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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2016


3DS Review - 'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 8, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

This narrative adventure stars beloved defense attorneys Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice and sees the return of many familiar faces alongside some interesting new additions.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice rejoins Phoenix Wright not long after the events of Dual Destinies. He has gone to the foreign Kingdom of Khura'in, home of spirit channeling, to reconnect with his long-lost friend and assistant, Maya Fey. Wright isn't there for more than an hour before his tour guide is accused of the brutal murder of a guard and theft of an ancient artifact. He instantly leaps to his new friend's defense. Due to a tragic event in the country's past, the kingdom has a very specific law: Should they fail, any lawyer who defends a client is subject to the same punishment as the client. The country despises lawyers so much that even a talented lawyer will have a tough time proving his case. Phoenix is the first lawyer to take a case there in decades, but he must solve the mystery and save his own hide. Meanwhile, back in America, Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes battle a new prosecutor who hails from Khura'in.

While Spirit of Justice is a self-contained Ace Attorney title, it's focused on the fans. You'll see a lot of cameos and references, and the plot focuses on delivering the payoff for events that are three or four games in the making. There are several awesome moments that are sure to make fans squeal with excitement. The downside is that it can feel a little familiar, since it repeats several plots and twists from previous games. The returning Maya Fey is certainly not underutilized, but anyone hoping for her to play a bigger role after a two-game absence may be in for disappointment. The title sometimes feels a little too safe and familiar.

The humor in Spirit of Justice is top-notch. The writing has clearly gotten a hold of the characters and how to make them bounce off each other, and it works very well. When you're playing as Phoenix Wright and are privy to his thoughts, you can see he's the same dorky guy you've come to know and love. When playing as his protégés, you see a more intimidating and confident person because you don't know what he's thinking. Many of the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, and the charming animations really help. This game is very difficult to localize, and it shows. The Ace Attorney titles have always maintained the illusion that the English versions are set in North America instead of Japan. This doesn't always hold up, but it's usually humorous. Spirit of Justice has a case that revolves around the proper preparation of soba noodles, Karuta cards and Raukgo. It's probably one of the blander cases because it's clear the material gave them little wiggle room.

One of the weak points of the game is the new prosecutor. Nahyuta is easily the weakest prosecutor since Apollo Justice and perhaps the weakest in franchise history. It is not that he is annoying or tedious so much as he is incredibly bland. He's lacking in personality and ends up feeling like, at best, Edgeworth Lite. After last game's Simon Blackwell, it's difficult to be impressed by what amounts to a generic opposing lawyer whose animations last just a touch too long. He's not very memorable, and it's apparent during a case where Blackwell returns and completely overshadows Nahyuta.

Although the game isn't short, the pacing makes it feel like it is. No case goes for more than two days and two investigation periods. Particularly strange is Chapter 4, where the player begins in court and doesn't leave for the entirety of the case. Considering that Case 4 is usually the big prelude to the final chapter, I was completely caught off-guard when it amounted to a single trial segment that was almost entirely unrelated to the overarching plot. Dual Destinies had a similar structure, but it didn't have a post-tutorial case without an investigation segment. Although one or two of the cases feel shorter than expected, that actually helps with the pacing. Once you've honed in on a suspect, you've got them without too much in the way of a twist.

By and large, the game is a delight to play. It's possible to nag and complain about the little writing quirks, but it does a great job of balancing the large cast of characters. There are some noticeable absences from prior games (alas, poor Gumshoe), but they're replaced by plenty of strong characters. Ema Skye returns to fill Gumshoe's role and does a solid job of being a fun replacement. Most of the cast has fallen into familiar roles, but it helps that they bounce off each other well. Apollo and Athena shore up each other's weaknesses, and playing as Apollo comprised some of the best parts of the game entirely for his interplay with Athena. Apollo is probably the closest this game has to a star. He and Phoenix get similar screentime, but Apollo's backstory and character development are front and center. Fortunately, he's come a long way since Apollo Justice and proves he's more than capable of carrying a protagonist role.

Mechanically, Spirit of Justice is a greatest hits of the franchise's gameplay mechanics. Almost every single one that appeared in a previous title is here: psyche-locks, Apollo's bracelet, analytical psychology, Luminol spray and fingerprint-dusting mechanics. In addition, they're joined by the dance of divination, which allows a priestess to show the last minutes of a victim's life, including all five senses, presented as words and images floating on a pool of water. The priestess than conveys her interpretation of the events, and it is up to our plucky lawyers to point out contradictions in those arguments. This usually involves finding a sensory impression that is out of place or contradictory and arguing it into the ground. This can be anything from an unexpected scent to pain occurring at the wrong point.

The dance of divination is a fun but underutilized idea. It's only used in about half of the cases and ends surprisingly quickly, but it's a great way to add more complexity to the trials. Being able to see the moment of death might sound like it renders the trials too easy, but when the murderers are aware of the priestess' capabilities, it means they're more careful about how they commit the murders. Trying to puzzle out exact what is out of place in a murder scene is what Ace Attorney is all about. I wish it had come up more rather than being limited to the Khura'in cases.

Outside of that, the Ace Attorney gameplay is almost untouched: Find clues, present them in court, watch the inept judge overturn critical evidence because of a minor procedural flaw, and repeat until the dramatic conclusion of the case. Most of the same strengths and flaws of the franchise linger. As always, the game depends on you doing things in the correct order. Figuring out the solution early is meaningless if the game expects you to present a different piece of evidence first. It's a long-time series flaw and almost unfixable without serious gameplay changes, but the writing falters sometimes and allows it to happen.

Spirit of Justice retains the same 3-D models used in Dual Destinies, but it's clear the developers have an even better grasp of them in this title. The models look fantastic, they're well animated, brimming with charming details, and they capture the feel of the sprite artwork from the older games while taking full advantage of the 3-D. The "low" point is the animated cut scenes because they look worse than the 3-D models! The soundtrack is excellent, containing fantastic new songs and solid remixes of Ace Attorney classics. The voice acting is perfectly passable but occurs so rarely that it's not likely to irk you, even if you dislike it.

All in all, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice is a solid addition to the  franchise. At times, it feels like it's more of the same and just spinning its wheels, but even at that point, it's charming and fun to play. The cases are strong, the characters are funny, and the visuals are delightful. It doesn't reinvent the wheel or drastically change up the series, but it doesn't need to. The title provides enough satisfying payoff for long-term subplots that it carries itself through the weaker moments. Fans should have a lot of fun, but newcomers may want to play Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy and Dual Destinies first.

Score: 8.0/10

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