A review by Balladeer, of a game purchased off the 3DS eShop, that required a serious SD card clear-out. It's a bulky one alright.
It’s arrogant, not to mention wrong, to say that nobody loves the Ace Attorney series the way I do. So I’ll settle for second best. As a non-betting man, I’d bet that people who love Phoenix Wright’s crazy turnabout adventures more than me, in the UK, number in single figures.
I got into the original trilogy late, and played the dubious ‘HD’ remake on iPhone. I played it on the walk to work, bumping into fellow pedestrians, blundering into roads, having close encounters with lampposts. I played it in the toilets at work, sneaking minutes where I could. I played it on the way home, and when I got home, and last thing before bed.
They weren’t all good, the originals. Two of the cases were my two least favourite Ace Attorney adventures (shameless crossposting plug). I played them all the same, and mostly loved doing so.
Things carried on, to a lesser extent, with the later games. Apollo Justice. Edgeworth Investigations. Dual Destinies. And even Edgeworth Investigations 2 – or Gyakuten Kenji 2, as it must be known, because I played a fanslated version of the Japan-only game. Oh yes, that’s the level of lawyer-nerdery I’ve reached.
But it didn’t get back to ‘playing on the walk to and from work’ levels of insanity. Harder to justify walking with a DS, or 3DS, in front of your face than a ‘phone.
Did I play Spirit of Justice, henceforth known as AA6, on my walk to and from work? You bet your Arse☆deMasque I did.
Court in the Act
Reviewing an Ace Attorney game, as with reviewing any other visual novel, is weird. The important bits aren’t the gameplay, or the aesthetics, although those can certainly help. The important bits are the plot, the characters, the world-building, the pacing... It’s a book review, is what I’m trying to say, in a manner as circumlocutious as Investigations’ final case.
So let me, as my all-but-opening statement, get the gameplay out of the way. It is, as usual, split into investigation and courtroom segments. In the former, Phoenix, or one of his buddies, traipses around various locations, talks to people, and sweeps for clues.
Like in Dual Destinies, the clue-filled locations are cordoned off, although other areas can be (and should be) examined for potential funnies. This reviewer believes that’s a good thing, with memories of scouring every meaningless screen pixel by pixel in the original trilogy still annoyingly fresh in the mind. Others may OBJECT. It’s definitely a streamlined process when compared to the originals.
Then you hit the courtroom, where not much has changed since Frank Sahwit was revealed as Frank Didit. Pressing, presenting, hating the prosecutor, turning it all around: all of these are present and correct.
There’s a new gimmick (more on that later), but everything still revolves around the theme of poking holes in the prosecution’s testimony until it collapses. The only other major change since Phoenix’s first day in court is Dual Destinies’ ‘let’s review the big picture’ whooshy internal monologue simulator, which neither contributes nor detracts significantly.
And that’s fine. Ace Attorney has a formula, we like it, it works. You don’t need to innovate all the time. Star Fox Zero and the Paper Mario series can only dream of such treatment.
Fans will be happy to hear that all the lawyers’ previous gimmicks return (this reviewer audibly yelped with joy when Psyche-Locks first appeared), shortly before being disappointed at their underuse. Phoenix uses his Magatama maybe twice all game. Apollo Justice’s Illuminati bracelet is a little better off. At least Athena Cykes’ Mood Matrix, used for scouting emotions in trials, holds up its end of the bargain (green face).
The Wright Anything Agency needs pruning in AA7. This author’s optimistic that this will happen.
Khura’ining on your Parade
And now, for the many-person judge that is the Gintendo readership, my testimony as to why AA6 is so great: the ‘novel’ side of the ‘visual novel’.
According to the developers, Phoenix Wright was now so unstoppable in his own country (of definitely totally America not Japan) that they needed somewhere else to challenge him. They need not have done this, but it makes sense and this author is glad they did. So while Apollo and Athena take care of business in ‘the USA’, Phoenix goes to visit fan-favourite Maya Fey in Khura’in.
Khura’in is a beautiful country, filled with temples and mountains and psychic power. It’s also home to the Defence Culpability Act, which inflicts the defendant’s penalty on the lawyer if a guilty verdict is returned. Unsurprisingly, this means there aren’t many lawyers about... until Phoenix makes his usual nonplussed but well-meaning entrance.
The Khura’inese cast is strong, although names are groanworthy even for the Ace Attorney franchise. Hippie Pees’lubn Andistan’dhin stands out as an early terrible example; later on, we get abbot Tahrust Inmee and his wife Beh’leeb. (Not shown was their distant relation Pu’htit.)
A couple of them stand out. One is Ahlbi Ur’gaid, who (sigh) will be your guide; and his adorable companion, Shah’do the head-dog (original character do not steal). The other is the game’s prosecutor, Nahyuta Sahdmadhi.
He’s a Khura’inese monk whose outer veneer of calmness is shattered the moment he starts insulting the defence. Then he comes across as insufferably smug. The word ‘putrid’ features a lot.
This is A Good Thing.
He’s the best prosecutor the series has had since Godot, because you want to punch him in the face repeatedly. When you do the legal equivalent, it is incredibly satisfying. Neither Klavier ‘Foptastic’ Gavin nor Simon ‘Otaku’ Blackquill pull this off anywhere near as well.
Khurai’nese trials have historically been determined by a spiritual power that allows you to see the last moments of the dead, wielded by a spoiled teenage princess who believes her Insights are infallible. Except Phoenix is able to find inconsistencies in her interpretations, because he’s Phoenix Chuffing Wright.
With all five senses at the court’s disposal (turns out Phoenix’s beloved ‘grape juice’ is actually quite sour), the defence gleefully gets back to hole-poking, as the visions don’t quite line up with what the princess would have the court believe. Like the Mood Matrix, it’s a nice way of doing the same thing, but the way it’s done adds some variety to proceedings.
It’s these Khurai’nese cases that actually push forward the plot, which I shan’t spoil because it’s brill. Suffice to say that the Defence Culpability Act, and its consequences, come under examination of the sternest kind.
Meanwhile the first Ameripanese case introduces Sahdmadhi, re-introduces Forensic Investigator Ema Skye (thankfully less grumpy than in her Apollo Justice incarnation), and delves into Wright’s kinda-daughter Trucy’s past. It is, once again, the Wright stuff.
The second, case four, is the point at which most Ace Attorney games are gearing up for the finale. Instead, it’s the traditional filler case, and the pace grinds to a halt. It’s completely disparate from all the other cases, most of the characters are tripe, and the plot isn’t much better. It seems to be trying to justify Athena’s existence in the game, but it fails in even that.
This isn’t the translation team’s fault: they’ve excelled in localising an immensely Japanese concept. Rather, it seems like they’re mopping up the mediocre work of the Japanese ‘B-team’. The case is saved in fine fashion by a returning character, but since they don’t appear again afterwards, it feels like nothing so much as well-written but poorly advised fanfiction.
Fortunately, the fifth case then happens, it returns to being brill, and all is well.
This author remembers reading a tweet saying that the translation team seem to have had much more fun in this game than they did in Dual Destinies. I can only agree. I laughed, I cried, I awwwed (that’s a verb now), and I appreciated pop-culture references with slightly less noise. They’ve done a commendable job.
There’s also the ‘visual’ side of ‘visual novel’. Everything is chunky and pretty-looking, and some parts of the more colourful Khura’in verge on beautiful. The .gif-worthy repeated movements of the characters could be seen as hangovers from a less technically competent era, or a charming aspect of the series. This reviewer is strongly inclined towards the latter.
Not to mention the audio side. This is an area the Ace Attorney series has never been bad at, and AA6 certainly doesn’t drop the ball. Of note are Khura’in’s oriental-sounding themes, and the witness who accompanies their own testimony. The lack of all-new objection themes is a minor ticking-off from the judge, but nowhere near sufficient to incur a penalty.
The game kept this reviewer going for around thirty hours, not including the DLC (and I’d advise caution about leaping into any non-canon DLC, for fear of muddying a very solid story). It seemed less – but again, that’s because the game got its hooks well in. If I wasn’t playing it on the way back from work, turning the 3DS on was one of the first things I did when I got home. The story, the characters, the moments: all of these demanded more playtime, until there was no more to be had.
It’s difficult to provide evidence for the defence’s summing-up: not because it doesn’t exist, it exists in amounts that would overwhelm the infamous Magic Panties, but because it would spoil for the judge an experience that should be gone into as fresh as possible. Apart from that grape juice, the fourth case was the only major sour note.
If you’ve not played previous games in the series, and don’t wish to jump in at the beginning (you should), this is the best ‘second point’ to do so. If you have, and if you have any qualms about getting AA6 (you found the writing in Dual Destinies underwhelming, say), ignore them and pick it up. You’ll be very happy with your decision.
Your Hono(u)r, I rest my case.
- Fourth case is a tad mince
- Lawyers' gimmicks are underused
- Those Khura'in names, I mean my gosh
+ Translation blows DD out of the water
+ A grand and interesting plot
+ Insights mix trials up nicely
Comparative scores from the same reviewer:
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations - 9.5/10
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney - 6/10
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies - 7/10
Could Batman play it while eating a hamburger?