Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice Review: If The Spirit Moves You

A new landscape, new character, and new mechanics keep the latest Phoenix Wright entry fresh. Our review. 

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The Ace Attorney series has always had the right blend of Japanese humor and adventure aspects to make it a success within the Western market. They're accessible to hardcore and casual audiences alike, and there's plenty to enjoy about the games even if you're not typically into playing at all. Because of this, Ace Attorney has attracted fans from all walks of life, and the series has only continued to grow in scope over the past few years.

The latest entry, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice, is no different. While many of its aspects are, it retains that same core, familiar Phoenix Wright experience that's made the series a smash hit over the last few years. If you're open to a new setting and new characters to play off of, you'll find plenty to love here.

Wrighting Wrongs in Khura'in

Spirit of Justice follows Phoenix and company while on vacation in the country of Khura'in. It is, by far, one of the most bizarre settings the game could have taken place in, but also one of the most engaging in terms of what it means for classic Phoenix gameplay. It's a strange country with some truly baffling logic that might even infuriate you, as it did me. I was incensed when I discovered the country has a bizarre process when it comes to legal issues, one that plays a pivotal role in the way things happen in-game.

You see, the way Khura'in operates is rather outlandish. There aren't any defense attorneys out there because lawyers basically go down with a ship if things don't go well with their clients. Phoenix Wright isn't your typical attorney, however, so he has no qualms with defending his tour guide while in the country from a surprise murder charge. It's pretty tumultuous in Khura'in at the moment, and Phoenix and other familiar faces find themselves wrapped up in some pretty harrowing events threatening to unfold as well as the wrath of Khura'in princess Rayfa, who's one of the more grating characters in this entry.

An Animated Procedural

Things haven't changed too much this time around. If you've played a Phoenix Wright game, you'll feel right at home. You'll either be investigating crime scenes for viable clues and other tidbits of information you can glean from each area. Sometimes this means you might find a special item that needs to be examined, which you can do with the DS's touch screen. Other times, you just need to look with your eyes and tap areas of the screen to gather info. Then you need to talk to anyone present when applicable.

Then, you'll take what you've learned and statements from those involved and hit the courtroom for battles with your legal adversaries. If you've ever been to court or have dealt with real-life legal problems where your life depends on the outcome, you'll realize this game isn't meant to be taken seriously in the least for the most part, so it's a lot more fun than the real-world. Usually, it's not plodding or boring, and there's plenty of lively dialogue to keep things rolling along, even when it could be bogged down with legalese or frustrating mental gymnastics.

When investigating cases you'll sometimes chat with Apollo Justice or other characters making encore appearances in the series, as each may have something insightful to offer when it comes to exonerating your client. Phoenix's adopted daughter Trucy is a good source of some laughs here and there, too. Rafya is there as just another tired example of the tsundere anime character trope. She's forever making fun of Phoenix and making light of how he could be facing death if he isn't successful in defending his client.

It's not funny, just annoying, and often I found myself just skipping through her dialogue without bothering to read most of it. I was hoping for a more interesting new addition to the cast of characters, but if Rafya was the best they could do this time around, that leaves me very disappointed. Despite the fact that some of her hardened exterior and the reason behind it is part of the plot, I just couldn't bring myself to care.

I felt the same about Khura'in, a country deeply entrenched in its own ideas on faith and its religious practices. I couldn't get into it, though I surmise others might be able to. In comparison to the series' other settings, it felt bland and forced, as if the game were doing its best to teach me some sort of lesson I just didn't want to learn. I would have preferred a less exotic locale.

Courtroom Chaos

Of course, some frustrating characters and a setting that doesn't interest me doesn't negate what I did enjoy about the game, and that was all the sparring in court. There's a new trial mechanic in the form of the Divination Seance, which results in Rayfa calling forth the final memories of victim and presenting them to the court as evidence. She'll offer her own commentary to let you know a little more about the scenes you'll see, but you'll have to grill her for more info and use your trusty evidence to poke holes in her theories. Really, it's not that big of a twist on gameplay in the end, but it's an interesting augment that I appreciated seeing sprinkled in, especially since it gives me a chance to make Rayfa look bad at every opportunity.

The trials are arguably the best part of the game, as they always have been, and there are plenty of cases to get you playing and then get you hooked. Unfortunately, not every case is created the same. There are some that absolutely begin to drag in several areas, making pacing and subject matter a bit of an issue when neither had no excuse to be., I wasn't very interested in hearing about some of the characters' pasts or their reasons for getting into law, etc. and these segments really tended to stagnate, which isn't usually the case in Phoenix Wright cases, where I'm eagerly "turning the page" and advancing dialogue.

Hold It! Should You Get This Game?

In the end, however, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice is another airtight Phoenix Wright adventure, even if it isn't without its niggling issues. It features lush, "real" cutscenes, excellent localization, and plenty of reasons for players new and old to dive into. It wasn't my cup of tea, personally, when it came to the new characters and locale, but that might be different for other players. Mechanically the game is more than sound, it's awesome. Character-wise, however, you might want to make sure this isn't the Ace Attorney game you pick up first if you're looking to build relationships.


This review is based on a 3DS download code provided by the publisher. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice is available digitally for $29.99 in the Nintendo 3DS eShop. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 10, 2016 7:40 AM

    Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice Review: If The Spirit Moves You

    • reply
      September 10, 2016 8:16 PM

      It's a bit disappointing to hear about the weak character, but everything else sounds great.

      Guess I'll soon return to the Turnabout!

    • reply
      September 12, 2016 10:39 AM

      While I can admit the series is finding it harder and harder to change up the formula after the original trilogy, they don't come out often enough for me to feel any fatigue. Give me one of these every 3 years and i'll play them without question. Already bought this one and started playing last night.