No Objection to Its Greatness
HIGH A musical scene in the first case had me laughing.
LOW Reloading a save still takes too long.
WTF The writers have outdone themselves with wacky witnesses this time!
It’s hard to believe that the Ace Attorney series has been around for 15 years. When it debuted, there wasn’t much like it on US shelves, but a lot has changed. Western audiences have since been introduced to several different Japanese text-based series, and the Visual Novel genre itself has experienced something of renaissance on the PC and Vita. Does the lovable lawyer still have what it takes now that he’s not the only game in town?
Like the previous Ace Attorney games, Spirit of Justice is an interactive courtroom/crime scene investigation drama. Wright and his protégé, Apollo Justice, serve as defense attorneys who defend the innocent. The team must poke around scenes, interview witnesses, and gather evidence to prepare for the courtroom. Once there, they prove their client’s innocence by cross-examining witnesses and shining light on their false accusations.
Narratively, the Ace Attorney series sits in a bit of a precarious position at this point. While each entry stands as singularly-consumable short story collections, they’re greatly enriched if players have familiarity with the previous games. While Capcom has done an admirable job preserving the core Phoenix Wright trilogy with convenient, loving remasters for iOS and 3DS in recent years, the growing number of spinoff entries (some rare, some never localized) can make staying abreast of Wright’s continuing adventures difficult and confusing.
This creates a problem for players who may have missed previous Ace Attorney games. Spirit of Justice does a good job of not relying on that knowledge, but it also doesn’t go far enough to properly introduce elements from previous entries. It’s entirely playable with no prior experience, but I wouldn’t recommend that new players start with this one unless they never plan on trying the others.
The structure of the game is both familiar and inventive, largely due to the fact that the game is split between two disparate locations. Phoenix Wright finds himself involved in the courts in an unfamiliar Eastern land known as Khura’in, while Apollo Justice and Athena participate in cases back home in Japa–er… I mean, “Los Angeles”…
The Khura’in cases involve new mechanics, the most prominent of which are divinations performed by the country’s high priestess, allowing the court to witness a victim’s last few moments of life. Interacting with this new mechanic isn’t always as intuitive as I would like it to be, but it does add an interesting new wrinkle to many of the cases.
Meanwhile, the cases led by Apollo’s team tend to be more in line with the established Ace Attorney tradition. These two settings add nice variety until the story, naturally, folds in on itself with interconnected complexities between cases.
Mechanically, Spirit of Justice remains similar to its predecessor Dual Destinies, but several minor changes have smoothed things over. My favorite addition is an automatically-updating “to-do list” during investigations. In the past, my progress would hit a brick wall if I ran out of ideas about what to investigate next, or to whom to show a piece of evidence. The to-do list alleviates much of this.
Some of the series’ features missing from Dual Destinies also make a welcome return, such as the ability to investigate areas other than crime scenes. Forensic investigations are also back. Players will again find themselves dusting for fingerprints with Ema Skye, which lends a pleasantly tactile approach to investigating, even if it can be a bit slow and cumbersome at times.
Being a story-based game, though, the writing is at the forefront of importance, and to avoid spoilers, I must speak in the vaguest of terms.
While the plot doesn’t reach the highs of previous entries, it remains clever and entertaining throughout. More than anything, the talent of the writers and localization team are on full display in Spirit of Justice. Each line, from the dialogue to the evidence description, pops with personality and energy. The new characters are almost uniformly some of the strongest in the series, and the incidental writing had me laughing at points. The game is chock-full of genuinely memorable and inventive moments, my favorite of which being a musical number that erupts in the courtroom during the first case.
Spirit Of Justice also takes some brave leaps forward by reintroducing Maya Fey (mostly absent from the series lately) while relationships among the main cast are recontextualized and drama erupts. It’s clear that the team has grown, matured, and changed over time — a level of long-term development rarely seen in games.
The biggest letdown, arguably, is the new prosecutor, Nahyuta Sahdmadhi. While I like his design and personality, he feels flatter and more one-note than previous prosecutors. He’s by no means a bad character, but he just has too many similarities to past prosecutor Godot to feel entirely original, and he’s playing against a cast of characters that have been built and refined over 15 years.
Overall, Spirit of Justice is a must-play for fans of Phoenix Wright’s continuing adventures. Though some minor mechanical quibbles remain, this is, by far, the most intuitive and visually engaging entry in the series. The amount of innovation and genuine humor found throughout paint a rosy picture for the future of the franchise and make Spirit of Justice the freshest courtroom since the first!
Disclosures: This game is developed by Capcom and published by Capcom. It is currently available on 3DS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the 3DS. Approximately 24 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, and Violence. Much of the game revolves around investigating murders. While the game does not revel in its gore, it also does not shy away from showing or describing characters being killed in rather horrific ways.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game remains entirely playable without audio.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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