The latest Phoenix Wright game, Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, turned out to be one of my favorites in the series. Not for mechanical reasons, because the mechanics, while pleasant, are completely unsurprising to anybody familiar with the series: the same exploration, the same trials, the game keeps all the characters from the previous episodes, and they keep each character’s special mechanic while adding one new mechanic for this version (an ability to replay what the victim experienced in their last moments). In other words, nothing new, other than the new mechanic; I like the new mechanic, but not enough to really make a difference.
The plot, I think, is a better answer as to why I liked it. You spend half your time in Kurain: Maya is visiting her home country, to get more spirit medium training. They heighten the tension by, in the Kurain cases, having you be liable for the same penalty as the defendant if you lose; this felt a bit cheap at first, but they used it to get you care about a protest movements, about the legitimacy of the government. Also, you got to learn more about Apollo Justice, even meeting some family members (it turns out he’s from Kurain); I liked his first game, so I was glad to see his story fleshed out a bit more.
And that, in turn, feeds more directly into why I liked Spirit of Justice. First, this question of family. The series has touched on family from the beginning: Mia Fey and Maya Fey in the first game, adding in Pearl Fey (and her relationship with her mother) in the second game, and giving Phoenix an adopted daughter in the fourth game.
But biological families have never been presented as the only families that matter in the series. (And families via marriage are almost nonexistent in the game; though several actually do show up in Spirit of Justice, as frequently as negative examples as positive ones.) Phoenix and Maya are very important to each other, reacting to the loss of Mia by acting like a family of their own; and watching Phoenix and Edgeworth’s relationship deepen and evolve through the first series is one of the biggest joys that the games bring, seeing how an antagonistic, at times painfully distant friendship turns into unquestioned support based on a shared desire to get the truth. Edgeworth only has a small part in Spirit of Justice, but his appearance is my favorite surprise in the game: he’s a little older, a little mellower, but he has no question that he should be there for Maya, that he should be there to push Phoenix to uncover the truth.
So we see the Phoenix/Maya and Phoenix/Edgeworth families; and we see the Phoenix/Apollo/Trucy/Athena family deepen. And we meet Apollo’s family: he gets to know his (adoptive) father again, and he struggles with his (adoptive) brother. That latter struggle mirrors the Phoenix/Edgeworth struggle: they fight it out in the courtroom, the prosecutor is characterized by his purity, but ultimately they both want to uncover the truth, even if it leads somewhere painful.
And then there are the Kurain royal family members. It’s one of the families in the game that we don’t identify with, that falls apart; but in the process of that, the royal daughter Rayfa forges a real bond with Apollo. They fight to bring out the truth; Apollo’s faith in Rayfa, even as they’ve been fighting in the courtroom, is a key moment to bring out the best in her, to help her grow into her powers.
These constructed families are always there for each other: they ultimately have a fundamental faith in each other’s abilities and fundamental goodness. But they’re also united in a belief in the powers of uncovering the truth, that doing so will lead some place better, even if the journey is painful.
And, right now, that’s a particularly powerful message for me. The United States has a president-elect who willfully disregards the truth, who has no compunction against making statements that are trivially shown to be false. He’s an extreme, but the Republican Party has been on attack against the concept of facts for years; if reality has a liberal bias, then reality has to go.
It’s not that Trump and the Republicans don’t care about the concept of truth, however. On the contrary, they’re trying very hard to promote claims as being accepted as truth, regardless of what correspondence those claims have with reality. (And, of course, trying very hard to promote their position on matters of judgment; that’s a different matter, though an equally important one.)
So maybe Phoenix Wright is the hero that we need right now. Spirit of Justice shows a government that is so insistent on its unique right to present accepted truth that it sets up a courtroom system where arguing against the government’s version of truth is a life-or-death matter for a lawyer. And Phoenix Wright wades into that system, and argues away; he wins his cases. And, in doing so, he raises doubts in the mind of Rayfa, one of the people in charge of setting the government’s version of truth.
Then, in the last case, Apollo Justice appears, arguing directly against the queen. He pursues the truth no matter where it leads him, even if where it leads him is a distinctly personally uncomfortable place. His faith in Rayfa and his pursuit of the truth give her the courage to go forward. His pursuit of the truth wins over his brother Nahyuta from the side of the government, despite blackmail from the queen.
And, at the end, there’s a revolution.
This post has not been revised since publication.