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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS) artwork

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS) review

"The 2005 release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney captured hearts with sensational mysteries, humorous characters, and witty dialogue. In this second installment of the graphic adventure, subtitled Justice for All, Capcom’s most famous lawyer returns for more of the same. The sequel presents a quartet of tragic cases that will put your analytical ability to a moderate test. More important, it continues to expand on the characters so carefully developed in the first game. The fam..."

The 2005 release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney captured hearts with sensational mysteries, humorous characters, and witty dialogue. In this second installment of the graphic adventure, subtitled Justice for All, Capcom’s most famous lawyer returns for more of the same. The sequel presents a quartet of tragic cases that will put your analytical ability to a moderate test. More important, it continues to expand on the characters so carefully developed in the first game. The familiar faces continue to grow and change with every tribulation endured. The new arrivals introduce a much appreciated sense of uncertainty. Together, all the members of the JFA cast continue to push the story in fascinating directions.

Intrigue is routine to Phoenix Wright. As a defense attorney, he always finds himself on the wrong side of a perplexing crime. In one instance, a circus ringmaster is bludgeoned to death in the middle of snowstorm, but the only footprints around the body are his own. Amid a pool of eccentric performers, the culprit could only be the arrogant magician who flies through the air with the greatest of ease, right? Another murder mystery surrounds Phoenix’s loyal sidekick, the spirit medium, Maya. In order to channel a ghost, she seals herself in a room with a client, but only one comes out alive. Is the surviving soul the real killer, or could it be an otherworldly apparition?

To find the truth, the honorable Mr. Wright must try each case in a court of law, and it’s here that he meets his new adversary. Franziska von Karma is a prosecuting prodigy befitting of her stuffy name and puffy shirt, and she can cut Phoenix down with a sharp tongue, clever traps, or a lash from her whip. But as the daughter of the first game’s most dastardly villain, she’s willing to achieve victory by any means, including concealing evidence and encouraging witnesses to bury the truth.

Counterfeiting their lies means finding the one contradiction in line after line of testimony. Courtroom sessions feel fast-paced, with constant banter flying between opponents. They can last more than an hour, though, but each chunk of sworn testimony consists of less than ten declarations. When you spot a dubious utterance, that’s when you dive into the evidence, presenting a piece that refutes the witness’s claim. The contradiction could be within the narrow written description of an object, the circumstances surrounding its discovery, or the mere fact that it exists. At times you’ll really have to pore over your records, logically breaking down every shred of available information. When you make a mistake, punishment is proportional to the magnitude of the error. It’s possible to exhaust your entire life bar with one wrong move. Moreover, JFA makes it possible to stray a bit from the true line of questioning, so following the right path can be a real challenge.

Collecting that crucial evidence is, in of itself, a much less engaging experience. In the first game, this process meant navigating menus to move Phoenix to different locales, tapping on objects to examine their probative value, and talking with witnesses to gather useful information. There wasn’t any way to lose; you were basically just clicking around until you hit all the vital plot points. That slow routine continues here, but luckily, there are some enjoyable distractions to break up the monotony. One is Maya’s adorable little cousin, Pearl Fey, who is also spiritually gifted. Pearl fills in as a sidekick when the older girl is otherwise indisposed, and the way she goes gaga over Phoenix and Maya’s supposed relationship is unbelievably cute.

Psyche-locks are the other welcome addition to Phoenix’s detective routine. When a potential witness is hiding a secret, you must use evidence to break down his psychological barriers. These episodes aren’t exactly a new concept, as they’re basically mini cross-examinations outside of the courtroom. In court, though, you know the right answer can be found somewhere in the court record. With a psyche-lock, that’s not necessarily true. You have to recognize when Phoenix doesn’t yet possess the solution to a question, and back off for further investigation. It’s a good way to keep your attention as the story progresses.

But JFA is almost equal parts comedy and drama, and it enthralls you by building around a cast of outrageous characters. There are plenty of humorous, one-dimensional individuals; those returning from the first game are instantly recognizable because the character designs are recycled. The disheveled Detective Gumshoe bumbles around in a wrinkled trench coat, incompetent but completely eager to lend a hand to whoever needs it. The crotchety Wendy Oldbag pops up again, and she continues to rail against disrespectful whippersnappers and cast unrequited adoration on younger men. Moe the clown can’t tell a single funny joke, but he does break out parody of the Fresh Prince theme when he gets nervous on the stand.

It would have been easy to have the central players maintain similarly well-defined roles. Phoenix would be a spiky-haired hero who always capably fights for the just cause. The opposing prosecutor would be scum that continually cares only for winning the big cases. But that’s never how this series has operated. JFA uses some thrilling plot devices to put each of these characters, and the player, in a position to realize that an unrighteous victory is an empty one. The truth is paramount.

Of course, knowledge of the first game is essential to fully appreciate those events. Without that, you won’t understand who Edgeworth is, much less why he’s spoken of in only hushed tones. You can still hate Franziska von Karma, but you can’t understand the magnitude of her despicable heritage. The first case provides a little refresher – Phoenix has amnesia and must be reacquainted with basic people, places, and things – but no summary can entirely capture the essence of the previous adventure.

Justice for All shapes up to be the perfect bridge between the ends of a trilogy; its conclusion definitely sets up for the next installment. Unfortunately, to maintain the integrity of the connecting narrative, the developers didn’t add any extra DS functionality to JFA, which was originally a Japan-only GBA release. In the first game, there was an entire extra case where you could spray luminol, dust for fingerprints, and reassemble shards of broken evidence on the touch screen. Here the stylus simply offers fancy menu navigation. But at least you can still yell “Objection!!” into the microphone.

Although additional interactivity would’ve been welcome, it’s absence does not diminish this game’s desirable attributes. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All provides over ten hours of suspense, puzzles, and laughs. All the while, it continues to build an enjoyable overarching narrative, making Phoenix Wright one of the Nintendo DS’s signature series.

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Featured community review by woodhouse (April 24, 2007)

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