I’ve always had an emotional attachment to the Ace Attorney titles. Maybe it’s because it happens to be the only game that prominently features my profession (legal) in an interesting light. Perhaps it is the sheer ridiculousness of the entire atmosphere. Regardless, while the games feel formulaic when compared to each other, they are some of the most unique titles in the industry.
That, in itself, is enough reason to partake in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice. However, if you are looking for a more expansive dissection into the pros and cons of Spirit of Justice, look no further.
Compared to other titles in the Ace Attorney line, Spirit of Justice hopes to up the stakes. Taking place in the mystical nation of Kura’in, the game has a ton of interesting quirks. Outside of the United States, a different legal system applies — specifically one that uses divination and seances as a means to contact the dead to learn of the last few moments of a persons death.
Even more interesting, the nation of Kura’in hasn’t seen a defense attorney in two decades. Following a vaguely described incident, a law was passed condemning those who defend criminals to the same punishments the criminals themselves would receive (if found guilty). In other words, if Phoenix’s client is found guilty, Phoenix will also be facing the consequences. As such, defense attorneys and formal trials haven’t been seen for quite some time.
The new location adds a nice bit of flair and variety to the game, adding a few set of jokes that hit or miss depending on how cheesey you like your style of comedy. For instance, they have some ridiculous foreign term that everyone says when they are surprised — something that starts wearing on you fairly quickly. However, it is always pretty entertaining to watch both the judge and those in the courtroom actively trying to grapple with basic tenets of a trial, like evidence or cross-examining a witness.
Of course, the small episodic stories in Kura’in play part in a larger, over-arching meta narrative about Phoenix reuniting with Maya Fey, beloved “assistant” from the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney who returned to her home country to hone her divination and spiritual abilities. Newcomers shouldn’t feel too out of the loop — most connections between older characters are explained lightly or easily inferred, and a deeper understanding isn’t required to enjoy the title.
If you aren’t interested in the new location, there is also substantial chunks that take place in the US featuring Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. The combo makes for a good mix of traditional Phoenix Wright gameplay, for those hoping for the more traditional environment.
Anyone acclimated to the Phoenix Wright series instantly knows what the main problems of the gameplay will be: arbitrary puzzle solutions. During cross examining a witness, you will have to press and present them with evidence to try and contradict their testimony and unravel some falsities. Unfortunately, solutions range between extraordinarily obvious (the witness notes the color of an object only shown to the public in a black and white photo) to pain-stakingly arbitrary.
There are points where three different pieces of evidence should be able to contradict testimony, but you have to find the specific one that works. In other words, you will sometimes get a guilty verdict, triggering a restart. It had gotten to the point where I started manually saving before each and every testimony just for having a quick restore point.
Even worse yet, there seems to be less “Aha!” moments in the game. I can’t say for certain if this is because I’m more acclimated to the series and the formula, or if the game telegraphed the story beats too easily, but I could normally see where the case was going a mile down the road.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing that I never felt too out of the loop at any point. However, previous games were able to capitalize on resounding twists and the story lines often felt far more dynamic because of it.
With those two things pointed out, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice is just as amazing as every other game in the series. Quirky characters, dumb puns, and in-game shenanigans kept me constantly smiling through my ten to fifteen hour playthrough.
The soundtrack has a notable Eastern flair this time around, and is as catchy as ever. The music beats are perfectly suited to the high-stress situations that Phoenix constantly finds himself in at the courthouse. Along with the sound design, the voiced section as well as the brief animated introductions are all great displays of animation on Nintendo 3DS, only being rivaled by the Fire Emblem series in that regard.
More importantly, the Ace Attorney games are one-of-a-kind experiences that seem to be nearly tireless. Even if the game feels formulaic at times, it is hard to complain when that formula is so satisfying and unparalleled in an industry typically watered down by knock-offs.
In short, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is as amazing as any other title in the series. Great for newcomers (who should still highly consider picking up the Ace Attorney Trilogy beforehand) and fans of the series alike, Spirit is consistently a pleasure and deserves a spot in your 3DS library.