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In 2005, Capcom released a game that was virtually unknown in the US called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (called Gyakuten Saiban in Japan) for the Nintendo DS. You played as a defense attorney named Phoenix Wright (Ryuuichi Naruhodou) as he defended various clients to prove their innocence, defeat the prosecution, and find the real culprit by examining evidence and reading between the lines of witness testimonies. The game was a port of a GBA game that came out in Japan back in 2001, and the DS version featured a bonus case that made use of the touch screen. In a market where non-stop action games are favored, Capcom made a bold move to localize the game for a mostly new audience to the genre. Surprisingly, the game became a critical success and sold well enough to exceed initial supply. It became popular enough for Capcom to localize another game in the series entitled Justice For All, which hit stores last month.
In Justice For All, you reprise your role as everyone's favorite defense attorney in four brand-spanking new cases. The first case starts off with Phoenix awakening from a bizarre dream. While he was in a daze, a mysterious man hit him in the back of the head with a fire extinguisher, knocking him out. Shortly after, he wakes up confused and wonders what's going on. Suddenly, a woman named Maggey Byrde tells Phoenix to get ready to go into the courtroom. It seems Ms. Byrde has been charged with the murder of her boyfriend Dustin Prince and Phoenix had promised to defend her. Strangely, Phoenix does not recall any of that or even saying he will be her lawyer. A trial for a serious case is about to start and our ace attorney has amnesia! Not a very comforting thought, is it? With decisive evidence against the defendant, concrete opposing testimonies, a mediocre prosecutor on the opposition, and now this bout of amnesia, how will Phoenix prevail?!
The premise of the case is a clever way to introduce a new player to the play mechanics. Luckily, Maggey is something of a Phoenix Wright fangirl and teaches him the court basics such as accessing the court record, cross-examination, presenting evidence, pressing on testimony statements, and more.
The plot structure of the game follows a very similar formula to the first game with each following a certain theme listed below:
Case 1: Learning the ropes (again)
While the basic premise is familiar, each case feels fresh and exciting. Each case is more complex than the last, and the story will always keep you guessing. A lot of characters from the first game have returned, new characters have been added, and all are quite colorful. Though our old friend Edgeworth is in the game, the main prosecutor is none other than Von Karma's daughter Franziska. With her sharp wits and trusty whip, she will (literally)lash out at any opposing forces (namely Phoenix). The story itself takes on a bit of a darker tone than its predecessor. You still get a lot of goofy moments, but there are a lot more shades of gray among the characters and plot. Unlike the previous game where the characters were simply black and white in terms of good or evil, there are a number of complex characters who maintain good poker faces. There is also a lot of insight as to why Phoenix is a defense attorney and his personal beliefs on what justice means. The line between right and wrong is a lot more blurred in this installment.
As with the first game, Capcom managed to do a superb localization. While different from the Japanese original, the script is still sharp, witty, and enjoyable to read. It also has a lot of American pop culture references such as "You're the man now, doll!" or "well excuuuuuuuuuuuse me princess" or "Zoinks! It's an alien." There is even a slightly altered rewrite of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. All the references fit well with the script, and pay homage to many classic lines. There are a lot more typos and grammatical errors than in the first game, but unless you are hypersensitive to that, your enjoyment will not be diminished.
There is also a glaring plot hole that is easily noticeable for anyone who played the predecessor. Justice For All contains contradictions from events in the predecessor's bonus case. The scriptwriters should have fixed that when it was being ported to the DS, but it's nothing too serious.
Graphics are exactly the same as the previous game, which isn't really a bad thing. Some new character designs, animation, scenery and photos add some freshness to the game. None of the returning characters, except one, look much different than before. The presentation is still good, and the emotions characters portray are still solid, especially when something goes wrong. The graphics certainly do not push the DS hardware even remotely close to its limits, but it works for what it is.
The control scheme is familiar too, but still excellent, making great use of the DS' dual screens. The top screen is where all the action occurs while the bottom consists of menus and enables you to look around when examining an area. The interface is very simple and intuitive, ensuring that the player has easy access to what he/she needs. The controls themselves are simplistic, letting you easily switch between either using the touch screen or D-pad and buttons. The optional voice recognition can sometimes be unresponsive though. Aside from that minor hiccup, controls are superb.
The gameplay also remains mostly unchanged. As usual, the game is split into two parts: the investigation part and the courtroom part. The investigation part is where you go through various areas questioning people, gathering evidence, and basically building your case. You can also examine the scenery to sometimes find clues to help you with your case. These segments are where most of the story occurs.
The other part is the courtroom sessions where you use everything you've obtained during your investigation to ensure that your client is not guilty. As a defense attorney, you cross-examine a witness' testimony to find any contradictions. You do so by pressing on statements to try and obtain extra information, and if you find a contradiction, you present the right evidence to expose it. If you mess up, you get penalized; and too many mistakes results a game over.
A new health system in the game replaces the 5-strike rule. The health bar drains depending on how badly Phoenix screws up. Unfortunately, you do not recover health during breaks. The only way to recover it occurs during investigation.
Along with a new health system, there are a couple of new features in the game.
Presenting Profiles- Profiles can now be presented in court and during investigations. This used to make someone talk about another person or to debunk contradictions.
Psyche-Locks- A lot of the people you talk to have secrets they keep locked up, and these secrets hold vital information to the cases. Phoenix eventually gains the ability to see these locks, and these locks can be broken down using the right evidence and profiles. If you unlock them all, you will be able to recover a portion of your health bar. This is the only way to recover health.
The cases themselves are longer, a lot harder, are require you to pay attention to many small details in order to succeed. Testimonies are much harder to crack, but the ability to save any time allows some trial and error play. Unfortunately, the touch-screen features from the final case of the first game are absent here. I missed being able to examine evidence from all angles or detect a person's fingerprint. The reason for this is that the team who did that bonus level in the predecessor are working on the fourth game in the series which should be released in Japan later this year. This absence did give a bit of a dent to the gameplay department, but what we were given is good enough.
Unfortunately, The music took a bit of a nosedive as well. Most of the original music has been replaced in the new installment, and while most of it is fine listening, it lacked a lot of drama, especially during courtroom scenes. Gone is the suspenseful, thrilling music when cross-examining a witness, especially when you have the witness on the ropes. The new music has some degree of suspense, but it's not as thrilling as the first game's music.
Sound effects remain the same with no new additions. It's still engaging when you shout out "Hold it!," "Take that!" and the now famous "Objection!" during appropriate moments. While there is no need to say them, it just makes the experience more fun! Just don't start shouting any of those phrases in public unless you like attention.
The final verdict? The sequel is more of the same, but is that such a bad thing? While it has its faults such as weaker music and missing gameplay elements, I had a blast playing the game. Though the previous game was more enjoyable because the concept felt more fresh at the time, Justice For All is still a very worthy sequel. This game is definitely worth checking out, and be sure to check out the previous game as well. Here's hoping sales will be good enough to warrant the localization of future installments.