(Review archived from January 25, 2018)
The Phoenix Wright series has always struck me as an idea that doesn’t really work on paper. A visual novel series developed by Capcom with popular appeal in mind, half of which takes place inside a courtroom? But against all odds, the Phoenix Wright series found success, a sizeable fanbase, and established a long running series of games primarily for Nintendo handhelds. The game I’m talking about today is the second one in the series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All which I played on 3DS as part of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy. Court is now in session concerning the matter of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All.
Continuing my train of thought from above, I’ve always felt like the strength of the Phoenix Wright series lives or dies based on the quality of its writing and its quirky, endearing set of characters. Thankfully Justice for All maintains the same sort of quality writing that was established in the first game. I would place Justice for All among the best visual novels I’ve played (though I’m certainly no genre expert), and consequently it’s among some of the best written games I’ve ever played. Character dialogue is slick, funny, and hits its intended emotional beats. The plot has all the requisite twists and turn(about)s the series is known for, along with some genuine surprises (plot spoiler incoming).
Rest assured the characters are also as endearing and compelling as we’ve come to expect. Justice for All features the same quirky main cast from the first game, along with some great new additions. Familiar characters are built upon in satisfying ways, and the new ones leave you wanting more. I’m certainly hoping to see more of Franziska von Karma and possibly even Shelly de Killer at some point.
Graphically the game looks quite nice, though in this regard it’s visually quite similar to its predecessor, even to the point that several character models and animations are simply reused here. The graphics upgrade on the 3DS looks as good as ever though, and utilizes a nice depth of field effect via the 3DS hardware. Much like the graphics, the gameplay also remains largely unchanged from the first game. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it I suppose. Justice for All does implement a new ‘Psyche Lock’ mechanic during investigations though, and in this regard I think the game is all the better for it. While the investigations in the first game consisted purely of text and navigation, the psyche lock introduces some of the courtroom mechanics to the investigatory phase insofar as it allows for the presentation of evidence during interviews in order root out inconsistencies. It’s well implemented although due to the way this it’s introduced in the story, I’m not sure it’s a mechanic that can be maintained in future titles without some sort of shark jumping shenanigans.
The game does falter just a bit in some areas though. From the perspective of logical narrative, I feel like the first game hung together pretty well. The logic applied during trials was sound and the evidence presented painted a tightly knit narrative of events. And that’s still mostly the case with Justice for All. But … there are certain situations here that just don’t flow as well. The evidence isn’t as ironclad in some cases, and in others the characters make logical leaps of assumption that don’t quite add up. It’s still quite good, it just feels a bit more loosey goosey than the first game. Secondly the cases themselves aren’t as tightly bound together as they were in the first game where there was a more cohesive story arc from beginning to end. The events in Justice for All feel more loosely connected and episodic. This lends itself to the occasional pacing issues in that the first trials lack some of the pizzazz and inter-connectivity to which we’ve become accustomed. The last trial is a doosey though and will keep you on the edge of your seat from the word ‘go’. In some ways, I’d say that this last trial is the one that really pushes the game over the top whereas the previous ones feel a bit like prelude.
If you’re a fan of visual novels, or just have a passing interest in the genre, I highly recommend checking out The Phoenix Wright Trilogy; likewise for those who enjoy courtroom dramas and/or police procedurals. Obviously you’ll want to start the series at the beginning for maximum impact, but rest assured if you enjoy the first you’ll find further enjoyment in the Justice for All. You certainly won’t find a better courtroom based visual novel out there. Court dismissed.