"Although the Phoenix Wright series has been established in Japan for a good number of years as Gyakuten Saiban, it’s still relatively new to the Western world. 2005’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was a hit in the US and Europe; the twisting murder plots and courtroom drama translated well from East to West. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All is very similar to its predecessor. The plotlines are well thought out and the characters well scripted, but it suffers severely from its short ..."
Although the Phoenix Wright series has been established in Japan for a good number of years as Gyakuten Saiban, it’s still relatively new to the Western world. 2005’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was a hit in the US and Europe; the twisting murder plots and courtroom drama translated well from East to West. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All is very similar to its predecessor. The plotlines are well thought out and the characters well scripted, but it suffers severely from its short completion time and non-existent replay value.
As Phoenix Wright, an ace defence attorney, you will engage in courtroom battles to prove your client’s innocence and search crime scenes for vital clues. There are several returning characters in JFA which include your spirit-channelling side kick Maya, the hasty but good-hearted Detective Gumshoe, and the impressionable dealer of justice that is the Judge. Although this is a sequel, playing the original DS game is by no means a requirement. The cases have no reliance on the events of the first game, and though some characters and cases from the original are referenced, JFA will provide you with all the information you need on them.
The gameplay is almost completely unchanged from the original game and it’s easy to pick up for newcomers or veterans. Cases begin by showing you cryptic cut-scenes that portray the murder. You are then introduced to your client, the one who is accused of murder, to hear their side of the story. This is where the investigation phase begins. In order to build up your case and find out who the real murderer is, you’ll be able to search crime scenes and talk to witnesses. Once you’re done investigating, the trial will begin.
The courtroom phase is a battle between Phoenix, representing the defendant, and a prosecutor who is trying to prove the defendant guilty. The main part of this phase is cross-examining witness testimonies. A witness called by the prosecution will give his or her account of the murder; you have to closely study this account and find contradictions between the actual murder and the testimony. Testimonies are broken down sentence-by-sentence for you to analyse. You can press the witness to elaborate on any given section of the testimony, or if you’ve spotted a clear contradiction between fact and testimony, you can present a relevant piece of evidence to catch out the witness. You have to really think about the cases in court because you can’t go around throwing objections left, right and centre. You will be penalised for incorrect objections; too many of these will result in a guilty verdict for your defendant.
The only notable gameplay addition to JFA is the “psyche-lock” feature that can be used in the investigation phase. During the second case, you will gain the ability to see people’s lies. These take the form of locks that surround the person you are questioning. The more locks you see, the more difficult it will be to get information out of them. Answering a series of questions correctly will break the locks and get you your information, but choosing the wrong answers will reduce your life bar. This is shared with the life bar in the courtroom phase, and although you can’t get a game over by failing to break psyche-locks, it will reduce your margin of error in the courtroom.
JFA’s control scheme takes advantage of the DS touch screen and microphone functionality without feeling bolted on. The bottom screen contains buttons to move to different locations and talk to witnesses in the investigation phase, and to press and present evidence in the courtroom phase. The game can be played entirely with the stylus or the d-pad and buttons, but a lot of fun comes in yelling “Objection!” into the microphone. Instead of using the stylus or buttons to present evidence, you can hold “Y” to activate the voice recognition and shout into the microphone. Although it’s generally a lot easier to just use the touch screen, the microphone controls do add a sense of fun to the game.
The whole concept of Phoenix Wright is hugely dependant on original and creative case plots, and JFA certainly delivers. At the beginning of a case, you’ll often be dumbfounded as to who the real murderer is. The pacing of each case is excellent, and as you find evidence and talk to witnesses, it is very satisfying to see the case unravel before your eyes. For a handheld game, JFA does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere. Witness recollections are portrayed through dramatic screen shots and the effect is heightened by the tense music that plays in the background. The over-the-top cases feel somewhere between a murder mystery TV program and a Japanese anime. The presentation is top-notch and it really comes off well, and the fabulous script takes a lot of credit for this. You’ll meet a diverse group of characters which include a short-sighted student with a superiority complex and a schizophrenic ventriloquist, and their scripts reflect their personalities brilliantly. There is a lot of text to sift through in JFA, but a steady dose of humour makes this a lot easier. The localisation team have done a fantastic job in making sure all the comedy works in English and there are barely any translation problems.
The art style and music in JFA is a huge contributing factor in creating tense atmospheres and advancing the plot. The art style has a comic-book look to it which gives it a lot of charm, and the character animations (such as Phoenix’s table-slamming and finger-pointing) are simple but effective. It isn’t so much the quality of music but the sudden change in tunes that does a lot for JFA. You might be talking to a witness with a bubbly, cheery tune playing in the background, and when you discover a vital clue, it will suddenly change to a tense track, menacing even in some situations. Voice acting is at a minimum, reserved for shouts of "Objection!", "Hold It!", and "Take That!".
JFA may have a fantastic package of gameplay, graphics, and sound, but it has one fatal flaw: length and value. Although each case can take as long as three or four hours, there are only four cases in the game. You could finish the game in less than ten hours, and due to the nature of the game, never play it again. Once you know who the murderer is, where to investigate and what evidence to present, the anticipation and wonder is gone. It would be fair to say the Phoenix Wright series is as much an interactive novel as it is a video game.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All is a captivating game while it lasts. Its four cases are riddled with plot twists that you would never expect and characters that are so charming you’ll grow attached to them. However, its lack of game hours is frustrating. By the time you’ve finished the game, you’ll be wishing there was at least double the amount of cases. You should consider carefully whether or not you want to buy a game that will last for such a short amount of time, but make no mistake, the hours it does consume are full of shock, mystery, and intrigue.
Community review by PAJ89 (October 27, 2007)
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