Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice Review (Nintendo 3DS)
After the trip at the finish line that was Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, I came into the newest courtroom adventure hoping that this new tale would hook me and never let go. Right from the jump this Ace Attorney takes a whole different tone, one I’d argue departs from the entire series let alone the last game, and it’s that strong narrative arc that makes Spirit of Justice a top-notch game for the franchise.
Much of Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice's story centers about the kingdom of Khura'in, a monarchy in the mountains that sits "on the western edge of the Far East." In this land lawyers are considered evil, particularly defense attorneys, as a decree known as the Defense Culpability Act levies the same penalties on a defender as the person he or she is defending. The High Court of Khura'in has produced nothing but guilty verdicts for 23 years when Phoenix Wright comes strolling into town.
The opening trial showed just how hostile this locale is to people of Wright's ilk, as the gallery chants "Death! Death! Death!" and other threats his way as he tried to defend an innocent boy in the first case. It's very much a commentary on religious zealotry and how it can go hand in hand was oppression, a topic far heavier than other Ace Attorney games have tackled, and I appreciated the game trusting its players enough to understand it.
Despite the more serious overtones, Spirit of Justice continues with the franchise's signature goofy humor, with plenty of slapstick and yuks keeping me smiling as I pressed on. The names of these Khura'inese people are some of the most delicious puns in the franchise, from the tour guide Albhi Ur'gaid (pronounced "I'll be your guide) to the court minstrel called Pees'lubn Ahdistan'dhin, which is an Elvis Costello reference for the younger readers. In fact when the minstrel is introduced and Wright comments on the odd moniker, the judge responds with "What's so funny about Pees'lubn Ahdistan'dhin?" which is one of the best puns of all time, anywhere, ever. The Phoenix Wright localization team must have a blast with these games.
The main new mechanic to Spirit of Justice is the Divination Seance, a mystical dance performed by a high priestess that allows the court to see the final moments of a victim before death, with the five senses reflected by words in the pool. I understand that a game focused on religion and faith should have some kind of mystic happenings in the courtroom, but I was not the biggest fan of this new endeavor. Matching the priestess' incorrect statement with the contradicting sense was confusing. Later on the game, I had to find the sense that wasn't there which made things even more strange. Additionally, the priestess can just change her insights on a whim once something is pointed out, including at one point clearing up a fuzzy part of the image. I wish the game had focused more on the logic and evidence presentation of a normal trial than these weird rituals, but thankfully the Seances didn't dominate the game.
Outside of conjuring the dead this Ace Attorney plays like any other, mixing point-and-click investigation with intense trials of wit and logic. Finding evidence in pre-drawn environments is wearing a bit thin for me, but I'm glad those bits were broken up by the return of dusting for fingerprints and spraying luminol to find hidden blood splatter. I felt more engaged with the environment when I had to interact with it like this instead of just clicking where the cursor told me I should, to the point I wished there were more of these mini-games and less pointing and clicking.
The trial portions haven't changed either outside of the Divination Seance, but I found this to be a case of not fixing what isn't broken. Matching wits with a devious prosecutor --- this time a devout Khura'inese monk with some past connections to our heroes --- is still insanely fun especially when all the pieces fit together and I present a big piece of evidence. If there's one thing Ace Attorney has always done well it's the "a ha!" moment that puzzle and logic challenges need to be successful, and Spirit of Justice is no different.
That's not to say it's a flawless experience, however. Some of the trials --- particularly the ones that take place in Khura'in --- spend way too much time telling me how stupid I am for being a defense attorney, droning on and on for what seems like ages. This is made even worse when I already know the answer to the game's next question and it refuses to ask me, instead giving the prosecution another moment to ridicule me. It's also frustrating when multiple pieces of evidence hold a contradiction to a piece of testimony, I present one to be told I'm wrong, only to see that exact evidence be mentioned along with the correct evidence when I presented it. Previous Ace Attorney games have offered multiple solutions to testimony, why not the newest one?
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice has some bumps along the road, but there's a twisting and thrilling story worth the occasional struggle. Phoenix Wright and his crew still make me laugh, still challenge my wit, and above all still bring a lot of fun to my 3DS. I appreciate the more mature themes in this game's story, as well as the game keeping it light while telling it, but some of the game's execution leaves a bit to be desired. I'm feeling the Spirit of Justice, and I look forward to Phoenix's next adventure whenever that may be.
This review was completed with a digital code for Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice provided by the publisher for Nintendo 3DS.