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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)!