Phoenix Wright: Spirit of Justice is another small step forward for the storied series. While the game features little that is mechanically new, it shines as brightly as its forebears in presenting implausible scenarios and mysteries for the player to unravel, rounding out the experience with an excellent cast of new faces and old favourites alike.
The new Phoenix Wright game has not eaten at all into my game time. Instead, it has steadily consumed my nightly pre-bedtime reading ritual. Just as in former entries, you read in this game—you read a lot—and if you do not enjoy a good read, then you might as well not bother. This is not the game you are looking for.
For someone like me, though, that loves reading fiction and has a special place in his heart for Doyle-like investigative mysteries, the Phoenix Wright/Ace Attorney series has always been a joy, and this new one is as good as any.
It is worth pointing out, though, that this is more than a typical Japanese visual novel. There are real puzzles to figure out here, a real necessity to connect the dots of the information you are provided with in order to figure out which object to present to the court at the various stages of the trial. They are, for the most part, good puzzles, with many being obvious, but some quite tough. A generous save anytime feature prevents all but the most distracted from failing, though there is still a mental challenge here if that is what you crave from your games.
The mechanics used to solve the game’s enigmas are a melting pot drawn from previous games, which makes them feel a tad inconsistent at times. Nevertheless, the entire set is effectively explained through brief, skippable tutorial dialogues. This mechanical variety combines with a lengthy, multi-layered narrative that provides approximately 30 hours of content to make this seem like one of the most complete Phoenix Wright experiences to date.
The meat of the game, however, is the weird and wonderful courtroom drama perpetrated by its colourful cast. In a nod to the game’s original Japanese title (Turnabout Trial), each trial is titled “Turnabout …”, which is perfectly apt considering the twists and turns each case takes until it reaches its climax. By then, the player will be on the edge of the seat, ready to shout that final “OBJECTION!” in time with Phoenix.
These court hijinks take place over two different countries, these being the series’ traditional America-that-is-Japan and the fictional country of Khura’in, but the narrative focuses squarely on the latter’s legal system. Khura’in is a hyper-religious country where faith mixes with government and trials are decided by the visions of the royal priestess, rather than evidence. Moreover, while never explicitly stated, the narrative strongly suggests that non-adherence to the prevailing belief system can be dangerous.
While this is certainly fertile ground for social commentary, the game navigates it smoothly and never becomes preachy about it. In the end, while the game may invite players to think more broadly about the role of religion and the debatable value of secularism the narrative’s agenda is to reinforce the concept that everyone should have the right to a fair trial and the chance to be defended.
The game is quite good with introducing its mechanics in a way that both refreshes series veterans and appropriately empowers newcomers, and indeed does a similarly good job of presenting old characters, but a good part of the appeal of this sixth game in the series in just that—visiting with old friends you hadn’t seen in a while. The writing and localisation remain some of the best in the genre and enjoyable by anyone, but players returning to the saga will likely get more from the experience thanks to their previous history with the characters.
Which brings me to two separate recommendations for people reading this review. If you have accompanied the series over the years, and are just checking in to see if the new game olds up—it does, and you will enjoy it as much as the previous ones, if not more. If you are new to the series, I would steer you instead to the excellent Phoenix Wright Trilogy, which compiles and updates the first three games—build a relationship with the cast there, and you will enjoy this one far more.
Reviewed on the 3DS with a copy bought by the reviewer.
Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | Genre: Adventure / Visual Novel | Platform: Nintendo 3DS | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: Out Now