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I've seen Spirit of Justice's reputation decline a bit, sadly, since I first played it, and to that end, I'm going to step up to this plate and defend it.
Yes, that whole "Defense attorney gets the same penalty as their client" bit is a bit overplayed, even if I do like the way it ultimately plays into the final case's conclusion. Yes, the main prosecutor antagonist this time around doesn't quite stick the landing when it comes to balancing his sympathetic and unsympathetic qualities. And, yes, that forth case is a garbage fire, being a bad story with lame characters and an unnecessary reliance on very-Japanese things for a game with a substantial international audience; its only redeeming qualities coming from a star witness whose major gimmick deserved to be in a better case and Blackquill sitting behind the defense bench as a consulting attorney.
But, honestly... aside from that, it's easily the best Ace Attorney title in years. This is at once the game Apollo Justice should have been in terms of developing the character and making a plot centered around him, willing to use the more-advanced tech of the 3DS in ways that feel fun rather than gimmicky, and full of the series' colorful characters, including villains who have charisma and/or complex and sympathetic motivations in a way the last title's largely-flat and one-note antagonists did not. In particular, it does a great course-correction on Ema Skye, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the better ideas her last appearance had.
Special shout-out to the DLC case, which does an excellent job of having a "throwback" style Wright-vs.-Edgeworth nostalgic murder mystery without any of the often-obtuse or frustrating elements that sometimes plagued the original trilogy, and to Apollo Justice, who not only finally gets to have some extremely strong character development, but has a barn-burner of a second case in the non-Khurain segments that, not to spoil anything important, showcases just how much potential was wasted in his first game. And, while Athena's case is, again, a garbage fire, it is at least, unlike garbage-fire-cases past, mercifully short.
Finally, I like the Khurain segments, with the "assistant" there being wonderfully unconventional by series standards and the Himalayan-inspired location offering some fun twists on the usual urban-and-countryside locations for the series.
Capcom seems to have finally put the series on ice for good after this title, and that's a shame. But at least it went out on a great final note, that balances the best of the old with some new ideas of its own.
I, for one, enjoyed Dual Destinies and then some. Released after some two-three games of varying quality (mostly in terms of the individual cases), it felt as fresh and exciting as playing the first game again (to which I'll admit to some level of Nostalgia Goggles being in effect) with probably the best balance between over-the-top antics and tense darkness in the entire series. I was hoping Spirit of Justice would capture that same dynamic sense of wonder, but in the end it felt like a fair few steps back. Your Honor, please take a look at this evidence:
From the get-go, the whole "culpability" for lawyers is a ridiculous concept even for the Ace Attorney series. It just feels like a cheap way to raise the stakes for the turnabouts, which veterans will know tend to have that sorted out rather well as a matter of course. The fact that no convincing risks are ever taken to display to the player the true gravity of the situation does not help. It ruined much of the game's efficacy by rampant violation of my suspension of disbelief. I know that with few exceptions, you're meant to win the cases, but usually I get too absorbed in the drama to care. Not so, here.
The setting of Khura'in wears out its welcome rather fast. There are only so many mountains, holy gathering places and shrines a man can take before he can do naught but shout "That's Enough"! It's definitely done on a larger, more impressive scale than in earlier games, but I found myself pining for Phoenix's home turf of Totally-Not-Japan, CA most of the time. What's more, Maya never truly gets her huge spirit channeling moment that such a setting inevitably calls for.
The rampant flashbacks also get extremely tiresome, even moreso than in Destinies. You often get a flashback to something that happened literally less than an hour ago. I'd like to think Ace Attorney players, as a whole, are more than a little apart from the mouth-breathing goldfish that constitute much of the viewing audience of the shameless post-commercial break recaps of American television. But I digress.
Most of all, this game committed an unprecedented cardinal sin; making me put an Ace Attorney game on the back-burner for weeks on end! Granted, it was a little before the final case started picking up steam—and believe me, it's a doozy!—but it was still too little, too late.
Despite the inclusion of my new second-or-third-favourite companion in the form of the haughty yet lovable princess Rayfa, the game is short on high points. Prosecution was the worst yet. Now that I think about it, the most concentrated amount of unbroken fun I had with the game was with the arc-irrelevant DLC case. And in a series built on epic arcs, that's depressing.
It's not really bad, as such; just wholly underwhelming, despite some huge changes in the series status quo. It's not Justice for All-level lackluster—even by default—but it's certainly not a step forward.
Don't get me wrong: this is a very good game, but some mechanics really pissed me off. Even so, buy the game. It's worth it.
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