As the latest installment of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney visual novel/courtroom drama series for the Nintendo 3DS, Spirit of Justice aims to combine the elements of the first four games with the newer style mechanics of Dual Destinies. Not surprisingly, it does so pretty spectacularly, as series director Shu Takumi and his team at Capcom have been hard at work improving on their time-tested formula since 2013. Though Takumi himself has not been directly involved with the main series Ace Attorney games since Apollo Justice, his team has taken the reins and continues to innovate.

Taking place one year after Dual Destinies and two years after Apollo Justice, Spirit of Justice delivers us to a new country – the mysterious Kingdom of Khura’in. Hot off the plane and in search of his old assistant Maya Fey, Phoenix Wright is immediately embroiled in the messy state of the law in a country that persecutes defense attorneys as harshly as the criminals. Meanwhile back at home, Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes, whom fans will remember from the previous game as Wright Anything Agency’s newest defense attorney, are holding down the fort while encountering old friends of their own.

In line with Dual Destinies’ changes to the storytelling format, Spirit of Justice continues to use sporadic anime cutscenes to help establish the scene’s and cases while also showing off critical moments in the plot. Voice acting from acclaimed VA’s such as Sam Riegel and Matthew Mercer also returns in both cutscenes and in the trademark “OBJECTION” callouts unique to each character. Overall I feel that this change has been a welcome one and can be pretty refreshing after reading countless lines of dialogue. This, combined with the brand new animations and 3D sprites (redone from Dual Destinies for the returning characters), make Spirit of Justice the best looking Ace Attorney game to date.

Music and sound in Spirit of Justice are as good as ever, with both returning themes as well as brand new motifs. From the classic, by-the-seat-of-your-pants intense “Turnabout Theme”, to the softer, calming tones of the Kingdom of Khura’in, I found myself becoming more focused or more relaxed as the scenes or mood changed without it becoming intrusive.

Gameplay-wise, the tried and true formula remains much the same, with a few key differences. The biggest change is a variation on the Mood Matrix from Dual Destinies (which also makes a return) called Divination Seance. With this mechanic, you’ll view the victim’s last experiences right before the end and, as with the Mood Matrix before it, use it to find inconsistencies in eyewitness statements or new insight into the case at hand. Instead of emotions however, you’ll be looking at the senses: smell, touch, sound, etc. This provides both a fun new way of exploring cases while also providing additional backstory into the more spiritual elements the series has touched on in the past.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice review

On the flip-side, the game can get equally convoluted and predictable. While I found myself interested in all of the cases presented, some of the “turnabouts” and twists weren’t exactly shocking. Capcom did take a note from fan feedback on Dual Destinies being too easy and too heavy handed with tips, but Spirit of Justice is still not as difficult as some of the previous games in the series, which I found a bit disappointing. For those that hated the “tip system” of Dual Destinies, have no fear though – Capcom made tips more subtle and also included an option in the settings to disable the “Consult” option altogether.

The jury has returned with a verdict, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice has been found as an overall solid game, and a definite improvement on the foundations that its predecessor laid out in 2013. From the perfect combination of irreverent humor and fairly deep themes, to the interesting and wide variety of characters to be encountered, I found myself constantly and consistently entertained throughout the experience. A must-buy for any fan of the Ace Attorney series and a must-try for any newcomers.

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