Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is the sixth main series instalment of the Ace Attorney series. After an initial fantastic trilogy, Ace Attorney has always struggled to find its footing with what exactly it is, but the latest instalment feels like the most refined and focused entry in the series.
Game director Takeshi Yamazaki had the team of writers for this one come up with an overall theme and idea before designing the rest of the game, and it really shows with how Spirit of Justice shines overall. The theme they went with was “courtroom revolution”, on the basis that a “revolution” had a lot to do with “turnabout” and the ongoing nature of Phoneix Wright and his legal team empowering defendants who would usually be overlooked. In that sense, it’s great to see that Yamazaki and his team have been successful at not only building a great game around a single, centralised theme, but also in cutting to the core of what the Ace Attorney series means.
Story-wise, this feels like one of the most cohesive Ace Attorney games yet.
As you might be able to tell from the game’s title, Spirit of Justice fully embraces the series’ total acceptance of all things spiritual, both in terms of plot and the way the game plays. Phoenix finds himself in the land of Khura’in where Maya is finalising her spirit-channelling training so that she can become the head of Kurain Village.
Upon arrival, Phoenix quickly ends up having to defend a client in court without realising Khura’inese culture demonises defence lawyers and, under the “Defence Culpability Act”, defence lawyers face the same charges as their client should they be convicted. The story flops between the political intrigue of Khura’in and affairs back home, with both being linked by the plot. Story-wise, this feels like one of the most cohesive Ace Attorney games yet.
The big new mechanic of Spirit of Justice is the Divination Séance performed by the Royal Priestess, a standard part of trials in Khura’in that allows the final moments and sensations of deceased person to be relived. After watching the short movie, the Priestess then gives Insight, which is effectively a testimony that can be questioned by the defence. Mechanically, the Divination Séance takes queues from the some of the best elements of previous investigation mechanics.
Spirit of Justice wonderfully weaves its core mechanics together with the story.
The Séance includes highlighting senses as words (e.g. what they heard), and owes a bit of a debt to the Mood Matrix introduced in Dual Destinies in terms of the types of contradictions it asks you to look for — all while making a little bit more sense.
It feels like a slick and natural addition to Ace Attorney trials, and is itself very important to the story of Spirit of Justice. It’s all about context, and Spirit of Justice wonderfully weaves its core mechanics together with the story to create some pretty tense and taxing moments in the trials.
Some older mechanics return. Phoenix’s magatama makes a few appearances, though more simplified than it used to be. Apollo’s bracelet comes into play quite a lot too, which disappointingly hasn’t been updated very much, making it just as irritating as ever to drag an eye over a zoomed in picture of a character’s body as they slowly repeat the same phrase again and again.
Athena’s Mood Matrix returns too, and is used mainly in the cases without Divination Séances. In comparison it pales, but is still pretty great in a similar testimony type of way. At times it can almost feel like the older gimmicks are a little pointless with how little they’re used, and will probably seem bizarre to any newcomers to the series, though veterans may find these simple callbacks pleasing.
Spirit of Justice proves that Ace Attorney can still manage to be fresh, exciting, and most importantly tell a great story.
Even though the game is called Phoneix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix doesn’t steal the show, though it is great to see him taking up the reigns and reuniting with Maya. Long time series fans will love a lot of the callbacks to the earlier games, and seeing where a lot of characters have ended up now. Apollo is just as important to this game as Phoenix, if not more so, with the story delving into his history and origins much more than even his own game did.
Dual Destinies was a good game that injected some fresh life into the series for its 3DS debut, and it added a lot of great things into the series such as Athena and also Athena. But it did feel a little lacking in presence, with some great moments but never really taking a stand on its own and presenting itself as a solid thing. Spirit of Justice feels like a reaction to that, taking the great additions of Dual Destinies and really making a mark for itself as its own game.
Ace Attorney is a series that could easily feel fatigued six entries in and with a host of spin-offs, but Spirit of Justice proves that Ace Attorney can still manage to be fresh, exciting, and most importantly tell a great story. If they can keep making games that are this strong, then we’re going to keep playing them. Ace Attorney has been around since 2001, but it feels like the series is still just getting started with showing off what it can do.