Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All

This is the second of a series of reviews on the Ace Attorney series, and I recommend reading the first one before this. This post will contain spoilers for Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, and all games in the series may be spoiled in the footnotes. Thanks for reading!

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All is actually the first game I played in the series. At the time, I was going through both big anime and murder mystery phases; hearing that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I was a fan of, contained a reference to a murder mystery video game ignited my interest. I bought Justice for All on eBay without having done my due diligence as to the series’ order, and played the game in my trailer (I was starring in a few films back then). I have so many specific memories relating to this game – replaying it I could pinpoint what I was doing during specific moments of gameplay… including shamefully resorting to looking up how to solve the final puzzle.

I think it’s always important to know context when going into a review, so I hope I’ve provided at least a little. Justice for All may not be my favourite game in the series but it is the one I have the most attachment to, and it was able to hook me enough to play the rest of the games in the series at a startling rate (admittedly, there weren’t as many out when I became a fan).


So, let’s talk about the game itself then. The first case, The Lost Turnabout, immediately struggles with the problem of sequelization. In one of his dev blogs, Takumi quotes himself as saying that “A real sequel is a game that allows the player to start with the second game without any problems, but also makes them want to play the first game.” This is a noble idea, but somewhat self-limiting, as this opening case shows.

Amnesia as a plot device is a somewhat fun way to re-tutorialise the mechanics of Ace Attorney, but the main problem is that the case is much too simple. This isn’t to say that the cases in Ace Attorney have to be hugely difficult (although the rest of the game is a stark contrast to this case), but The Lost Turnabout sometimes seems like it’s taking the piss – especially when they introduce the unnecessary plot detail that we’re playing the second day of the trial. The case also borrows some of the clever tricks from The First Turnabout – such as having the final puzzle use the only piece of evidence not yet presented – but I find it harder to give the game the same praise here. It’s true that this all worked in the past, but while it’ll have some charm for new players, Takumi’s theory on writing a sequel fails to take into account those who’ve played the first game.


The initial puzzle of Maggey’s name is amazingly simple, but it does at least serve as a clever way to introduce presenting profiles, which is a mechanic that should have probably been in the first game and feels incredibly natural here. The game makes some good use of it throughout, and presenting profiles becomes the crux of many major case moments, giving some added weight to accusing the culprit.

The case has some strengths, of course – Maggey is a perfectly fun defendant as the gung-ho but accident prone policewoman, but the standout star is “Drifting Virtuoso” Richard Wellington. Wellington is the poor man’s Redd White. He uses the same humongous vocabulary and the same sense of braggadocio but here without anything to back him up. This disconnect between his unfettered pride and his thinly veiled insecurity makes him the perfect first case villain; smug without being threatening. His animations are also surprisingly brutal and effective – that scarf properly looks like it hurts.


The Lost Turnabout isn’t an awful case – it’s short enough to not be too much of a distraction to veteran players, and it has a fun plot gimmick in the form of amnesia and a great villain. But it also feels like retreading the steps of The First Turnabout; what worked there works here, but repeating your success will always lose the factor of novelty that made it so special the first time. I was able to say a lot about The First Turnabout because it had something new to present, but The Lost Turnabout feels slightly empty in comparison.

The game’s second case, Reunion and Turnabout, also returns to familiar ground; much like Turnabout Sisters, the game brings in new elements to investigations, puts Maya in the defendant’s chair, and introduces a new Fey clan member to join Phoenix’s posse.

Maya turns up in The Lost Turnabout as well, and there she gives Phoenix a list of names that acts as decisive evidence against Richard Wellington – a neat parallel between her role here, and Mia’s in Turnabout Sisters that acts as a little shorthand to show Maya’s growth after her training. But in this case, confusingly set prior to The Lost Turnabout, Maya is lumped back into a familiar situation, and in the rest of the game she’s pretty much back to her old self. It maybe doesn’t help that both here and in Farewell, My Turnabout she’s out of action for much of the meat of the cases, but it’s still a shame that Maya’s departure at the end of the last game doesn’t precipitate much change for her here.

Maya’s return introduces the player to Kurain Village, which is the most obviously Japanese element of the series so far. Takumi apparently wrote the first game with localization in mind so Japanese elements were generally avoided. When Justice for All was being worked on, however, he was informed the series would not be making its way to the West, explaining the more explicit Japanese themes and locations in Reunion and Turnabout. Alexander O. Smith, who handled the localization of the first game, had relocated the story to Los Angeles, but when Janet Hsu took over as localization director for Justice for All she had to deal with the consequences of this change. As such, there’s some awkwardness to the increasingly Japan-inspired locations throughout the series, although never so much that it becomes a major fault.


The appearance of Kurain Village is also the first time the series allows itself to properly use spirit channelling in a meaningful way. I said in my last post that spirit channelling felt like a bit of an after-thought in the first game despite the magnitude of its implications to a game about solving murders. Reunion and Turnabout starts to make some slow progress towards justifying its inclusion into the series. For a start it sets down some rules for spirit channelling, such as your body changing but not your clothes; that mediums lose consciousness while channelling, and that mediums don’t have dreams. Sadly, the actual outcome of the case doesn’t involve channelling[1], but it at least gives the concept a bit more meat behind it.

Speaking of spirit channelling, the Magatama is introduced here, and allows the player to do some actual puzzle solving during investigations by showing them “Psyche Locks” when characters are lying or hiding something. It also brings in some welcome non-linearity to the process. This isn’t to say that leading the player down a strict path is inherently flawed, especially not for a game like Ace Attorney, but the freedom to find some different clues and break different locks in more than one strict order helps aid the feeling that you’re the one figuring out parts of the mystery. Allowing multiple Psyche-Locks to occur at once also gives the investigation scenes some tension of their own, as each Lock sets up another mini-mystery that you know can usually be solved within the investigation section once you have enough evidence. The Magatama is an almost universally positive addition to the Ace Attorney gameplay because it extends the core logic puzzles of the series into the investigations and further justifies the spiritual elements.

The Magatama is introduced to us by Pearl Fey, Maya’s cousin. Despite being a child, she’s surprisingly tolerable as an investigation assistant. Takumi introduces her as a prodigy but cleverly avoids making her precocious so hanging out with her is never too much of a chore. Her innate spirit channeling prowess makes her the kind of young genius the series loves, but her naivety in all other matters means that she avoids being grating. Despite this, her addition as a staple Wright sidekick outside of his spiritual sojourns has always felt a little tacked on to me, but I guess the more the merrier.


The other characters of Reunion and Turnabout are more of a mixed bag, so let’s move onto them now. The first of them you meet is Dr. Turner Grey, whose nervous energy makes him immediately suspicious. I mention Grey only briefly because you really only see him in two scenes before he dies, but his appearance brings a moral… greyness to the Ace Attorney series. In the previous game, all the defendants are very clearly innocent but also very clearly good people – the only time when you might suspect one of them as being guilty is Edgeworth for DL-6, but those fears are very quickly put to rest. Turner Grey, however, is the sort of character who may not be guilty of malpractice, but is clearly a figure not to be trusted, making him one of the few characters in the series so far that has a dark side but isn’t directly responsible for any deaths. Yanni Yogi and Dee Vasquez both elicit sympathy from the players, but are also killers – it never makes you feel too queasy about locking them away, while helping Turner Grey never feels quite right.

The actual killer here is Ini Miney… or rather her sister Mimi Miney posing as Ini in order to live a life free from the accusations of malpractice. In a neat bit of foreshadowing, when you first meet Ini/Mimi she says one of her major interests is people with split personalities. Her backstory is rather tragic, but again murdering Grey and framing Maya means the game never requires you to take her plight too seriously. Something I do find interesting about Mimi, and something I hope to return to, is that she seems to indicate some kind of thematic link between the villains in this game. Each attempts to don a false personality to fool those around them – Richard Wellington poses as a virtuoso when he’s really a common crook; Mimi Miney poses as her sister to escape the mistakes of her past; Acro poses as the only mature member of the circus while his murder plot has one of the pettiest motives and of course I needn’t even explain Matt “Refreshing like a Spring Breeze” Engarde.


Joining forces with Miney is Morgan Fey, the current matriarch of the Fey family after Maya’s mother disappeared. Morgan is one of the weakest elements of the case, because she feels so thin as a villain. It’s the first time in the series that the game feels like it’s building up a plot for later use; just enough about the Fey clan history is revealed to tantalise the tastebuds, but it’s pushed to the background for the majority of the latter half of the case so that it can focus on Ini and Mimi.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the Fey stuff was deliberately kept out of the spotlight as a tease for the next game, but even if my conspiracy theory turns out to be false it stills feels that what’s set up in this game isn’t paid off satisfactorily.

When you get into court, you’re met with this game’s new prosecutor: Franziska von Karma, the daughter of the last game’s “final boss” Manfred von Karma. Franziska is an odd prosecutor – her design is clearly dominatrix inspired, as is her whip. It’s the start of a trend towards more outlandish prosecutors with clearly defined gimmicks within the series. It’s a trend I’m not a huge fan of as it tends to present the prosecutors as merely ‘villain of the week’ types as opposed to properly fleshing them out as fully defined characters allowed to exist outside of their quirks and ‘character development moments’ writ large[2].

Franziska may feel like the start of that trend, but to be fair it hasn’t reached its apex yet. While her repeated use of the word ‘fool’ becomes grating from about halfway through this case, her extremely aggressive personality makes her a nice change from Edgeworth. Unlike Edgeworth and her father, who attempt to maintain a level of composure throughout the case, Franziska snaps often and hard. It definitely gives her a sense of insecurity that is hit home in the game’s epilogue, but we don’t really get to identify that until later when we learn that her revenge plot is directed at Edgeworth rather than Wright. If that were stated here rather than saved until Turnabout Big Top then I might have been able to appreciate Franziska more within the context of this case. As is, however, she feels a bit flat at best and annoying at worst.


Mimi and Morgan’s murder plot is one of the few in the trilogy to be a relatively complex locked room mystery with some premeditation behind it, as opposed to a killer trying to cover up a crime committed in cold blood. This is a fun change from the usual but it’s clear that Takumi hasn’t quite yet gotten used to writing this kind of mystery, as once you realise two characters were involved in the murder the rest of the evidence slots together way too neatly. This slightly neuters the final day in court, as it’s one of the first times replaying Ace Attorney where I really felt like I was too many steps ahead of where Takumi wanted me to be. It’s worth noting that I do remember this the first time I played this case as well. There’s one lovely sequence where you get to finally spell out your case, presenting piece after piece of evidence to the court, but it’s a little too late in to be as satisfying as it might have been if you weren’t aware beforehand of the exact details in your head.

I think the worst knock against Reunion and Turnabout is that, like some parts of Turnabout Sisters, it all feels a bit under-baked. There’s good stuff introduced in this case, such as the Magatama and Franziska and the Fey family history, but it’s only later that those elements will ripen into their full potential. Here though, it’s all underutilised, and combined with a pretty rubbish mystery plot, Reunion and Turnabout simply fails to excite me much.

Reunion and Turnabout is, however, often seen as comparable to the works of Shakespeare when compared to Turnabout Big Top, one of the most reviled cases in the entire series for a lot of fans. I’ve never quite seen the problem with it though – it returns to the same ‘dark side of the entertainment industry’ setting as Turnabout Samurai, although here the case takes place in a circus as opposed to a TV set. It also starts similarly, with Maya begging you to defend one of her idols – here Max Galactica, a Gob Bluth-esque magician.


While I might prefer Turnabout Samurai as a whole, I think Turnabout Big Top handles one thing much better, and that’s dealing with the theme of how the entertainment industry messes with those inside it. All of the inhabitants of the circus are sheltered from the outside world, and are constantly living within an environment of clowns and magic to the extent that the borders between these worlds have started to slip for them.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Regina Berry. There’s something extremely creepy about Regina’s role in the story of Turnabout Big Top, considering that despite being a 16 year old girl pretty much all the men of the circus are lusting after her. Even Phoenix has some perverted thoughts about her, although he’s just about well-adjusted enough to not propose to her on the spot like Trilo and Max. That’s never quite touched upon much though, and the focus of Regina’s character is how emotionally stunted she must be to accept these proposals seriously. Having never lived a life outside of the circus, Regina is completely unable to differentiate Billy Bob and Ben from the characters they play, and so creates a fascinating framing around which the other members of the circus fit. Every other character within the circus is defined by how they relate to Regina – the circus revolves around her, but she’s unfit to play that role and so distorts everyone else around her.

Even the seemingly well-adjusted Acro becomes drawn into Regina’s circle; his calm demeanour hides his rage at Regina for being unable to properly acknowledge the near-death of his brother, but his own emotional immaturity prevents him from talking to her properly and drives him to murder. If this seems a bit much for analysis of a case where a clown recites the opening to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, it’s worth noting that Takumi considers this one of his favourite cases, and I’m trying to show why; there’s a bold attempt here to give some real depth to the cast of kooky characters that usually populates an Ace Attorney “filler case” and to tell a story that’s uniquely and centrally character focused.


Frustratingly then, it’s not always successful. Regina is perhaps a little too disconnected from reality in a way that tends to strain belief, as are Ben and Trilo, whose split personality is never questioned by anyone but the player and occasionally Phoenix’s inner monologue (which might be an interesting technique, but ignores the fact that the emotional immaturity of the characters at the circus does not extend to the wider cast of Justice for All). Moe’s transformation from throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the court to becoming the emotional rock around which the circus will reform is also much too quick and seems to happen completely off-screen. Both are good well-written characters, but they never properly coalesce into one ‘Moe’ like they perhaps should.

Of the main complaints I hear, the one I can most stand behind is that the murder plot itself is rather ridiculous. The coat snagging on the bust is one of those things that seems too perfect to be true, and the animation where it appears to fly off the Ringmaster’s corpse and onto the bust doesn’t help matters. Takumi himself notes that the ‘trick is ridiculous’ however, and I think there’s merit to the idea that this kind of trick can only happen within the Ace Attorney universe; the series is built around ridiculous ideas like that. That the bust is hidden under Acro’s wheelchair is much less excusable; although the answer prompts guide you in that direction, there’s nothing to suggest it beforehand and so it feels a bit like a cheat.


Another complaint seems to be about Moe’s testimony. Pressing witness statements seems to be something most players do without thinking in Ace Attorney, and Justice for All doesn’t help to soften this impulse, often hiding vital evidence and additional testimony behind presses. Moe’s testimony then, where pressing him incorrectly results in a penalty, seems to be attacking players for doing what the game has taught them. This is a fair argument, but I like to think that in hiding more stuff behind presses, Justice for All is really trying to condition you to think more about how and when you should press. It introduces what kinds of statements will yield results, and then has Moe test the players by asking them to spot those statements without just pressing everything. As unfair as it may seem, the Moe testimony is actually a clever way of making the player consider presses as a puzzle in and of themselves, which I wish more games in the series would do.

Overall though, Turnabout Big Top becomes my favourite case in Justice for All so far, because its willingness to take risks in its character storytelling makes it much more interesting than The Lost Turnabout and Reunion and Turnabout which seem to play it a bit too safe. Even if its success is inconsistent, the overall themes are interesting enough to forgive it for some failures.

Of course, it’s not my favourite case in the game, because that honour rightfully goes to Farewell, My Turnabout. Farewell, My Turnabout is another dark side of the entertainment industry story, something I imagine Takumi drifts to because they allow for big stories and big emotions shared between larger-than-life characters. But the twist in Farewell, My Turnabout is that the entertainment stuff drifts to the background in order to facilitate the main event, which is that Phoenix’s client is, for once, guilty.


Phoenix defending a guilty person is something that had to happen at some point, because no matter how unrealistic the series’ legal system is, real life defence attorneys still make most of their bread and butter from defending the guilty. Defending a guilty client also raises an interesting moral dilemma for the series; Phoenix has never had to question his unrelenting pursuit of a ‘not guilty’ verdict because we’ve always trusted in his clients, but now we have to pay attention to what we think of defending someone as suspicious as Matt Engarde. Is the right to a fair trial more important than justice? Is it our job as a defence attorney to police our clients, or is that not the job of the court?

These are questions that Farewell, My Turnabout does not deign to ask, for it is not a case that centres around any sort of moral quandry for Phoenix or the player – it is instead simply a brilliant legal thriller. Maya being held hostage forces Phoenix to take Engarde’s case, ensuring that the question of whether it’s right to defend someone you think is guilty never comes up, because Phoenix has no choice in the matter. Likewise, later in the case the question of whether you think justice is more important than Maya’s life isn’t really a moral dilemma either, because there’s a moral equivalency to your actions. If you plump for a Guilty verdict then Maya dies, but going for a Not Guilty verdict will kill Adrian Andrews, so either way you’re screwed. The trolley problem wouldn’t be a problem with the same number of people on each track, and likewise Farewell, My Turnabout may present its choice as somewhat ethically charged, but it’s not really – it’s much more personal than that.


So let’s examine this case under the light of what makes it such a great thriller, starting with the opening. From the kidnapping of Maya onwards, everything in this opening wrong-foots the player. First, of course, you’re missing your primary companion – then you hear you have to defend Engarde in order to get her back, immediately raising your suspicions against him. But for once, Gumshoe himself is under-confident about the police’s case against Engarde, saying they have almost too much evidence. When you get to the detention centre, Engarde seems to know the name ‘De Killer’, but at the same time he’s devoid of psyche-locks. Most Ace Attorney cases start with Phoenix on the back foot, with a near airtight case against his client. But Farewell, My Turnabout pushes the player from foot to foot, never allowing them to know where they stand in relation to the case.

Halfway through the investigation phase, Edgeworth reappears. He’s mentioned before this case in Reunion and Turnabout when Phoenix tells Maya that he’s ‘gone’ and then again in Turnabout Big Top where we first get the impression he’s committed suicide after the events of Turnabout Goodbyes/Rise from the Ashes. He hasn’t, of course, and returns with some suitably triumphant music. He also comes with the first hints of some character development for Phoenix, asking him why he stands in the courtroom. In the first game, Edgeworth’s way of prosecuting was challenged by the events of the final two cases, causing him to do some soul searching, but Phoenix has carried on his merry way unhindered by thoughts that what he’s doing might not be the right thing. Phoenix fights always for his client, and tells Edgeworth that he detests prosecutors who stand in court for their own rivalries and personal win streaks. However, the pointed jabs from Phoenix towards Edgeworth seem to ring a bit hollow after their reconciliation in Turnabout Goodbyes, and the drama ends up feeling too forced.

Nevertheless, Edgeworth takes the case over from Franziska, as she’s shot by de Killer before the trial starts. It’s a great moment of drama that shows just how in control of the case this unseen assassin is, but it makes Franziska feel incredibly neutered in this game. Sure, Edgeworth was only the prosecutor in two of the original game’s cases, but he was the focal point of Turnabout Goodbyes, so his role within the game remains meaty. Franziska’s role is first played down at the end of Turnabout Big Top, where it’s revealed that Edgeworth planned the raid on Acro’s flat. This is alright because it feeds into Franziska’s inferiority, but that isn’t capitalized on until the post-credits scene. So the lack of Franziska in this case really does have some impact on her character; it makes her development feel too rushed.


The first trial day is really great because of the palpable tension that comes from de Killer’s demands. There’s some amusing banter between Edgeworth and the returning Oldbag, but the main focus of the trial (and much of the case going forward) is Adrian Andrews. Andrews is a really interesting character; she starts as your main target of suspicion, but like with the villains in the game, it’s a thin mask she wears over her real identity. That “real identity” serves the dual purpose of giving her motive for murder and making the player feel awful for fingering her as the culprit. The only problem is the way the script refers to her ‘dependent nature’. I’m not sure if this is a problem of the initial script or the translations, but it’s extremely clunky. In its worst moments, it reminds me of how Danganronpa handles the concept of ‘hope’ and ‘despair’; treating them as very objective concepts. Farewell, My Turnabout treats Andrews’ fragile state of mind in the same way within its writing and it comes off sounding like her ‘dependent nature’ is an object she owns rather than what it is. It’s a small blemish though on an otherwise extremely well-written character.

After the first day of trial, the reveal of Matt Engarde’s true identity plays out. Edgeworth tells you Engarde hired de Killer, but there’s still doubt for Phoenix, mainly because of his magical lie detector. When you meet ‘John Doe’ the game confirms Engarde as the killer for the player, but not yet for Phoenix, creating a moment of dramatic irony for the player. When Engarde does finally reveal himself, it’s in the most gloriously dramatic fashion; a worthwhile reveal for one of Ace Attorney’s most brilliant villains.


I mentioned earlier that the link between the villains in this game is that of the hidden identity, but I think that idea extends to most of the game. If Justice for All has a theme, it’s that not all is as simple as it seems; you see it across the game’s four cases. Wellington in The Lost Turnabout; Dr. Grey and Ini Miney in Reunion and Turnabout; every character in Turnabout Big Top and Adrian Andrews and Matt Engarde in Farewell, My Turnabout. Those are the obvious cases, but it’s in quite a lot of the game’s other elements; Franziska’s talk of ‘revenge’, for example, is not as clear cut as Phoenix and Maya assume it to be, and the Magatama is an ability all about exposing people’s hidden secrets. Obviously in all murder mystery games there’s an element of this, but I think it’s made extremely apparent in Justice for All. The effect of this is to present a slightly more complex world to the player. With again the exception of Dee Vasquez and Yanni Yogi, the morals of the first Ace Attorney are extremely straightforward. In Justice for All, Takumi attempts to create cases with more going on behind the scenes.

This links into Phoenix’s character development as well. In the first game, you’re taught to always fight for your client, because that’s the job of a defence attorney. Even in the darkest of times, keep on smiling for your client; if your client is innocent, then the witness must be lying. But in Farewell, My Turnabout, Phoenix is faced with a situation where that isn’t possible and learns the lesson that Edgeworth did in the first game; the only thing worth standing in court for is the pursuit of truth. It’s maybe a simple lesson, but it hits home because the scenario it’s presented in works so perfectly for it. Phoenix defending his client is made to feel wrong, so there must be something else to stand in court for.


There’s one more thing to talk about here before we wrap up, and that’s just how effectively Ace Attorney uses its presentation. I’ve waited until this case to talk about this, because while it has been present since the first game, Farewell, My Turnabout can only be such an effective thriller in a visual novel format because of how cleverly Ace Attorney handles limited presentation. The music is the obvious standout here. Even though some people consider Justice for All to have a weaker soundtrack to the first game (I personally prefer it), every Ace Attorney game nails the more dramatic tracks – Hotline of Fate is employed liberally here in order to give Maya’s kidnapping much more weight than it would have using the normal suspense theme. Announce the Truth 2002 is also the best ‘Truth’ theme in the series, and when it kicks in after you tell the judge you want to continue the trial, the effect is inspiring. The musical cues in the series – best exemplified by the moment of silence after an ‘OBJECTION!’ and before the Objection or Pursuit theme kicks in – are all so perfectly timed and add the appropriate emotion to a script already full of emotion. Justice for All also compounds on this with animated intros for each case, the first of which replays before the second day of trial in Farewell, My Turnabout, setting up the drama perfectly.


Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All isn’t a particularly well-liked game in the series, and it’s not too hard to see why on first glance. The introductory case is a bland re-tread, the second case is just bland, and while the third and fourth cases both try something new, only the latter is wholly successful. But each case still has something of value to offer, and the sheer strength of Farewell, My Turnabout and creativity of Turnabout Big Top make the latter half of the game stand out.

Justice for All may be looked at for its weaknesses above all else, but on replaying it I was impressed by how its unique sense of theming stood out. As I said at the start of the review, I was also struck by just how much of this game I could remember playing for the first time in extremely vivid detail. Playing it became like a time capsule to me, and I think a game that can inspire that is something great.


In the next post we’ll be taking a look at Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, the end of the original trilogy. I have some plans for the blog before then, so this one might take a while longer, but watch this space.


[1] See Spirit of Justice for the lengths the series has to go to to include spirit channeling as a major aspect of a murder mystery plot.


[2] More of this, of course, when we eventually come to Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice, but it’s worth noting that the trend was not one that started with that era of Ace Attorney.

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