“Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice” fails to expand of the series formula

Brian O'Kelly

No one should look to the “Ace Attorney” series for a critical and accurate tale about criminal justice. “Spirit of Justice” is undoubtedly no different, telling a zany story that somehow manages to lovingly draw you into an over the top legal drama.

The visual novel’s narrative tells the story of a fictional religious monarchy of Khura’in, a new setting for the series which generally takes place in the U.S. In Khura’in, a corrupt legal system has removed the right to a fair trial by punishing defense lawyers with the same sentences as their guilty clients. As such, defense lawyers have become nearly extinct, and prosecutors run the show using a mystical ritual known as a Divination Séance.

The Divination Séance presents the deceased victim’s last moments before death, forcing the players to interpret these moments in a way that helps solve the case. While the mechanic is interesting, it feels like an empty innovation since it functions similarly to the normal cross-examination sequences from the earlier games. This is also the only new gameplay element that isn’t found in previous games.

While this isn’t the game’s first foray into unrealistic story elements, each game in the series so far has added some spectacular “element” to liven up the traditional courtroom puzzles gameplay. 

Relative to the previous entries, “Spirit of Justice”’s writing is weak. The story feels like a retelling of the previous two games’ stories in a more magical setting. It takes the basic scenario where people have grown to distrust lawyers due to some cryptic event in the past and adds some religious mysticism to spice things up. It’s been done in other entries of the series and isn’t as interesting this time around despite the additional ghosts testifying in court.

Still, it’s hard to say that there is anything missing or condemnable with the latest entry. It has assuredly grown stale and boring over its eleven-year lifespan, but left on its own, “Spirit of Justice” is still a decently entertaining melodrama. 

The cast of characters are still colorful and well-written, all of them with distinctive personalities. Both new and returning characters are extreme versions of traditional archetypes that help pick up the lagging story through puns and humor. Complementing animations are highly detailed and the variety in gestures help define each character by visually demonstrating their humorous traits.

Court room sequences are still the highlight of the series, filled with some of the best puzzles in the series to date. While the difficulty may be relative to the players, all the riddles posed felt challenging without any ridiculous obstacles that require the player to make an obscenely unclear connection to solve. The difficulty is high enough that players should feel rewarded when completing a challenge, and rarely should they feel cheated when they receive a penalty for a wrong answer.

The “Ace Attorney” series is showing some serious signs of franchise fatigue with its sixth entry formulaically following the narrative of previous games. While fans shouldn’t expect a new peak for the series, “Spirit of Justice” delivers an enjoyable, outrageous drama that can at least kill some time.

Title: “Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice”

Genre: Point and Click/Visual Novel

Rating: E

Score: 3.5/5 stars