Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Love Love Guilty

"Guilty or innocent?"
- "Innocent"
"Feed them to the Sharkticons"
"Transformers: The Movie"

Today, a game I wanted to play ever since I first heard about it in 2009, I bought in 2012, but only just now finished. And then the review had to wait for three months to be posted.

The lay judge system was implemented in Japan on May 21, 2009. On the same day, the Nintendo DS game Yuuzai X Muzai ("Guilty X Innocent") was released. The subtitle says 'lay judge detective game' and that's precisely what it is. The player takes the role of a lay judge in four different cases, all connected with a death, which may or may not be a murder. It's up to the player to decide whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. Was the death of the defendant's mother-in-law in a fire a tragic accident, or a planned murder? Did the recently appointed professor commit suicide, or was he killed in cold blood? The only way of making a good decision is to listen carefully to the prosecution, defense and their witnesses, examine all the evidence and discuss everything the fellow judges. Can you decide whether the defendant is guilty or innocent?

The implementation of the lay judge system in Japan (an earlier form had been abolished after the second World War) also brought a series of videogames with the lay judge system as a theme. Two years before the actual implementation, Gyakuten Saiban 4 / Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was released, which also featured the lay judge system in its story. But whereas the Gyakuten / Ace Attorney series is a wacky mystery series that just happens to be set in a courtroom, Yuuzai X Muzai is a much more serious courtroom game. So no hilarious sheningans or pop-culture references like in the Gyakuten / Ace Attorney series or the Danganronpa series: trials are serious business.

Because you play as a lay judge, you also have a very different role than in most courtroom drama videogames: whereas you usually play some kind of detective in those games, or at least someone desperate to either find the truth or defend the client as an attorney, your mission in Yuuzai X Muzai is different. You need to find out whether the defendant is guilty to the charges of the prosecution, or not. You're not looking for the true killer, or trying to solve an alibi trick. You just need to consider whether the claims of the prosecutor are supported by the evidence and testimonies provided by proscution and defense.

Gameplay in Yuuzai X Muzai consists of two parts. The first is the trial, where you listen to the opening statements of both prosecution and defense and the testimonies of the witnesses. As a lay judge, you're allowed to ask the witnesses questions too, and by selecting the right questions, you can occassionally obtain vital information for the case (other lay judges also ask questions in these sections, which can also result in more data). The biggest problem of Yuuzai X Muzai is that this first part is by far the longest part, and also the most boring part. Aside from some questions at the end, you're basically forced to just read through every statement and testimony in the trial, which means you're doing nothing more than just pressing the A button for thirty, forty minutes. But the information presented during the trial is of course very important, like a real trial, so you can't just skip it all. 

Things get a lot more interesting in the second part of the game, where you have discussions with your fellow (lay) judges about the guilty / innocent problem. I think the easiest way to describe this part is to say it's 12 Angry Men. Each case is broken down into several factors (i.e. motive, opportunity, certain pieces of evidence) and you hold short discussions on each of these factors. By agreeing or disagreeing with your fellow judges, or asking questions at the right time, you'll examine the evidence and slowly arrive at a conclusion for each factor: does this specific factor point at the defendant's guilt, innocence or is it impossible to choose at this moment? Sometimes, you'll discover some hidden truth with important implications for the case not mentioned during the trial through these discussions, making these sections feel the most like a 'conventional' detective game. After going through all the factors, you can call for a vote. And because this is a pretty realistic game, you also have to decide the sentence if you arrive at a guilty verdict.

One gripe I had with the game is that Yuuzai X Muzai gives you very little feedback as a game. There is usually some kind of truth hidden behind each case, which you can uncover through the discussions, but you never know whether you're going in the right direction. The game never tells you whether you are making the right choices throughout the game, and you might very well think you're doing okay, arrive at a verdict and only be told at the very end, after the verdict has been handed out, that you unraveled just a mere 35% of the complete truth. Sure, no feedback might be more serious, as real (lay) judges aren't told either whether they managed to unravel all the mysteries in a case, but as a game, I think the lack of feedback is not very motivating. One other, minor thing I didn't really like was the slightly educational, promotional tone the game had. It wasn't a non-stop praise song for the lay judge system, but they do feed the player an idealized image of The Common Man Helping Justice at times, which can be a bit tiring.

On the whole I did like Yuuzai X Muzai, but it's not a game for everyone. This is a fairly realistic simulation game and there is no flashiness, no awesome music, no sense of speed throughout the whole experience. It's an incredibly dry game and most of the time you're just looking at other people interacting with each other as they present evidence and testimony. The discussions are much better though, despite the lack of feedback, and even though you never uncover some kind of complex murder plan with locked rooms and alibi tricks, the little mysteries you do unravel in Yuuzai X Muzai are quite satisfying in their mundaneness. The build-up to these revelations is good and there is just enough of a sense of surprise to them to entertain the player, and yet they don't feel out of place in the realistic world of Yuuzai X Muzai.

Yuuzai X Muzai is an interesting and quite educational simulation of the lay judge system. It is a very slow game though and while it definitely has its moments as a detective story, one should be willing to go through a lot of dry text to arrive at the more stimulating parts of the game. I like the somewhat experimental side of the project though and suggest those with an interest in law (serious law. Not Ace Attorney law) to take a look at the game.

Original Japanese title(s): 『有罪x無罪』


  1. In the end, it sounds to me that there is no substantive difference between the common law jury system and the Japanese lay judge system. In the common law jury system, the judge will state that he will decide the law and the jury will decide the facts, but in an actual case, once the jury gets in the jury room, they can do anything they like and there is no one to stop them; the common law jury is really the finder of the law and the facts and it does not matter what government officials, i.e. the prosecutor and the judge, say or think. The essence of justice in the jury system is that the administration of justice is taken out of the hands of the government and put directly into the hands of the people.

    It should be remembered that the investigation phase is likewise in the hands of the people, not the government. The investigation stage is conducted by the grand jury, and they are likewise just citizens pulled in off the streets. The reason for this is also plain: the people do not want citizens tried for crimes without the people first allowing it. The Japanese lay judge system merely combines the investigative role of the grand jury with the judging function of the trial petit jury.

    This is why I don't understand all of this stuff in Ferguson. Whether the people in a grand jury decide there is not enough evidence to go to trial, or whether after trial they render a verdict as a petit jury, the end result is the same: the people have decided the issue, not the government.

    1. I'm not that familiar with jury systems, but I think the Japanese lay judge system is 'different' in the sense that the lay judges decide their verdict together with three professional judges (six lay judges & three professional judges). I also guess that that the US and JP lay judges don't have completely identical responsibilities/powers, though like I said, I'm not very informed about that.

      There's probably also a big difference in culture. I have the feeling that like you say, the US jury represents the idea of someone being judged by his peers (i.e. 'the common man'), while I think the basic idea/momentum for reintroducing the lay judge system in Japan was to get the population more involved with the law.

  2. If you like Kaitou KID, Professor Layton and music, you should buy Rhythm Thief, it's a great game on 3DS

    1. Ah, I think I've seen that game and while it looks interesting, it's not that high on my priority list simply for the fact that the 3DS has a way too strong a line-up! So much I want to play...