Import Review: So over the top, Al Pacino would be proud.
Two-dimensional fighters, shoot-?em-ups, and point-and-click adventure games all share an unfortunate attribute. They're dying. In Japan they still enjoy a degree of popularity, but not so overseas. However, the adventure genre seems to have been given the kiss of life on the DS, with games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. There have been three reprints of the game since its 2005 release. Who would have thought a game in which you play as a lawyer could garner such demand? Then again, Katamari Damacy was about rolling stuff up into a ball. Due to the game's success, Capcom decided to release this sequel, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney ? Justice for All. It's a region free port of the GBA version that allows switching the language from Japanese to English. Christmas has come early for you importers out there.
In the near future the justice system has been revamped. Trials can take up to only three days and defendants appear to be considered guilty before proven innocent. Like many courtroom dramas of the media, there are surprise witnesses, evidence, turnabouts, and?ghosts? Welcome to the world of Phoenix Wright.
Series' newcomers are not going to be thrown immediately to the wolves in the first case. As Phoenix Wright, the ever-extraordinary defense attorney, you receive a fire extinguisher to the back of the head by a dapper, and clearly wicked, stranger. Phoenix wakes up and doesn't remember a thing. Unfortunately for Phoenix this happens moments before the trial for a police officer accused of murdering a fellow badge. Talk about terrible luck. I mean, for Phoenix. You, on the other hand, will be given a crash course of how to play the game. It's a beneficial introduction and I can only wonder what other plot devices they'll end up using for the beginning of later games.
Since Justice for All is basically a series of mysteries to be solved, I'll refrain from delving too much into the cases. As stated previously, Case One is about an officer's murder. Case Two is a sort of obligatory ?locked-room mystery? with a supernatural twist. Case Three brings Phoenix to the circus, where the ring master appears to have been murdered by the star magician. In Case Four the actor Matt Engarde, also known as the Nickel Samurai, is arrested for the murder of his rival, Juan Corrida, the Jammin' Ninja (Case Three of Ace Attorney anyone?), with stakes raised by kidnappings and assassins. Yes, there are only four cases, compared to Ace Attorney's five. There is no extra case with real use of the touch screen here. Disappointing, but I suppose we should be grateful the series is actually being localized.
In Justice for All the main cast of Ace Attorney returns (like Maya and Dick Gumshoe), as do a few of the minor ones (Winston Payne, Wendy Oldbag). Making their first appearances (aside from characters in individual cases) are Pearl Fey and Franziska von Karma. Pearl is the eight-year-old cousin of Maya who has the ability to channel spirits and packs an active imagination to boot. Franziska von Karma? If you can recall back to Ace Attorney, there was a certain prosecutor who had the same surname. Prepare to meet his fiery-tempered daughter. She followed in her father's footsteps at age thirteen and spent five years in Germany with a perfect prosecution record. It seems Franziska arrived from abroad with a grudge against a certain defense attorney?
It's pretty obvious by now that the Phoenix Wright series isn't exactly realistic. A lawyer who does more investigation than the police? Abusive, whip-cracking prosecutors? With that said, adventure games live and die by their plot and characters, so be glad to hear that Justice for All is as excellent as ever with its frantic situations. I think the pacing is even better in this one than the original, as time is divided up between investigations and the courtroom more effectively. However, in terms of actual plot content, Justice for All feels less gripping. That is not to say that it's wishy-washy; it's just not as intriguing as the first. This is probably because the cases in Ace Attorney were more personal. The main storyline involves the absence of prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, foil to Phoenix, and the very reason he became a defense attorney. However this story does not come to the forefront until Case Four. Replacing him as the primary adversary is Franziska. She doesn't compare to Edgeworth as a rival nor is she as insidious as Manfred von Karma. Still, Franziska is wonderfully hostile with her tendency to harass anyone with her whip. It's really a good thing the cast has such gusto, because the actual mysteries aren't anything to get too excited about. Again, you must give kudos to the translation team. Sure, there are spelling errors and awkward lines, but the rest of the material makes up for it. Purists may be annoyed by some liberties taken with the original script, but I personally didn't mind. Hey, any game that tosses in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Legend of Zelda references is A-OK in my book. A well-written script goes a long way for me.
That's that for story. Now here's the tough part: the gameplay. After all, you're doing more reading than anything else. The game is separated into two parts: investigation and the courtroom. The investigation process is pretty self-explanatory. You'll wander from area to area, searching for clues that will help you in the upcoming trial. Sometimes you'll see clues, sometimes people will give them to you. This is usually the slower segment, which is then put into overdrive once you hit the court. In the courtroom, witnesses are called to the stand, often against the defendant, and you'll have to pick apart their testimonies by looking for contradictions and presenting evidence to back up your claims. The prosecution then counters your argument, you'll rebut, and so on. It's so excessive it's a delight to see?and it's also close to the same experience in Ace Attorney.
While the fundamentals haven't changed, there are tweaks and small additions. One of the biggest is the use of a ?health bar' of sorts. Penalties now cause varying amounts of damage, meaning there are moments when the entire game can end based on a single piece of evidence. Your health also carries over from trial to investigation, so try not to raise the judge's ire. You can refill it through breaking ?Psyche-locks,? literal locks on the mind of whomever you're talking to. Through a jewel called a Magatama, you'll be able to see these locks and use evidence to wrestle out the truth. Added to the evidence are profiles for characters associated with the respective case. In other words, you've got practically double the amount of evidence on your hands. Kills the guessing game, doesn't it?
All in all, the tweaks do not detract from the game, but they don't enhance by a lot either. The health bar is a good move on the Capcom's part, since Ace Attorney allowed for the player to make mistakes without lasting effect. However, having it refilled by the Psyche-locks is strange, since they need to be broken in order for progress. The clunky interface is more bothersome. The rate the words appear on screen is just too slow and there is no option to make them go faster. Getting around in the investigation scenes is also a bit of a headache due to the fact that the only way for you to reach a certain area is by going through another area. In some parts this makes sense but other times it is illogical. You're telling me the only way to reach the detention center is by first going through Phoenix's office? I understand that this is needed in order to guide the player to certain events but I wish it were done in a less-aggravating fashion.
This brings me to my next point: Justice for All is, like most adventure games, is exceedingly linear. Even if you've figured out the case and want to shove the exonerating evidence Franziska's smirking face, you cannot. Everything needs to be dealt with at the right time. You could be running around during an investigation for hours, unable to progress in the game simply because you didn't present some item to a character. This also means once you've beaten the game, there is no reason to play again unless you want to relive the story. If you have played adventure games, then you know this all too well.
Justice for All has a great production. For a courtroom drama, it's highly animated and colorful. No dourness here; it's all about the Lolita animal tamers and ample-bosomed spirits-of-former-mentors. Never will I tire of seeing testimony scenes with the defense attorney facing down the prosecutor, complete with anime speed lines. Sadly, all the recurring characters don't seem to have any new animations from the original. I'm not sick of Phoenix's ?urk? face yet, but maybe someone out there is. It should be kept in mind that since Justice for All is a touch-enhanced GBA port, that it was not designed to take full advantage of the DS hardware. Still, the graphics and audio are more polished. The music during investigations is vanilla but it rocks in the court and intense circumstances. Likewise the voices are awesome. I know, there are only a couple of sound bites, but they're so compelling I have to mention them. ?OBJECTION!? ?HOLD IT!? You can even use the DS mic to yell it out yourself.