Phoenix Wright and his cohort return in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, to seek the truth behind the kingdom of Khura’in, where defense attorneys like him are despised. The Ace Attorney series had always been steeped in memorable characters and stupefyingly complex cases. Fortunately, Spirit of Justice continues tradition and is an excellent entry into the franchise.
The Ace Attorney series is, in a basic sense, a ‘visual novel’ where the game is usually split into 4-5 ‘chapters’ which revolve around a particular case. Each case is divided into two sections of gameplay that can alternate multiple times throughout a case. The first aspect is ‘investigation’ where the protagonist of the case must investigate the crime scene and talk to witnesses in order to obtain evidence. Using this evidence, the player will then get to the ‘trial’ section of a case where the defense can use these pieces of evidence in order to contradict witness testimonies and find the true culprit.
This time around, the game introduces the land of Khura’in, a mythical country where religious beliefs are upheld with almost zealous commitment. It is also a country in strife, thanks to a rebellion that seeks to dethrone the crown– a rebellion that is led by former Defence Attorney Dhurke Sahdmadi. Phoenix lands himself in the middle of this revolution after visiting his old courtroom assistant Maya Fey, who was finishing her 2 year-long training in Khura’in.
While being the sixth game in the series, Spirit of Justice also serves as the end of the second trilogy in the franchise, marking the end of an era for Wright’s first disciple, Apollo Justice, who was the main protagonist in the fourth game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. In this regard, the title of the game is a bit misleading, as the focus of the game is on Apollo and the exploration of the other side of his family, as well as his reason for becoming a defense attorney.
The level of character development for Apollo Justice is the defining feature for the game, showing a young attorney’s growth in his profession and his attitude towards life. The events of the game revolve heavily around Apollo Justice, making it clear what exactly the ‘Spirit of Justice’ truly is. Fortunately, the game does a fairly good job at bringing players up to speed with necessary backstory, helping newcomers to the series have some context for the story. While players who haven’t played previous games may not pick up on some hilarious references, the game makes sure not to rely too heavily on previous titles.
Despite this, there is one ‘filler’ case in the game that seems oddly out of place. It adds very little to the overall narrative and focuses on Athena Cykes, another attorney from the Wright Anything Agency. It comes off as a ham-fisted attempt at providing some substance for Athena’s growth as an attorney, in the midst of the bigger narrative at play. This seems to be the only way for the team to include her within the game, since she takes a backseat in the majority of Spirit of Justice. It’s a shame, but Capcom decided to sacrifice Athena’s input in the narrative in order to emphasise on Apollo’s story.
With that said, the story continues to impress, with some incredibly unexpected plot twists. The game successfully keeps players on their toes throughout the investigation. In fact, the dark thematic shifts and the various mechanics within the game offer a much more complex story that’s unpredictable, but also ‘human’. And yet, Spirit of Justice still manages to pull light-hearted dialogue without completely undermining the overall feel of the story.
Another aspect of the Ace Attorney games is the incredible soundtracks. Spirit of Justice is composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, who has been the composer for the series for Trials and Tribulations (the third game in the main series), and Dual Destinies. Spirit of Justice is another sensational hit when it comes to the soundtrack. There are a mix of new tracks and remade renditions of pre-existing tracks from previous games. For example, every single rendition of the ‘Objection’ theme re-occurs since the first game, the variations themselves playing into the progression of the series.
Finally, while not 100% smooth, as mentioned in the Spirit of Justice demo preview, the 3D model animation has been the biggest new addition to the game. While the series transitioned from 2D sprites to 3D models from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney to Dual Destinies, it wasn’t until Spirit of Justice where the animation became more dynamic. For instance, the Dance of Devotion shows off some fairly detailed choreography, everything from the body movement to clothing dynamics. While in most other games, this would be overlooked, the departure from simple animations to full blown model animation adds more variety to the overall story’s immersion. In previous games, some of these ‘animations’ are done off screen or in still images.
In another example, the series is famous for some of the most over-the-top reaction sequences when witnesses are hit with fatal contradictions. In previous games, these ‘breakdowns’ would be fairly simple in terms of animation. In Spirit of Justice, these reactions become much more complex. These breakdowns amp up in ridiculousness simply by changing camera angles or toying with the character’s delusional thoughts. The breakdown of a character’s mental state has never been this satisfying to watch, especially from the most devious of culprits.
Spirit of Justice is one of the most memorable games in the franchise. It spawns many fantastic characters with a compelling level of character development. The game hits on so many thought-provoking themes, while never losing sight of the most important theme for the franchise, finding out the truth, no matter how dire it looks or how much it hurts. By presenting this message with a beautiful soundtrack, incredible new visuals and a truly detailed story, Spirit of Justice has solidified itself as an exceedingly strong entry into the main series.