Opinion – Ace Attorney: Spirit Of Justice Features The Series’ Best Story Yet

by Elise Favis on Sep 28, 2016 at 12:15 PM

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t played the majority of the Ace Attorney games, especially the most recent Spirit of Justice, read at your own risk. 

This opinion piece gives a more in-depth look at why this is the best Ace Attorney story yet, but you can check out our glowing review about Spirit of Justice here.

As a priest brought back from the dead recounts to the court his tragic tale of love, I can’t help but feel deeply moved. After committing a selfless act to protect his wife from the ramifications of a corrupt legal system, he had to lie through his teeth in an attempt to save her. It was a heart-wrenching, desperate scene to watch, and it’s just one of the many fantastic stories in Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice.

Ace Attorney has always been a series that balances goofiness with earnest emotion. Despite often being about murder, many court cases are lighthearted, while others dig deep into key backstories. I’ve always appreciated this careful combination, though it can sometimes feel off-kilter. Spirit of Justice finally finds this balance, delivering one of the series’ most engaging stories without sacrificing the wacky moments.

With each game, my connection to the series’ characters and story has fluctuated, and many times I yearned for character development as nuanced as Godot’s or Edgeworth’s. Some cases in past games are hilarious because they’re so far-fetched, such as the Turnabout Corner case in Apollo Justice, in which Eldoon’s noodle stand is just a small piece of a complex murder case. While these instances are marvels of hilarity and absurdity, I always preferred Ace Attorney’s quieter moments, because they are filled with more heart.  

From learning about the DL-6 incident that shed light on Edgeworth’s past, to Godot’s traumatic love for Mia, it was instances like these that had me grip my Nintendo DS a little tighter in apprehension. These well-written backstories and the mysteries behind them are what made me fall in love with Ace Attorney to begin with, but they are few and far between.

In Spirit of Justice, these moments flourish. From helping a young child come to terms with the death of their parents to developing a bond with a father figure, this new entry blew me away with both its character development and heartfelt story. Other than one sluggish case, this connection I had to the story rarely fluctuated, and that largely has to do with its engaging overarching story and cast. Past games offered superb twists and turns during trials, but Spirit of Justice spreads out its compelling overarching story to a greater degree during the course of the game.

Taking place in the land of Khura’in where society is on the brink of revolution, the story examines the lives affected by a deeply corrupt legal system. Flawed justice is a common theme in Ace Attorney, but unlike Dual Destinies’ enigmatic “Dark Age of the law,” this time we see its consequences on society more vividly. Because of a law that deters attorneys from stepping in court, playing as Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice in Khura’in often made me feel vulnerable and victimized, but also left me in awe at their endless determination. Even clients I defended showed disgust towards me, which allowed me to empathize with these attorneys as I experienced their struggles first-hand.

Spirit of Justice also focuses more on character development. While past games would leave big moments to trials, this entry gives both main and supporting characters more depth outside of the courtroom. Apollo in particular quickly became my renewed favorite character in Spirit of Justice, as he’s given an extensive backstory about who he is and where he’s from. He struggles with forgiving his father figure, and while in past games he came across like a rookie alongside Athena Cykes, in Spirit of Justice he comes into his own, facing challenges that develop stronger self confidence. From beginning to end, Apollo goes through several changes, making him one of the most multi-dimensional characters among a strong cast. 

I enjoy Ace Attorney’s off-the-wall humor and it remains strong here, as there are still characters with plenty of comic relief, such as Datz Ar’ebal’s crazy antics. However, in comparison to past games that featured an overwhelming amount of quirky characters like Wendy Oldbag, Spirit of Justice puts less emphasis on eccentric traits and more focus on creating well-rounded personalities. 

Apollo isn’t alone in this feat. I enjoyed many other characters and how their views and personalities molded throughout the game. Princess Rayfa, for example, is first introduced with an air of superiority, but soon becomes endearing in her abrasiveness. As her insecurities and familial conflicts come to light, we see her mature from a young girl to Khura’in’s future queen. Rayfa remains by your side during investigations, which often involve playful banter similar to Phoenix’s relationship with Maya. Unlike Maya, however, Rayfa demonstrates much more growth as a character, which makes her engaging as she faces traumatic dilemmas.

With its themes of parenthood, political turmoil, and courageous determination, Spirit of Justice presents one of the best stories to date that unravels over the course of the game, leaving ample room to intertwine genuine character development. This is the first game in the series where I connected to nearly the entire supporting cast. With some of the best writing of the series and characters that I strongly cared for, Spirit of Justice reveled in its storytelling and enamored me with its depth, more so than any past entry.