Imagine being a defense attorney with a client facing murder charges. Here is the situation: the defendant and victim were locked in a room together. Witnesses heard two gunshots come from inside the room. When said witnesses broke through the door, the defendant had a gun in her hand, and the only other person in the room at the time was lying dead. Prove the defendant’s innocence under these circumstances.
If this sounds thrilling or intense to you, then you might be a big fan of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All. The Ace Attorney games are a series of murder mystery stories told from the perspective of a defense attorney: the titular Phoenix Wright. His clients have been accused of murder on trumped up charges, and it’s your goal to prove their innocence while simultaneously solving the mystery – no matter how bleak the situation may seem.
AA:JFA‘s gameplay is sort of like a text-adventure/puzzle game with two unique gameplay modes. First of all, the investigation phases, which consist of questioning witnesses for vital information and learning more about the facts of the case, and examining the crime scene and other vital areas for clues and evidence. And secondly, the trial phases, which consist of logic battles with witnesses in court.
The trial phases are, of course, the glory of the game, separating them from the typical adventure game. Players listen to the testimonies of witnesses, and use the evidence gathered in the investigation phases to point out inconsistencies in witnesses’ accounts. By doing so, we edge closer and closer to the real truth behind the murder plots set before us. Each game has about four or five cases to solve, with the first one being semi-short, and the other ones taking quite a while to finish.
How Justice For All differs from the original Ace Attorney is that players now have a ‘lifebar’ during trials. In the original Ace Attorney, players simply had five chances to screw up before they lost. Now, penalties can have varying degrees of severity. More importantly, JFA introduces “Psyche-Locks” – a gameplay aspect during investigation phases where players try to get more info from a witness by having a battle of logic similar to the trial phases. This makes the investigations more interesting, because you can actually lose life for using poor logic during Psyche-Lock questionings.
AA:JFA is a port of a Nintendo DS game, which was previously released on the Game Boy Advance. As such, the graphics will appear to be quite dated, which is a bit of a shame. Similarly, the actual quality of the Wii version isn’t particularly great; the DS port added touch screen functionality, using the two screens to help organize the game a little better, and to make the game completely playable using the touch screen.
The Wii version, on the other hand, doesn’t do much with the DS source material; there aren’t two screens (and the game doesn’t even occupy the entire TV screen), and the game adds very little motion control functionality. When presenting evidence to a witness during the trial phases, players may swing the Wiimote towards the screen, as if showing evidence to the witness on the stand. However, in my experience, it doesn’t even seem to work right; the game tends to only recognize my motions when I perform flamboyant, pop-star dance moves. Entertaining? Yes! Engaging? Nope.
Another thing that strikes me as lazy about the port is the fact that some of the typographical errors from the DS version were not fixed. Justice For All has plenty of typos, and the game has had an English script for three years. Considering the release date for JFA‘s Wii port was pushed forward by almost a month, I’m surprised that a little more time wasn’t devoted to fixing them, especially when the game relies heavily upon its text for entertainment.
Even so, being a lazy port doesn’t change the fact that Justice For All is just a damn good game. I would recommend JFA as my favorite Ace Attorney game. What makes Ace Attorney so appealing, more so in this entry than any other, is that the cases are intense as well as honestly puzzling.
Other Ace Attorney games have an overarching story; throughout the earlier cases, we learn a little bit about certain events that have taken place in the past, or specific things about certain characters. These tiny revelations always lead up to an epic final case, in which all these tidbits of information suddenly gain relevance. This is nice, but I think the other games tend to use this as a crutch in place of crafting a genuinely excellent murder mystery.
JFA, on the other hand, has little-to-no overarching plot. A newcomer to the series can jump in and play this game without a need to understand anything about its predecessor, and all the cases (except maybe the first case, which is a tutorial) provide an equally exciting narrative and mystery. All of the cases seem to be stacked hopelessly against us – a feeling I never got from the other games – and all of the cases require us to come out in full force if we ever hope to get to the bottom of them.
Granted, this may not be for everyone. Ace Attorney fans who appreciate the overarching, holistic plots of the other entries might find JFA‘s style to be an unpleasant aberration. The backstories of the individual cases, as a result, are not as fleshed out as they are in the other games, as well. Thus, people who find it more interesting to learn the secrets leading up to the case, rather than unraveling the mysteries themselves, may find the second Ace Attorney installment to be underwhelming.
I am not one of those people. To me, the Ace Attorney series is a murder mystery saga before a soap opera. The dialogue is excellent, bringing a good blend of humor and drama. The character cast is diverse and interesting, even if they don’t feel compelled to tell you their life story by the end of the case. With such a good foundation, I don’t need to know about all the skeletons in each character’s closet; unless, of course, the skeleton is literally a physical skeleton, and a crucial piece of evidence that’ll blow the lid off the case.
The graphics and general aesthetic are appropriate for the game, but the port itself is incredibly lazy.
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It's a text adventure that not only brings innovation to the table, but I can actually lose for trying to blindly guess the wrong answer. It's challenging.
Sure, the music sounds pretty anime-esque, but at least it sounds like a genuine effort was made to capture the ambience of courtroom drama.
The game will probably take you a little over 20 hours to finish if you comb over all the little details.
If you've ever liked a text adventure in your life, I recommend Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All. However, I can't wholeheartedly say it's worth getting again if you already have it on the DS.