Sunday, February 10, 2008

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice For All

For those who still haven't discovered the magic of Phoenix Wright, you'll be glad to know that your entire life to date has been shallow and without meaning. For everyone else, Justice For All provides four more well-told courtroom whodunnits while leaving the basic Phoenix Wright formula completely unchanged.

Justice For All is Wright's second Nintendo DS adventure, and like its predecessor it's really only an English-language port of a Japanese GameBoy title. This release has most of the extra quirks that the last DS game did, such as the ability to use the microphone to shout "Objection!", and basic touchscreen control, but unlike the last Phoenix Wright this time there are no bonus cases or touchscreen-based forensics to engage in.

At their heart the Ace Attorney games are really just murder mysteries, set in a courtroom. You're the defence attorney for someone accused of murder, and thanks to the highly unlikely mechanics of the world's legal system the only way for you to exonerate your client is to collar and prosecute the real criminal within the statutory deadline of three days. Each case is made up of a series of chapters, which alternate between "investigation", where you interview bystanders and search areas for clues, and the courtroom, where you cross-examine witnesses and present evidence.

As in the last game, the courtroom sections are more fun than the investigations, but it's a closer race this time, partly due to the quality of the writing, and partly due to the game's sole new mechanic, the "psyche-lock". Occasionally when you meet characters you'll discern that they're carrying a secret, represented by a lock-and-chain motif, and if you can guess the majority of their secret by presenting them with relevant evidence they'll crack and tell you the rest. It's really not all that different from just regular questioning, but it ably serves to spice up the proceedings by the small amount that the game needed.

The graphics are mostly recycled from the last game and consist of cartoony animations and still frames. The music too is a rehash from the original, but that's really a good thing because it means the series' iconic courtroom music survives intact.

Those frustrated by the last game's poorly-written final case will be pleased to know that everything on offer here is logical and well-constructed; although you'll occasionally feel stuck, it will rarely be as a result of poor puzzle design or a confusing input system.

Justice For All is really little more than an interactive story, so naturally the game stands or falls on the quality of its writing, which thankfully is of a generally high standard here. The quality of the individual cases does vary, though. The first two are rather weak, the third is better but kind of out there, and the fourth and final case is blow-your-mind fantastic. I mean that - it's excellent. The game is worth buying just for that last case.

If you haven't played the original game yet, you'll probably want to play that first as the sequel has a fair amount of story continuity. However, if you've already played and enjoyed Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney then there's really no good reason not to pick up Justice For All.

No comments: