It’s that time again! For fans of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, the latest instalment titled “Spirit of Justice” made its way out at the beginning of September. It’s crazy to think that all the way back in 2001, we were introduced to this quirky visual novel series based on the law and courtroom proceedings. What I find truly compelling about the Phoenix Wright series is that it has been arguably the ONLY visual novel to penetrate the global market on a large scale really, and there’s clearly a handful of reasons why. So, for the 15th anniversary of the original Phoenix Wright’s release, there’s no better way to celebrate than by playing Capcom’s latest offering!
The story of Spirit of Justice is set approximately a year after the events in Dual Destinies, re-introducing us to the title character Phoenix Wright and his two understudies, Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. Half the game is set in the fictional kingdom of Khura’in where Phoenix has gone to meet with long-time assistant and friend Maya Fey, while the other half follows Athena and Apollo as they fight to take care of the Wright Anything Agency while their boss is away. With a handful of returning characters such as Maya, Trucy, Ema, Edgeworth and others, I couldn’t help but be swept up by the nostalgia of Spirit of Justice immediately. With a game series I’m incredibly fond of, it’s almost like visiting a friend you haven’t seen in years – with so many feelings and memories all rushing back at once, it was incredibly touching to be dragged straight back into that universe while also getting introduced to some of the new crazy characters.
And this is done so easily as well, mainly in large part due to the writing and narrative team behind the series. While the stories are quite formulaic of a murder/crime series, Ace Attorney manages to handle this generic structure with a comic genius and pop culture reverence that I’ve seen very few games do before, albeit successfully. Rather than taking itself seriously, Ace Attorney has for a long time had an established niche in its comedic storytelling and Spirit of Justice did not disappoint on that front. Being that it’s meant to be a “virtual novel” also, the storytelling lends itself incredibly well to this particular medium and is a successful recipe that Capcom has continued to follow over the last 15 years.
As per usual, the game is split up across multiple chapters, which provide extra layering to the storytelling – meaning multiple storylines are overlapping somewhat as events play out and are referenced in preceding chapters. While I can’t say much has been tweaked regarding the design of Spirit of Justice to its predecessors, the system continues to work for the game and doesn’t reflect a need for change in its current format. I will say however that I LOVE the ability to be able to save at nearly any point during a case. As someone who commutes to and from work on the train, it meant that I could pick up and put down the game each time from exactly where I’d left off beforehand. This is a feature I know is lacking in other games, even if it’s to a small degree – so to have it fully functional and available is a real feather in the cap of Capcom.
The main change in the gameplay from previous entries is focused around cutscenes known as “Divination Séances.” These were added to the courtroom proceedings, in which you have to point out ambiguities between the sensations people are feeling during these moments and what’s physically happening in the divination sequence. Older system favourites such as the Psyche-Locks and Mood Matrix also make a return, as well as utilising the 3D crime scene navigation that had been brought into the game for Dual Destinies. While perhaps not stretching themselves too creatively, I just feel that there needs to be recognition given to the developers of Phoenix Wright. Each new game has managed to introduce a new gameplay element successfully while also not completely messing with the foundation of the original game. Other big titles have done this with far less success, so I’m glad to see a game that can stick to its roots while still raising a new offering to long-time players.
Aesthetically is where I feel the game shone through, with an upgrade to 3D models for all returning characters that helped complete the new look/feel for the series. It’s also very encouraging to see the developers taking feedback onboard from fans, with the focus put on character animations such as the Divination Séance dance that Rayfa performs being animated incredibly smoothly for a game that doesn’t feature a huge deal of fluid motion mechanics. The quality level of animation was also great during the cutscenes, with Capcom bringing in successful anime studio A-1 Pictures to do the work after their work on the Ace Attorney anime, which also aired in Japan this year. The music also continues to be as bold as ever, with the major moments and scenes being highlighted well with the use of both subtle and powerful sounds at the appropriate moments to emphasise the narrative’s point. My only small qualm is in regards to the translation, where there are a few spelling mistakes made in the text boxes, and also the lack of customisation with the audio to be able to have Japanese audio and English subtitles.
While I can see people arguing that the Ace Attorney series has gotten stale after 15 years, I’ve got to disagree. I think this boils down to the release schedule of the games primarily, with the last main series entry dating back to 2013. I believe that this helps the game avoid “gamer fatigue” with its audience, which is something that large franchises such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed have been guilty of doing. Instead, they continue to micro-manage and strategically develop a system that has been well crafted over the past decade and a half. For anyone like me who is a fan of this series, I can assure you that this latest offering is another treat to add to the collection. So what are you waiting for, huh? You should already be playing it!