Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (Nintendo 3DS)
- Release Date (NA): September 8, 2016
- Release Date (EU): September 8, 2016
- Release Date (JP): June 9, 2016
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Genres: Visual Novel
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Court is now in session!
The Ace Attorney series has seen many games since its inception in 2001 (Localized in 2005). With five other mainline entries and four spinoffs, it’s safe to say that you absolutely do not want to start here if you’re new to the series. Spirit of Justice takes place directly after the events of previous title Dual Destinies, and sees returning characters from both the original Phoenix Wright trilogy, and those from 2007’s Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. With that said, let’s see how Capcom manages to bring together characters and concepts both old and new.
Spirit of Justice sees Phoenix Wright taking a vacation to visit his old friend Maya Fey, in the far-off land of Khura’in, a country undergoing heavy civil unrest. In Khura’in, defense attorneys are reviled, and are subject to the Defense Culpability Act, where if your client is found guilty, the attorney is charged with the same sentence as the defendant. And of course, not even a full day passes before Phoenix finds himself right in the middle of it all, when he takes on the defense of a young child arrested for murder. Meanwhile, back at the Wright Anything Agency, Apollo, Trucy, and Athena return to take on more traditional cases in “Los Angeles”.
This is a great setup, and really shows off the drastic differences in court between the standard Judge-based trials, and Khura’in’s more mystical approach. New to Spirit of Justice are Divination Seances, which allow you to see a victim’s final moments of life. These are used, much like Dual Destinies’ Mood Matrix, to get more information in order to tear down the guilty party’s testimony. The Divination Seances, however, appear very sparsely throughout the game, and really only tend to add useless padding to a case in order to stretch it out. They’re also confusing at times, requiring the player to point out inconsistencies with little logic and evidence to go on.
Another new addition is the “notes” panel in the court record, which is a little checklist that constantly updates and tells players where to go and what to do, in case they get lost. It’s nice to have something to look back on after a large exposition dump in order to reorient yourself on what you need to do next. There’s also a hint system, where if you get an answer wrong twice, the game gives you a little nudge in the right direction. If you’re not a fan of this feature, you can turn it off in the settings to prevent it from popping up.
Mechanics from past games, like Psyche-Locks, fingerprint dusting, the Mood Matrix, and Perceiving are back as well, and lend a lot of extra depth to investigation and court segments. It’s nice to have all these minigames scattered throughout to keep gameplay from feeling stale.
There are a total of 5 cases in the game. 1 and 4 are short court-only cases, while 2, 3, and 5 are standard investigation and trial combinations. Case 1 starts out a bit “plot” heavy, spending most of the time repeating the fact that Khura’in has some deep-seated hate of defense lawyers, taking far too long to hammer in that little detail. The second case stars Apollo and Trucy, and might just be one of the best cases in the franchise. The third chapter, while it starts out decently, soon becomes a long winded mire through a boring trial that doesn’t seem to ever end, which really puts a damper on things, especially coming off the high of the previous case. 4 has some fantastic character interactions, but it has no ties to anything going on with the plot, so it feels completely out of place. The finale itself is pretty entertaining, and contains a lot of intriguing backstory and references. Spirit of Justice’s quality in cases is erratic, and it really hurts the pacing of the game in the long run. It also doesn’t help that the rival prosecutor is completely bland and uninteresting, which is odd, given the series’ track record of memorable prosecutors.
Apollo’s side of the story is much more interesting and well-written than Phoenix’s. Apollo has really come into his own as a character, and handles the mantle of protagonist well here. On the other side of things, Phoenix’s characterization is all over the place, as he appears incompetent and inept in his cases, lacking the composure that one should have after a self-claimed “10 years of experience as a lawyer”. He’s definitely regressed as a character, losing a lot of the personality and confidence that he’s gained over past titles.
Visually, Spirit of Justice looks absolutely fantastic on the Nintendo 3DS, boasting much better graphical fidelity and clearer text than previous 3D Ace Attorney outings. Character models are well-animated, and all of the wacky, expressive characters that the series is known to have are in full swing here, with the over-the-top animations adding a lot to their personalities. Performance, however, is a different story. The framerate was a bit jittery during moments where the camera would pan around the area, and touchscreen controls were on the unresponsive side when closely examining evidence. The 3D effects look nice, but also serves to tank the framerate even further.
Though it can't stand up to the original trilogy, Spirit of Justice is still decent in its own right, and makes a commendable effort at trying to balance and bring together fan-favorite characters. The writing and story-telling have improved since the past two games, but it still doesn’t capture a lot of the endearing traits that the first games did. Longtime fans will be glad to hear that this game is at least worth a play.
+ Improved court cases
+ Animations and character models look great
- Pacing issues
- Writing inconsistencies
- Divination Seances
Spirit of Justice is a fantastic looking game, from the character design, to the slick animations, to the pleasant scenery outside of court. The text is easy to read, and looks nice. 3D effects also look good, but having 3D on can lead to a few heavy dips in performance.
The standard Ace Attorney fare is great, as usual. The biggest new addition doesn't do anything to improve the existing formula, but there's enough existing material to work with, which keeps the gameplay fresh and fun.
Each case takes a couple of hours to complete. Some tend to drag on for far more time than they should. There's little-to-no replayability factor here, but the amount of content to read on an initial playthrough should be enough to please most.
out of 10
(not an average)
While the overall writing and story is a little weak here, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice is still a fun game, featuring characters you all know and love. Sadly, it's starting to prove that living up to the quality of the first three games is a hard feat to pull off.