When a game becomes a franchise, a recurring fear is that the game itself will become too much like its predecessors. Thus leading to boring stories or repetitive gameplay. For the Ace Attorney series, that’s a legitimate fear. As the visual novel mysteries and courtroom battles are both very unique, yet still familiar when compared to the other titles in the franchise. With Spirit of Justice, Ace Attorney enters its sixth main game. So, how does it compare? Well, for this attorney, it’s the best of the series.

Game Name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
Platform(s):  Nintendo 3DS
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Developer(s): Sega
Release Date: September 8th
Price: $29.99

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!!!!!

For me, a big question was “how do you top what happened in Dual Destinies?” By that, I mean the concept of the “Dark Age of the Law”, which was a theme throughout nearly every trial. Capcom answered that by taking our attorneys to a land with a very strange legal system. The land of Khura’in is the home of spirit mediums, and the techniques they use. However, it also a land where defense attorneys are scarce. For there, a defense attorney is just as “evil” as the “criminals” they defend. A very dark notion, and one that oddly ups the stakes in a dramatic way. 

So, when Phoenix Wright journeys to this land to reconnect with his friend Maya Fey (making her long-awaited return to the series, and oh what a joy it was to see her!), of course, he gets pulled into the mess of things.

From basically the beginning of the game, its clear that Spirit of Justice wanted to go all in on this concept of the defense putting everything on the line for their clients. Including their lives. The first case in this title is easily the longest first case of the series (of which I have played them all). Why is this significant you ask? Well, usually the first trials are meant to “refresh” veterans, or welcome new players to the title. So the story is loose, the guilty party is known from the beginning, and it ends quickly. Here, though, although they still have the tutorials for everything, they don’t skimp on the case itself. This is great, as it really nails the turmoil in Khura’in right off the bat. Phoenix has never been in more danger than in these trails, and watching him fight for his client, despite numerous hardships, proves why he’s such a great character. One scene, in particular, struck me, when his own client hated him for being a defense attorney, as he was raised to see them as evil. Yet, through his fierce determination, the client comes around and helps turn the case on its head because of his belief in Phoenix. That’s good stuff.

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That doesn’t mean there’s anything going on in the Wright Anything Agency, as both Apollo and Athena are holding down the fort with cases of their own. Both of which are big for the characters. Athena does get shafted a little here, as she only has a small role in one case, and has the shortest case all for herself. But given her large role in Dual Destinies, I don’t mind. As for Apollo, he comes off wonderfully and has several moments that will make even his harshest critics root for him. This is very much his story. His past is brought to life in this game in a way that even his solo title didn’t do. It’s very refreshing.

As you would expect with the Ace Attorney games. The cases you partake in are vast and varied. Yet, they’re all very powerful, and often, very personal. Just when you think you have something figured out, a twist you never expected shines in and turns things on its head. While you can guess certain culprits, others will show up out of nowhere and prove these storytellers know how to keep you guessing. In fact, certain twists in the games were so shocking, my jaw literally dropped. One twist, in particular, left me so stunned I had to put down the game because I couldn’t believe what I was saying, yet I was right, and it was haunting that I was.

Now, there is an oddity in these cases. Case 4, which is an Athena “solo” case, isn’t as robust as the others, as there is no investigation aspect, just the trial itself. This will put off some gamers, despite being similar to other “Case 4’s” in Dual Destinies and Trials and Tribulations. However, this trial was very notable for me, as it brought back a favorite character from Dual Destinies, and gave us a “duel” that I wouldn’t have known to ask for beforehand. Furthermore, this trial planted seeds for Athena to grow in the next title should we get it.

I need to stop and make a special note here for the visuals and sounds of this game. Diehard fans know that Ace Attorney was originally a 2D game done with sprites. Yet with Dual Destinies, it became a 3D title. However, those models were very simple in look and animation. With Spirit of Justice, though, the team went all out. The animations of the characters, both big and small, are masterfully done. Both in look and in intent. For example, in the second case, returning character Ema Skye had to take the stand and testify against a friend of hers. She became very distraught at this idea, and her character model displayed this so beautifully, I honestly teared up. Why? Because I felt so bad for what Ema was going through, and I could see her pain. Many characters have animations like this, and whether they be a young magician or a young princess, their emotions are on full display for all to see, it’s great stuff.

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Also, though, they have scenes that go far above the usual fair. In one instance, one of our attorneys has a crisis of conscious and has to be quite literally threatened back to reality. While you might think this is bad, it actually works beautifully visually. As the character who threatens them literally approaches the “camera” to try and snap them out of it. Making it look like we the player are getting the “pep talk” Similarly, an unfortunate truth shakes one of our attorneys to their core, and their reaction is both tragic and yet totally believable. Making you feel for them all the more.

Add to that, some very beautiful music and sound effects, and you got a beautiful presentation. From the sounds of claps, bells, whistles, skateboards, beads, and more, every sound effect is crisp and detailed. Did they need to do this? No, they honestly didn’t. But by doing so, they made the game an even more memorable experience all around. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make games great. The musical score itself is nearly perfect, as it helps sell each scene beautifully, and yet knows when to cut out to let the drama build.

Fans of Ace Attorney will be very familiar with the gameplay in Spirit of Justice. You find clues, examine the evidence, talk with numerous people, then question witnesses in a trial so you can find the true culprit. We do get one new gameplay feature in  the Divination Seances. These will test your thinking powers, while the Psyche-Locks, Perceiving, and Mood Matrix return to add to the fun as well. With this, there is, of course, the classic issue of seeing a flaw in the writers logic. Having to follow their specific path to get to the truth. This is trying at times to be sure. However, if you keep your patience (as a lawyer should!), you’ll be able to work out the cases without too many resets.

I won’t say how this game ends, but I will say its very fulfilling. The final case is easily one of the best the series has ever had, and the twists, visuals, and tension will keep you going until the very end. Speaking of the end, if you wait until the credits end, you’ll get a tease for the possible Ace Attorney 7. And for those who’ve been playing for a while, we may get the  storyline we’ve been waiting for for quite some time.

  • Spirit of Justice Brings The Ace Attorney Series To New Heights!

Summary

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice shines as few games do. It has beautiful stories, amazing characters, and twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you're a fan of Ace Attorney, this is a game you must play.

PROS:

  • Powerful Story
  • Great Characters
  • Amazing Sounds Effects and Sound Track

CONS:

  • The 4th Case is much shorter
  • Athena Does Get Shafted In Regards To Character Development
4.5

About The Author

Todd Black

A self-proclaimed Nintendo fanboy, born, bred, and Mushroom fed! He’s owned every Nintendo hand-held, and every console since the SNES. He loved games so much he went and got a video game degree and dreams of writing video stories