Friday, July 26, 2013

Justice ~Future Mystery~


Fire away and release your heart
Solve all the mystery
With your sharp eyes
Can you feel the thrilling future now?
"Justice ~Future Mystery~" (Two-Mix)

I thought getting my Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban review out on the net three days after the release was fast, but apparently, I can write/play games even faster. Hmm.

The legendary attorney Naruhodo/Phoenix Wright was disbarred eight years ago for a crime he didn't commit. He promptly escaped from maxi He passed some years as a poker player / pianist, but has now returned to the law world in Gyakuten Saiban 5 (to be released as Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies in the near future). And things have changed in eight years. Dark times are upon the legal world. The public has lost its trust in the legal system. Even attorneys and prosecutors themselves don't believe that justice is served in court anymore and feel forced to fabricate evidence themselves to ensure they reach their goals. Heck, things have gone so crazy that even prosecutors convicted for murder, can still stand in court and proceed their work! Naruhodo, backed up by his two subordinates Odoroki and Kokone, once agains stands in court to turn this grim situation around like he has done so many times in the past.

A new Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney game! Longtime readers know that I am a big fan of this courtroom drama game. I wrote my bachelor thesis based on the script of Gyakuten Saiban 3. I have discussed the game mechanics, the manga, the musical, the movie and spin-off titles like Gyakuten Kenji 2 and Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban in the past on this blog. But a new title in the main series? It's been many years since Gyakuten Saiban 4, so I was very excited. Heck, I bought my Nintendo DS for the original Gyakuten Saiban, and my current Nintendo 3DS mostly for Gyakuten Saiban 5 (and Animal Crossing, of course).

As a detective game, I still think that the Gyakuten Saiban series is undefeated. There are many ways to translate detective fiction to a game, but the method original creator Takumi Shuu introduced in the world many years ago was just brilliant. The player had to find contradictions in testimonies in court, which in turn lead to new testimonies (with new contradictions), and it was by this process that the story progressed, because each new testimony brought you new information. What is so great about this system is, is that works as both a gameplay mechanic and detective fiction. A flawed detective game like Sherlock Holmes and the Silver Earring for example just forces you find a lot of evidence, and then suddenly everything is explained for you in a movie without any interaction. This might work in a book, but is boring as hell in a game. In the Gyakuten Saiban games however, every testimony gives you that distinct great feeling when you solve a mystery, and it makes you feel like a brilliant (but struggling) detective when you finally see the big picture of the case. Add in quirky humor, a great music and HOTBLOODED FINGERPOINTING, and there you have Gyakuten Saiban in a nutshell.

Last year's crossover title Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban felt really fresh, because a slew of new mechanics and a unique world setting, brought us a new way to enjoy the courtroom. Witchcraft in a trial? This game made it work, and mechanics like mob testimonies kept the player on their toes. Gyakuten Saiban 5 however is set in the real world and does not differ in principle much from the previous games. Yes, there is that new mechanic based on psychology where you look for contradictions between a witness' testimony and his emotions, which actually works out quite well, but for some reason feels less 'organic' to the trial parts, than the magic tome and witchcraft rules in Professor Layton vs. Gyakuten Saiban. There is too much of a gap between parts where they keep hammering on the fact you need evidence in the court, and you then talk about how it is a contradiction that someone was feeling glad even though she should've been sad.

But more of the same of Gyakuten Saiban, is still quite good. There are some interesting cases to be solved here, including one that seems to be committed by a youkai (a supernatural being), for it was committed in a locked room where the seal on an ancient monster has been removed. Great stuff, as the story 1) actually plays on the youkai boom in Japan that started several years ago, and 2) the theories and legends surrounding youkai are actually of vital importance to the plot, in a Kyougoku Natsuhiko way. Though I have to admit, the case also reminded me of a certain Mori Hiroshi story too. The case in the game is short, and you figure out who the murderer is quite fast, but the way the twists and turns are plotted, is very good.

Another case is set at a law high school with special attorney/prosecutor/judge classes. What makes this case so memorable is that it ties in well with the overall theme of the game, the so-called dark times of the law, without being too obvious so. The problem is addressed through the teaching goals of several teachers at the school (some think it' okay to forge evidence to get your client off the hook), but it never feels like they rubbing it your face. The case itself, where a teacher is killed in the same way as a mock trial scenario written by a student, is fun too, as it combines the school setting and the murder-according-to-a-scenario in an interesting way.

There are one or two instances, where events of an earlier case, are mirrored in a not-very-obvious way in later cases: this is excellent plotting: it shows that the writers didn't just brainstorm a couple of cases and stuck them together. The youkai case for example addresses issues which wll be of importance in the last case Naruhodo has to solve in this game, but it is luckily done subtle and shows how to do a proper storyline that consists of seperate, but related cases. In Gyakuten Kenji, this was done by tying up the storylines of the seperate cases through an overlapping entity, but I much more prefer this thematic mirroring done in Gyakuten Saiban 5. One problem however is that there were quite a few instances of cases in Gyakuten Saiban 5 mirroring events of earlier games: at some times does give the player a feeling of deja vu, because it is basically presenting the same case in a slightly different jacket. This is not foreshadowing or thematic mirroring, this is just reusing an old plot.

Oh, and this has always been a series that has its share of interesting murder settings, which include film studios, the prosecutor's office, courtrooms, an amusement park and an airplane, but even I was surprised they skipped 'water' and went straight for... outer space (in a way). Overall though, it does feel like Gyakuten Saiban 5 was made a bit 'safer' than spin-off title Gyakuten Kenji 2. The latter for example featured an Ellery Queen-like search in a prison and a much more tightely structured overall plotline. Gyakuten Saiban 5 is more or less what you'd expect, both in gameplay mechanics as in cases, and that is not a bad thing, but makes it hard to distinguish from other games in the series.

It's definitely not a perfect game though. It in fact suffers a bit from having too much legacy: the return of Naruhodo, the 'dark times of the law' and a bloated cast of returning characters in the final case which means nothing to someone who has never played a Gyakuten Saiban game before. It's not incomprehensible, but its hard to get into for a newcomer. Which is a shame, because it's one of the best detective games on the 3DS at the moment. Oh, and this has become a pet peeve of mine lately, but like in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, this game has problems with presenting a coherent narration: the game keeps changing the point of view, going from this character to another. And at times, the character narrating (in the first person) isn't even the same as the character you're playing, mirroring the weird Watson/Holmes problem I encountered last week.

As someone who loves detecive fiction, would I recommend this game? Yes. And yes. The feeling you get when you slowly, but surely solve little contradictions in testimonies until you manage to turn things around in the courtroom, is something only this series can provide. There are some great cases in this game and thematic mirroring between cases is something what should be done more often in detective series. It is the fifth entry in a series though and builds upon that past, so you should play the previous games first.

As a Gyakuten Saiban fan, would I recommend this game? Yes. And yes. It feels at time very much as a reaction, to the (sometimes somewhat negative) reception of Gyakuten Saiban 4, but it does that mostly well, in my opinion. Music and animation are top-notch, the story addresses some serious themes that can be seen as a natural result of all the major cases Naruhodo has solved until now and there is quite a bit of fan service. It does give you a deju vu feeling at times though, and I don't think the way the new character Kokone is implemented in the story is correct (i.e. she comes off to me as a Mary Sue), but hey, it's a new Gyakuten Saiban 5 and we've all been waiting for this.

Original Japanese title(s):  『逆転裁判5』. TBR as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies


  1. Thanks for an interesting review! I've posted here earlier mentiong trying to find some of these Japanese books in Chinese, and while I still haven't done so I keep coming back to this blog to read your reviews. I really like your analysis and explanations of tropes and literary devices to explain what makes certain parts work or not, and it serves to hype this game even more. Can't wait to play it myself.

    1. Thanks for reading, and hope you'll get to play it soon!

  2. Awesome review! This is the first time I visited your site and I already have it bookmarked! Your other article which compares different ways the detective genre can be presented in game format was an excellent read as well. It's truly amazing how far the legacy of Shu Takumi had come, the excellent series it spawned, including fan-made engines implemented to copy its style, allowing even some excellent mystery writers from the fan community (BadPlayer and Blackrune comes to mind) to create cases that really stretches and reach beyond the universe Ace Attorney had created. Indeed, this franchise had come a long way :)

    1. Thanks for the bookmark!

      The more I think about it, the more I realise how brilliant Takumi's way to implement gameplay mechanics, as an organic element, to detective fiction is. It needs good writing/plotting too, naturally, but Takumi was excellent in that regard. I really hope we see more of him soon (and it doesn't even has to be AA, a new franchise like he did with Ghost Trick, would make me just as happy)