The thing I like the most about adventure games is the fact that they can tell the kinds of stories other games simply can't. Let's face it, the need to kill hundreds of similar looking bad guys is a major thematic constraint, and some stories aren't going to happen in an action game. Assuming the role of a criminal defense attorney might not be the most scintillating premise for a game, but it's good to play something that hasn't been done to death.
True to the Matlock tradition, Mr. Wright isn't just a defense attorney. No, he'll not only get you off the hook, he'll get to the bottom of the whole case, and pin the real villain, who will just conveniently end up in the courtroom for the trial. The over-the-top comic book-inspired presentation paints the courtroom as a showdown between the noble Defense and the villainous prosecution. Phoenix explains that prosecutors are evil beings that will stop at nothing to win; a curious distinction considering Wright ends up doing as much prosecuting as his opposition by the end of the trial.
Capcom is sometimes accused of releasing too many sequels, too quickly. Indeed, not much has changed since the first Phoenix Wright. Like its predecessor, Justice For All is a remake of one part of the original GBA trilogy that never saw our shores. As such it doesn't really push the envelope, and it's not exactly a showcase for the DS's capabilities. There's fully functional touch screen control for those so inclined, but I found myself just using the classic controls instead. There's support for microphone commands as well, but since you have to push a button to use them, you might as well just push the button to issue the command directly, instead. Gameplay is more or less unchanged, except for the addition of a new confrontation systems to reveal characters' more hidden secrets.
Despite this, I really can't complain. These games are highly episodic to begin with. There are four chapters (the previous game had five), each of which tells a self-contained story. There are threads of a serial plot, just as there are strands tying this game to the first, but generally the stories can stand on their own. Similarly, Justice for All works just fine for newcomers to the series, even if they might miss some references here or there. This episodic nature coupled with the highly story-driven appeal of the games makes the sequeling welcome, and I'm hoping Capcom completes the trilogy for us.
It has a presentation somewhere between satire and melodrama that's hard not to love.
Japanese adventure games are often criticized as being devoid of gameplay, and little more than an extended series of dialogs to click through. While Phoenix Wright doesn't entirely change my opinion on the genre it demands a bit more from the player than its peers. In addition to the courtroom showdowns, you'll play private eye and explore the crime scenes, hunt for evidence with a simple point and click interface, and interview witnesses. Most of the game does still consist of talking to people and it's not exactly complicated, but there are a few moments when you'll have to think. The most challenging moments, unfortunately, come when you've figured out what happened, but not how to express it through the game's system of presenting evidence.
And you will figure things out early. Make no mistake about it, the writing in Phoenix Wright has all the subtlety and surprise of an episode of Scooby Doo. At times you'll want to throttle the on-screen lawyer for not figuring it out. Almost as bad as you'll want to throttle the judge and his "guilty until someone else is proven guilty" attitude.
Oh yeah, that judge alone will decide the verdict. There's no juries in this game, one of many points that might prove confusing as the result of some questionable decision made by the localization team. In the first Phoenix Wright, Capcom decided US audiences might relate to the game better if it were set in Los Angeles instead of Tokyo. It might have made sense at the time, but in the sequel we learn that Los Angeles is a two hour train ride from a rural Japanese village, LA winters are actually quite snowy, and LAPD officers wear red feathers in their caps and uniforms that look curiously foreign. The illusion that the game is set in the US is completely shattered, and it end up being more a point of confusion than anything positive.
But there's no getting around it. This is still the adventure game you're going to find on Nintendo's handhelds, at least until Lucas Arts wises up and re-releases some of its back catalog. It's a great pick-up-and-play with a presentation somewhere between satire and melodrama that's hard not to love. You'll be doing more reading than actual playing, making the whole thing pretty short on replay value, but the meaty length will give adventure fans more than their money's worth.