Justice for All brings back the Ace Attorney formula with stories and writing that are better than ever.
Justice for All has players going through four cases as the famous defense attorney Phoenix Wright. His rookie days from the first game are in the past and now with his assistant Maya Fey by his side, he has to face the hardest trials yet and go against the ruthless and seemingly perfect prosecutor Franziska von Karma.
The gameplay portion of the game occurs in two phases: the investigation phase which plays out like a pixel hunter and information gathering phase, and the courtroom phases which acts as an opportunity to listen to witnesses and present the information and evidence that has been gathered to the courtroom expose the real villain. The gameplay mechanics haven't changed much compared to the first game but it's still better in some aspects. A new "Psyche-Lock" feature allows you to perform a sort of interrogation on characters who are lying or hiding something is introduced here. Character profiles can also be presented as evidence and the game is more difficult compared to the first which makes things more satisfying. So in reality, the game technically hasn't been changed much and that isn't a bad thing as the mechanics worked well in the first game and the new added touches are a welcome addition.
As a visual novel adventure game though, the most important aspect of this game is providing an interesting narrative and storyline and it does very well in that regard. The first case which acts as a tutorial level does its job well. It's simple, has a few shocking plot twists, and finding contradictions (one of the game mechanics) is pretty easy for the most part. It also serves as a nice welcome for those new to the games. It is the rest of the cases in which the plot and narrative really have a chance to shine though. Not only did the localization team do a brilliant job with the script by making it humorous and making sure that each character had unique mannerisms and ways of speaking to give them different personalities but the schemes and crimes committed by the villains are all very well-woven and planned out that picking away at it and revealing the mysteries are made more satisfying than ever before. The character development is very well done giving the characters a very lifelike personality despite really being sprites in the end and the writing overall is quite an improvement over this game's predecessor in terms of being more mature (as the first game had a bit of a childlike sense of humour).
I do have a few minor complaints about the way the game executes the story though. I for one felt that the game's structure is very episodic making it feel like each case is unrelated to the other. The previous game was very good at constructing an overall arc which all the cases (well, except for the 3rd one) could contribute to which honestly gave the game a better feel and overall theme compared to having each case disjointed from one another. Also, not as much character development was given to the mainstay major characters in this game. Almost all the huge plot revelations to some characters like Franziska von Karma happen towards the end of the game and throughout the rest, it's the minor characters that get the spotlight. That isn't necessarily a bad thing however since some of these characters are very interesting and crafty but it makes this game feel a bit more forgettable since most of them don't appear again. Also, unlike the first game out for the DS, this doesn't have any bonus cases or any added content whatsoever added specifically for the DS version which some people might find disappointing. Still, these complaints don't really get in the way of the game's excellent writing, storylines, and dialogue that much and if you don't mind these flaws then the game will be all the more enjoyable.
This game makes some slight improvements when it comes to the graphics. The character sprites of the new character look much more detailed and smooth compared to some of the characters of the original game. More colour variation and shading is used for emphasizing detail on the sprites instead of pixelated lines which makes a minor but noticeable improvement. Sadly, the returning characters from the first game don't get the same treatment and look rather out of place because of it. Several environments have also been recycled but it honestly makes sense considering how these areas are being revisited (such as Phoenix Wright's own law office and the detention centre) and many new environments have also been made which mixes things up once in a while. The graphics overall have improved slightly which is nice and hold up well thanks to the colorful and beautiful character sprites and new environments but it still felt like more effort could've been put into this certain aspect of the game.
One of the more notable things about the first game was the sound design. The sound effects, while always over exaggerated, were always very solid and helped increase the tension and feel in the courtroom and during investigations. The music was also done very well with different tracks serving their purpose by having lots of variety. As much as certain fans think that Justice for All's soundtrack and overall audio was weaker compared to the first game, I must disagree. While I was disappointed with some tracks (the Objection theme in this one doesn't quite convey the same triumphant and epic feeling compared to the original one), the music is still very solid and some even surpass the music from the original game. There are many moments where there was a ridiculous amount of tension and realization being conveyed and the music really helped set the mood. Justice for All also contains some of the stronger Reminiscence tracks which have been renowned throughout the series. There really isn't much to complain about when it comes to the audio and as long as you don't set the bar too high when it comes to expectations for it, you definitely won't be disappointed.
In the end, Justice for All is a great game. It takes the winning formula of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and improves upon it quite a few ways delivering a somewhat lengthy and fun Ace Attorney adventure. Still, this is one of the weaker entries in the series thanks to some questionable choices on the developers' part. Some may argue that it's just as good, if not better, than the original but it just doesn't have that extra push that sequels need to surpass their predecessors in terms of having an amazing and "better than ever" feel (the third game on the other hand…). Still, for anyone who loved the original game, I'd recommend this. It may not be the most memorable entry in the Ace Attorney series but it's still a great adventure game that deserves to be experienced.
+ Great writing, localization team did a great job
+ Plots behind each case are smarter and more difficult than ever
+ Both new and old characters have very colorful and appealing personalities
+ Audio design is done very well
+ New characters sprites look very smooth and detailed
+ Stays true to the formula of the original game while adding a few new features
- Cases might be too difficult for some and require huge amounts of logic
- Recycled sprites can look out of place
- No bonus case or added content
- Less memorable compared to its predecessor