Is it even worth doing a spoiler warning for an article that literally has the word “twist” in the title? I will anyway, just in case: This article will contain spoilers for both Game of Thrones and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, as well as probably some of the other Ace Attorney games, but none of the ones that were released in the past few years because I don’t remember their plots quite as well.
Alright, now it’s just us, let’s get down to
spoilers business. If you’ve read any of my “What Are You Playing” entries, you may know that my partner is currently playing through the Ace Attorney trilogy, and I – an avid and extremely irritating fan of the series – am watching along. He’s at the end of the second game, Justice For All, already, so he’s already proved Maya innocent, proved Edgeworth innocent, and proved himself innocent, because Ace Attorney loves a good bit of drama.
Now, a small disclaimer before I continue: my first Ace Attorney game was Justice For All, which was not by choice – I just picked it up without realising it was a sequel. But, accidentally, I had stumbled into a plot point: by the second game, Mia Fey, Phoenix’s mentor, is dead.
But not dead dead. Just mostly dead. In fact, you spend just as much time with her ghost as you ever did with flesh-and-bones Mia, thanks to the Fey family’s patented Spirit Channeling Technique. Never mind that it’s extremely weird to see the rather well-endowed body of your deceased adult mentor physically inhabiting the eight-year-old body of her young cousin – at least Mia still gets to help you, since Phoenix is a pretty awful lawyer in his first few court cases.
Unfortunately, playing the second game first meant that when I played the first game second, it wasn’t as much of a blow to find Mia murdered in only the second case. Sorry, that was a really confusing sentence, wasn’t it? Anyway, I had barely even gotten my head around how to be an attorney before the only other person I knew was bonked over the head to death. Watching my partner play through the game let me vicariously experience that moment as it was meant to be experienced, and what a twist it was.
Mia’s sudden and unexpected death is the very beginning of the series-long lesson that Ace Attorney is trying to teach its players: never take anything for granted.
As a pretty incredible illustration of my point, when my partner was playing the Matt Engarde case – one of my favourites – I asked him who he thought was the murderer early on. “Well,” he said, “I know it’s not Matt Engarde, because he’s my client, so he has to be innocent.” I had to stifle an evil chuckle, because that case is one of my favourites precisely because of the way it throws your expectations in the bin.
At the point of the Matt Engarde case, Ace Attorney knows you’ve become complacent, and it knows that you’re beginning to think you’re clever for seeing the metagame – the framework of the design, the way the game works. It’s lulled you into a false sense of security, and it’s only when you break Engarde’s Psyche-Locks that the real villain is revealed, under his façade of himbo-like innocence.
The moment when a character “breaks” – usually on the witness stand, where you tie them in so many knots that they finally, finally give up – is so pivotal to the Ace Attorney series that each one has a totally unique, memorable animation. And while some cases are straightforward – especially the first case of each game, which are usually as gentle as murder trials can be – many of Ace Attorney’s plots involve undermining at least one of the things you think you know.
People come back from the dead. Lawyers are secretly murderers. The mild-mannered chap that you’d never suspect turns out to be the one who dunnit. And characters you thought you’d never see again return with alarming frequency, often to reveal that they’re someone’s mum (seriously, that happens a lot).
Of course, it makes sense for a murder mystery game to be more packed with twists than a bag of fusilli, but still – the point of a twist is that you never see it coming. Game of Thrones was praised for that bit where they killed Ned, and set up the next few seasons perfectly in the process: killing the guy who seemed like the main character is such a very cool way to show the audience that absolutely nothing is sacred. Don’t go getting attached to anyone!
I do want to address the elephant in the room – well, it’s quite a small elephant, since some of you probably weren’t thinking this, so it’s more of a… llama in the room. Mia’s death does fall into the trope of “fridging”, a reference to “Women In Refrigerators“, a term coined by writer Gail Simone in 1999. The trope is a general name for the often-seen practice of women being killed (or kidnapped, or abused, etc. etc. etc.) to further the story or abilities of the male protagonist, reducing a female character to little more than a plot device.
Fridging isn’t great representation for women in media, and it’s so prevalent in video games that it has its own page on TVTropes – but Mia doesn’t stay in the fridge, making her a little different. Again, it’s really creepy that the artists drew her ample bosom in the outfit/body of an actual child, but she stays as strong, powerful, and utterly unfazed by her own murder as she ever was. She’s a better lawyer than Phoenix by far, which is made evident by the way he looks to her for help in almost every case in the trilogy. She gets her revenge on everyone who’s ever hurt her, or her family. She’s an absolute boss.
Mia’s death was the start of Phoenix Wright’s journey, and it’s a shame they killed her off so quickly, but her triumphant (and speedy) return as Ghost Advisor makes it clear that she was just too good to let go. If only Game of Thrones had brought back Ned Stark as a ghost… well, none of the plot would have happened, but still, it would have been pretty cool.
I look forward to every new Ace Attorney game (though it’s been a while since the last one) because I know it’s going to set me up and then knock me over. I absolutely love it. No objections here.