Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice – Review

Disclosure ‐ Our thanks go out to Capcom for supplying us with a copy of this game to review

It has been 15 years since we were first introduced to gaming’s most famous attorneys; Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. In Spirit of Justice you will get to play as all the different lawyers and face off against fearsome opponents both new and old. Unlike some of the older games, Spirit of Justice takes place, not just in one country, but two.

Will you be able to cross boundaries and cultures and defend your various clients in the face of seemingly insurmountable pressure and evidence to the contrary?


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If you have not played an Ace Attorney title before, you have really missed out on one of the most unique gaming experiences available. Part puzzle, part interactive story, these games are all about building a case and defending a client, much like any regular defence attorney would do.

During each episode (or case) you will be charged with learning as much as you can about the events leading up to the incarceration of your client. In this time you must talk to as many people as possible, discovering what they know and collecting their statements. You must also identify information and items which will help reveal the truth. These can come in the form of autopsy reports, crime scene photographs or even simple tourist guides. Any and all information will be useful.


 

 


It may not be immediately apparent how everything you gather will be useful, but it is important to remember that it is a court; it is a live debate where great minds constantly aim to prove their position. You must be prepared for anything, and you must think outside the box to outsmart you opponents, and protect your clients interests.

This general formula is quite constant across all the Ace Attorney games. You will always have a case, often a murder. You will always have a client, often a friend. You will also have the power and the means to see that the truth outs in the end. It is no different in this latest iteration; Spirit of Justice is an Ace Attorney game to its core.


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Your first case sees you playing as Phoenix Wright himself. Having gone on holiday to meet a friend, Maya, you are quickly thrust head first into an international legal system. One which places more than one neck on the line. The Far Eastern Kingdom of Khura’in has some of the most interesting approaches to managing defence attorney’s. More than 20 years ago, a law was passed called the ‘Defence Culpability Act’, under this provision, people who defend a guilty person, are administered the same penalty as their client. In Khura’in this frequently happens to be the death penalty!

Needless to say, this is a place where working the prosecution is the preferred position, leaving all defendants to argue their cases alone. This is until you rock up. Your first day on holiday sees you jumping to the support of your newly found friend, all without knowing the consequences of failure.


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The pace at which Spirit of Justice eases players into the game is perfect. It never throws too many mechanics at you at once, instead it dribbles in new techniques, tools and characters into the story at a manageable pace. For those who are veterans of the series, none of these supportive measures ever feel forced or out of place. It is a perfect example of good mechanic design. Scattered through the trials are multiple additional mini-testimonies where you are given additional opportunities to scout for inconsistent tales.

The Kingdom of Khura’in presents the single biggest new tool of this type, ‘Divination Seances’ and their associated  ‘Insights’. Summoned forth each trial by the Princess of Khura’in, this ceremony and interpretation reveal the final moments of recently deceased people. These divination’s include not just what the person saw, but their other senses too. In the past these ‘Insights’ have been considered law, what the Princess says cannot be wrong. You quickly learn that there is a bit of wiggle room. You are the first to start questioning the directness of the Insights and you are the first to use them in defence. This new technique sits alongside the other tools from previous games, like the therapy sessions and the unlocking barriers to help break down witness testimonies to bring important facts to light.


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Having a wide array of tools at your disposal might seem like a great thing, however, this is a game about the fine details and being able to access such devices all the time would drown anyone in too much information. They are provided to you only at times where they will provide the most benefit to the case, and thank goodness for that, there is enough in this game to confuse me already.

The discrepancies presented between the testimonies and the evidence is often really well disguised. Most frequently, when you encounter each inconsistency for the first time, you will overlook it as something not too untoward. However, once you have had a chance to think about the reason for the relationship, the conflicts only seems to grow more pronounced. Soon it will lead you to declaring confidently and loudly “Objection!”. Of course, not all witnesses are forthcoming with relevant information, sometimes you will have to press them for more detail. Often this adds additional testimony for you to cross examine, other times it lets you identify new conflicts in their statements. Either way it allows you to move forward and press your case.

I have to admit that there were more than a few times where I knew where I wanted to go, but had been unable to choose the correct combination of statement and evidence to push forward the way that I expected. I will know that an inconsistency exists, and which statement it applies to; I just struggled to make some of the more abstract leaps this game requires. While you may think that you only have 5 lives before the case is over, this is more presented as a challenge than as a rule. Once you have used all 5 warnings you are given a ‘game over’ screen from which you can choose to keep going. I am guilty of having used this more than a few times when I could not work out the right combination. It was in these moments where the feeling of being shoehorned down a specific path became most noticeable and distracting. As the flow of the game is so good, the feeling of hitting a dead end can quickly become quite frustrating. Fortunately these moments are few and far between.


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It is most important to remember that a story such as this can be only as good as the writing. I am very pleased to be able to say that the story telling in Spirit of Justice is second to none. The tales that are told are deep and progress meaningfully across all 5 episodes, they never miss a beat. They also manage to drop in many little fascinating details about the world where you live. The characters themselves are absolutely charming, never for a moment do they fail to deliver their lines with great deals of charm and hilarity. The locals from Khura’in are particularly well written; they manage to capture in every movement, action or word a true glimpse of the person, the soul, behind the face.

The number of characters that appear in this game is quite an achievement. It almost feels like a big name reunion. Virtually all the main characters from previous games make a return, this time hand-in-hand with a host of new colourful people who are equally unique and special. They will make you laugh, they will make you cry and they will certainly make you think.

The graphics style supports this deeper character development. Emotions are often over-acted, making it much easier to start picking up clues on the path of enquiry. This creates a fantastic flow, where as you progressively get closer to weeding out the lies, bringing the truth into to the light, the stories climax, handing control of the court over to you. The pressure you impress on the witnesses and on the prosecutor becomes increasingly visible; they do not so much sweat as they pour. It is these little things, not always subtle, but little none-the-less which really heighten the development of both the stories and the characters.


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I have been a fan of the Ace Attorney games for a while, but I still enter this game as a relative beginner. That is to say that I have them all, I have played the start of most of them, but have promptly got stuck in all of them. I came into Spirit of Justice expecting a similar experience. I thought I would get stuck early on and feel like the barriers and excess information would just drown out all the leads. It has made me quite happy that Spirit of Justice stands out as a shining example of iterative game design, rather than adding in extraneous elements, they use only what is needed to tell a great story. It has woven a world and told a tale of places which I had very little information on, becoming an accessible and lively place. It moved the puzzles from being quite convoluted (for me at least) to being a well streamlined experience.

If you have a 3DS I have no qualm whatsoever recommending this game to you. It is a charm to play and is a fantastic change of pace from most other games out there (except for maybe the great Professor Layton). It is a wonderful story masterfully told and cleverly designed to make the player feel as a part of the story, you are never just a spectator. Go out there and get it. It is not only worth every cent, but every minute of the many hours you will spend playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice.


For those who are interested in learning more about how this game starts, check out the prologue video below to learn more about the setting and origin of this fantastic game!

Julian has been involved in the games industry for more than a couple of years now, from working in retail to developing board games to judging Magic: the Gathering tournaments Australia wide. Now as a writer for OK Games he likes to explore niche titles that try to approach gaming from a different perspective. Now all he needs to do is start finishing all those games in his Steam Library...