Originally, Ace Attorney franchise creator Shu Tukami wanted the series to end with the third game. Fast forward to 2016, and the Nintendo 3DS has just been graced with the sixth main series entry, making for a total of 10 Ace Attorney games altogether. For any franchise with this many games, innovation is key to keeping fans interested, and while Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice fails to deliver on that front, the story and humor go a long way in making up for its shortcomings.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice sees heroes Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice in different countries, tackling unique court cases with distinct rules. Apollo’s segments play like classic Ace Attorney, for the most part, with players collecting clues, presenting evidence, and trying to find contradictions in witness testimony. Phoenix’s episodes, on the other hand, add a new gimmick to the proceedings to try to liven things up.
During Phoenix Wright’s episodes, players are forced to partake in spiritual seances in court. In these seances, the goal is to find an inconsistency with one of the five senses of a victim leading up to their death. As far as Ace Attorney gimmicks go, it works fine, but it fails to add any depth to the proceedings.
And that’s Spirit of Justice‘s main problem. From a gameplay perspective, it is more or less a repeat of what has come before, with little in the way of new gameplay hooks to keep things interesting. Coming from Dual Destinies, which was a major evolution for the franchise in a number of ways, and the intriguing Professor Layton crossover, Spirit of Justice is disappointing. However, it makes up for its general lack of gameplay innovation by excelling in other areas.
Instead of working to expand on the Ace Attorney formula in any significant ways, Capcom has decided to focus on story and graphics. From a visual standpoint, Spirit of Justice is one of the better looking games available on 3DS, with eye-popping 3D, detailed character models, and gorgeous anime cut-scenes that go a long way in injecting the many likable characters with even more personality.
These characters are featured in a story that is one of the best in the series so far. For much of the game, Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice are separated, which allows for more variety with the cases, and the opportunity to interact with more characters. Switching back and forth between Phoenix’s exploits and what’s going on with Apollo keeps the story feeling fresh throughout, though there is a case in the middle that goes on far too long and makes it difficult to stay interested.
Even in the more boring cases, the writing is still sharp with witty dialogue, and the franchise’s trademark humor on full display. Of course, there’s some emotional weight to the story to go along with the absurdity, especially as it pertains to reconnecting with characters from previous Ace Attorney games. Seeing these characters again is one of the highlights of Spirit of Justice, and makes it a must-play for anyone that considers themselves an Ace Attorney fan.
Usually good graphics, a solid story, and humorous writing wouldn’t be enough to redeem a game with uninspired gameplay, but since Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is arguably more visual novel than it is game, it works here. That’s not to say that the gameplay is outright bad, however; it just noticeably takes a backseat to everything else, and is basically the same as it’s been since the first game launched a decade ago.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is a game aimed directly at people that have been following Phoenix Wright’s misadventures from the start. Newcomers won’t be able to appreciate the story or the many quirky characters that populate it, but fans will find it hard to put the game down. It’s clear that the Ace Attorney series is going to need to make some serious strides when it comes to innovating its core gameplay formula soon, but for now, Spirit of Justice is another memorable adventure for Phoenix Wright and his misfit partners in law.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is available now for Nintendo 3DS. Game Rant was provided a code for this review.