Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Justice for All DS, 3DS, GBA, Wii, and PC Developed by Capcom Released in 2002 in Japan, other regions in 2007
Capcom’s attempt at handling a visual novel game with puzzle elements proved to be a major success, even if an overseas release wouldn’t follow until 2005. With a little push from his colleagues, creator Shu Takuma was convinced to turn the game into a trilogy and began work on Justice for All as soon as possible. While it was already impressive to see how much Capcom could do to make visual novels more involving to play, it’s even more amazing to see them top themselves with this sequel.
Law does not apply to magic
After starting his career as a defense lawyer in the first game and turning several cases on their head, Phoenix’ trusty companion Maya Fey had to return to her village to finish her training as a spirit medium. We pick up some time after this and after a relatively easy tutorial case Phoenix dives back into the chaos to save his clients from certain conviction. After all, there is no other defense lawyer out there that can prove your innocence when all the evidence points to you and the witnesses saw you at the scene.
Each case is its own story with characters exclusive to that crime, but what I find lacking is that there is no overarching plot connecting it. The original game followed a similar format, except all the cases were loosely connected by a mystery surrounding Maya’s mother, which earned itself a pay-off in the final chapter. This game has a mystery of its own, involving the disappearance of Phoenix’ rival Miles Edgeworth, but it doesn’t have the same meat to it and has no bearing on most of the actual cases. Even so, the stories found in each case are fun and solving them is really satisfying, as each one gets the closure it needs.
With Miles Edgeworth gone, the role of rival character has shifted to Franziska, the daughter of Von Karma from the previous game. While she has the wits to match Phoenix and tricks to trump even her father, I found myself not enjoying her much. The first Ace Attorney was, at heart, a game about law, with some elements of mysticism on the side. In at least one case magic dominates the entire narrative and the increased wackiness of the characters is often frustrating. I just can’t buy into this character, who is an ace prosecutor at just 18 years old and violently assaults everybody with a whip.
My favorite story arcs were the tutorial and finale, simply because they featured more grounded characters. The murder at Maya’s village is so drenched in magic I found it hard to appreciate and the murder at the circus was just a little too wacky for my taste. Cases 1 and 4 also don’t have Franziska in them much, which is another big plus for them.
Story score: 8/10
I see your lies
Justice for All plays largely the same as its predecessor, once again having you alternate between finding clues in investigation sequences before taking to the court and proving your client’s innocence. My stance on both remains largely the same, with the investigation bits being a tad obnoxious and requiring too much fiddling with the menu, and the actual court cases being the highlight. While the investigation bits could have done with more improvements, I will say that, while in court, the game is less reliant on “supposed-to-lose” parts, though I will admit I found myself bluffing at times because I had literally no idea what the game wanted from me.
A new feature is a gem obtained in the second chapter that allows Phoenix to use magic, which does annoy me thematically, but it serves a point here. Phoenix can now see when people lie, in the most literal sense possible. When questioned about a subject a person is withholding information about, Phoenix will see locks form around that person representing how much they are suppressing it. You then use the gem to enter a special investigation mode where you present evidence that proves they are lying, until the locks are all broken and the person begrudgingly admits what really happened.
These are sort-of like the cross examinations found in the courtroom in smaller format and they are challenging, because you don’t always know if you have all the evidence you need already, whereas you never go to court until you have collected everything you can possibly get. Just like with an actual judge you’ll be punished when making mistakes, so guesswork will get you into trouble. Another new addition that improves the puzzling experience are the character profiles, which double as reminders of who everybody is and can be used as evidence too. Simply put: this allows you to use people themselves as evidence or point out culprits and accomplices.
While I was critical of the gameplay in my last review, Justice for All is an all-around improvement. The interrogations and using profiles as evidence are great new mechanics, though I would argue the former could have been implemented without getting magic into the mix. Areas are also connected better, so you don’t have to mess around with the menu as much, and solutions for puzzles are less picky, so you can use multiple pieces of evidence on multiple lines of dialogue, so long as it creates a contradiction.
Gameplay score: 8.5/10
Love is in the details
Like in its predecessor, Ace Attorney has a simple presentation as you move between static rooms where you investigate the crime and meet characters. While the rooms aren’t animated in any way, the characters are the complete opposite and are full of little movements and emotions as you speak with them. A lot of effort has been put into showing the personality of these characters through their sprite. In fact, if you’d ignore the dialogue and just watch all the different animations a character can perform, I am sure you could make an accurate guess at what they are like.
The stoic manager Adrian Andrews fiddles with a playing card, Ben the ventriloquist looks embarrassed and flustered as his puppet goes on tirades, and the highlight is still watching the witnesses crack under pressure, growing more and more frustrated and panicked as you unravel their story. While the game features a few returning characters, including witnesses you’ll face on the stands once again, the new additions look just as fantastic, if not better. Though I wasn’t too fond of the circus arc, I found the sprite for Acro the wheelchair-bound acrobat especially neat and powerful, as his animal companions respond to his emotions and offer comfort.
While I didn’t have sound on all the time, the music pieces in Ace Attorney are quite nice, though nothing I am especially excited about. I did find it fun to hear the few bits of voice acting, with Franziska especially having a surprisingly well-matching voice. I would have enjoyed it if there were more voiced lines for all the different characters, but what we got is nice.
Presentation score: 8.5/10
In terms of gameplay Justice for All manages to introduce a number of fun, new features to the already solid foundation created by its predecessor. It also manages to clear up some of the frustrations found in the previous game and continues the series’ tradition of featuring high quality sprites and animation. Really, the only thing I can complain about is the story, which despite featuring great individual storylines, makes no effort to feature an overarching plot to tie them together.