I don’t think I gave Ace Attorney Justice for All a fair shake the first time I played it. I fired it up immediately after completing the first game, so coming down from the high of that experience I played through this one and found it to be just more of the same. Which it is, but with a little time between games it drags a little less. Also, spacing out the games helped me focus on the narrative that of this game. I have always felt that they got the subtitles mixed for the second and third games. Justice for All felt more like the triumphant finale than the middle chapter, where Trials and Tribulations seemed perfect. However, after replaying JfA, I have realized that they got it right.
There are plenty of problems with Justice for All. It returns the most annoying witness from the first game, Oldbag, and somehow makes her even more annoying. To top that, they also came up with a new witness that is even more annoying in Moe the clown. The second case, while actually very good, does hew a little too close to the first game’s second case, with both of them featuring Maya as the defendant. Other than that, some sections seem too drawn out and some of the leaps in logic are a little obtuse and harshly penalized.
Still, there is a strong central story that shines through. JfA features a pair of prominent newcomers, Maya’s niece Pearl and new prosecutor Franziska von Karma. Pearl is a nice piece of comic relief and is mostly there to give Phoenix someone to play off of when Maya is indisposed. Franziska takes Edgeworth’s place and the player isn’t quite sure is she is more in Edgeworth’s mold or her father’s. Still, she provides a great adversary for Phoenix for fight against.
Despite being absent for most of the game, Edgeworth looms large in this game. His fate is central to the game. After he was defeated by, and then defended by, Phoenix in the first game Edgeworth disappeared. While he left a note claiming to be dead, he actually went on a journey of discovery. Both Phoenix and Franziska are upset, he at Edgeworth and her at Wright. His return at a pivotal moment really pushes the last case over the top.
The early cases, mostly ignoring the tutorial-esque first case, set up some conflicted murderers and rather unsympathetic victims. The real victim of Case 2, Reunion and Turnabout, is Maya. She is not just framed for a murder; she is framed for a murder by her very own aunt. The game goes out of its way to make the murder victim as unlikable as possible. The interminable Turnabout Big Top, is one never-ending tragedy. The murder that makes up the case is the one intentional act in a sequence that ruins the lives of most of the circus performers.
The whole time Phoenix is backed by his rock solid belief that his clients are innocent. He knows there is no way that Maya killed anybody, even though it seems almost impossible that anyone else could have committed the crime. He also has the same belief in the slightly less trustworthy Max in the next case, who also proves to be innocent. The last case, Farewell My Turnabout, Phoenix takes the case because Maya has been kidnapped by one Shelly de Killer. De Killer says that the client is innocent, but he is still blackmailing Wright to get that verdict.
This is when we see the meaning of the subtitle. After Von Karma is non-fatally shot, Edgeworth returns to take over as prosecutor. As the trial progresses, a shady deal that Von Karma had struck comes to light, a deal designed to ensure a guilty verdict whether or not the defendant was guilty. So far the game has consistently shown the lengths that prosecutors will go to get a guilty verdict and Phoenix has been the righteous bringer of justice. Now, Phoenix is tempted to foist the conviction off on someone else, who is also likely innocent, just to get a not guilty verdict. Is he any better than the people he faces?
That is the question the finale is dealing with: is Phoenix really after justice for all or just a not guilty verdict. While it has to work hard to engineer the situation, it turns out really well. Ace Attorney: Justice for All is the least essential feeling game of the original trilogy, but it is still well written and a ton of fun.