Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All

Introduction

Upon its release in 2001, Turnabout Trial became a success in Japan, quickly amassing a strong following. Once Capcom finished development, Shu Takumi was told by his boss, Shinji Mikami, that they should make a trilogy with the third game ending in a grand finale to provide closure for all of the lingering plot threads. When Mr. Takumi returned to work from his vacation, the game’s producer, Atsushi Inaba, called him to a meeting. He told Mr. Takumi that he wanted a script for five episodes, allotting him three and a half months to finish it. As Mr. Takumi took a little more than a month to write each of the four episodes of the original Turnabout Trial, he was well within his rights to declare such a notion “completely insane”. To make matters worse, he felt he did not have any more gimmicks with which to formulate any mysteries, nor did he believe there to be any story threads he could expand upon.

Though he wanted to protest, the minute he returned to his desk, he drafted a work schedule. He gave himself two and a half months to write the dialogue for the entire game, with the remaining time being used to create the prototype and conceive gimmicks for each episode. Though a lot of doubt understandably weighed on his mind during the development cycle, he was miraculously able to meet the deadline. The only issue is that because he had run into memory issues, one of the episodes had to be cut from the final product. Despite a few minor setbacks, the game, entitled Turnabout Trial 2, was released in October of 2002 for the Game Boy Advance – roughly one year after the debut of the original.

A few years later in October of 2005, Turnabout Trial, under the localized title of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit through positive word of mouth. Such was the degree of its success that demand greatly exceeded supply. Cards became difficult to find, selling for double the average retail price on online auction websites. With the knowledge that the series had an overseas audience, Capcom allowed their localization team to work on an English version. As was the case with the original, the sequel had received a port on Nintendo’s then-newest console: the DS. Renamed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, the port saw separate releases in North America, Europe, and Australia in 2007. Justice for All was generally as well-received as its predecessor, and continued the franchise’s surprise success. Does it measure up to the strong series debut?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for this game and the series thus far.

A few months have passed since the events of the original Ace Attorney. Skilled defense attorney Phoenix Wright has been hired by a chronically unlucky police officer named Maggey Byrde. She has been accused of murdering her boyfriend, Dustin Prince, and it is up to Phoenix to acquit her. Unfortunately, just before the trial is about to begin, Phoenix is struck on the head by an unknown assailant, rendering him an amnesiac. Despite being unable to remember his name or what his profession entailed, the trial begins with judge refusing to accept any excuses for why it cannot continue.

Those fresh off of Phoenix Wright will instantly recognize the gameplay after the protagonist walks out of the lobby. In fact the similarities are so apparent, you’ll notice familiar character sprites, and the courtroom itself has the exact same design. This wasn’t just to save time developing assets; because he didn’t want the first game to seem outdated compared to its sequels, Mr. Takumi elected to reuse the same sprite animation for all returning characters along with any backdrops from reoccurring locations.

It’s fairly obvious that Phoenix’s case of amnesia wasn’t just written into the plot for dramatic effect. The original’s introductory episode served a tutorial for the game. Integrating dialogue into the tutorial was a well-received development, so Mr. Takumi made it a point to include a similar situation in Justice for All. Obviously, having the judge and his mentor helping someone who had gained a lot of experience in the span of one year wouldn’t make any sense from a storytelling standpoint. Therefore, he was placed in this situation in order to justify the presence of a tutorial.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the plot point itself. On one hand, I like how they implemented a tutorial in a way that melds with the narrative. Indeed, one touch I like is that Phoenix does not recover his memory in the stereotypical fashion of getting struck on the head a second time. Instead, he triggers memories through familiar inputs, which is a bit more realistic than most takes on the amnesia plot. Unfortunately, not only is it a rather convoluted idea to begin with, I question the point of a tutorial in a game that’s intended to be a continuation of an ongoing narrative.

Regardless, the first episode does a good job introducing the game’s core mechanics. The session begins with the prosecutor stating the charges against your defendant, submitting evidence to strengthen his case. Soon thereafter, he calls his first witness to the stand: the lead detective, Dick Gumshoe.

Once a witness has given their testimony, you are then given the opportunity to cross examine them. To simplify this process, the witness will repeat their testimony, and you can cycle through the relevant statements at your leisure.

Your goal when doing this is to search for any contradictions between their statements and the evidence in the court record. Though such actions would carry severe ramifications in the real world, witnesses will often lie either to save face or to cover their tracks. An inept liar will make things worse for themselves by making a statement that seems on the level only to run into problems when asked to elaborate. Dick Gumshoe himself has no reason to lie, and you could merely wind up looking for factual errors or misinterpretations of the evidence in future cases as well.

Whatever the case may be, as soon as you find a contradiction, you can present evidence that directly conflicts with the statement. To do this, you bring the statement up, open the court record, and select the correct item. In a given testimony, there is typically only one contradiction to find, though later ones may have you present multiple pieces of evidence to advance. Character profiles were introduced in the previous game alongside the court record, but in this installment, they can be presented as well. This gives you an extra incentive to know the players in a given case, as even seemingly trivial discrepancies such as simple spelling mistakes can help unravel the mystery. In this series, you generally don’t acquit clients by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they couldn’t have committed the murder, but rather through exposing the true culprit. Every killer has a unique animation as they break down on the stand, so you will know when you’re about to win.

After regaining his memories, Phoenix recalls having defended Maya Fey, the younger sister of his late mentor, several months prior to the game’s beginning. After the events of the original game, Maya had returned to her hometown of Kurain Village. The women of her clan have the ability to channel the spirits of the deceased, and she wished to further her training. Sometime during the previous year, a malpractice incident occurred at the Grey Surgical Clinic, resulting in the deaths of fourteen patients. A nurse was blamed for having mixed up medications, but before any disciplinary action could be taken, she perished in a car accident. Rumors spread that the clinic’s director, Turner Grey, had been responsible for both the malpractice incident and the nurse’s demise, causing any would-be patients to avoid going there. Grey wished to hire Maya Fey so she could channel the nurse to clear his name. Because this would be her first time performing such a service for a stranger, she agrees under the stipulation that she is allowed to see Phoenix again.

While the ritual is being performed, Phoenix and a tourist hear two gunshots. He manages to break down the Channeling Chamber’s door, and there he discovers the doctor in a pool of his own blood. It appeared that the spirit Maya channeled took revenge from beyond the grave by murdering Grey. After the police are called, Maya is arrested for murder. While investigating the incident, Phoenix is informed by Dick Gumshoe that the district attorney is “Prosecutor von Karma”. The defense attorney is shocked over the idea that Manfred von Karma could be prosecuting a case before Gumshoe informs him he is referring to the legendary prosecutor’s daughter, Franziska. She is a prodigy who began her career abroad at age thirteen and has never lost a case.

Franziska’s introduction marks a development that would become routine for the franchise. Originally, Miles Edgeworth, who was the prosecutor for most of the first game’s cases, would reprise his role in Justice for All. This changed when the character had become unexpectedly popular. Mr. Takumi intended Edgeworth to be tragic, yet unlikeable, but the events of the DL-6 Incident caused fans to sympathize with him to a greater extent than intended. Also feeling that it wouldn’t make any sense for a genius prosecutor to lose every trial, Mr. Takumi created Franziska von Karma so she could serve as Phoenix’s rival for this installment. This would carry over into later installments with each of them having a different prosecutor.

As Phoenix investigates Turner Grey’s murder, he happens upon the younger cousin of Maya, Pearl Fey. Maya had given Phoenix an item known as a magatama, saying that Pearl would help him if he presented it to her. When he does give her the artifact, she infuses it with spiritual energy, allowing him to see Psyche-Locks.

These mental barriers manifest whenever a person Phoenix is speaking with has a secret to hide. A greater desire to hide a secret is represented by a greater number of locks. The connotation is that if one or two appear, the secret is relatively minor revelation. Meanwhile, if five appear, you can be sure that what this person is keeping secret will turn the case on its head when revealed.

To get a person to discuss the subject, you must present evidence to contradict the lies they tell in an attempt to cover their tracks. Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to answer questions correctly to advance. Once all of the locks are broken, the witness will tell you what you need to know. You would do well to take caution, as incorrect conclusions will damage the credibility bar. Phoenix is warned that using the magatama improperly will cause his soul to shatter, but this isn’t an issue. If the bar is drained, he must simply restart his questioning. It’s still not wise to guess at random, for successfully breaking the locks is the only method with which you can restore the credibility bar. In other words, the penalties you incur in court will carry over to the investigation phases and vice versa.

All in all, even if by most standards, Justice for All could be thought of as a token sequel, I still have to give Mr. Takumi credit for throwing in enough new ideas to keep the series fresh. The magatama makes the investigation phases more dynamic by making players truly consider the evidence as they’re collecting it. This is a welcome change from the original game’s approach wherein you would just exhaust all of the dialogue options and tap every point of interest on a given screen until you were allowed to proceed.

From a story standpoint, I also enjoy the fact that there’s a new prosecutor. I especially like the direction in which they took Franziska’s character. Among Phoenix’s other notable accomplishments in the original game, he ended Manfred von Karma’s 40-year winning streak by handing him two back-to-back defeats on the same day. The latter victory culminated in Manfred being found guilty of murder, and his death came about sometime between then and the beginning of the second case. For most of the game, her sheer determination to defeat Phoenix Wright in court leads both himself and the player to conclude that she wants to avenge her father. However, it’s eventually revealed that she has no interest in doing so; instead, she wishes to surpass her fellow protégé, Miles Edgeworth, by defeating the defense attorney he couldn’t.

Admittedly, despite all of these interesting ideas, I have to point out that the game’s quality is rather inconsistent. A lot of this has to do with how the plot is structured. In the original game, the DL-6 Incident was alluded to in the second episode before becoming fully relevant in the fourth. By contrast, in Justice for All, the episodes have a lack of cohesion. The only similarity between them is the main cast, meaning that the overall plot doesn’t really build to anything. The first game had a villain who served as the main antagonist for the story as a whole, as everything bad that happened could be traced back to him. For this installment, the fourth episode’s culprit is the main antagonist simply by virtue of being the final obstacle the heroes must overcome; until then, he was a non-entity.

A minor irritation is that the credibility bar can only be refilled by breaking psyche locks. No matter how observational you might be, chances are good that you will run into a point where you won’t know the right answer to proceed in a cross examination. Alternatively, you might know the answer, yet be at a loss when it comes to using the interface to express it properly. Either way, mistakes are punished harshly in this game, with basic errors taking away 20% of the gauge. To make things worse, the meter isn’t replenished between sessions. Depending on whether you’re playing on the Game Boy Advance or the DS, this aspect either makes the game frustrating to play or is entirely pointless. The difference between them is that you can only suspend the game in the original version. Meanwhile, though the DS port uses the word “suspend”, it’s actually a permanent save, meaning you can continue from that point or the beginning of the session.

When Phoenix Wright was localized, the localization team changed the setting from Japan to Los Angeles. The team attempted to justify the odd court system by stating that the game takes place in 2016 – eleven years ahead of its real-life international debut. This was a serviceable explanation, and the characters who were the most overtly Japanese didn’t seem out of place compared to anyone else’s stylized designs. The introduction of Kurain Village is when this change became slightly untenable. The game wants us to believe that there is a traditional Japanese village only one train ride away from Los Angeles. This is something of a point of contention among fans, though unlike most similar instances, they usually just limit themselves to lightly teasing the changes rather than outright hating them. I myself don’t really have a problem with this, as the courtroom sessions were never really grounded in reality to begin with. If a killer strangling himself with his own scarf while somehow simultaneously screaming like a banshee doesn’t ruin my suspension of disbelief, the contradictions that arise from the localization certainly won’t.

One common perception among fans of the Ace Attorney franchise is that the third episode of any given game is the weakest one. The first game’s third episode wasn’t bad by any stretch, as it helped build the universe and would later segue into the finale of Justice for All. Even then, it was the episode with the least amount of relevance to the overarching plot. With that having been said, I feel this game contributed the most to people believing in the third episode jinx, as I believe it to the absolute worst in the entire series.

It takes place in a circus, and discounting mainstays, there’s not a single witness who isn’t insufferable or unlikable in some capacity. The defendant assaulted one of his colleagues with a glass bottle, there’s a clown who tells painfully unfunny jokes, and the whole plot is brought about due to a particularly egregious bout of carelessness. Exacerbating matters is that cross-examining said clown can result in you getting penalized for pressing the wrong statements – a rule that isn’t enforced in most situations. It all amounts to a case where the only likable character is the victim, whom you never meet alive.

Fortunately, if you can make it past the third episode, you’re rewarded with a solid finale in the form of Farewell, My Turnabout. One reason why it’s so good is because it marks the return of Miles Edgeworth. The final two episodes of the original game left Edgeworth distressed and confused, having witnessed his mentor’s true colors and learning he unknowingly presented forged evidence in a murder trial dubbed the SL-9 Incident. Shortly thereafter, he left a note reading “Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth chooses death”. In reality, he left the country to discover what being a prosecutor truly meant.

Though this wasn’t what Mr. Takumi originally intended, I really enjoyed watching his character evolve and become more dedicated to finding the truth rather than winning for its own sake.

This by itself is a good reason to like the episode, but it’s not the reason most people would cite when singing praises of it. The plot involves a television star named Juan Corrida being discovered dead in his hotel room. During the commotion, Maya gets kidnapped, and Phoenix is informed by an anonymous caller that a terrible fate will befall her unless he helps acquit the prime suspect. The defendant in this episode is Matt Engarde, another television star who regularly edges out Juan in popularity.

What makes this episode shine is just how much it plays with the formula. Even if Justice for All happens to be one’s introduction to the series, the average player will know what to expect in a typical Ace Attorney episode. A crime occurs, a suspect is arrested, Phoenix acts as their defense attorney, he investigates the scene, and the matter is ultimately settled in court. There, he uses the evidence to expose the killer, making them break down on the stand. In Farewell, My Turnabout, that moment never occurs. When he confronts a suspicious person who manipulated the crime scene, her motivation was to cast suspicion onto Matt. However, though she indeed wanted to frame Matt, it wasn’t a ploy to draw attention away from herself. Instead, she wished to expose Matt for what he truly was: a manipulative sociopath who is guilty of hiring an assassin to kill Juan.

Up until this point, you were always led to believe that the defendant can be trusted. If they’re hiding things from you, it’s out of embarrassment or because they’re being forced to lie under duress. This is reinforced further in Justice for All with the introduction of the magatama. After all, if the defendant is covering up the fact that they killed someone, Psyche-Locks would appear. In this case, Matt is only technically telling the truth in that he personally didn’t kill anyone, but he’s still guilty due to having purposely brought about Juan’s death. From here, Phoenix finds himself in a Morton’s Fork scenario – either he allows a horrible person to walk free or he loses the case, thus dooming Maya. Even when Maya manages to tell Phoenix not to let Matt get away with his crime, the situation clearly takes its toll on him.

It’s plain to see why this scenario remains a fan favorite. It deconstructs the series’ very premise and even uses its newly introduced mechanic in a clever way so as to mislead the player. Even then, I have to say that as great as it is, there was one minor execution issue. Specifically, the final trial involves not attempting to win, but rather to stall for as long as possible until the police can catch the assassin Matt hired. You’re made to defend an immoral person, but because you don’t actually want him to receive a “Not Guilty” verdict, that extra incentive to win is lost. As such, you’re not actively attempting to unravel the villain’s plot, but rather passively waiting for it to resolve on its own. Only at the very end of the episode do you get to make a decision that will decide the fate of everyone involved, but you have to wade past a particularly drawn-out sequence to reach it.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Mostly likable characters
  • Psyche locks make investigation phases more dynamic
  • Creative story
  • Simple, yet effective presentation
  • Good blend of silliness and seriousness
  • Unique gameplay
  • |Strong final episode|
Cons:

  • Disconnected plot
  • Somewhat short
  • Boring music compared to predecessor
  • Credibility bar doesn’t refill between sessions
  • |Insufferable third episode|
  • |Somewhat drawn-out ending|

Have you ever bought a music album simply based off of the superb singles promoting it only to realize that the rest of the tracks range anywhere from average outright unlistenable? If so, I think that’s the most accurate experience to which I could liken playing Justice for All. For a more introspective comparison, I think the closest work I could equate it to would be Live A Live in that the endgame is not only incontestably the best part, it’s arguably the only good thing about it. Everything leading up to it lacks cohesion, and though the second episode introduced many important plot elements, the first and third ones were forgettable and memorable for the wrong reasons respectively. Justice for All is usually considered by fans to be the weakest game in the initial trilogy, and it’s easy to see why.

How much enjoyment you will get out of Justice for All depends on whether or not you’re willing to stick with it to the end. The good news is that the game isn’t long, so playing it doesn’t require a particularly taxing investment of your time. Indeed, because the events of one episode prove vital to the series’ mythos, skipping it in favor of its sequel is not recommended. At the end of the day, Justice for All is not a game you should purchase alone. My suggestion is to get this alongside its predecessor and sequel – whether it’s by purchasing the cards individually or via the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy compilation. Shu Takumi wasn’t afforded nearly as much time to create Justice for All, and though it does show signs of having been rushed, it’s still a decent game overall that will reward anyone tenacious enough to complete it.

Final Score: 6/10

14 thoughts on “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All

    • I actually really like the series as well. To give you an idea, Justice for All ranks 6th in the series overall in my book. So far, I’ve played all six titles from the main series and the two Investigation titles, and I feel this one, though far from my favorite, is at least better than Apollo Justice or the first Investigations. I’ll definitely go into more detail when I get to them.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I would rank that one above Apollo Justice, but below Justice for All and possibly the first Investigations game. I actually reviewed the crossover quite awhile ago, so I’ll just say that though I thought it was decent, I think the two gameplay styles lacked synergy, and the ending was drawn out too much for not enough payoff.

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          • I reviewed it as well. The ending was too Layton-styled for its own good. You know what I mean? Those grand “it was this all along” things instead of a logical resolve as in Ace Attorney games…

            My biggest wish is that they do this again but learn from the feedback given from the articles.

            To be honest, I adore the series so much I would be unable to rank them or say which one is my least fav.

            If I must, I found that in Dual Destinies were the most things I disliked, but Investigations 2 felt too much focused on the events of one case making all cases bleed into one… I guess it depends on the mood I am when you ask me.

            Btw, one thing I can say for sure is that the cirsus one is one of my least favorite cases, period. (Not saying its a bad one, just the weakest of the whole series)

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    • Thank you! It is an excellent series; I will be reviewing the other games later this year, so I’ll definitely expand my thoughts on each installment when I get to them. Justice for All may be one of the weaker games, but I felt it was still worth playing for the most part. For that matter, even the weakest game in the series isn’t outright bad, as there was still plenty to like about it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy compiles the first three games in the series. The series has had its ups and downs over the years, but I feel it’s worth experiencing from beginning to end. Hope you end up liking it!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Most other series, this sequel would be way too samey for my tastes, not building enough off the previous ones. But I just love the base Phoenix Wright so much. Even if it’s basically an expansion pack, I’m still way into it.

    That said, this is still one of my least favorite Ace Attorney games. The final case is magic, but everything leading up to it is just so utterly forgettable, it’s hard to salvage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the only time you can really get away with making what is technically a token sequel is if you’re offering a wholly unique experience (and even then, you have pitch enough new ideas to avoid stagnation). The Ace Attorney series has pulled if off successfully, but I would be tougher on, say, the Call of Duty franchise because how many first-person military shooters are there that have pretty much the same gameplay?

      Anyway, Justice for All strikes me as one of the weaker games in the series as well (the boring music doesn’t help). I wouldn’t quite say it’s the series’ nadir (or even that the series’ nadir is actually bad), but you have to wade through two garbage episodes in order to reach the only salvageable one. The second episode does have a good payoff in the next game, hence why I wasn’t as tough on it, but I feel Turnabout Big Top stands to this day as the absolute worst episode in the series’ history – it’s one of the few I would go as far as calling outright bad. What doesn’t help is how self-contained all the episodes are; Matt is considered the game’s main antagonist simply because he happens to be the antagonist of the final episode rather than because he influenced the events of the entire game in some way.

      Liked by 1 person

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