Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Spirit of Justice 3DS Review
It’s been a three year wait for the next Ace Attorney title, but now the comical charming lawyer in blue known as Phoenix Wright is back on our shores. It’s been a bit of a strange gap between the last game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Dual Destinies, and this six entry in the mainline series, because Capcom decided to not publish the spin-off from 2015, The Great Ace Attorney – which had the series move to 19th century Japan – outside of the land of the rising sun, due to “circumstances” that were never truly explained. While I will remain a little salty about the decision, the latest Ace Attorney game makes up for it by being another great entry in the series that is constantly growing and improving its game mechanics and presentation with each release.
The familiar faces of Mr. Wright and his friendly gang all return for this latest instalment, but initially are separated due to Phoenix going on a relaxation trip to Khura’in, a place where Maya is currently finishing up her spiritual training to finally become a fully fledged spirit medium strong enough to become a leader of her home village. It wouldn’t be an Ace Attorney game if trouble didn’t follow Phoenix, and so it’s not long until the spiky-haired protagonist finds himself in the midst of a courtroom against a country that has a huge dislike of lawyers so strong that they want to give Phoenix the death penalty just for being a servant of law. While this is going on, Apollo and Athena are in their own spot of trouble at Wright Anything Agency when Trucy Wright ends up getting into a spot of bother in her new magic show.
As fans can expect, the story here is full of wonderful and charismatic characters that work exceptionally well off each other’s personalities. It brings bizarre story telling with plenty of shocks, tension and seat gripping stuff that the series has been producing since starting its life on the DS (for its English release). The focus on religious aspects and spirit communication make this a tale that reaches heights even more ridiculous than any other entry, but it does fall into the trap of having some pacing issues that draw out court actions when your mind has figured out what has happened, but the game wants you to keep within its progression discovery.
This isn’t due to poor writing, as the overall quality of the translation is fantastic once again – the translation team somehow manage to keep rolling with the puns and jokes that make this series keep on bringing quality comedy – but sometimes you feel that the story should stop taking a break for some filler question time and begin moving on. This comes across a little strange when looking at the size of the cases, as they never extend more than two days (not that this equals game time), and one even returns to pure court action over the course of a day, a little left field when the penultimate case should be used to keep us attached to the overarching story, instead, it comes across feeling out of place within the rest of the game, but you do get to see a cool person return because of it. While I’m on topic of cool, the new prosecutor didn’t click with me as much as I would have liked. Nahyuta can occasionally show some promise, and his holy presence and religious concept make him a standout character design, but he often comes across flat, lacking any unforgettable traits that the more loved prosecutors had.
Two main gameplay elements make up any Ace Attorney title – investigating each crime scene and defending the accused in the court of law. Investigating hasn’t changed at all, remaining identical with its focus on thoroughly examining the crime scene and talking to the people involved through first-person, with a design similar to point-and-click adventure games. Equipped with the stylus (or your finger) you tap points of interest to closely examine them for clues, such as evidence from Ema Skye’s enthusiastic use of finger print powder or discovering missed items by the police, to help find the truth. Interaction with people comes through long dialogue scenes with the occasional option to find out more knowledge about a person, location or how they were involved with the events. There is also the return of the psyche-locks to deal with witnesses who try to hid secrets from our buddying lawyers. The game keeps the improvements of Dual Destinies, with markers signalling areas you have already investigated, while the ability to look up the dialogue history in case you have forgotten where about in the game you were after a brief period away is a nice inclusion. These out of court situations are huge world and story builders, especially so with the new location and spiritual focus that Spirit of Justice is infused with.
Moving to the courtroom after a hard days work of investigating is where the true spirit of the Ace Attorney games shine. Most of the thrilling action takes place here, where twists and turns are aplenty and the prosecutor and the lawyers are throwing out “objection” and “hold it” left, right and centre between each other. All the mechanics that were brought into the games over the years through each new character introduced come back here, building a collection of Athena’s analytical psychology to find conflicting emotions, Apollo’s bracelet to detect nervous body actions and Phoenix’s psyche-locks to break a witness’ testimony to reveal their hidden secrets.
The new mechanic for Spirit of Justice comes in the form of Rayfa, a royal priestess who has the power of Divination Seance to cast the five human senses of the victim to reveal their last moments of life in the Pool of Souls. This has been a tradition of Khura’in for many years, bypassing the need for lawyers, as the word of the royal priestess is looked upon as the truth. Phoenix doesn’t have any of this, and so the player must look at these events and point out contradictions that mislead the senses to find the truth. It’s another solid gameplay mechanic to the courtroom action, allowing the writers to craft murders more complex to take into the account the power of human sense, but due to the way the story is built, it doesn’t get as much screen time as other mechanics introduced in the past games.
Dual Destinies was the series’ introduction to the 3DS, with its extra power allowing the move to 3D modelling. There was always a worry that this might fail in capturing the essence and detailed animation of the 2D sprites, but that was not the case. Spirit of Justice builds on top of the successful move to 3D by keeping up with the quality animation, but also throwing in some more dramatic action with the use camera movement during key scenes that show the developers are more comfortable showing off the game’s models than before. It might be a text heavy game, but on the 3DS screen, these characters really standout with their quality. There is a bit of voice acting here for a very limited amount of scenes, but it’s not enough to really judge how great it is. The soundtrack, an important part of series that has in the past featured some brilliant scores, is strong here, bringing new and remix tunes to the table, but I don’t think it quite beats the original or Trials and Tribulations.
Capcom has the Ace Attorney foundations firmly mastered at this point, meaning fans know what to expect from a new entry in the series. They will certainly be happy that Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is another great entry for the lawyer, building on past titles and upping its arsenal of mechanics to keep players hooked. A few trip ups with the writing can’t stop it from making sure it manages to bring together the gang for more wild and ridiculous stories filled with wonderful and eccentric characters and a few chuckles for good measure that will keep you hooked like a brilliant TV drama.