Friday, September 30, 2016

Modern Classics: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS)

Episode 2: The Magical Turnabout

Scenario: Teenaged magician Trucy Wright, the leader of Troupe Gramarye and the adopted daughter of Phoenix Wright, is making her debut at Penrose Theater, which for entertainers is a potential gateway to success. It's here where Trucy and her staff are running a special dress rehearsal for their production of Trucy in Gramarye-Land in preparation for a live showing that is scheduled to air on Take-2 TV two days from now. Trucy hopes that a successful performance will elevate her career to the next level and help put the Troupe Gramarye name back in the spotlight. Her fellow performers include Bonny de Famme, an enigmatic young magician, and the Great Mr. Reus, an original troupe member who is returning to action 13 years after he suffered a devastating injury while practicing for a show.

Things begin to go horribly awry when Reus' skewered corpse falls out of a coffin after Trucy plunges a sword into it (it was supposed to be a rubber sword, but apparently a real one was used instead). Trucy is arrested on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, but the charge is soon upgraded to murder on the recommendation of Nahyuta Sahdmadhi, the assigned prosecutor. Forensics investigator Ema Skye informs Trucy's defense attorneys, Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes, that Sahdmadhi is a monk from Khura'in and has come to America in search of escape Khura'inese insurgents; at the request of chief prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, whose office is lacking for available bodies in light of his recent purge of corrupt individuals, Sahdmadhi has accepted the position as prosecutor in charge of the investigation.

To make matters worse, Trucy was tricked into signing an unfavorable contract by the unsavory Roger Retinz, a producer at the network. The contract contains a liability-for-compensation clause that names Trucy Wright, and by extension her guardians at the the Wright Anything Agency, as the party responsible for any financial losses that might result from the troupe's inability to perform on the agreed-upon date. If Troupe Gramarye fails to appear, the penalty incurred will equal a ridiculous $3,000,000.

So it's up to Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes to clear the name of their friend and coworker and save the agency from bankruptcy. Phoenix Wright, who won't be able to make it back in time for the trial, calls in to let them know that he's counting on them.

Day 1: Post-Investigation 

Well, that was one of the longest investigation sequences I've endured in quite some time. If this is indicative of what's to come, we might be looking at the lengthiest Ace Attorney game since the enhanced DS port of the original.

I'm not at all surprised to see that Trucy has been charged with murder. If you're a main character in the Ace Attorney universe, it's almost inevitable that you're going to find yourself standing in court as the accused. Only Dick Gumshoe has been able to dodge the bullet thus far (I'll assume he doesn't appear in this game).

Though, this case seems to be cut and dried. I believe that the jealous Bonny, who carried the label of failed artist prior to joining the troupe, schemed to remove Trucy and Reus from the picture so she could have the spotlight all to herself. Her plan was to kill Reus and frame Trucy for his murder. As part of the plan, she hooked up with the fawning Roger Retinz, who she knew would be producing the troupe's show when it hit TV, and spent all of her time schmoozing up to him while badmouthing Trucy and magicians in general. This would render him apt to want to slander Trucy in the media following the frame-job.

I don't think Roger had anything to do with Reus' murder or the phony contract (he knew only of the real contract, with the liability clause, and was arrogant enough to believe that a naive Trucy would sign it without question). Bonny is behind all of it. She's simply using Roger for his connections. He's an unscrupulous character with bad intentions, yes, but Ace Attorney history suggests that the most egregious of his type are specifically written to draw away some suspicion from those who would otherwise be seen as obvious killers. The unidentified prints found on the coffin probably don't belong to him, which would mean that there's still a player we don't know about. Unknown parties are rarely revealed during court scenes, so it could be that we're looking forward to either a day-3 investigation sequence or some wild explanation that conveniently clears up the matter (like, say, Mr. Hat somehow left handprints during his ascent).

In addition to providing Roger the rigged clipboard with the hidden contract, Bonny also planted Trucy's diary in Reus' equipment to make it look as though he was trying to steal the family's secrets. That would be Trucy's motive for wanting to murder him. "There was a family squabble," Bonny would claim in court. Maybe the clipboard's hidden compartment contained a third contract that agreed to sign away the exclusive rights to the Gramaryes' secrets.

And that's it: Before Act 1, Bonny killed Reus by stabbing him through the back with the metal sword. She then stuffed him into the coffin. Next, she rigged the winches so that Mr. Hat would crash into the catwalk, and not the cushions, and knock the dragon set piece to the ground, creating a chaotic scene during which she swapped Trucy's rubber sword for the bloody metal one. The desired outcome: Trucy is found guilty of murder and defamed by the media, and her family's legacy is irreparably tainted. In following, via her continued relationship with Roger, Bonny becomes one of Take-2 TV's biggest solo stars.

I trust that the issue of the unexplained shadow will come up during one of the 46 viewings we'll see of the show's final moments. I'm guessing it's what I said: Bonny re-rigged Mr. Hat's winch in a way that would cause him to clip the dragon's wire on the way up. Though, that wouldn't explain why Apollo and Athena found his damaged remains on the right side of the catwalk. Maybe there were two Mr. Hats? Who knows, man?

Nahyuta Sahdmadhi is our only connection to the events happening in Pheonix's story arc, but I'm not sure how his role in this trial will affect the game's all-inclusive plot. He's been portrayed as a pleasant, peaceful fellow, so it's my sense that his tracking-insurgents operation is a cover for his ulterior motive of learning about fair trials and using his newfound knowledge to help reform Khura'in's court system (so he'd be another Klavier Gavin-style "truth-seeking" prosecutor). And his boss, Inga, will have no reason to suspect that one of his trusted officers is choosing to indirectly aid Dhurke's revolution.

Time to start putting the pieces together!

Day 2: Post-Trial

Well, that case certainly turned out to be a dizzying roller-coaster ride. Really, I should've known better than to assume that any Ace Attorney story could adhere to such a straightforward construction. I had nearly all of it wrong. None of the characters were who I thought they were. The actual sequence of events surrounding the murder had about zero overlap with any of the scenarios I envisioned

And, frankly, I'm glad that my theories and assumptions were proven to be erroneous. That's what I love about these games! They hold true to what I expressed in the introduction to this series: They set you up in one direction, convincing you of a hard-line reality, and then completely subvert your expectations and somehow turn the world on its head! There was a point where it looked as though the story was about to lose focus--when I feared that the writers were about to settle into the predictable pattern of revealing everyone to have either a twin or a double--and I could feel my heart begin to sink, but it eventually pulled things together and provided plot twists that were distinctive enough to render The Magical Turnabout a uniquely memorable episode.

What counts most is that the story grew seriously compelling leading up to the big reveal and refused to halt its momentum in following. So the game's now two-for-two in terms of building toward an exasperating finale while not leaving me so exhausted that I lacked the mental energy to continue entertaining feelings of immense intrigue.

So where to begin?

Well, first there's Sahdmadhi. I'm disappointed with his character not because he isn't what I hoped he'd be but because he's been safely cast as another arrogant prosecutor who hates lawyers and will do anything to win his cases. I mean, sure--his belligerence makes sense in that it's a character trait derived from the game's well-defined overarching narrative--that is, it's not some cheaply tacked-on personality quirk--but this leaves little to differentiate him from the likes of Edgeworth, Mr. Godot, and Simon Blackquill. His power to "read a trial's karma and its ultimate fate" is no different than Von Karma and company's ability to lead the defense into carefully set traps.

Save for his physical appearance, everything about him--from his style of discourse to his wacky mannerisms--is reminiscent of acts we've seen in the past. I'm not sure that there's enough time for his character to even subtly evolve, which could leave us only with the potential for one of those abrupt, flatly received seen-the-light moments ("I suddenly respect you, Apollo!" he'll say in the final moments).

I originally theorized that Bonny's split personality was pointing toward the existence of a twin sister, but I abandoned that logic after convincing myself that the writers wouldn't again travel that well-worn road. Twins as partners in crime is such a contrived storytelling device, after all, and I always sigh the instant the defense teams raise the possibility. Though, I'm at least happy that Betty's she-devil antics made for some entertaining interaction between the twins; it was fun watching the pair squabble during the unique dual-testimony sequences.

So it was the other way around: Betty was the one being used by a vengeful, calculated murderer who never made his true intentions known. She was the decoy.

And how 'bout that Roger Retinz--or, should I say, the Great Mr. Reus? What a perfectly evil bastard in either of his incarnations. Yet I couldn't stop suspecting that Betty harbored murderous intent. As the trial went on, it became my hunch that Bonny and Retinz were both her accomplices, the former reluctantly so. Then I came to the conclusion that Retinz was Reus' revenge-seeking brother, his hate further inflamed by Betty's powers of coercion. But once Apollo had his sudden "NO WAY!" moment, it quickly dawned on me that Retinz and Reus were one in the same. His cover was ultimately blown by the scar on his forearm (left from the injury he suffered during practice) much in the same way the Phantom's true identity was revealed via his disfiguring hand mark.

I don't believe that the utterly irredeemable Mr. Reus will be appearing again in this game. In general, I'm not a fan of characters who are forcibly shoe-horned into established histories, but I wouldn't mind seeing Reus appear again in the future--in the Morgan Fey role as the silent hand orchestrating revenge plots on Trucy.

So that's how it went down: Reus sold his cohorts--the twins and Manov Mistree (localization earnin' them wages)--on the idea of a harmless prank with the intent to exploit their naivety. Prior to the Trucy's show, he rigged the stage equipment so that the prank's scripting would play out as they expected and force the evacuation of stage-performer and viewer alike; thereafter, the unscripted event of Mistree being lifted up into the unseen metal sword, and thus murdered, would play out without any of them being aware of such. Reus would later return to the theater in the midst of the chaos, before the police arrived, and remove the bloody sword from the rafters, placing it beside the coffin and leaving blood residue in its slots.

When he realized that Bonny had made a mistake--that she'd accidentally positioned Mr. Hat on the coffin's right side, forcing Trucy to do the same--he swapped its interchangeable sides and then quickly fled back to Take-2 studios, where he used his position of producer to edit the video and cover for the error. From there, he'd lead a media-fuel smear campaign against Trucy, hoping to hasten her conviction, and destroy her family's name for good. And he did it all to get revenge on the Gramaryes, whose founder, Magnifi, kicked him out of the troupe following his accident. The dismissal sunk his career, and he could never get over it.

The only aspect I got partially correct was the second hidden contract, though I was annoyed with how the game telegraphed its relevance. I don't like when Ace Attorney games beat you over the head with inference, which is why I'm always leery about advancing testimonies past their final statements, after which supporting characters tend to drop unwanted hints.

I didn't expect that something of the sort would happen, but I wasn't surprised to learn that Apollo and Sahdmadhi have a history together. If we acknowledge, again, that the Ace Attorney games' stories have become all-encompassing, then it can't be described as a strange occurrence when two people from wildly different backgrounds somehow know each other. And as usual, I'm sure we won't learn how it all fits together until the final case. Though, I'm certain that Sahdmadhi will somehow be reformed by the end--hopefully not precipitously--and his change in outlook will help to quell Khura'in's unrest.

If the pattern holds up, we should now be alternating back to Phoenix' story arc. And that would mean that it's finally time to find out what Maya's been up to!

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