Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All

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The Nintendo DS begins and ends for me with Phoenix Wright. I held the lumpy console on its launch day, scoffing at the two-screen design and unfortunate gray exterior, and promptly decided that my foray into mobile gaming could wait. Nintendo 64 ports and virtual pets held no sway over my attention. I didn't give the DS a second thought until Lara "Katerin" Crigger, temptress that she is, told us all about a quirky adventure game featuring a self-conscious, spiky-haired lawyer and his eccentric friends. One dramatic point of the finger and I was sold.

So when I say that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All is more of the same, remember that more is a good thing.

Platform: Nintendo DS
Time Played: Around 8 hours
Experience In Genre: Finished first game, watched lots of Ally McBeal
Objection: Overruled

First off, if you're reading this, chances are good that you've played the first Phoenix Wright game. You know all about his crazy hair, his spirit medium friends, and his overly dramatic antagonists. You know that the series is like The Practice on drugs: all of the courtroom drama, with none of the sense. None of that changes in the second game, so don't come to the courtroom looking for something normal. Come instead for the characters you've come to care about, who pick up where they left off in the first game and continue with their individual stories.

Story really is the name of the game here. Players come into the game right as a new case is starting, spending the entire first case in the courtroom. It's been a year since we last saw Phoenix and his friends, and while details have changed for the characters, the situations they find themselves in are as weird as before. I'm just about finished with the second of the game's four cases, and I've already been bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher, encountered whip-wielding prosecutors, met the self-proclaimed "Goddess of Misfortune," and spent entirely too much time around body-swapping spirit mediums. That none of this seems out of place in the game's reality is a testament to how solid the story is.

Many have bemoaned how similar Justice For All is to its predecessor. Complaints that the game is a port of the Japanese GBA original make little sense; unless you can read kanji, you haven't played Gyakuten Saiban 2, so why is it a big deal? Some may find the gameplay to be derivative, but I find it reassuring that the game mechanics work as I remember. The only new feature in the game are Psyche-Locks, a way of finding clues and unlocking character's secrets during the investigation portions of the game. They add some depth to the dialog trees and evidence hunts but are nothing revolutionary.

The Phoenix Wright games offer a unique experience: they feel like something innovative and original while playing with the conventions perfected by adventure games of old. I can only imagine how strange these titles must be to the new generation of gamers, the ones who think Monkey Island is the title of a new reality TV show or don't understand the perils of being eaten by a grue. Many consider video games to be fast, hyperactive, and monstrously violent. Phoenix Wright is slow paced in comparison, holding narrative above all else even if the narrative is goofy and illogical. The fact that the second game sticks to this formula without deviation should be celebrated from the highest rooftops.

Fans eagerly awaiting a completely original Phoenix Wright adventure won't have to pine for very long. The first DS-centric title in the series is due out in Japan in April, although a North American date hasn't been announced. Until then, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All should satisfy anyone looking for courtroom adventure. In my case, playing Justice For All reminds me why I fell in love with the DS in the first place, and is sure to have me yelling, "Objection!" during awkward moments in conversations for a long while.

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Comments

I don't love Justice For All as much as its predecessor, but I'm not sure that's the game's fault. It's just that part of the fun of Phoenix Wright was its novelty, which of course has worn off in the sequel. Plus, it doesn't feel as wacky as the original (but maybe I just need to give it some more time).

*edit: Nevermind. I hit the third case, and suddenly, it got extremely wacky.

Still, I'm having a great time with the game. I can't put it down, and when you work from home, that's not necessarily a good thing.

Both of the games are sitting patiently in my queue of backlogged games. Or as I like to call it, The Massive Hoard of Plastic and Cardboard Boxes That Sit In My Dorm Room Unloved.

I'm ahead of the curve for once! I've made it all the way through Justice For All, finishing it last night. (I wanted to have it done so that I could head into Hotel Dusk without distraction.)

Yes, the two Phoenix Wright games are very much alike in their mechanics, excepting the extras of the additional case at the end of the first game. The Psyche-Lock is basically a way of introducing the element of risk already present in the trial portion into the investigative part, as well as a way of setting up gates that determine the forward progress of the game.

In this game, in the final case, they put you (as Phoenix) through a more personal and difficult set of choices. But, they also cheat you somewhat in that there are false choices in which it only matters to you (the player) which path you chose, as the story really doesn't change. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that much depth at the end of what was otherwise a typical Phoenix Wright over-the-top story line.

In game play, I found myself stuck once for a "pixel hunt" failure, but eventually realized what I had missed, and it was fair. However, I did find myself several times at a loss to see what it was they expected Phoenix to present as evidence. (The same happened with me in the first game.) Usually in these situations, I had something that I throught was reasonable to try, but ended up having to save, try a handful of things at each witness statement, restarting the game, until hitting the magic one.

Also note that there are places where you need to push yet again through points you thought you had worked through. There was at least one spot where I couldn't figure out anything to present and after going through lots of failed tries, I realized that what it wanted instead was for you to press more.

All-in-all, I like the story line of the second game better than the first, but I still really enjoyed the extra controls provided in the add-on case at the end of the first, and was mildly disappointed that some of that wasn't carried into this one.

Part of Pheonix Wright 4 is available in Flash format. Only caveat, it's in japanese.

I just finished this game, and I was struck at how much darker it is than the first one, especially in the final case. (And considering this is a series about murder trials, that's saying something.) Not a witnessing parrot in sight, this go around - everything's much more disturbing.

That being said, the game really picks up as time goes on, until the final case - where I hope you've set aside a weekend like I did to finish everything up. I literally have not been able to put down the DS for the past six hours (I even spilled water all over the floor trying to get a drink from the sink one-handed! :)) I really need sleep. And of course, Phoenix Wright 3. Right now.