Viva la revolution!
Reviewing a new entry in a series like Ace Attorney is a somewhat tricky one, because if you’ve played one game, you’ve honestly played them all. While each entry has introduced new elements and mechanics to the series, there’s honestly very little difference between them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it means you already know what you’re getting into and that’s also true in the case of the latest title, Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice.
While our main man, Phoenix Wright, might be in a completely different country with different laws, the core gameplay is ultimately the same. You use the 3DS touch screen and stylus to investigate crime scenes and talk to witnesses to gain information and evidence, followed by the trials where you must cross-examine a witness’s testimony, find inconsistencies and contradictions and present the right evidence. Very little has been changed since the previous entry (though they’ve returned to the five-point penalty system not seen since the first game).
Even all the character specific abilities come back. Phoenix’s Magatama, Apollo’s Perceive and Athena’s Mood Matrix are all utilised once more, like in the previous game. It’s nice to see all these unique mechanics remain rather than being shoved to the sidelines, but since you switch control between all three characters with every case (of which there are the usual five in total), none of them are actually used all that much and aren’t really fleshed out.
Though that’s probably because of the addition of a brand new mechanic unique to the trials that take place in the foreign land of Khura’in – Divination Seances, which show a murder victim’s final moments and sensations from their point of view right before they die. The series has always had its feet rooted in the occult, with the original three games giving particular focus to the character Maya and her ability to channel spirits, so it’s pretty neat to see that side of things expanded further and taken to this degree, both from a gameplay and story perspective (we’ll get into the latter later).
The Seances function similarly to usual testimony, except here, you’re presented with what is essentially short video footage, followed by new character Rayfa (the princess of Khura’in) presenting her Insight – her interpretation of what the victim’s memories mean. Your job is to compare what the victim saw, heard, smelled and felt (which are presented via words which appear in the vision) with Rayfa’s insights and find contradictions there. For example, the victim may have heard a certain song playing but that contradicts with where they were when they died since they shouldn’t have been able to hear said song. It’s much harder than the usual cross-examination stuff (especially since it’s constantly looping and can’t be rewound; only paused) but once you figure stuff out, it’s always immensely satisfying. You just need to really be paying attention, as well as keeping yourself informed with the evidence you have.
Speaking off the difficulty, Spirit of Justice is definitely one of the tougher entries in the series. Many fans apparently found Dual Destinies too easy so Capcom decided to have this game really push you. There were plenty of moments that’ll stump you but it very rarely felt cheap. I can only count maybe one or two times when I had to figure out the solution through guess work and felt like the answer wasn’t as obvious as the game liked to think it was.
That being said, don’t worry about the game maybe being too challenging since the checkpoint system from Dual Destinies comes back. If you get penalised too many times, it’s Game Over but, if you choose to try again, you’re taken back to where you messed up with a full penalty bar. As demoralising as they can be, game overs are just an inconvenience really. And if you find yourself struggling on a specific moment in the trials, you can Consult your co-counsel and they will help you out depending on what you’re stuck on, be it telling you what statement you should present evidence on or what you should be looking for in the Seances. And if you don’t like the idea of the game offering hints, you can turn the Consult option off in the options menu.
Graphically speaking, while it may look almost exactly like the last 3DS game, Spirit of Justice ups the ante in terms of character animation. The character models seem much sleeker and there are even in-game cutscenes for more dramatic moments; the most prominent example being Rayfa’s Dance of Devotion that she performs for the Seances. Seriously, it plays every time (though it is skippable after the first watch). It also makes the characters feel more alive than ever and leads to even more elaborate and melodramatic villain breakdowns, which is impressive.
But Spirit of Justice‘s main draw is, of course, its overall story. See, in Khura’in, there are no defense attorneys as there is a law where, if someone is found guilty, their lawyer must face the same punishment, which has led to many lawyers essentially being arrested or executed. Phoenix’s prescence in the country helps spark a revolution and both he and Apollo soon find themselves contributing to the already established rebellion in fixing the state of the legal system. Essentially, they’re fighting against corrupt royalty! It’s not hyperbole to say this is Phoenix’s greatest challenge yet.
Actually, that’s not completely true. See, despite Phoenix’s name being in the full title, despite his own connections to the world of spirit mediums, despite the long-awaited return of Maya, his old assistant, this game isn’t about him. It’s actually about Apollo, finally giving him some much needed backstory, a more personal rival in the form of Prosecutor Sahdmadhi and a massive heaping of character development. The final case felt like his equivalent of the final case from Trials & Tribulations (Ace Attorney fans will know what I mean).
If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t picked this game up yet, I can’t fathom why. It’s easily one of the strongest entries and while there may be some pandering to nostalgia, it feels like its continuing Dual Destinies’ work to get the series back on track. Almost every case felt grand and epic, with lives literally being put on the line. If you’re honestly put off by how much focus it puts on the more fantastical nature of the series i.e. the spirit channeling and all that, then you are missing out on one amazing game; one that’ll have you grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire adventure.
Final score: 4.5/5
Available on: 3DS (Reviewed); Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Capcom; Players: 1; Released: September 8, 2016; ESRB: T; MSRP: $29.99
This review is based off of a copy of Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice purchased by Hey Poor Player.