One of the core features of the Ace Attorney series is a focus on a single rival prosecutor in each title. In court, the prosecutor is your main source of opposition, the person who counters your arguments and manipulates the witnesses and evidence to point to the guilt of your client. Each prosecutor is quite different and this gives a unique flavor to each game. Compare the hot-headed and antagonistic Franziska von Karma to the relaxed and mysterious Godot – you wish to overcome the former in court because her annoying attitude demands she be put in her place, while the latter always seems to have the upper hand with his smooth moves and cryptic metaphors. Because these characters feature prominently in the story, part of the excitement of playing a new Ace Attorney game is meeting the rival prosecutor for the first time.
In Spirit of Justice, the game’s rival prosecutor is a Khura’inese monk by the name of Nahyuta Sahdmadhi. Known as the Last Rites prosecutor, he is a deeply religious man who believes that his responsibility in court is to find the defendant guilty so that the deceased’s soul may move on to rest in peace. Facing an opponent whose motivation is religious gives Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena a fearsome enemy to overcome, one who has the full assurance of an established faith backing up his arguments and reinforcing his authority. Yet while Nahyuta commands great religious power, he is also a slave to a dark past and hidden secrets that slowly unravel during the course of the game. What we learn about him reveals a complicated and ultimately sad character, one whose beliefs are perhaps just as harmful to him as they are helpful.
While at first I found Nahyuta to be irritating as a prosecutor, over time I came to appreciate the story his character arc was intended to convey. As I learned more about his true self, I began to see elements of his personality that reminded me of myself. Today, I wanted to talk a bit about the aspects of Prosecutor Sahdmadhi which felt eerily familiar, and how the game got me thinking about philosophy and the mental health journey that I began a few months ago.
A few warnings before we jump in. This post is more personal in nature than normal and will discuss mental health, so if you’re not in the headspace to read a heavy article, I would encourage you to check out something else here on Adventure Rules – this sort of darker approach is quite off-brand for me, but I wanted to get this on paper. Er, digital paper, anyway. There will also be unmarked Spirit of Justice spoilers in this article, as understanding Nahyuta’s story is key to understanding the story I plan to tell today.
When we first meet Nahyuta, he’s in unfamiliar territory – the court system of the United States of America. In the game’s prologue we get a look at the Khura’inese court system as Phoenix Wright, but the first case against Nahyuta happens in the States where the monk is a bit out of his element. This choice works to emphasize just how strange and extreme his beliefs seem to be – from his ornate outfit to his unusual practices in the courtroom, he is clearly marked as foreign and portrayed in a rather unforgiving light. He gives as much as he gets, brazenly accusing Phoenix’s daughter Trucy of murder and insisting that her conviction is necessary in order to set the victim at rest.
During the trial, we get a glimpse of what we will later learn to be the core philosophy of the Last Rites prosecutor. It comes in the form of a phrase that he will repeat multiple times throughout the course of the game: “let it go, and move on.” In Nahyuta’s mind the struggle to prove a defendant innocent is an impossible one – it is desperate, dishonorable flailing in the face of the inevitable. To stand beside a defendant is to be complicit in their sins. And because eventually the evidence will always show the prosecution to be on the side of truth, the best option for the defendant and their attorney is to “let it go, and move on.” Later in the game we learn the opposite philosophy preached by his father – “a dragon never yields.” Nahyuta was raised to grasp tightly onto what he wanted and never let go until he got it, but his new belief system seemed to encourage him to detach from such unyielding desire.
While the beliefs of Khura’in are unique within the universe of Ace Attorney, there are elements within it which are reminiscent of the real world philosophy of non-attachment. This is the idea that our attachments and desires are the source of great pain in our lives, and learning to let go of them can help us to achieve peace. To be non-attached is to accept the present reality with no expectations for the future, and to understand the temporary and unified nature of everything in the universe. I’m no expert on the topic, but I know enough to know that Nahyuta’s religion is supposed to invoke non-attachment while also being a flawed interpretation of how to apply it in real life.
I say flawed because as we learn more about Nahyuta and his motivation, we learn that he is not as non-attached as he likes to appear to be. “Let it go and move on” may be his philosophy, but he struggles somewhat to apply it in a way which truly leads him to a life of peace. This first becomes clear when he loses in the courtroom – rather than accepting that his argument was not on the side of truth, he becomes angry and condescending towards his opposition, and condemns them to hell for daring to stand in opposition to him. Non-attachment teaches that our fixation on ideas of things, the images we have of people or events, can cause us pain when we are faced with a reality that doesn’t align with our vision. When Nahyuta grows too confident in his belief that the accused is guilty, he is pained to realize that he was in fact wrong and cannot accept reality as it is.
As we learn more about Nahyuta, we learn that the supposedly pure monk actually has a direct connection to the rebellion happening in Khura’in. His father Dhurke is the leader of the rebellion, and Nahyuta was raised as a champion of the people. He once was the right hand man of the Defiant Dragons and his motto, too, was “a dragon never yields.” It is implied that something significant must have happened to Nahyuta to change his worldview, and what our heroes begin to suspect is that the corrupt Ga’ran regime has some kind of dirt or blackmail hanging over Nahyuta’s head. This knowledge colors Nahyuta’s actions and helps us to see his content life of non-attachment for what it truly is: resignation.
In opposition to contentedness, resignation is a sort of sad acceptance of one’s lot in life. It is a constant state of disappointment that assumes that the state of things is too difficult to change and thus gives up on changing it. Resignation is certainly not non-attachment because the resigned individual clearly still cares deeply about their idea of what their life or the world should be like. It is all of the attachment with none of the drive – it is giving up and walking half-dead through an existence that the resigned person does not enjoy but feels is impossible to change. It is this aspect of Nahyuta that finally shifted my perspective on him from one of frustration to one of empathy – because I too often find myself living a life of resignation.
A few months ago a small incident became the straw that broke the camel’s back of my mental health, and I had a bit of a breakdown. Nothing too dramatic, but I was losing sleep, lashing out in anger at nothing at all, and my thoughts were constantly consumed with darkness that fed itself and grew stronger throughout the day. It was in those moments that I realized I had no tools for getting myself through difficult emotions; up until that point, my answer to anything remotely negative was to push it down into the “man place” or to punch something. These emotions were beyond pushing down – pushing them down for years was what helped them reach the boiling point – and punching something was not a legitimate solution. Who could end up in harm’s way if I expressed my anger in that fashion? It was during that time I decided to look into some tools to help me do quality emotional labor, and those tools helped me to discover a lot of difficult truths about my outlook on my life.
I always thought of myself as a content person. Not an overtly happy person, necessarily, but someone who could accept his lot in life and keep going. What I came to realize about myself is that I actually am a resigned person – there are a lot of factors in my life that I am explicitly not happy about, but my philosophy has been to avoid fighting any forces that I feel I cannot change. When stuck with a job I didn’t like, when faced with family problems, when living in a place where I frequently felt frustrated and sad, my approach was to keep my head down and just keep shuffling through life. The words “let it go, and move on” may have never left my mouth, but they accurately capture how I approached conflicts and undesirable circumstances.
It is for this reason that I saw myself in Nahyuta Sahdmadhi, a man who felt he could do nothing in the face of a corrupt regime and thus assimilated with them. On the outside his life appeared to be composed and healthy – he had a good job in an enviable position that earned him a significant amount of respect. But he knew the truth of his circumstances and facing it directly would be too much for him, so instead he tried to let it go. But Nahyuta never mastered the art of letting go, not really – after all, he was raised to latch onto his desires like a dragon gripping its prey with its unbreakable jaws. As a result, he ended up in the middle, the worst intersection of both philosophies; having strong attachments that he cared deeply about, but lacking the drive and ambition to manifest those desires into his reality.
In Spirit of Justice, the solution to Nahyuta’s dilemma is for Apollo to convince the monk to embrace his rebel roots. When Nahyuta, like Apollo, learns to be an unyielding dragon willing to risk anything for his desires, he is able to break free of Ga’ran’s control and gain his life back. He no longer has to be resigned to a life he does not enjoy, and he is able to be his true self because he takes a stand for his desires. The answer for him is to let go of his philosophy of letting go – he chomps down like a dragon and refuses to let go until his goal is achieved. While this is one viable option, perhaps, this is where Nahyuta and I begin to differ once again.
Remember, “let it go, and move on” is not inherently a bad philosophy to have. Nahyuta’s practice of it was not a healthy interpretation. He tried to not care about anything, forgetting his humanity and losing empathy in the process. This is not the intent of non-attachment, and practicing it in this way is just as harmful as not trying to practice it at all. It reminds me of another eastern philosophy that is often misinterpreted: abandon hope. Just as “abandon hope” does not mean “embrace despair,” “let it go” does not mean “care for nothing.” To be truly non-attached is to live in the present moment, without fixation upon your ideas about what your life should be like or how the people around you should behave.
Nahyuta changed and grew by learning to fight for the things he desired; he stepped away from his flawed middle-ground interpretation of “letting things go.” In my case, I have found myself wanting to gain a better understanding of how to let things go properly. I want to take my resignation and convert it into true contentedness – to really and truly be happy in my current circumstances by focusing on the present moment rather than on the future I wish I had for myself. I still have a lot to learn on that path; how do I pursue goals without being attached to them? What kinds of circumstances should I not accept, or at least strive to change while simultaneously being content with them? What does that even look like? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions yet, but the fact that I know to ask them helps me to feel as if I am moving in the right direction.
In the time since I decided to make a change to my mental health, I’ve gained a lot of tools for emotional labor that have helped me to handle my feelings of anger and resignation. I’ve learned to see my thoughts as theories and to reframe those theories in positive ways so that my thoughts motivate me rather than debilitate me. I’m learning slowly to let go of my preconceived notions of what certain aspects of my life are supposed to be like, and to accept those things for what they are in the here and now. Change isn’t happening instantly, but I can look back at the person I was only a few months ago and see the gradual differences that are beginning to take shape. Learning to let go – really, truly let go – is helping me to take the next step, and move on.