Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is the 6th game in Capcom’s fantastical court room drama series, and the second one they have released stateside for the 3DS. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s quite simple. You take the role of Phoenix Wright and his colorful band of defense attorneys, and essentially play through a series of interactive crime dramas that culminate in intense courtroom battles where you must pick apart witness testimonies with your evidence. Oh, and did I mention all witnesses are horrible liars? And that there’s séances, psyche-locks and advanced mood detecting technology? It’s great, I promise. Since story is so important to this game, I will tread carefully in what details I’ll talk about to avoid spoilers, but I will touch upon some things to help me explain my opinion of this game.
Full disclosure, I have not played every single Ace Attorney game. I have played all of the games except for two: Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations, games which I am going to have to come back to eventually. But, what I can say is that the last game I played, 2013’s Dual Destinies, was an utterly incredible experience, and still stands to me as one of the best games on Nintendo’s 3DS system. That game’s story went through many twists and turns that culminate in a jaw-dropping reveal that is, in my humble opinion, one of the best climaxes in the series.
As Always, Prepare For An Excellent Story
As a successor to Dual Destinies, Spirit of Justice is of a very similar caliber in terms of quality. The visuals are gorgeous thanks to the expressive character animations and anime cutscenes, and there is a meaty story that explores the fascinating theme of dealing with the corrupt judicial system of a heavily theocratic country with internal strife-a theme that sometimes makes the story feel like a commentary on some of our real-world theocracies. Like with other Ace Attorney games, the game’s dark story is given levity through its lovable and wacky cast of characters, and this time around it’s no different.
In Spirit of Justice, Phoenix Wright travels to the foreign country of Khura’in, a theocratic absolute monarchy based on its state religion of “Khura’inism.” He is visiting to go see his long-time friend Maya Fey, who has been honing her abilities as a spirit medium there. In the opening moments of the game, you learn that the country’s judicial system is a mess. Decades prior to Phoenix’s arrival, the monarchy passed the “Defense Culpability Act,” a law that states that defense lawyers must face the same punishment as their clients, if found guilty. Naturally, this law eventually caused all defense lawyers to either be jailed or executed, and the profession is all but dead in the country, until Phoenix arrives to shake things up, that is.
Today, trials in Khura’in are instead based on divination séances carried out by the priestess Rayfa. She has the very special ability to be able to recall a murder victim’s last moments in front of the court. In true Ace Attorney fashion though, the truth is often much more complicated than what it seems on the surface. In terms of gameplay, these séances are often very incriminating to your client, but if you do some digging, you can find the truth that’s buried underneath. I won’t go too much further into the story, but rest assured that the game’s five cases all have their twists and turns, and each one is far more complex than what it seems at first.
If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It
Being the sixth Ace Attorney game, Spirit of Justice benefits greatly from including the wide variety of activities introduced in the previous games. You will be using Phoenix’s psyche-locks to interrogate people, Apollo’s perception bracelet to identify when someone is lying and Athena’s mood matrix to psychoanalyze suspects. Almost all of these activities should be familiar coming from Dual Destinies, and they are fun, for the most part. The new activity, Rayfa’s divination séances, is mostly good. They consist of a short clip of the victim’s last moments, as well as any sensations they were experiencing at the time. They play along with an “insight” by Rayfa, which is her interpretation of the vision. Your job is to find the inconsistencies between the vision itself and Rayfa’s interpretation, which will ultimately lead to hidden facts about the case. The problem is that, especially later in the game, it’s not obvious where the inconsistencies lie, and these can be way too difficult to solve. Sometimes, things that logically should be inconsistent are not, and the game doesn’t do a very good job of pointing you at the right logical direction.
Where the game excels, as it always has, is in the witness cross examination sequences, which are still the main meat and potatoes of the game. For the uninitiated: in each case, you will have an “investigation” portion, in which you gather facts and evidence about the case. Then, in the main trial, you can use that information to find flaws in the testimony of the game’s many lying witnesses, chipping away at them until you get to the truth. Finding the flaws in a witness’ statement and seeing their shocked and nervous reactions is one of the most viscerally satisfying parts of this game.
The most important thing with this game, as with all Ace Attorney games, is that you have to go in with the right expectations. This series is not an action game series of any sort, but an excellent interactive visual novel with a great story, filled with drama, comedy and tragedy.
And We Find The Defendant…
Spirit of Justice isn’t going to do anything to change anyone’s opinion of the Ace Attorney series. If you hated it before this, you will still hate it now. If you loved it before, then Spirit of Justice is a must-buy entry in the series. It still has some of the quirks that afflicted previous games in the series: it is almost ridiculously text heavy, and while they toy with the idea of anime cutscenes here and there, more prominent voice acting and cutscenes would help break up the lengthy dialogue sequences. Sometimes, evidence that should logically contradict an obviously wrong testimony doesn’t work, and you have to ignore these inconsistencies and instead resort to trial-and-error to find what the game wants you to do. But even with these flaws, the story and characters are excellent, and that is the main draw of this game to begin with. In short, the game doesn’t do anything to fix the problems of the series, but instead doubles down on what it does best, and the end result is pretty awesome.
- Excellent character models and animations
- One of the better stories in the Ace Attorney series
- A greatest-hits style roster of features from all of the previous games
- The new divination séance sequences add a new dimension to cases
- Way too much text
- Sometimes you can’t find your own solution to problems, and instead you have to find what the game wants you to find through trial and error