leading Shuichi to the truth of what role he must play within the killing game. But Gonta’s motive, arguably meant to be the most impactful of the thematically important moments, doesn’t line up with this at all. Instead, the message there seems to be that the truth hurts and can lead people to do horrible things. I’ll go more into why the motive of Case 4 is ruined in other ways, but for now, it’s worth saying that while V3 has a much stronger idea for a theme than the past two games, that doesn’t mean it utilises it well, or really knows what it wants to say.

Anyway, one of the most important explorations of the theme that I haven’t talked about yet is one of the characters, so let’s segue into that topic now…

Class of 2017: The Characters of Danganronpa V3

Characters in the Danganronpa series are always pretty tricky to talk about, because it’s hard to gauge how seriously Kodaka, the series’ lead writer, wants us to take them. All are caricatures that have some tacked on backstory and are built and designed around their ‘ultimate ability’, which is the ultimate worst way to write a character you’re meant to believe in or care about. If Danganronpa didn’t want us to connect with any of the characters and just see them as stock players for the killing game who serve a dual purpose of entertainment in Daily life segments, I’d be fine with that, and in past Danganronpa games I’ve mainly skipped the free-time events so that I can treat the characters like that; pawns in the killing game, not actual people I care about. However, while that works for the most part, the game also forces you to bond with certain characters, and the more it does this, the less I connect or care about these characters. The writers of Danganronpa only know how to write in tropes and archetypes, and that may work fine for expendable background characters, but when they try and make me care about a character, those flaws in writing come to the surface.

Seeing as there are 16 students and 6 robot bears, going through the cast one by one would be a pointless and boring endeavour, so instead I’ll highlight a few characters that I thought worked, and some that I thought didn’t.

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The Serviceable Characters of Danganronpa V3

Looking back at the game, there’s only a few characters I was ever actually happy to see pop up, and one of them is Monokuma (and, by extension, the Monokubs seeing as they serve the same purpose). There isn’t that much to say about Monokuma and the kubs, but their arrival is mainly for exposition and comedy, as well as a blast of their great leitmotif. None of their jokes are particularly laugh out loud funny, but a constant onslaught of bad puns and surreal physical humour is a pretty good recipe for creating some kind of comedic atmosphere.

As a comedy nerd, I might take this juncture as an excuse to talk about the comedy of Danganronpa. To call it lowest common denominator is an insult to the lowest common denominator, and when comedy is used by most of the cast it often comes out of nowhere and is extremely unfunny, sometimes veering on offensive. Miu Iruma is basically the worst example of this; her constant sex jokes weren’t funny to begin with and start to become cringe-worthy as the game continues. I feel genuinely embarrassed on the behalf of the voice actor who had to say, out loud “someone finally called me a cum dumpster”. Another character is basically a walking “caricature” of feminists, but is so far removed from reality that it misses any sort of satirical mark that it might have been aiming for. What’s worse is the way these comic moments are presented, springing out of nowhere from characters in relatively serious situations and for no real reason. The art of comedic timing has not been gifted to the Danganronpa writers. That said, Monokuma and the Monokubs do work, comedy wise.

While the bears were the only characters I was happy to see, I will shout out Shuichi for being a perfectly serviceable protagonist character… for the most part. Being a visual novel protagonist normally means sacrificing anything but the most basic of character development in order to maintain ‘relatability’ with the audience. Danganronpa at least attempts to subvert this slightly by giving Shuichi some rushed development in Case 1, while he’s an NPC. In this case he realises his responsibility as an ‘Ultimate Detective’ in a killing game; falls in love, and most importantly, learns how to take off his stupid hat.

While Shuichi is fine to play as, think about his role in the game too hard and it ceases to make much sense at all. Shuichi is the ‘Ultimate Detective’, and that’s a dangerous role to have in a killing game, especially as a protagonist. The previous protagonists were both talentless, which means that it didn’t make much sense that in the class trials all eyes were on them.[4] In V3, at least, it makes sense that you’re leading the class trials. The writers have also made it so that the characters have motives that mean they probably wouldn’t be aiming to kill Shuichi; that they’re aiming for the mastermind; that Ryoma is the character with no desire to live; that they need to kill a girl; that Miu is about to kill them first and that Kokichi is an asshole. But the sneaking suspicion is still there that certain characters would have their lives made a lot easier if they’d tried to kill the Ultimate Detective as opposed to one of the idiots who contribute nothing to uncovering the murderer.

The biggest problem Shuichi’s talent creates is that, despite the game telling you he’s really clever, he’s an absolute idiot who takes way too long to notice incredibly obvious things. I’ll go over this more when I talk about the mysteries in the game, but there are certain pieces of evidence and obvious clues that Shuichi completely ignores, but that anyone with a title like ‘Ultimate Detective’ should pick up on immediately. I’m not a genius, and I’m certainly no ‘Ultimate Detective’,[5] but that I was able to solve these cases before we even got to the trial doesn’t shine a great light on Shuichi.

While we’re on the subject of protagonists, let’s talk about Kaede, the protagonist of the game for the first 7 or so hours. I can’t outright say something like ‘Kaede is a better protagonist than Shuichi’, because I’m only comparing 7 hours of playtime to 16. However, Kaede is a better protagonist than Shuichi. She’s got a pretty sensible motivation, and the kind of upbeat spirit that’s usually reserved for NPCs who are going to be killed off in a tragic way.

The sarcastic but mostly passive ‘nice guy’ protagonists of previous games (and later of V3) are generally inoffensive enough that I don’t have to think about their presence too much, but I actively enjoyed having Kaede as the protagonist of V3. I think it’s not unfair to compare her to Athena from the Ace Attorney series; a change of pace as a playable protagonist.[6] After everything though, she’s thrown away on a gimmick case, and as a way for Shuichi to get some character motivation.

If I had to suggest some way of improving the game while still keeping the twist intact, I’d have Kaede as the protagonist for more than one case; it would give her much more motivation to kill, make the twist more shocking and allow Shuichi more character development as an NPC. Sadly, unable to not have a weedy shy guy as the protagonist for more than one case, Kaede isn’t given the time in the spotlight she deserved.

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Before I talk about the characters that didn’t work, it’s worth just touching on the extended cast of V3, who I will at least admit I liked more than the casts of the previous two games. Certain characters were annoying to be around, but the general idea of some of the characters; a friendly cult leader; the creepy masked anthropologist etc were entertaining enough that they worked as cannon fodder for the game’s various murders.

I’ll give a shout-out here as well to my favourite background character Ryoma, who ends up as the butt of one of the most successful dark comedy moments in the series. Ryoma considers himself absolutely worthless and even sees himself as a potential sacrifice for the killing game, at least until he learns that Monokuma has prepared motive videos for the cast that will appeal to their reason to live in order to force them to kill to escape the school. Desperate to find his own reason for living, Ryoma goes so far as to blackmail Maki in order to get a hold of his motive video, at which point he finds out… that there’s nothing on it. At this point he allows himself to be murdered by Kirumi, which is a shame, because I found his character a refreshing change of pace for the chipper V3 cast, and the motive video twist is perhaps the funniest moment in the entire game.

The Worst Characters in Danganronpa V3

I said in my introduction to the character segment that the characters who didn’t work in Danganronpa were those that the writers wanted you to care about. For V3, those two characters are Kaito Momota and his would-be girlfriend Maki Harukawa. I can’t really say which is the worst character, but I doubt that really matters. Kaito never really pissed me off as much as he did some people, but I admit that he’s written extremely poorly. He adopts Kaede’s trait of believing in other people, and while he says this a lot, it only comes into practise in Case 4, where he arbitrarily decides that Gonta is the only one of the murderers who couldn’t have actually been the murderer, despite the fact Gonta admits it. This becomes a really arbitrary source of tension between Shuichi and Kaito which is then resolved stunningly quickly, leading me to question what the point of it was beyond turning Kaito into even more of a death flag than he already was.[7]

Aside from this blip, Kaito is pretty much a consistent nice-guy idiot throughout the game, and thus becomes a little dull. The developers don’t even have the balls to make him a proper murderer – it would have been just about believable for him to kill Kokichi, but instead he is pretty much blackmailed into it, which cheapens the twist a little. Kaito is like tinnitus – a constant source of mild annoyance, but eventually it becomes so commonplace that I sort of forget about it. It’s only when it’s pointed out to me that I start to actively dislike it, just as Kaito only becomes a problem when the writers give him something to do.

Maki fares worse with her development, even though coming at it from a point of cultural ignorance one might assume she’s one of the better written characters in the game. Starting off as a cold secretive character who talks little, she slowly befriends Shuichi and falls in love with Kaito, causing her heart to open. The problem is that this character arc is so overdone in anime it even has its own name; tsun/kuudere. But the game, despite being pretty self aware, never calls itself out on using one of the most standard character development arcs in its genre. I don’t hate all cliches or archetypes, but when it becomes impossible to separate Maki from the archetype she’s drawn from, I get bored by each of her appearances. I know exactly what’s going to happen every time she appears on screen, and yet the writers force me to spend time with her as if I’m going to be shocked that she actually has a heart of gold. I won’t go into the inherent semi-sexist problems with this trope that caused Hollywood to abandon it after the 90s, because in the end it doesn’t matter. It’s problem here isn’t just that the trope is bad, it’s that the trope is so ubiquitous that every time I see it, all I can think of is how lazy the writing is.

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As I said, I’m not going to talk about the background characters, because they’re not really begging to be analysed in the detail that the others are. But you’ll notice that one character is conspicuously missing – Kokichi Oma. I decided to give him his own paragraph because he has his own special role in the game; that of the embodiment of the key theme of ‘lies’. Basically, Kokichi is to ‘lies’ what Komeada is to ‘hope’ in DR2, except, as I mentioned before, it’s much easier to imagine what this kind of character is. He basically lies all the time.

Now, before I talk about Oma more, it’s worth noting that his character has been apparently butchered in the translation to English, and there’s already been great writing about this very subject.[8] But I can’t comment on this at all, because I played the English version, and in this version Kokichi is a total dick. Apparently it’s much easier to foresee the twist that Oma actually has a heart of gold in the original Japanese, but here it comes out of the blue, and is handled kind of poorly. Outside of some meta reasoning, you’d be hard pressed to show that Kokichi actually cared about the cast, because while his end game actions show that he wanted to end the killing game, and that he was actually just a leader of the Mischief Makers, nothing he says, nor much that he does, would lead any reasonable person to the conclusion that underneath it all he’s a good guy.

But personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. First of all, Kokichi’s true intentions are always hidden from the player, pretty much up until the end. You can interpret it any way you like, and I think that’ kinda fun. It also has a bit of synergy with the post credits sting, even if it doesn’t sync up too well with the idea of lies being useful. The thing is though, he’s really fun. During trials, he’s the one I was waiting to speak up, because he brings a sense of energy to the proceedings by continually messing with the trials and the player’s mind. Most of Danganronpa’s supporting casts are idiots in the trials, so Kokichi actually presenting a bit of a challenge is cool. Plus, his role as ‘that guy who’s always lying’ means that it makes some sense when he withholds the information he has – unlike the Ultimate Detective in the first game.

So yeah, the most important thing about Kokichi Oma is that he’s fun. It’s fun to watch him insult the other characters, it’s fun to see him lie, it’s fun to have him being tricky in class trials. Even if he doesn’t work thematically as well in the English version, he still ends up my favourite character in the game.

And Then There Were Five Cases

We’re now going to quickly run through the actual murder mysteries of the game, which are, in short, fine. In hindsight, separating this section from the plot part of the review doesn’t make a huge lot of sense, but what’s done is done.

Case One is essentially a gimmick case, but at least it’s a gimmick I’ve wanted to see in playable mystery fiction for a while. Ace Attorney is way too wedded to its main characters to ever do anything like this, so Danganronpa with its preference for shock value over character development was always the series try and pull off the protagonist being the murderer. It’s certainly an impactful surprise half way through the class trial, and while I worked out parts of the murder method, I was too blind to put two and two together when I was playing.[9] But anyone can make a good twist, the key is in making it work, and with this kind of twist it needs to be both surprising and logical – that no clues are hidden from the player. V3 is generally alright at hiding the clues in a way that avoids it cheating, the best example being in how it shows you Kaede organising the books for her death trap. But the actual moment where she drops the ball down the vent is perhaps a bit cheap. There’s a token reference to it – Shuichi leaves before her, and the narration reads “I dropped everything… my heart was racing”, but it’s really not enough, I think; even those who are looking for clues that Kaede is the killer would overlook this section. I do think this is a better problem for the first case to have than the opposite problem that Case 2 has – that it’s all too obvious. With that said, let’s move onto that case.

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Case Two is really where the problems of Danganronpa’s core gameplay loop start to come to the forefront. In the investigation you’re given all the clues to the case, while in the trial your job is solely to put them all together. No new evidence is presented in the trial itself, which means that you can theoretically work out the solutions to each case before you even get to the trial. This isn’t an intrinsic problem, because it’s how most murder mystery novels work. In fact, you can criticise Ace Attorney for pulling a few cheap tricks to invalidate or get evidence from nowhere within its trials.

However, two problems hinder Danganronpa’s structure from working. The first is that certain pieces of evidence make the mystery way too obvious to figure out. In Case Two, it’s the ropes and the black bit of glove found in the pool. This is the worst of the case scenarios in this game, but it’s telling that the entire series has quite a few cases that have this problem. Once again, that wouldn’t be a huge problem, at least if the class trials weren’t so long. In murder mystery books, the reveal section is a couple of pages where the detective, having solved the case, lays out the entire thing in a way that those trying to solve it can check their answers, while those just sitting back can get a good surprise. But in Danganronpa, you have to go through the entire solving process yourself, often with the game forcing you to go down the wrong path. So when you know the answer but still have to go through about 2 hours of class trial, this makes what is otherwise the strongest portion of the game into a massive chore.

Before we get to Case Three, let’s rest a little and talk about free time. Loads of people have already extracted meticulously the problems with Danganronpa’s free time events, but allow me to recap.[10] Free time events allow you to spend time with the characters of your choice, exploring more into their backstory, in an effort to make you care more about them so that when they kick the bucket, you’ll (hopefully) feel worse about it.

But even if you find one or two characters in the cast that you care enough about to not just skip the free time events, they end up being pointless anyway. The game never changes dialogue within the main story events to account for the time you’ve spent with characters, so even if you’ve given Tenko a bunch of presents and cosied up to her, she’ll still act like she hates you in the main story sections. What’s more, the free time events only pay lip service to what’s happening in the plot, making it often a bit confusing why someone is talking to you about their hobbies while the world burns around you.

When you aren’t doing free time or going through the main story, the game will task you to find new areas using special items as a form of puzzle solving, but what this really is is unnecessary padding. In the old games, new areas of the school would be automatically opened to you as soon as you completed a class trial. But now, you have to match some secret item you’re given to a location in the world. This could be a chance for some clever environmental puzzles, but it actually just boils down to hunting around the school for an area that matches in theme with the item you’ve been giving. It’s too easy to be considered interesting, and too tedious to be a fun distraction.

Eventually, the group finds the cult leader Angie lying dead in a locked room, and so begins the third case. I don’t really have much to say about the core mystery here; in fact, I rather liked the way the locked room is set up, and the see-saw trick can be nitpicked to death, but is clever enough in principle.[11] I think the writers really missed a trick, however, in exploiting the loophole that comes about when two people are killed. I thought for sure that Kiyo, the obvious choice for murderer, would have only killed Tenko and not Angie, hence guaranteeing his survival and creating an interesting dynamic outside of the class trial. But nope. He killed them both. This complete missed opportunity baffled me when I played at first, and sours the whole case in hindsight.

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One thing that I (see)saw pointed out about Case Three a lot during my pre-review research was that people hated the Hangman’s Gambit mini game in this case where you had to spell out ‘SEE SAW EFFECT’. This came as quite a surprise to me, because I assumed everyone already hated all the mini games in Danganronpa.

Look, I want to say that I really love lots about V3’s class trials. The style is fantastic; the music is top notch and the core debate mini game is great. The core debate game is basically a timed version of the Ace Attorney cross examination system with some added pressure of having to aim your evidence at the objectionable words.[12] Occasionally the game will cover up words with “white noise”, which takes the form of other words or phrases you have to shoot out of the way, although in this game they’re never fully covering up the phrase you have to shoot to proceed, meaning that they act as more of a hint than a hinderance. V3 does build on the idea of white noise with Mass Panic Debates, but these again often only utilise the shouty bits when covering up the phrase you have to shoot, marking it out.

Further complicating the core debate mini-game is the inclusion of ‘perjury’ – in order to continue one of the game’s themes of lies being helpful to getting to the truth, the case will often require you to lie to proceed. These moments are telegraphed to hell and back, but I nicely found out after beating the game that you can unlock optional routes by lying even when the game doesn’t tell you too. However, the lie system can be a bit confusing; as one reviewer pointed out; “you can’t check lie bullets. While the opposite of “Kaede said she ate the sandwich” might be obvious, the “opposite” of more complex pieces of evidence is not.”[13] So I’m not going to call the new perjury feature an unqualified success, but it never distracted from the core satisfying gameplay of the debates.

What does distract from the debates, however, are the mini-games, which V3 sadly has in abundance. The worst is by far the aforementioned Hangman’s Gambit, which now has been made worse with the addition of a blackout section. The problem with Hangman’s Gambit isn’t just the annoying gameplay but also the fact that since the second game you basically have to start reading the developer’s minds; while in the first game the answer would usually be a simple piece of evidence which you would probably know before going in, now, even if you know how the murder was committed, you have to work out that the developer is trying to say ‘SEE SAW EFFECT’, as if that’s the obvious phrase.

The main new addition game is Psyche Taxi, which is actually just a reworked version of the surfing mini game from DR2. I’m not opposed to this in principle; I love the Ace Attorney Thought Route system, which allows you to work out the answer to big unexpected twists in a stylish way. If anything, Psyche Taxi stands to improve on that by penalising you for answering incorrectly. But it takes so long as to sap any enjoyment out of it. You first have to collect a bunch of letters to spell out the question, and only then are you allowed to answer it. It’s so much of a pace-breaker that the writers are keen to not put it anywhere too climactic. But then at that point what’s the point in going through something that tedious if it’s not going to be the cool major breakthrough of the case?

But I think there’s something else about Psyche Taxi that highlights another flaw in the mini-game system. What are mini-games for? Psyche Taxi, like the Thought Route, is there to facilitate you working out a solution to a complex question by guiding you to it through other easier questions. But it’s the only mini-game that is there to help you work something out. The other mini-games assume you know the answer already, so then the whole thing is just a tedious time waster so that you can say something you already know or present evidence you already have. In Ace Attorney, mini games like the Mood Matrix or the Divination Seance might not be perfect, but at least they have a point; to allow you to uncover new evidence. The mini games in Danganronpa are pointless time wasters, and the only one that is in the service of helping the player work something out takes a stupid amount of time.

Now that we’ve dissected the gameplay, let’s return to the cases, and this time it’s Case Four, which has a really interesting set-up. It’s not a new idea for the Danganronpa universe, for the group to be relocated to another location with its own rules, but I’m always a fan of when Danganronpa utilises its freedom from the restrictions of realism to provide some interesting set-ups for murder. It’s a shame then, that the central “trick” of the virtual world is easy enough to work out during the investigation section, and then is frustrating when the class trial takes so long to get to the revelation that is pretty much obvious from one fact; the way the sign moved. As I mentioned previously, the best part of the case is Kokichi, who basically steps in and starts messing with the rest of the group there by giving away his murder plan, while the others try and work out if he’s crying wolf.

Both cases three and four, however, have a major problem with motive. Case Three’s motive is just batshit insane, and I’m still really unsure if I’m meant to take it at all seriously. In Case Four, the motive problems are more egregious. The fact that Gonta is the murderer is known to computer Gonta, but not to real Gonta. This is done, I assume, so that we, the audience, still feel for Gonta despite him having killed Miu. However, it has the unintended consequence of taking out all the impact from his pretty interesting motive. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting and more of an emotional gut-punch if kindly Gonta had been driven to so much despair by the truth that he not only killed Miu, but hid this throughout the trial. Instead, it’s not even really Gonta who killed Miu, but some crazy laptop Gonta, who may or may not even be the same person as the real Gonta. It’s a strange decision that undermines what I imagine the game was going for.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Demo_20170706140134

Case Five is my favourite in the game, mainly because it plays like a better version of DR2-5, my favourite case in that game. In DR2, the case was trivialised by Komaeda’s luck superpowers, as well as a few other strange inconsistencies. The trick in this case is that the murderer and the victim are both unknown by Monokuma, and thus the killing game is broken, and cannot continue. It’s a really neat trick, and the case bottles along at enough of a pace that you don’t start to question some of the inconsistencies like… why am I solving the case at all, especially if Kokichi’s plan would help the group in the long run, or the convenience of the Exisal with a voice changer and a script written by Kokichi.

I think overall the mysteries in this game are… fine. Not one is perfect, but they all have their highlights, and most hold up when playing them, even if not so well in hindsight. I’m not the king of mystery analysis, and I await eagerly the full breakdown of these mysteries from a more dedicated critic, but I think that during gameplay I was only ever really bored by them occasionally, and I’ve pointed out the most egregious cases of this already. They’re certainly stronger than the mysteries in the previous two games, but they suffer from a feeling of familiarity that irked me a bit. The final mystery I have to talk about, however, comes in Case Six, so let’s now head to the second half of this critique.

End of an Era: The Ending of Danganronpa V3

To borrow a phrase from the youtuber ‘CE53’ whose reviews I recommended earlier in the post, previous Danganronpa endings have always had a “conflict of scope”, which means that although the key narrative focuses on a cast of 16 students, the scope of the ending widens out to include a situation which has affected the entire world. These endings were confusing and inconsistent with the events we had been playing for, and they are understandably pretty much universally derided for this.

I think before we go into discussing the ending of V3, it’s worth having a little PSA about the effect of ret-cons. No matter your opinion on the ending of V3, which creates a situation wherein the events of Hope’s Peak Academy never happened, it shouldn’t affect your opinions on the other two games. A retcon changes the status quo for future stories, but no matter the creator’s intention, it does not effect the quality of past instalments. The endings of the first two Danganronpa games may now be “non-canon”, but I still had to sit through that trainwreck, so they aren’t off the hook. The same sort of applies to the other 5 cases in V3, which is why I split this review up. Yes, it’s easy to say that shoddily written characters “is the point”, that recycled mysteries “is the point”, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend a good chunk of my life having to play through a game with bad characters and recycled ideas for mysteries.

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With that out of the way, let’s talk a little about the case that precedes the first twist and the reveal of the mastermind. The actual case itself is serviceable; running around the school under a time limit is a bit annoying, and I’m not quite sure how to feel about the fact that said time limit ends up not meaning anything, but it gives the case a little bit of a kick up the arse, so there’s that. I like the idea of having a retrial for the first case as well, especially as it manages to address the issue of how conveniently Kaede’s plan worked out (which is something they could have easily never brought up). That said, the mastermind is a little obvious. Tsumugi has done nothing throughout the entire game, and any character who literally calls themselves “plain” is automatically a huge red flag.

Junko Enoshima may be one of the worst written video game villains, but as a twist, she’s pretty good. It’s not out of nowhere, but she’s someone we haven’t thought about in a while, and she’s not a participant in the killing game, which would have been too risky. Tsumugi is predictable, but she’s also a participant in the killing game, which is a real risk for a mastermind. It’s unclear as to how much the killing game is plotted beforehand, but there seems to be an element of spontaneity to it, and Tsumugi wouldn’t have been immortal; were Kiyo to go for her in his hunt for a girl to kill, she couldn’t have stopped him without giving the game away.

If Tsumugi is a bit of a disappointing reveal, the twist that comes afterwards is anything but. I realise that I’m going to be lambasted by both fans of the series and those who hate it, but I liked the ending of V3. If by any chance you’ve gotten this far without having played the game, or need a refresher, the ending boils down to this; the whole game takes place inside a reality TV show version of Danganronpa in an alternate future where the Danganronpa game series has become so popular it has been turned into a ‘Purge’ style reality tv series where contestants sign up for the chance to participate in the killing game, which is on its 53rd instalment (hence the V3). Oh yeah. We’re talking meta here.

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I think we should start by comparing this ending to the endings of the other games, and we’ll find some immediate strengths. While Tsumugi might be a worse twist than Junko, as a character she’s much better. Junko is an awful evil villain, because she’s evil for the sake of it; her Ultimate ability is the “Ultimate Despair”, which means nothing and explains nothing about why she does what she does, other than that she’s a psychopath. Not everything she does even lines up with that sole character trait, however, so not even her one motivation is consistent. Tsumugi, however, is a cog in the machine named “Team Danganronpa”, and their goals are simple and understandable; to sustain the killing game for an audience who enjoy watching it. It’s basically the Truman Show, and like that film, the motivations of sustaining a show for an audience fascinated in real human behaviour under abnormal circumstances, is something I can understand, as opposed to “because the villain loves despair”. I think there’s a bit of ham-fistedness in the way that those watching the show are called “the real masterminds”, but in a situation such as this, that’s the inevitable conclusion to draw, and I wouldn’t expect anything but ham-fistedness from Danganronpa handling that scene. So I think it should be clear that, in its simplicity, the ending of V3 is miles better than what came before. But that’s a very low bar to clear, so why do I actively like the ending so much?

Part of it is certainly that I like meta twists; they’re fun, and I think a lot of people put too much weight on them. Using meta doesn’t mean you have to have a point to it; meta can be employed simply because it’s an entertaining twist for an entertaining game, and I think that’s why I enjoy it here. People are more touchy about self-critical meta (also known as “lampshading”), and I actually agree with this wholeheartedly. It’s not an excuse for awful characters and a bad villain that “it’s because the fans lap it up and we know we’re lazy, you’ll just enjoy it anyway”. But you already know I don’t like lampshading; it’s why I split this post up into two parts so I could fully criticise the game without even mentioning the game’s criticisms of itself.

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Here’s the nub of it though; I don’t have enough respect for Danganronpa for me to get angry that the game shrugs its shoulders and gives up at the end. To me, Danganronpa is an inconsequential safe space in which a bored writer can live out his meta fantasies. Free from the restraint a story with any weight, Kodaka can basically say ‘fuck it’ to his work of the past 7 years and create a wonky, but ultimately really fun ode to meta. This isn’t some great work of fiction, but it shows that meta doesn’t have to be used to make some grandiose statement, but also just for a bit of fun. I think the execution leaves something to be desired; it takes much too long, and occasionally lapses into taking itself too seriously, which only highlights the flaws in the game’s writing. But… and I know this is a cop-out; it’s fun. It plays with the themes of the game in a way that makes sense; lies vs truth, fiction vs reality. It spins twist after twist, all of which are fun to figure out and hear and it’s also a cathartic destruction of a confusing lore for a bad series. In a way, I feel like Kodaka realised his mistakes with the previous two games in the series and decided to just take them apart in the most fun way he could think of; like realising a SimCity town you’ve spent ages on is fundamentally flawed, and then setting the dinosaurs and UFOs on it.

I did say earlier that the final chapter is where the themes of the games were really pushed onto the player, and this is true of V3’s ending as well. Because everything in the game has been a lie; the characters are just fake memories with fake personalities; none of the Hope’s Peak Academy backstory or connections are real and the earth is still there. I think the game gets a bit confused at this point, because much of K1-B0’s final speech is about how fiction has the power to influence reality. This is fine, but I’m not sure it’s the right message to go with what’s happening in the game. Instead, I think that what the game is trying to convey is that even though the game is fiction and the memories are fake, that doesn’t fully invalidate them; what happened during V3 still happened to those characters, even if their memories are false. There’s a subtle distinction there. One is that ‘fiction has the power to influence reality’ and the other is questioning what the boundaries between the two even are. I think that this is a nugget of really interesting philosophy buried within the ending, and even if it isn’t fully explored within the game itself, it’s worth mentioning.

One question that leaves me with is how you should treat Danganronpa. The game often treats itself seriously, and I think Kodaka did actually want me to care about Maki and Kaito, and to take a message about fiction away from the ending. When the game wants me to take it seriously, that’s when I realise how bad it is. But in a series that includes robot bears and where each character is defined in-game by their caricatures, I can’t take it all too seriously, and I think that works in its favour. As a critic, this pains me, because I think that the idea of “switching your brain off” or the idea of letting something get off the hook for bad writing is a harmful idea. But Danganronpa has done that to me. It has broken my deep set beliefs that every work of art should be judged in the same way, under the same criteria, and with the same scrutiny. I hope in this post I’ve managed to level enough criticism at the game, but I also need to be honest as a reviewer, and say that I did really enjoy the ending.

With all that in mind, I think it’s time for

The Conclusion

Danganronpa V3 is not a good game. It’s the best instalment in a fundamentally broken series, and yet it still gets a lot wrong. It has badly written characters, and mediocre mysteries, and it further helps to ruin one of the series’ only consistently enjoyable elements; the class trials. But I can’t say that its ending, a brazen rejection of all that came before from a writer clearly fed up with his own work, isn’t at all cathartic. Were this a series I got more out of than occasional enjoyment value in its bonkers mysteries, bizarre sense of humour and sometimes fun characters, then I might have different things to say about this ending, but for pure enjoyment value it worked for me. So I think in the end, all I want you to take away from this long rambling essay is that Super Mario Odyssey is probably a contender for one of the greatest games of all time, certainly of this year. Its short but continuously inventive story campaign introduces the beautiful and content rich mini open worlds that are then expanded on in the seemingly limitless post game, but most importantly, it’s extremely enjoyable in the way only a Mario game can be.


 

[1]  I have yet to watch the anime which concludes that arc, but while the game mentions it, knowledge of it isn’t required. I have, however, played the abysmal spin-off title ‘Ultra Despair Girls’, although again, this isn’t required playing.

[2] You could argue for a while about what the actual appeal of the games are, and it’s true that it varies hugely from person to person, but while there are boat loads of high-school sims and dystopian YA novels/games, there’s very few closed circle murder sims out there.

[3] I can only imagine how confused this makes those reading this who haven’t played Danganronpa, but I can assure them I also have no idea what I’m talking about.

[4] Especially in DR1, where the Ultimate Detective there had pretty much always solved the case before the trial even started.

[5] For proof, please check out my podcast Murder at Podcast Manor (on iTunes now (sorry for the shameless plug))

[6] Athena is a much more problematic and unnecessary character than Kaede, but I will maintain that she feels like a stark change of inner monologue compared to Phoenix and Apollo.

[7] My favourite reddit comment refers to Kaito as “more death flag than man”

[8] https://pastebin.com/nASSfuLK < this contains the specific post, but the source is http://oumakokichi.tumblr.com/

[9] This is a good point to mention that I won’t really be nitpicking the cases for predictability in hindsight, mainly because my post style falls somewhere between critical analysis and personal experience, and here I’m leaning on the personal experience. This is partly so I don’t have to do the work, and partly because I think that I’m reasonably well versed in detective fiction, so that if something escaped me it would escape the average player. Nitpicking isn’t also really where I get my kicks, or something I’m very good at (although I appreciate it when others do it). But I’m more than willing to admit I’ve missed out some key plot holes, and I’m sure some obliging people will point out what I’ve missed in the comments.

[10] I implore everyone with the time to watch CE53’s series on Danganronpa

[11] I’ll resign my nitpicking to down here for now – despite the fact that the characters should be able to hear everything going on in this tiny room, the players only hear Kiyo stamping on the board, when we should also be able to hear him moving around given that he’s singing, and probably we should hear him rubbing salt on the floor.

[12] I would say added pressure came from the timers, but it really doesn’t.

[13] https://bp-reviews.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/new-danganronpa-v3-v3.html

 

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The Best Games on the 3DS

I wasn’t expecting this to be the post for this month, but Persona 5 has ended up taking much longer than I expected to play through and gather my notes on, so this will have to serve to tide me over until then. Despite the success of Nintendo’s most recent portable console, the Switch, I find myself still being drawn to my 3DS. This might be because of the lack of games on the Switch now that I’ve finished saving Hyrule, but it’s also because of the remarkable staying power of the 3DS, which might be the greatest portable console ever made. So, to reflect on the 3DS’ remarkable lifespan, here is a short list of my favourite exclusive games for the console, in no particular order.

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Attack of the Friday Monsters

You might never have heard of this game, and that’s a damn shame, but probably completely reasonable. Released as part of a compilation of experimental games on the e-shop by Level 5, Attack of the Friday Monsters puts you in the shoes of the young boy Sohta, who lives in a small Japanese town. There, every Friday, giant monsters battle it out while the residents look on. Or do they? The game never deigns to answer this question, because it doesn’t matter. It provides a variety of interpretations to its titular question, but never wants to distract you too much from the meat of the game. This is a day in the life of Sohta, running errands throughout the Ghibli-esque town, meeting its residents and solving their various problems. It’s a game fuelled by Sohta’s childlike imagination, which makes him a somewhat unreliable narrator, but allowing yourself to get swept into his world creates the sort of nostalgic feelings for someone else’s childhood that only a few rare games and films manage to achieve. There’s also some vague tacked on gameplay in the form of a clever little card game, but it never outstays it’s welcome. The same cannot be said for the game itself, which could really do with a bit more meat on its bones. It humbly finishes up its story within a few hours, but it needn’t. The amount of times I’ve replayed this game speaks volumes to the amount of time that we could have spent in Sohta’s world.

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Shin Megami Tensei IV

The contrast between the tone of AotFM and SMTIV couldn’t be starker. AotFM plays out in a small, idyllic Japanese suburb. SMTIV spends half of its time in the feudal land of Mikado, controlled by a strange religious leader and populated by subjugated masses who long for their slim chance to join the upper classes. The other half takes place in the somehow even more depressing post-apocalyptic Tokyo, where most of the population has moved underground in order to escape a ravenous demon horde who are only partly controlled by a faction of the Yakuza. You play as a Samurai of Mikado, a warrior trained to battle demons, but your quest to find the mysterious ‘Black Samurai’, who is corrupting the minds of the Mikado peasants leads you to some unfortunate realisations about the world you live in. Like other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the story splits into three routes; Law, Chaos and Neutral, and none of them here have much of an uplifting ending. But SMTIV remains engaging despite this, although the plot is only half the fun.

I’ve seen some people criticise the ‘shallow’ characters of SMTIV, but I don’t think that gives them enough credit. I wasn’t ever blown away by the writing, but it has a certain subtlety to it (at least as subtle as SMT can get), and the plot itself, while slow paced, has enough intrigue in it to carry you through. What makes SMT games really stand out, however, is the turn based battle system. SMTIII pioneered the ‘press-turn’ system, which Persona players will be familiar with, which allows you to exploit enemy weaknesses for an extra turn in battle. Of course, enemies can exploit this as well, which can turn battles into either satisfying chains of attacks that don’t allow the enemy to get a move in edgeways, or frustratingly watching as you watch your team get decimated by a threatening boss. The enemies you fight in SMT are demons, who you can collect Pokemon style through an annoyingly obtuse and random negotiation system, and fuse together to make stronger demons. SMTIV offers the best fusing method of the series, giving you helpful recommendations while still allowing customization.

I don’t think SMTIV is a perfect experience, but the benefits of it being on a handheld, combined with an engaging story and refined battle system make it my favourite SMT game that I’ve played (although Persona 5 is certainly edging closer), and I thoroughly recommend it as a starting point for the series.

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Spirit of Justice/DGS

I’m a huge fan of the Ace Attorney franchise, and while I would love to put the amazing Ace Attorney Trilogy on this list (which is better than both of these games), it’s not a 3DS exclusive, and I have standards while making these lists (I can only assume). I’ve written full reviews of both Spirit of Justice and Dai Gyakuten Saiban, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will provide a brief spoiler free rundown of what to expect. Ace Attorney is a series about crime solving lawyers, and Spirit of Justice is simply the sixth game in the series, this one involving the spikey haired protagonist Phoenix Wright travelling to the mysterious land of Khura’in for more crime solving adventures. I would recommend playing the previous 5 games in the series before this one, and I’m sure you’ll not regret playing four of them.

Dai Gyakuten Saiban has much less baggage to it, but at the moment is sadly only available in Japanese. This spin-off title takes place in Victorian London, and is notably written by the author of the original trilogy. Most people will have to wait for the upcoming fan translation to get a taste of this one, but for those who speak Japanese, or don’t mind watching a subtitled play through on Youtube, those options are also available.

Basically this entry was a cheat to tell you to play the Ace Attorney Trilogy on 3DS/DS, but my over-reliance on arbitrary rules that I imposed on myself prevents me from doing that.

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A Link Between Worlds

This and the next entry are the only two non-eshop exclusive titles on this list, although what this says about my taste in games you’ll have to work out for myself. Link Between Worlds is one of the best Zelda games out there, and certainly the best top down Zelda there is. Purists might argue in favour of the original Link to the Past, but those that do are clearly stuck in said past. A Link Between Worlds revisits the Hyrule of A Link to the Past, but adds an extremely clever new puzzle solving mechanic in wall merging. The way this changes up the game is staggering – it allows for so much free form exploration and puzzle solving that it’s almost comparable to the introduction of climbing in Breath of the Wild.

The other way in which this game influenced Breath of the Wild is in its non-linearity. Where A Link to the Past gave you numbered checklists of dungeons to visit, Link Between Worlds lets you rent out items to access specific dungeons and tackle them in whatever order you want, while still being able to stagger the difficulty through splitting up the dungeons into sets. It’s also a lot faster paced than any 3D Zelda, and perhaps any 2D Zelda, with item swapping on the fly thanks to the 3DS touchscreen, combat and exploration are all seamless and feels natural. Think of this as the proto-Breath of the Wild for those who want a top-down Zelda experience.

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Kid Icarus Uprising

 Remember how maligned the controls in this game were when it first released? Sakurai himself clearly had so little faith in them that he had to include a stand with boxed copies of the game. I really hope that didn’t put anyone off Kid Icarus Uprising, because it’s such a joy to play that it’d be a real shame to miss. Freed from the shackles of Smash Bros, game director Sakurai was able to create a game that’s half incredibly entertaining on-rails shooter and half slightly less entertaining but still fun 3rd Person Action Adventure game. What bolsters the game past simply entertaining is a quality story with great voice acting and writing, and a fuck ton of content.

The writing present in KI:U is surprisingly good. It has the annoying traits of being self-aware, but never reaches the actual point of annoyance by carefully treading the line. Some characters are obvious stand-outs, such as Hades, but the core cast is an enjoyable group of people to have whisper sweet one-liners into your ear while you play. Much like Smash Bros, Sakurai has stuffed the game to the brim with optional extra modes, some of which are pointless, yet amusing (such as a mode where you pay money to have a character walk slowly towards you), and some are extremely complex, such as the weapon fusing system. The game also employs one of the cleverest approaches to difficulty I’ve ever seen; asking you to gamble more currency on higher difficulties for the chance of greater rewards and treasure. One of the stand outs of the 3DS’ early library that continues to stand tall.

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Box Boy

I don’t really have much to say about BoxBoy, the small title from Hal Laboratory, creators of Kirby. It’s extremely simple; you are a Box, who can produce more boxes from his body. You then have to use those boxes to solve simple puzzles. It’s sort of like if you crossed a standard 2D platformer with Tetris, and it’s absolutely genius. It’s one of those rare games that I feel will be used to teach the basics of good game design for years to come. An extremely simple mechanic pushed to its limits during the course of the campaign, and then pushed even further in bonus levels, some of which become properly difficult to solve. Two sequels would add on a few extra boxes and mechanics, but the original remains a brilliant example of pure game design at its best.

A look at Dai Gyakuten Saiban

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This review contains major spoilers for Dai Gyakuten Saiban as well as other games in the Ace Attorney series

In my review of Spirit of Justice, I said that I considered Dai Gyakuten Saiban ‘unfinished’, and for that reason I could not place it in my Ace Attorney game rankings. Because of this, I felt that, at least until it received a sequel, I would not review Dai Gyakuten Saiban (henceforth DGS). However, as you can tell, two things happened to make me reconsider. Firstly, someone asked (and who am I to turn down a request from my very limited readership), and secondly a Youtube play-through of the game had been completely subbed by the fans (AA has the best fans), meaning the game is now more accessible to a non-Japanese speaking audience. Because of these things, I will now talk about the game for a bit, but bear in mind that this isn’t a review in the traditional sense. Dai Gyakuten Saiban may have released as a standalone product, but this game was built to be part of a longer story and thus criticising it for unfinished plot points and character arcs seems worthless, as come 2017 all those things will be resolved and any review of the game will have half of its criticism rendered meaningless. Because of that, this is more a ‘look at’ than a ‘review’ of DGS.

A playlist of extended songs from the DGS OST

Anyway, with that spiel out of the way, it’s time to look at the first case; in short; it’s alright. But short isn’t what we do here at Toatali Reviews, and short is not what DGS intends to do either. No, this case (The Adventure of the Great Departure), is long and almost annoyingly so. One of the longest first cases in the series, this trend towards longer introductions isn’t something I’m a huge fan of. Turnabout Trump worked as an extended introductory case because it added to the story and had a fantastic twist. Meanwhile, Turnabout Foreigner was a little too long for me, but it at least attempted to build up a setting; it had a purpose for being long. Meanwhile, The Adventure of the Great Departure does have some relation to the greater narrative, but as a case has nothing of much surprise or value that lasts its run-time. The important characters to the plot are Jezail Brett, John H Watson and Detective Hosonaga, and yet two funny but meaningless witnesses are added to complicate what is ultimately a simple case. Sometimes, making a case longer isn’t the right move if you’re not going to fill that time with engaging mystery or build up to some good twists. Perhaps the greatest strength of this case is Ryunosuke himself, who takes use of the full length of the case to get in some early character development. Character is a strong focus of DGS, in a way that the Ace Attorney series hasn’t quite seen before in the same way. Ryunosuke’s character development can actually be seen without a lick of Japanese; in Case One his eyes are wild, but by Case Five, his animations have settled down and his general demeanour is calmer, despite the stakes being higher. I think I’ll come back to talking more about our protagonist, but it’s worth saying nonetheless, especially seeing as his animations in Case One are such a highlight – the animations in general are something this game gets right in so many ways, but this is just an early example of how good the character and animation design is.

Another DGS staple that Case One exemplifies is the aesthetic. The initial trailer showed the game being set in Meiji Japan, and while I wish we’d stayed there a little longer, what we see of Japan here is lovely, and that same attention to making history look fantastic carries over to London when we eventually get to explore it in Case Four. Meiji Japan is a good setting for historical fiction; it’s a transitionary period from the Tokugawa period (remnants of which we can see in Payne/Auchi’s clothing) to the more modern Japan that existed up until WWII when the Japanese once again had to ‘reboot’ (to overly simplify Japanese history…). The Adventure of the Great Departure plays with its historical setting in some clever ways, from the failure of the Japanese to recognise Curare, to the relationship of Japan to England. As a Londoner myself, seeing the Japanese position on the casual racism of the British to the Japanese during this period was quite interesting, and Brett’s dismissal of Ryunosuke’s efforts is simultaneously amusing, threatening and depressing (making her a potentially good villain until they blow it by ‘forgetting’ to give her a motive). Of course, Takumi has swotted up on his history; the case takes place soon after the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, which may sound boring, but changed the nature of Japanese criminal law by abolishing extraterritoriality for British citizens living in Japan (meaning that people like Brett could be forced to appear in court and tried under Japanese laws).

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tfw your mentor dies and you have to make difficult decisions in court

Ryunosuke’s mentor Asougi marks a good transitionary point between Cases One and Two, but also marks out Takumi’s efforts in DGS to rectify the mistakes of Ace Attorney games past. In fact, here’s another reason why the length of Case One might not be such as sticking point; Mia in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney didn’t get much chance to be fleshed out before being killed off, and so it’s really only in Trials and Tribulations when we as an audience start to care about her, by which point, it’s almost too late. Takumi attempts to retry this with Asougi, and to a certain extent he succeeds. Asougi is more defined as a character than Mia, but his somewhat aloof nature means that he’s quite hard to warm to. When someone is that great we have to get to know their flaws and humanity before we can really care for them, and, for me at least, Asougi misses that mark. Still, his death in Case Two (The Adventure of the Unbreakable Speckled Band) is surprising, though not as surprising as the structure of that case as one without a trial.

The Adventure of the Unbreakable Speckled Band is an attempt to shake up the structural conventions of an Ace Attorney game; it focuses entirely on the investigation segments in order to build up and develop a new mechanic, and while it succeeds on that point, it fails on a few others. The biggest mistake that Case Two makes is in its mystery, which borrows the title and premise from a Sherlock Holmes story, then after leading you to the original reveal, pulls the rug out from under you and gives it a whole new ending. This is a good start – I’m not a huge fan of the original Speckled Band, and the idea of turning an original Holmes story on its head in order to introduce a Holmes that is also a reinvention of Conan Doyle’s iconic creation is smart. However, the new ending is awful, to be blunt about it. I’m not a fan of accidental deaths in murder mysteries in general, but to add on top of that the mass sleeping drug twist that any murder mystery fan could see coming a mile away, and the murderer being a cat and you get a rather disappointing reveal. I did like the creation of the locked room trick, however, and the pathetic way that Asougi dies ties into a theme that can be seen throughout DGS, that I’ll get onto later.

Now is, however, a great time to talk about Sherlock Holmes, who makes his appearance in this Case, bringing with him a whole new investigation mechanic called ‘Joint Reasoning’. Sherlock himself is a divisive character and it’s really a matter of personal preference as to whether his humour and style clicks with you. For me, Sherlock worked – I loved watching his logic spiral out of control, and Sherlock Holmes is a character that has been through so many iterations it was nice seeing something that felt completely fresh. Joint Reasoning was built for this new Sherlock, and as such it’s also been somewhat divisive. The stylistic direction is something to behold, borrowing Ghost Trick’s spotlights and adding spinney and dramatic camera angles that match perfectly with Sherlock’s bravado nature. However, I understand the criticism that the whole thing takes a bit long; while nowhere near as bad as Apollo Justice’s Perceive, which forced you to crawl through the same speech over and over again to droning music, in Joint Reasoning there is a bit of repeat to the whole process when you attempt to correct the flawed logic. Still, the music development does a bit to alleviate this, and I was never personally bored. One problem I did have with the mechanic is that it never really develops. There’s too much reliance on eye direction puzzles that wear out their welcome a bit towards the end, which I think is something that needs to be examined for DGS2.

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Oh look, it’s actually Satan

After disembarking the ship Ryunosuke and Susato land in London for what is not only the best case in the game, but one of the best in the whole Ace Attorney series. The Adventure of the Runaway Room is a masterpiece in the way that it takes the conceit of another of the best cases in the series (2-4, your client is guilty), then reworks it and redoes it to make it somehow even better (this also ties into what I was saying earlier about Takumi reworking the events of previous games (I’m really clever)). This case defines DGS and plays up all of its strengths, so much so that I’m not even quite sure where to start talking about it. I guess I’ll start with Megundal, who Takumi really needed to get right for not only this case, but also Case Five, to have their full impact. Luckily, he succeeded; like a Victorian billionaire version of my old art teacher Mr. Crow (yes I realise that’s a bit too personal just bear with me), Cosney Megundal is calm yet threatening; he’s at points friendly, but there’s a simmering anger underneath it all that you can just glimpse in his animations and finally breaks out towards the end of the case. Megundal is the sort of villain you love to hate, and DGS of course forces you to defend him. Unlike 2-4, however, Megundal isn’t holding you hostage. Instead, Ryunosuke holds himself hostage; he could easily go back to Japan, but he holds himself to the memory of Asougi and is therefore trapped by his own promises. In the end the decision is taken out of your hands when Megundal and Lestrade (here reimagined as a thief rather than a detective) tamper with the evidence, but then you have to make the decision again; do you admit the evidence has been forged. In a moment that robs you of all joy and marks the darkest moment in an Ace Attorney game, Megundal becomes the perfect villain by making you choose between ‘justice’ and ‘friendship’, the two key tenants of Ace Attorney protagonists, in a way much less forced than that of 2-4. And then, when you choose justice, it’s all robbed from you by the unpredictable new mechanic of the jury. For that moment alone The Adventure of the Runaway Room would cement itself as a masterpiece of the series, but luckily other elements come together to make this case even better than it already was.

Barok Van Zieks (or Banjieks or whatever) is a perfect prosecutor for this case, and while he doesn’t ever get the development he sorely needs, for the purposes of Case Three, he does just fine. For one, he’s not a genius child prodigy; he’s just a normal prosecutor with an aura of death around him. Being more adult just makes someone more threatening to face and his threats here aren’t of death and torture like Queen Ga’ran in Spirit of Justice, in fact, they’re threats appealing to Ryunosuke’s sense of justice. Both parties here know that Megundal is guilty, but Van Zieks has been chasing him for years, only now returning to court to take him down. Van Zieks embodies the sense of justice in this case where the memory of Asougi embodies the conflicting side. If Van Zieks doesn’t get the development he needs in DGS1, that’s because he serves his purpose as the man committed to taking down Megundal. Hopefully though we’ll learn more about him in DGS2, because he has potential to be more (also, that leg slam. Nice.)

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Spoiler; Barok never finishes his wine because he’s a lightweight

There are three more things that I want to praise Case Three for; music; jury and evidence, so let’s quickly start with the music. All of these sort of apply to all of DGS, none more so than the music. DGS’ soundtrack is amazing, and Case Three makes liberal use of the track ‘Trial in Disarray’, which is one of the highlights of the OST. Seriously, if you haven’t yet, just give the whole thing a listen. Anyway, onto the jury, which seems to be another element that clicks with some people and not so much with others. While I have my own problems with the jury, such as the reuse of characters that makes London feel like a small town and the overuse of the system near the beginning of cases that makes the whole thing feel less dramatic, in Case Three, they are used in a way that makes sense. Takumi seems to have wanted to use a jury since Apollo Justice, but only now are we seeing the full system come to fruition, and his plan starts with a case that showcases the power of the jury by taking the decision out of your hands. You’re against Megundal, but the evidence isn’t there, and the jury cannot convict him. While I feel that the jury will have some prominence in the finale of DGS2, Case Three seems to be the apex of the jury in this game, and as such I see why complaints about them abound. Finally, I’d just like to touch on the return of necessary evidence examination. For once you have to actually look at the evidence you’re given. Again, this is one of Takumi’s improvements; Rise from the Ashes had a bit of this, but really DGS is where it shines.

From the best case to the worst case, DGS falls fast and hard in The Adventure of the Clouded Heart/Kokoro. Yes, the twist is awful and the case drags a lot, but I don’t hate this one as much as some others I know do. For me, it’s the characters that pull this one through – the Garrideb’s struggle is just funny and touching enough to carry me through this case, and Souseki is a great defendant. If anything, this case aims to build up a feeling of London, but I can’t say it succeeds – it might be too subtle. Turnabout Foreigner shoves its message in your face, but it does get the point across, whereas Clouded Kokoro tiptoes around the subject, only hinting at its true intentions. That or it’s just a bad filler case that I’m reading too much into. Anyway, I don’t have much to say about this one.

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The final case is where everything came together for me – it never reaches the height of Runaway Room, but it’s a fantastic final case, and it will tie nicely in my thesis that I’ll present in a minute. I think the introduction drags a bit, mainly because we have to spend a lot of it with Iris and Gina, two characters I don’t like. Gina falls into the tsundere trap, and while she’s not as bad as Rayfa, I expect more from Takumi. Iris, on the other hand, is pointless and annoying. That’s about all I have to say about Iris – my patience wears pretty thin in indulging the notion that she is any more than a silly mascot character. Luckily, we soon get some stakes and an intriguing mystery. Once we’re in court, everything falls into place. Gregson, a detective so boring I forgot to write about him in my Clouded Kokoro section, becomes a secret spy in a more believable twist than the Phantom in Dual Destinies. An annoyance from Case One (the rejection of science) rears its head again, as do other plot points. But best of all, Megundal shows his final hand; Rupert Crogray is not the final villain you’d expect in an Ace Attorney game because he’s not the final villain; Megundal is. Seeing the continuing influence of Megundal is great to watch, but it also raises an interesting question; one of satisfaction. Something I’ve heard a lot is ‘Crogray was a bad villain because beating him wasn’t satisfying – and you’re robbed of the satisfaction of beating Megundal.’ Yes, that’s all true. But I think that the mistake is treating that as a negative. Before I get to my point, let’s just talk a bit more about Ryunosuke and Susato. I’ve ignored Susato because she’s boring but I do like how she’s quite a change from other cheery assistants past with her calmer nature and I see major development for her in the future. Ryunosuke is… he’s a good protagonist and more defined than Apollo and Phoenix but I can’t help feel that his journey is, at least for now, a bit basic. He starts nervous, and then after a brief spell of depression and challenge becomes more confident. Fine, but a bit cliched. Hopefully, he’ll develop more in DGS2, but I’m not holding my breath.

Okay so here’s my point; Dai Gyakuten Saiban is simultaneously the first and second act of a traditional three-act structure. DGS is both the introduction and the lowest point of our characters – and this makes sense when you consider two things; one is that DGS was written as one long story and split up afterwards (much like The Lord of the Rings) and two; the resolution of every case robs you of any satisfaction that is synonymous with the Ace Attorney series. The first case feels unfinished because Brett has no motive; the second case is unsatisfactory because Asougi died by accident; the third case forces you into letting a guilty man off the hook and then has someone else kill him; the fourth case has no murderer, just a broken home leading to an accidental stabbing, and the final case is just a sad resolution to the third and leaves all the pressing questions unanswered. And sure, that’s not satisfying, but does it matter? DGS accomplishes what it sets out to do, and it does it really well. If that means that it’s not satisfying as a standalone game and you don’t enjoy it for that reason then fine, but it sure worked for me. It is different and it’s new, but I can’t wait to see how the story resolves itself.

Review: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Spirit of Justice

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For Toatali’s Ace Attorney review is about to begin…

This (massive) review contains major spoilers for the entire Ace Attorney series and both Ace Attorney Investigations games (and minor DGS spoilers). 

Before playing Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice (henceforth Spirit of Justice), I had some assumptions about what this game was going to be like, based solely on the trailers and what I knew from past experiences as an Ace Attorney fan. I even had a rough structure in my head; first talked about what worked, then move on to the larger subject of what didn’t work and why, incorporating short and long term causes of the game’s failure. When I came to play the game, however, at around half way through the second case (The Magical Turnabout), I realised that not only did I like the game much more than I was expecting to; I thought it was perhaps the best game the Yamazaki team has made.

For those less well-versed in the behind the scenes world of Ace Attorney, after the creation of Apollo Justice Ace Attorney, series creator Shū Takumi went off to create Ghost Trick, and a separate team for formed to handle the creation of the Ace Attorney Investigations spin-offs; a team headed by Takeshi Yamazaki. Takumi would later return to the series to write Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney and Dai Gyakuten Saiban but Yamazaki’s team would take over core development of the mainline Ace Attorney series starting with Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. Yamazaki’s writing style is certainly more pronounced than Takumi’s; I think anyone playing Yamazaki’s games would notice two distinct features. Firstly, Yamazaki tries to create a grand theme for his games in a way that Takumi does not, and this means that they often feature grand finales with spectacular, often political, ‘final bosses’. Ace Attorney Investigations and Spirit of Justice both end with you taking down a politician (Spirit of Justice actually has two (if you can call Paul Atishon a politician)), and Ace Attorney Investigations: Prosecutor’s Path and Dual Destinies both get final bosses whose takedown carries some political impact. Dai Gyakuten Saiban seems to be trying similar things, but this isn’t a Takumi hallmark as it is for Yamazaki. The other noticeable feature of Yamazaki’s writing is that it really drags. Points are repeated ad infinitum, and some cases become very hard to play because of too much teasing and not enough telling. This is one of the reasons that I’m less fond of Prosecutor’s Path than some other people; the third case and the final case are both so much of a slog to get through that it feels like a struggle to reach the (admittedly brilliant) final boss.

Link to a playlist of music for your listening pleasure

Yamazaki’s trait of overly long writing certainly comes through in the first case of Spirit of Justice; The Foreign Turnabout, which sees Phoenix take his first case in the kingdom of Khura’in, the setting for this game. And my god, is this case long for an introduction to Spirit of Justice; it takes forever before the culprit of the case Pees’lubn Andistan’dhin (the puns in this game are kind of next level so bad they’re good, including one that gets oddly self-referential) takes the stand. The problem here is not that the first case is long, but that the mystery that supports it is weak. Apollo Justice also had a long first case, but it had a killer twist (geddit?) and a great premise in taking up the defence of Phoenix Wright. The Foreign Turnabout’s mystery is alright, but could have taken up much less time, and this feels even longer when a camera pan is triggered every five minutes, in case you forgot that the crowd isn’t on Phoenix’s side. The crowd had been a fun part of Ace Attorney games prior, and can be used to ramp up the tension, but overuse leads quickly to fatigue, and this game sure loves its crowd work. The first part of the game introduces us to the Divination Séance, this game’s new mechanic (because every Ace Attorney game is now required to have some new feature in it). Luckily, the Séance is fantastic, easily surpassing Dual Destinies’ feeble Mood Matrix (more on that later). The Séance feels fresh for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult. Yes, you actually get penalised for slipping up, but even if you didn’t working out the solution is often hard but always fair. Secondly, this isn’t a tool of one of the protagonists. In fact, when the game starts, the Séance is regarded as a tool for the prosecution to provide flawless convictions. Thus, reinterpreting the Divination Séance as a piece of unbiased evidence for the two sides to fight over feels triumphant, and an actual realisation in gameplay terms of the main theme of ‘revolution’. The Séance gets further expanded on brilliantly in the third case, so I’ll talk more about it there, but suffice to say, I’m a fan.

The second half of the case focuses on taking down the real culprit Pees’lubn, who gets a great visual and auditory testimony. This seems like a good a time as any to talk about the presentation, which gets a huge upgrade in Spirit of Justice. Although Dai Gyakuten Saiban still holds the top spot for Ace Attorney visuals with its hugely stylish Joint Reasoning segments, Spirit of Justice looks great; the character design is classic Ace Attorney, and the animations translate the fluid sprite artwork of Apollo Justice into 3D much better than Dual Destinies did. The music is similarly improved from that game, and I’ve included a playlist of my favourite tracks from the game to listen to as you slog through this review. One track, entitled ‘A Cornered Heart’ fills a role in Ace Attorney that no other track has filled, but works really nicely in a game of this scale and ambition.

 

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The closest we’ll get to an English DGS

 

Now is also as good a time as any to talk about Phoenix in this game. Despite being the titular character, Phoenix Wright is somewhat shafted in this game, which is actually not a bad thing. Yamazaki has stated that he wanted Phoenix to be challenged again by putting him in a fish out of water scenario, and for the most part this works. Sure, Phoenix’s inner monologue is too similar to Apollo’s, and his persona in Turnabout Revolution is so different from how he plays it’s almost absurd. However, the challenges of Khura’in are just enough to hold suspension of disbelief that such a skilled lawyer could be so nervous. Having Phoenix experience Khura’in before Apollo is also useful in that we can once again see Phoenix take up the mentor role just before Apollo leaves for good. Phoenix know Khura’in by the final case, so there’s a good excuse for Phoenix to act as the senior of Apollo, and makes Apollo’s takedown of Ga’ran without relying much on Phoenix even more impressive. By the way, not how this paragraph on Phoenix has shifted to talking about Apollo? Yeah, that’s because Phoenix has little to do in this game, especially in terms of character development. Yes, this is a problem that has been in play since he returned to court in Dual Destinies. Yes, I will try and address what they could do with his character going forward when I talk about the ending.

For now though, it’s finally on to the second case, The Magical Turnabout (slow progress… (A lot like playing the game, I might add)). This case is really what sold me on the game; it’s sort of like finally playing Apollo Justice 2, but with a better prosecutor, better villains and a really solid little mystery. Mr Reus is one of the best Ace Attorney villains to date, and even before his eventual transformation from Roger Retinez to full on scorned Gramarye (transformation of witnesses is something that happens a little too much in this game), he is still such an infuriating presence that the final confrontation feels extremely satisfying, even more so than the takedown of Ga’ran. Some have complained about Yamazaki retconning the Gramarye backstory to include Reus, but it didn’t really bother me; in fact, not having heard of Mr. Reus before this case actually makes a funny sort of sense and adds to his motivation of being pissed off that he’s ‘the forgotten Gramarye’. As for the whole prank storyline, this feels more far-fetched in retrospect, but the fact I never questioned it while playing is a point in its favour. The return of the Gramarye storyline also allows Trucy to get some much needed character development, and although her mantra rings a bit familiar it’s way better than her getting completely shafted as she did in Dual Destinies, especially as this game has such a focus on Apollo. (Let me just also add before we move onto talking more specifically about characters that the return of free-investigation is another thing that Spirit of Justice improves from Dual Destinies. I can’t believe how much I’d missed it).

 

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Oh yeah, the new judge – great guy; real mensch

 

Speaking of returning characters, Ema Skye makes her return as a fully-fledged forensic investigator. While this means that the Ema we see in Spirit of Justice is a happier Ema than the one in Apollo Justice, that’s about it for her development. New Ema brings with her new forensic technology, including amazingly tedious fingerprinting sections that give you a huge 3D object and finicky controls and ask you to find annoyingly placed fingerprints. One segment involving a suitcase in Case Five took me upwards of 20 minutes as the fingerprints weren’t placed where you might expect them to be, despite characters telling you to ‘look where you might find fingerprints on a suitcase’. Ema is also useful for this review in terms of providing a neat Segway into talking about new prosecutor Nahyuta Sahdmadhi, who she strikes up a reluctant friendship with. Nahyuta is a much needed improvement in terms of a prosecutor from Simon Blackquill. Whereas Blackquill had a needlessly complex background and a pretty predictable character arc, his biggest flaw was just how many different prosecutor concepts were shoved into him. A prisoner prosecutor would be cool, as would a Japan-obsessed prosecutor and a manipulative prosecutor (although we sort of already have one of those). Blackquill tried to be all of these at once, and he ended up a bit ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Nahyuta is much simpler, at least concept wise. He’s a monk. He’s rude. That’s all you need to know, and it makes facing him easier to grasp. His movement from slave of the regime to secret rebel isn’t exactly inspired (Darth Vader, much?), but the writers play up how much under the thumb of Ga’ran he is that when he finally reveals the tattoo it’s a great moment. I’ll talk more about Nahyuta’s relationship with Apollo when I get to him, but it’s just different enough from Phoenix and Edgeworth that I didn’t mind it, and I almost like Nahyuta as a prosecutor more than Edgeworth, even though as a character he’s much shallower.

While The Magical Turnabout sold me on Spirit of Justice, The Rite of Turnabout was what made me really respect this game, and highlights what a leap has been made in terms of writing from Dual Destinies. This case features the return of Maya Fey, somewhat of a tragic inevitability for the series since the return of Phoenix to ‘protagonist’ role. Yes, I realise I might get some flak for this, but Maya’s story ended in the trilogy, and while in real life people’s stories don’t just end (and yes, someone raised that as an argument when I gave my views on the return of Maya), they do in fiction. Luckily, count me pleasantly surprised on how Maya was handled here. No, it’s not perfect, and she feels a bit tacked on given her strangely lacking amount of screen time, but it’s certainly better than I was expecting. Maya actually seems to have matured in between games, giving sound advice to Rayfa and talking with Phoenix about taking things more seriously, even if her trilogy character shines through sometimes. It’s simple stuff, but it’s good. Even Phoenix starts to feel older with his bouts of back pain. Given that Maya is either in prison or channelling Tahrust (in one of the creepiest moments of body horror I’ve seen since that episode of Monster Factory with Bart), most of Phoenix’s investigation time is spent with Rayfa Padma Khura’in, because even Back Pain Phoenix™ can’t keep teenage girls from swarming him at all times. That would be bad in and of itself, but it might be excusable if Rayfa was fun or interesting to be around like Kay was in Ace Attorney Investigations. Instead, the writers try and deviate from the standard fun sidekick, but unlike Susato in Dai Gyakuten Saiban, who is refreshing in her seriousness, Rayfa is just annoying. The best word I can use to describe her is tsundere, a trope from anime that has always infuriated me and I’m sad to see crop up in a series that can otherwise pride itself on the characterisation of some of its main cast. Nothing about Rayfa, from her introduction to her redemption made me care even a little, because her storyline was so predictable I could see each story-beat coming a mile away. I complained earlier that Nahyuta had some familiar elements to his arc, but at least him being held captive by the customs of the country was a neat twist. The closest Rayfa’s storyline came to surprising me was the revelation that Nayna was Amara, but that had little to do with Rayfa herself.

 

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Never fear – ‘Nngh’ is still in this one

 

Why do I like The Rite of Turnabout so much then? Well, because unlike Dual Destinies’ third case, it succeeds in getting across the problems with the legal system that the main cast is supposed to be railing against. While I do have a soft spot for the comedic sides of Turnabout Academy, nothing about the case itself screams ‘Dark Age of the Law’, instead it’s the characters who have to constantly remind us that it’s the ‘Dark Age of the Law’, in case the funny tone of the case made us forget for a minute. In The Rite of Turnabout, everything points the player towards the game’s central theme of overthrowing a corrupt legal system by actually seeing that corrupt legal system drive a sweet couple to murder and suicide. Not only that, but it also uses Farewell, My Turnabout’s trick of a central mechanic (in this case, the Divination Séance), being used against you by the true criminal. The first half of the case is a bit of a slog, but the second half wowed me. Neither Phoenix nor Tahrust have to constantly remind you that the legal system is wrong, because the player is seeing it first-hand. In the end, when Beh’leeb fully commits to revolution, it makes total sense.

The Rite of Turnabout also begins to hint at the final case, be it Maya challenging a man, the introduction of Datz Are’bal, or the revelation that Apollo and Nahyuta are ‘siblings’. Rather than satiate our appetite for more information, the game decides to take a left turn, most likely because it had forgotten the existence of Athena, and we get to experience the bizarre Turnabout Storyteller. In a way, this is fine; I like Athena and it’s more Ace Attorney, after all (bear in mind that without this case, the final case would most likely be split into two so as to make sure that the game had five cases). Still, I like this case, mainly because it treats Athena and Blackquill way better than Dual Destinies ever did. Having removed the ‘prisoner’ aspect of his character, Simon becomes simpler and better written. Plus, we actually get to see his psychological manipulation for the first time when he plays Uendo’s multiple personalities off of each other in order to get them to testify (see how easy it is to show and not tell – again, this is simple stuff, but it works in Spirit of Justice’s favour). I really like Athena as a playable attorney (unlike Apollo and Phoenix, she feels more unique to play as), and the Mood Matrix gets an improvement with a new feature that adds…penalties! (Hooray for less hand-holding). There isn’t that much else to say about this case, the actual mystery being pretty decent but nothing to write home about (good twists with the murder weapon and the Time Soba trick), but I will quickly mention the much welcome return of the Thought Route, even if it looks a little weirder this time around.

So then, finally we move onto Turnabout Revolution, and my complex motives emotions regarding this case. This case actually separates into two parts, one a civil trial (ish) which features the inevitable face-off between mentor and mentee, and the other a grand murder trial in Khura’in that sees the future of the revolution put on trial in the form of Dhurke Sahdmadhi. But before we can get to that, let’s have a quick look at the civil part of the case. Let’s be honest, this is pretty cool. Not only is it nice to see a civil case in Ace Attorney, Paul Atishon is one of my favourite witnesses/murderers to date. He’s hilarious, and his great theme and breakdown are just the cherry on top. As I mentioned before, facing Phoenix creates an odd disconnect from playing as him – why isn’t he this on top of things when I’m controlling him? – And the whole ‘Phoenix forced to stand in court because Maya is being held hostage’ is completely ripped off from 2-4, but I did get a bit of a chill when Phoenix outsmarted Apollo, and then when Apollo finally turns it around to save Phoenix.

 

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These photos have little rhyme or reason, but I’m tired and I just wrote 4,000 words so forgive me

 

You’re going to have to forgive me, but writing about the final part of the last case is a little tricky, because I have yet to formalize my opinions on it like I have for the other cases. The finale is pure Yamazaki; it goes on forever and has more twists than a slinky. Initially, I was disappointed that I guessed the Nayna is Amara twist, but that turned out to be just one twist on top of many. Certainly the most successful of the twists was that *gasp* Dhurke was dead the whole time (duh duh duh)! Yes Dhurke, leader of the revolutionaries and an oddly lovable character considering he just shows up at the beginning of case five in a poorly written intro to the character. Yet, because of Turnabout Revolution’s length and Dhurke being (as BoltStorm put it) ‘Such a dad’, the revelation that he was just being channelled by Maya, having died at Inga’s hands earlier is a real shocker that actually made me a little bit weepy. The less surprising twist is that Ga’ran, or little Miss Spider-Hair, was actually the big bad and both Inga and Jove Justice’s murderer. Ga’ran is a pretty weak villain, so cartoonishly evil it’s hard to overlook. Simon Keyes undergoes a similarly evil transformation at the end of Prosecutor’s Path, but the revelation of him being the mastermind is so shocking that it’s easier to forgive. I think, then, were Ga’ran to have stayed composed while being the prosecutor, it would have made more of an impact than her looking like Ursula the Sea Witch. Her breakdown is also slightly underwhelming, but it comes after the well-executed twist (yes, another one) that she is not the rightful queen.

You’ll notice that we’ve gotten to the end of the game without talking about its star Apollo Justice. That’s because he gets the silliest treatment of any protagonist in any Ace Attorney game to date. Spirit of Justice’s very premise is silly; Khura’in is cool but makes so little sense in the wider context of Ace Attorney and suddenly springs out of nowhere to provide a setting for the game. The idea of taking down a monarchy in a country made of spirit mediums seems like ripe potential for a spin-off, not a main series game. And yet, Yamazaki and his team have not only tied Maya and Phoenix to this country, but Apollo as well. The constant drip feed of Apollo’s many siblings and family ties becomes absurd about half way through case five, and is then topped off by a post-credits reminder that Phoenix has yet to tell Apollo and Trucy about their connection (making a comment by Dhurke slightly uncomfortable). Still, Apollo manages to brush this stream of siblings off to assert himself as an Ace Attorney in his own right. In his own game, Phoenix did most of the heavy lifting for him, while in Dual Destinies he was pushed to the side-lines in favour of a ‘courtroom revolutionary’. Here, he finally gets to prove himself, saving Phoenix Wright and becoming a literal courtroom revolutionary, as opposed to whatever Athena’s exclusive Mood Matrix did to the courtroom. Were Apollo not such a mistreated character by the Yamazaki team, I’d feel that his send-off here feels earned, but because this is the closest he’ll get to a full game where he’s the driving force, the ending becomes bittersweet. Apollo finally gets the character development he always deserved, but we know he’ll never get to bask in it like Phoenix, because he just doesn’t bring in the dough for Capcom.

 

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How silly this lawyer game is

 

This analysis has been a long exercise in me spouting my thoughts about the game, but has it actually gotten us anywhere? Did I like the game? In short, yes. But I think the impact of the game has been stifled by the old foe Dual Destinies. Before you complain, I do like Dual Destinies, but its impact on Spirit of Justice has done little but lower the overall quality of this game. A better Dual Destinies would have gotten rid of the need for the Athena filler case, and given Apollo more time in the spotlight to have his ending here feel deserved. Still, I can’t give Spirit of Justice any more praise than saying it is the best post trilogy game we’ve had (note that I consider Dai Gyakuten Saiban unfinished at this point). It gives Apollo a nice conclusion to his arc, sets up and demolishes a fictional country that it (luckily) never takes too seriously, handles Maya’s return well, improves on almost every aspect of Dual Destinies that it tackles, and is probably the funniest of all the Ace Attorney games. High praise, indeed then. Yes, of course it’s flawed, including in some major ways, but damn, it’s still good.

There is one question I would quickly like to address before this ends; where does Spirit of Justice leave the mainline series? Apollo could conceivably get his own game helping Khura’in, but I very much doubt that. As for Phoenix, he’ll probably remain on the box, but I’d like to see him become a pure mentor character, emphasising his traits as ‘Turnabout Terror’ rather than ‘Turnabout Unprepared’. A soft reboot also wouldn’t go amiss, but maybe the best thing would be to let the series lie dormant a while. We have Dai Gyakuten Saiban to keep us going, but I think the important thing is for Yamazaki (or Fuse or whoever it may be) to make sure the next step for the series is simple, and effective (yay for buzzwords)!

(Phew…)

 

 

 

Aviary Attorney Review

screen4_thumb1I’ve tried to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but if you’d rather go into this game cold, just know that it has my recommendation. 

And here we are, my first video game review. Reviewing a game is quite different from reviewing TV, and I am quite inexperienced at it, so please give any constructive criticism (or snarky insults) in the comments. For my first review, I have chosen Aviary Attorney, a game that I must, for the interests of avoiding controversy, I backed on Kickstarter, although this should not make me bias towards this game (if anything, it might make me harsher towards it). 

The game follows an attorney: JayJay Falcon, and his assistant Sparrowson (both of whom are birds, in case I forget to mention (no prizes for guessing which species)), as they go around 19th Century Paris solving crimes and meeting interesting people. Yes, I know it sounds like a carbon clone of Ace Attorney, but trust me, it’s not, for better and for worse.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Visually and musically, the game is fantastic. It uses art from caricaturist J.J. Grandville, who drew the objects of his ridicule as anthropomorphic animals,  and features music from composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who is perhaps most famous for the Danse Macabre (which is criminally under-utilized here), as well as the Carnival of the Animals. The art and music give the game a really unique flair – as much as I love Ace Attorney, its anime stylings can get a bit dull (Athena Cykes is not great character design), whereas this game has a feel of its own.

The writing is similarly inspired – the game made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and the plot has a nice way of keeping each case feeling unique, while tying everything into the feeling of discontent and revolution that is brewing in Paris. Each of the characters you meet while out and about feel different, and the game is able to strike a nice balance between its comedic scenes and its darker moments.

The gameplay falls into a middle ground for me. The game is split into trial sections and investigations. The trial portions are, as I’ll get into soon, slightly rushed and a bit easy. If the trials in Ace Attorney are your favourite parts, you might end up a bit disappointed – thrilling courtroom turnabouts are conspicuously absent here. The investigation sequences are much better, with an interesting mechanic that puts a time limit on your gathering of clues that could lead to a situation where you are unprepared in court. This can also lead to some frustration if you only miss out on one clue, but you still have to replay all of Case Three, because you forgot one thing.

My biggest gripe with the game, however, concerns the pacing. The game is way too short, tries to tackle too many things in a short space of time, and is missing an ending, meaning that at the time of writing, I am unable to complete it. The endings that are there, however, are rushed and feel insubstantial, much like the court scenes. The mysteries are often childishly simple once you have the clues, and at times I found myself skipping through dialogue just to use evidence I knew was about to be used, shortening an already short game. The themes of revolution and justice are well built up, but without a third ending, and with the endings that are there being short and having characters do completely out of character things, those well built up themes have nowhere to go.

I really enjoyed playing Aviary Attorney, and would certainly recommend it to those who are interested, but looking back, it has left me slightly cold. Playing it rarely feels like a slog, and I can see the passion that went into this project, but I can’t in good conscience call it anything better than ‘good’.