Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All is the second game in the Phoenix Wright series. It’s very similar to its predecessor, which is a good thing: its predecessor was excellent. So go and read my review of the first one, and come back.

They tweaked the game mechanics slightly. For one thing, they added a “psyche-lock” mechanism, where you have to drag secrets out of people during the investigation phase. This increases the texture of the investigation phase, and makes it feel at times a little more like the trial phase. All in all, a good thing: it decreases the importance of hunting and pecking through the environments in the investigation phase, and I was rarely stumped by the psyche locks. When you first discover them, you’re never able to unlock them, and when you get the information that lets you unlock a given lock, it’s pretty obvious what to do with it.

The other addition is that you can now present characters instead of just pieces of evidence when talking to people, either during investigations or during trials. So, for example, when you’re claiming during a trial that somebody else has committed a given act, you can now select that character to present. Again, a fine thing: it gives you more to do, and, in those situations where you’re really stuck and having to do an exhaustive search, it’s usually at least pretty clear whether you’re supposed to present evidence or a character. So the exhaustive searches haven’t gotten any worse.

So both additions are pleasant enough. Having said that, neither is a significant advance, and if they keep on adding new gameplay tweaks like this, I imagine the game will get a bit busy by the third or four installment.

And they kept the difficulty at a good level: during most cases, there were one or two frustrating moments, but I never had to ask Liesl or gamefaqs for help during this one. And yes, Liesl finished this game, too: in fact, she started and finished it before me, because I was still playing Etrian Odyssey at the beginning of the vacation where we started playing this game. Still no second save spot, grr, so we had to take turns.

Having said that, it was starting to get a bit stale. Four cases this time; the second one injected some non-uninteresting pieces of plot development, but no great shakes. And, by the third case, the game was starting to feel like a rehash: this game swapped out the prosecutor from the first game with an excessively cardboard new prosecutor, your new sidekick was nice enough but nothing to make me sit up and take notice, and the occasional typos in the translation didn’t help matters, either. So I was having serious doubts about the future of the series.

The fourth case, though, was stunning. The initial investigation wasn’t very exciting: you got to say hello to some friends from the first game, one plot twist that was maybe kind of fun but maybe signs of grasping at straws. But then the trial started, and Edgeworth reappears as the prosecutor. And all of a sudden the emotional and moral complexity of the game got quite a bit deeper. (Of course, some of that may just be a reaction to the shallowness of Etrian Odyssey…) I spent yesterday morning finishing off that case, and now I am completely hooked on the series again.

Again, a sign of the health of gaming these days: rather than just seeing the same genres remade over and over again with better (and more expensive) graphics, we’re seeing games in a wide variety of genres (new or exhumed) pop up, games that make up for their low production costs with distinctive art, wit, and well-done niche gameplay. Keeps me happy.

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