Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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

Episode 4: Turnabout Storyteller

Scenario: The aftershocks of conspiracy and murder resound through the halls of KuruKuru Tei, a storyteller theater. Unknown assailants have killed master storyteller Taifu Toneido, a 55-year rakugo veteran who was famous for his soba-based performances. The alleged murderer is Bucky Whet, the fourth-generation head chef at the Whet Soba. The prosecution has established what it believes to be his motive: Bucky was tabbed to inherit the Whet Soba shop from his father, but he was unable to do so legally because Toneido had stolen the deed.

His prospects bleak, the despondent Bucky turns to his friend and frequent Whet Soba patron Simon Blackquill for help. Simon, who is currently employed as a prosecutor, knows that it would be against the court's rules for him to serve as a lead defense attorney, so on short notice he arranges for the licensed Athena Cykes, his childhood friend and junior in the field of psychology, to act as Bucky's lawyer. It was Simon's preference that one of the Wright Anything Agency's more experienced attorneys handle the case, but no other members of its staff were available at the time (Phoenix is still stuck in Khura'in, and Apollo is busy participating in one of Trucy's magic shows).

We learn that Taifu is survived by his two disciples, Uendo and Geiru. The show that ran at KuruKuru Tei on the day of his murder was more so a celebration of his junior disciple Uendo's acceptance of the "Uendo" name, which previously belonged to Geiru's father, who was also famous rakugo artist. Simon was present at the theater that day--having been invited by Taifu, with whom he was close--and spent most of his time there socializing with Uendo and Geiru. All three are considered witnesses to the crime, and each tells the same tale: The master was alive in the dressing room at 4:00 p.m., which is right about when Bucky was seen leaving the area after delivering some soba noodles. Unendo, who was the next to enter the dressing room, discovered the body. Before then, no one else entered or exited the room.

Simon, a master of psychological manipulation, is too prideful to offer assistance to his junior rival, so the unseasoned Athena is left to her own devices. Unfortunately, she finds herself light on evidence and lacking for answers, as her client shows up inebriated and soon winds up in the infirmary. What's worse is that she's up against the calculated, subversive Nahyuta Sahdmadhi, whose experience as an international prosecutor ranks second to none.

However, the plucky Athena remains undettered in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. She's determined to prove her mettle and convince both herself and her friends that she's capable of winning trials without any assistance. Bucky Whet's fate rests in her unproven hands.

Day 1: Post-Trial

Well, this wasn't what I was expecting at all. I thought it obvious that Spirit of Justice would continue alternating between the respective Phoenix and Apollo story arcs, but then it suddenly resolves to head off on a tangent and hit me out of nowhere with an Athena Cykes-focused episode. On one hand, I'm disappointed that Episode 4 didn't provide an immediate follow-up to the dangling Apollo-Sahdmadhi affair, but on the other I'm glad that the writers decided to temporarily break from their creatively limiting formula of tying together all of the episodes using an intricately woven, pervasive narrative, which has been a staple of the past few Ace Attorney games.

And woah, man--Simon Blackquill is back! I had no reason to believe that we'd ever see him again, since non-Edgeworth prosecutors are traditionally disposable, so his return was quite the surprise; though, I kind of ruined it for myself with my habit of sneaking a peek at the court record before advancing past the scene-setting intro text. My first thought upon seeing his mug depicted under the "Profile" tab was "Welp--there's our main adversary for this case," but I was happy to learn that he was instead written in as an ally to our cause, a dependable shoulder upon which we could lean. Simon was acting as his usual cold, distant self in the lead-up to the trial, which I interpreted as his wanting nothing to do with us beyond our poorly managed strategy session, so it felt all the more impactful when he suddenly appeared at Athena's side and angrily slammed his fist down on that desk, his wrathful objection a clear message that he was tired of watching his friend suffer abuse at the hands of a master manipulator.

I have an affinity for redemption stories, so I'm naturally a sucker for any scenario wherein a game's protagonist teams up with a formerly vicious rival. I'm always so intrigued as I watch how their dichotomous relationship unfolds over the course of time. Athena and Simon's was particularly interesting for how the cantankerous complexion of their interaction was but a mutually projected front meant to cloak the bond that both would be loathe to admit they shared. It's easy to view Athena's as a struggle to earn the respect of a mentor whose steely aura appears impenetrable, but hers is more a continuing mission to chisel away at the cracks in his facade and reveal his human side. Though Simon's mode of communication is typical of what we see from the series' numerous frigid personality types, we learn that there truly is real heart to his character. You come to sense that no matter how unsympathetic he behaves, he'll never allow anyone to hurt Athena.

That's quite a turn for a guy who was once determined to cast both she and Phoenix into a pit of flames. It's what makes him an interesting foil for the returning Sahdmadhi, who is once again prosecuting a case at Edgeworth's request. I was excited to have the opportunity to watch them snipe at each other, Simon being our vessel through which we could give the belligerent, belittling Sahdmadhi a taste of his own medicine. It's about time we had one of those on our side, really.

Still, it's disappointing to see that Sahdmadhi has received no meaningful character development. He's still the same jerk he's always been, his the usual endless barrage of insults followed by an all-too-abrupt, hollow extending of respect. I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer to learn about his past relationship with Apollo and find out if even untangling that web will unbind a more compelling character.

The case, itself, didn't do much for me. Focusing on a witness who suffers from multiple-personality disorder was an interesting idea--another clever way to keep the well-worn cross-examination process feeling somewhat fresh--I thought, but the case dragged on for far too long, emphatically wearing out its welcome, and its subject-matter was otherwise too derivative to stand out as memorable.

Basically, Geiru, Taifu's senior disciple, was so distraught over the younger Uendo being promoted over her that she sought to extract revenge on both he and her master. She smothered Taifu with udon-noodle dough and manipulated the crime scene to make it appear as though Owen--Uendo's rarely seen fourth personality, which only emerges when the other three are rendered unconscious--was responsible for the murder; this entailed arranging Taifu's karuta cards to spell out "Owen 4th," to make it look as though the master identified his killer in his final moments.

When Uendo discovered his master's corpse, he saw his name spelled out and panicked. Using what little time he had, he further altered the scene, shifting the karuta cards around to spell out "Whet No. 4" in order to cast suspicion away from himself--or rather, his fourth personality--and onto Bucky Whet, who had recently visited the theater. The scheming voices we heard in the prologue belonged to Uendo's multiple personalities, who were plotting out this frame-job.

I wouldn't have been so averse to this case had its processes for probing witnesses not been so esoterically presented. The logic was off the wall here, and there were more than few instances when I was absolutely lost as I attempted to parse through both mystifying testimony and the equally nebulous emotional readouts of Athena's holographic Mood Matrix. The inferences were so vague; I didn't know where the writers were going with any of it; and I'd grow so flustered that I'd start randomly matching up evidence to any ol' statement with the hope that I'd stumbled onto the correct answer. By the fifth hour, I just wanted to be done with it.

In the end, the episode's only redeeming quality was the evolving dynamic between Athena and Simon--how the game worked to succeed in reconciling her naive sense of confidence with his self-interested, know-it-all attitude and create an unlikely harmony. Still, I wonder where they were attempting to take Athena's character. I mean, the episode's underlying premise is that she wants to prove that she can stand on her own, but then she spends most of the trial waiting for Simon to bail her out. It's almost as if the story is in conflict with itself. Are we supposed to take from it that she has a lot of growth to undergo as a lawyer before she'll be cultivated enough to stand on her own? Or is it that she desperately underestimates the need for teamwork?

I wouldn't be asking these questions if I felt that we'd be seeing Athena again, at which point we could discern her character's intended arc, but I don't think we will. If that turns out to be the case, then the entire premise will have been revealed to be even more pointless than suspected. Could it be, instead, that they expect us to wait until the next game to see how her character develops? I don't know, man.

I've already sneaked a peek at the next episode's title ("Turnabout Revolution"), and I'm certain that it indicates that we're now shifting back to Khura'in. So is this it? Is this where it all comes together--where the characters' separate story arcs converge? If so, doesn't that require that Apollo travel overseas--perhaps surprise Phoenix and Maya with his unexpected appearance? Doesn't he have to? I mean, the game's title does infer that Apollo is its central figure; it would be strange if he didn't play any role in its finale! Or is it that there's a sixth episode awaiting me? Five is normally the standard amount, so I'd guess no.

There's probably way more to this game than I suspect, so I think it's best that I stop asking so many stupid questions and let Spirit of Justice take me where it will.

Wherever that is, I'll see you there.

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