When the DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney turned into a sleeper success in North America, an English release of its sequel could only be expected. Everyone was ready for more insane cases, more goofy characters, and more yelling into your DS microphone like a nutcase. What makes you feel more heroic than catching liars in their lies, defending the falsely accused and saving them from a life of prison or worse? And as those of us with an internet connection discovered, PWAA was actually the first game of a trilogy. So the second one had to be good if it garnered a third game, right?

Well, unfortunately, the game we got was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All. A quick look at Metacritic reveals that JfA is the lowest-reviewed game in the entire franchise to date. Yes, even lower than the oft-debated Apollo Justice or formula outlier Ace Attorney Investigations.

As an Ace Attorney game, it’s got some problems that go beyond our topic of whether this series is “accurate” to being a real lawyer. Rather than focus purely on that theme like my previous article did, we’re gonna scale this one back and talk more about the game itself first. However, this means I was unable to keep this post spoiler-free like I wanted, so if you haven’t played Justice for All yet and plan on doing so, don’t read further. Spoiler warning!

If you want a spoiler-free review, here it is: JfA a B+ experience that’s worth playing through so you can get to the amazing finale, Trials and Tribulations. It isn’t a terrible game - not even close. It’s just... got some problems.

This article is the third in a series. You can read the introduction here and my spoiler-free thoughts on the first game here.

A Long Section Where I Say Negative Things About a Game I Still Think is Pretty Decent

I’m pretty sure people enjoyed JfA when it first came out. Witnesses! Objections! Turnabouts! A new prosecutor, a new spirit medium, and a new game mechanic: “Psyche-Locks,” a special interrogation mode that lets Phoenix confront witnesses who are hiding important information from him. Where could you go wrong?

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Your mileage may vary, and this is true of any piece of media. If you love JfA, I’m not telling you that you’re wrong by criticizing its flaws. But from my conversations with longtime Ace Attorney fans, I’ve noticed that JfA tends to be overshadowed by the far superior third game and the nostalgia of the first game. After completing the trilogy, I feel the same way. Despite still being pretty fun, JfA lacks a je ne sais quoi that games 1 and 3 seem to have in spades.

What is that thing it’s missing? As I was writing this article I couldn’t put my finger on it, slowing my thoughts down to a frustrating crawl as a result, until finally I came to an inescapable conclusion: the cases in JfA simply aren’t as good. In my last article, I talked about how the Ace Attorney games are really visual novels, and how story is the most important thing for a game in that genre. It’s the deficiency in story that brings JfA down.

The first case (which I’ll call “2-1”) is about a young police woman Maggey Byrd, accused of pushing her boyfriend off a railing to his death. At the beginning of the case, you see a suspicious man clonk Phoenix over the head with a fire extinguisher, forcing him to start the trial with temporary amnesia. Basically, like in the first game, this is a shorter “tutorial” case to teach or remind players of a handful of basic controls and game play elements.

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Case 2-1 is a poor reintroduction to Ace Attorney. As the case proceeds and the true facts start coming to light, it becomes more and more clear that Maggey could not remotely, ever, possibly, conceivably be the culprit, by any stretch of the imagination, in the eyes of any reasonable person with a working brain. I mean, come on... everyone just believes that the victim lifted up his arm and wrote Maggey’s name in the dirt with his finger after he broke his neck? We needed an ace attorney to tackle that puzzler? And yet, against all common sense (and the concept of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt), you still have to go through the trouble of affirmatively coming up with a different culprit and proving it was him instead. Case 2-1 is one of the best examples from the trilogy where I was frustrated as a lawyer and as a gamer.

In contrast, PWAA’s first case is memorable not only because it introduces the reoccurring minor character Larry Butz, but because it’s a plausible scenario with a very plausible explanation. It exercises some restraint - not every case needs to wow us with a fantastical explanation, especially not tutorial cases.

Following case 2-1 is “Reunion, and Turnabout,” which is markedly better. Case 2-2 provides some critically important back story for the Fey family and introduces one of the best characters in the trilogy - Maya’s little cousin Pearl Fey. Between her Hello Kitty-proportioned face, her ignorance of life outside her village and the way she ardently ships Phoenix and Maya, she’s easily the best single part of Justice for All.

However, case 2-2 itself is tarnished by the culprit’s iffy motivation. Recall the basic premise of this case: Maya’s mother Misty Fey, the current Master, has been missing for 16 years. Her daughter Maya is in line to inherit the title of Master, along with the responsibilities and power that comes with it. Even though no one knows where Misty is, in 4 more years she will be considered dead according to village law, and Maya will automatically become Master. Morgan Fey, Misty’s sister and Maya’s aunt, has always felt jealous and snubbed by her family being delegated to lesser “branch family” status. She wants to make her daughter, Pearl, the new heir. In order to do that, she has to get rid of Maya.

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Problems arise when we look a little closer at the plan she comes up with to achieve that goal. She decides to team up with a woman named Ini Miney, who wants to get rid of her former employer, Dr. Grey. When Grey commissions a spirit channeling from Maya, Morgan and Ini decide to kill Grey during the channeling and frame Maya for the murder.

This plan makes no sense. All Morgan wants is to make her daughter the new heir, and she’s willing to risk and sacrifice everything for it. So why not just kill Maya? Just sneak into her room late at night and smother her with a pillow. Boom, Pearl is the new heir. Done. Problem instantly solved, whether Morgan gets caught or not.

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I know what you’re thinking: duh, she didn’t want to get caught. Even so, why not kill Maya some other way and plot to frame someone else for that murder? Actually, I think they could have incorporated this small tweak pretty easily, if you ask me. Like, maybe the plan was for both Grey and Maya to be killed and they’d make it look like they both suffered mortal wounds during a struggle, or something like that. Then, when Maya doesn’t die, they frame her for the murder in order to salvage the plan, leading to plenty of inconsistencies that allow Phoenix to come up on top.

The point is this: Morgan’s decision to frame Maya for murder in order to make Pearl heir is more convoluted and prone to error than the much more obvious alternative. Because of that, Morgan ends up looking more like a stupid idiot than the clever, dastardly woman that the game wants us to see her as.

And then there’s the circus case. It seems like just about everyone agrees that this case sucks. The most positive opinions I’ve heard are, “Yeah, it’s bad, but [a character that’s different every time I hear this compliment] was okay.” I don’t know where to start with talking about how bad this case is, and since everyone already knows how bad it is, I won’t focus on it. Instead, I’ll say everything that needs to be said about it in a few points:

  1. The most creepy and annoying characters in the entire trilogy.
  2. References to internet memes are almost never funny and it’s extra unfunny when they’re memes from a decade ago.
  3. This. Case. Goes. On. FOREVER.
  4. If the finale depends on the player knowing that a wheelchair-bound character has a blanket over his lap - remember, character sprites are from the waist and up - then maybe you need to establish at some point that said character has a blanket over his lap.

I am confident saying that case 2-3 is the reason JfA is the poorest reviewed game in the series.

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As for cases 1 and 2, maybe you’re preparing to write me an essay about how wrong I am. That’s fine - these Ace Attorney articles I’m writing are opinion pieces, so you don’t have to agree. But I harp on cases 1 and 2 for a reason. For a story-heavy, mystery/detective visual novel, all the overly-complicated details need to fit perfectly into place. And I am a detail-oriented lawyer - it’s literally my job to notice when things don’t add up. So when JfA’s cases don’t quite work, the game becomes a little harder to take seriously, a little harder to get emotionally invested in. It loses some of the intangible magic that PWAA and T&T have.

A Tale of Two Prosecutors

Case 2-4 is where we really start digging into Justice for All. But before that, I need to talk about JfA’s prosecutor, Franziska von Karma. And before I talk about Franziska, I need to talk about something I failed to discuss when looking at PWAA - the original prosecutor, Miles Edgeworth.

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After Phoenix and Maya, Edgeworth is the other main character of the first game. He’s an old friend of Phoenix’s - and even more significantly, he inspired Phoenix to become a lawyer after an incident in elementary school where Edgeworth defended him after he was falsely accused of stealing. You can tell from Phoenix’s inner monologue that he continued to venerate Edgeworth as his savior even into adulthood.

They are reunited as adults in PWAA, but Edgeworth isn’t the same person anymore. He’s become a cold and ruthless prosecution phenom. He’s the subject of widespread rumors that he falsifies evidence in order to maintain his perfect win record. He wears a pompous ruffled cravat and magenta three-piece suit. (Yes, magenta.) And he looks different compared to our energetic protagonists, Phoenix and Maya. His pupils are beadier and more piercing. His shallow, heavy-lidded eyes seem to sag with an unseen weight. Edgeworth looks pertpetually stressed out. He looks tired.

Slowly, as Phoenix successfully butts heads with him in court, Edgeworth’s icy persona starts to thaw. He is genuinely surprised every time Phoenix points out an exculpatory contradiction, suggesting Edgeworth believed in the cases he was prosecuting more than we were lead to believe. By the third case of PWAA, he’s humoring Phoenix’s alternative theory of events and making concessions during trial to allow him to continue his case. Edgeworth isn’t such a bad guy. Is he beginning to realize the error of his ways?

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Then, in some cruel twist of fate, Edgeworth is accused of murder himself. Phoenix defends him and proves his innocence, but not before having to drudge up the sad, tragic back story of how his father, a famous defense attorney, was murdered before Edgeworth’s eyes - and the years Edgeworth spent wondering if he was the one who accidentally killed him. Fortunately, he learns that he did not kill his own father, but the truth is almost as bad. The man who adopted him, a prosecutor named Manfred von Karma, is the same person who murdered his father; the reason he killed him was because he ruined his perfect win record. As a final “fuck you” to Edgeworth’s dad, he brought Edgeworth under his vindictive tutelage and trained him to be a prosecutor, transferring to the boy his obsession with winning by any means in the process.

Von Karma is arrested and Edgeworth’s name is cleared, but just as he’s recovering from being re-victimized, a scandal breaks out between the police department and the prosecutor’s office and he finds himself having to prosecute his own boss, the Chief Prosecutor. The entire incident destroys what’s left of his faith in his work, and by the end of the case, he’s exhausted. He has to step away in order to sort out his life.

The fate and whereabouts of Edgeworth hang over the majority of Justice for All. Phoenix becomes angry whenever another character mentions him, and it’s even implied at first that he may have died. He’s nowhere to be found and the game is in no hurry to tell us where he is, which just makes us want to know even more.

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For a while, this carrot-and-stick teasing serves the plot of JfA well. I wanted to know what happened to Edgeworth, because like many other people, I love Edgeworth. I love his cravat and his magenta suit and his beady eyes and his ridiculous late 90’s Sephiroth bangs. He may be the most popular character, period... which would make sense, because Edgeworth is crack cocaine for fangirls. He’s smart, rich and good-looking. He has a gently sarcastic attitude and sharp wit, but he’s also easily kerfuffled by the people around him who aren’t on his level of intelligence and ability. He has a tragic past. And when it becomes clear early on in PWAA that he isn’t a bad person and he’s receptive to change, you start to root for his redemption.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my various internet fandoms over the past 15 years, people (particularly women) love a redemption story - especially when it involves a woobie. Do I need to go through the standard list of fan darlings? Loki and Bucky Barnes from Avengers, Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Shinjiro from Persona 3. Many, many characters from BL anime and manga, such as Rin and Sousuke from Free! Even Tumblr’s brief embarrassing obsession with the Onceler from that shitty The Lorax movie falls under this category.

“I’m never happy.”

Why am I talking about Edgeworth in this article about the second game, Justice for All, when he doesn’t come back until the very end? Well, Edgeworth’s potency as a fan favorite is part of the problem that other prosecutor I mentioned: Franziska von Karma, his intended replacement.

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Franziska is also a very popular character in her own right. As the daughter of Manfred von Karma, she’s just as menacing and obsessed with perfection as he is. She has a vendetta against Phoenix Wright for not only proving her father a murderer and his ensuing death penalty, but also for defeating her adopted brother Edgeworth, whom she has always been jealous of, before she got a chance to do it herself. Like Edgeworth in PWAA, she engages in questionable tactics and gets pissed off when she loses, keeping Phoenix on his toes through another game’s worth of cases. And she has her own flavor of ridiculous Ace Attorney behavior, carrying a whip around to beat others into submission and calling everyone a “fool.” She’s like Edgeworth, but cranked up to 11. Edgeworth from a parallel universe where he’s a German dominatrix instead of a British emo kid.

But Edgeworth couldn’t come back in JfA and fill the same role that he did before, because he changed as a character. In an attempt to replicate the dynamic that Phoenix had with Edgeworth in the first game, Franziska was born - and for the same reason, she gets shortchanged.

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Instead of having a unique arc of her own, she basically goes through the same transformation Edgeworth does: she finds an identity aside from her father and learns to let go of her perfectionism and what it means to be a prosecutor. But not only is this retread ground - we already explored these themes with Edgeworth in the first game - it isn’t nearly as well-developed on top of it. While Edgeworth’s and Godot’s redemption make up a consistent plot line that spreads across their respective games, Franziska’s does not do the same thing for JfA. The audience was far more distracted with the tantalizing question of what happened to Edgeworth, rather than what would happen to Franziska. We don’t get to learn much about her during the course of JfA, and with so much of the focus directed towards the characters we already know and love, she feels more like a supporting character, not the main antagonist.

Franziska is an awesome character. JfA gets credit for introducing her to us, but it also didn’t do right by her in the process. At the very least, the second game should have been about her in the same way that PWAA is about Edgeworth and T&T is about Godot, if only to give it a cohesive story that stretches across all four cases. She deserved better than to play substitute teacher for Edgeworth while he was off soul-searching.

And this is one more reason JfA lacks that magic, that special something, that the other games have.

An Ace Attempt at Moral Ambiguity

Edgeworth’s moral and ethical redemption - and the mirrored redemption of Franziska von Karma - say a lot about what the writers of this game think about how Japanese prosecutors should be. The message is that prosecutors shouldn’t obsess over winning, because they have a bigger responsibility to seek justice and the truth. To be a prosecutor is to be a public servant, and they betray the trust we put in them when they prioritize their win record, stretch the facts, or falsify evidence.

But what does Ace Attorney think about defense lawyers...?

A Promising Start

If case 2-3 is responsible for cementing JfA as the “worst” Ace Attorney game, the final case, “Farewell, My Turnabout,” is what makes people like it regardless.

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Certain elements of this case merit discussion from a lawyer’s perspective - you know, the often-asked “is Ace Attorney accurate to being a real lawyer?” question that I set aside earlier. Putting my feelings into words proved to be difficult, though. There is something about “Farewell, My Turnabout” that’s tantalizing in a not entirely positive way. It both acknowledges a major obstacle inherent to being a lawyer, while completely failing to say anything meaningful about it. For that reason, case 2-4 both exceeded my expectations and failed to live up to what I hoped to see.

Before we get into the meat of our discussion, let’s again do a quick review of what happened in this case. Heavy spoilers.

Will Powers, a former client from the first game, invites Phoenix and Maya to an awards show for sentai TV stars. The talk of the event are two sentai superheros, the Nickel Samurai, played by actor Matt Engarde, and the Jammin’ Ninja, played by actor Juan Corrida. The two of them have a notoriously vicious rivalry and are constantly trying to one-up each other. Matt Engarde is holding a press conference after the show is over - purportedly to “confess” something - although no one knows what.

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Just as the press conference is about to start, a bellboy approaches Maya to tell her she has a phone call, and she leaves to answer it. Within minutes, the police announce that a murder has occurred and no one is allowed to leave the hotel. Phoenix discovers that Matt Engarde has been arrested for murdering his rival Juan Corrida, who was found dead in his dressing room. To make things worse, Maya was mysteriously kidnapped after she left to answer the phone - and her ransom is for Phoenix to obtain an acquittal for Engarde by any means necessary.

Matt Engarde swears that he was asleep in his room during the time Juan was killed. By using a special magatama, a spirit medium-powered item that allows Phoenix to tell when people are hiding something by showing their mental “Psyche-Locks,” it’s confirmed from the beginning that Matt is telling the truth. He didn’t murder Juan, despite the enormous mountain of evidence against him. Phoenix accepts his case, believing in his innocence as he has with all of his prior clients.

This moment between Phoenix, Engarde and the lie-detecting magatama is why this case is so genius. By this point, the magatama and its Psyche-Locks have become an incredibly important weapon for Phoenix during his investigations. It reveals when witnesses are lying, it always leads to important information or evidence that changes the course of a case, and it has never been wrong. It’s a drug-sniffing dog that always signals correctly. When Matt Engarde swears he didn’t murder Juan and no Psyche-Locks show up to announce that he’s lying, the player puts their faith into him and Phoenix’s cause, because by that point you’ve been taught to trust the magatama unconditionally.

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Then it all crumbles. Halfway through the case, you find out that your client is far from innocent. He’s not literally the murderer - the magatama is always right - rather, instead of killing Corrida himself, he hired an assassin to do it for him. It’s that very assassin who kidnapped Maya, and the bizarre ransom is to make sure that his high-paying client is not found guilty for the murder he was hired to do for him.

The puppy-eyed young man who swore he didn’t do it turns out to b a manipulative asshole fooling everyone around him. In typical over the top Ace Attorney fashion, your client goes from a bumbling doe-eyed space cadet to a maniacal scar-faced master villain, complete with a comically oversized goblet of cognac that he pulls out from nowhere. This is so cheesy that it becomes amazing, and so over the top that it makes the situation feel much more dire. No other case in the trilogy made me feel as anxious about how it would end, nor as proud and victorious once it was over. It’s really satisfying to watch this jerk flip out when he realizes he’s lost.

Welcome to Being a Lawyer, Phoenix Wright

At the same time, I was shocked to see this happen at all. Ace Attorney, up to this point, was pure fantasy. It boiled courtroom battles down into idealized, black and white scenarios. Your client is always framed. The witnesses are always lying. The police always miss critical evidence. The real culprit always confesses on the witness stand.

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But suddenly, an ethical dilemma comes out of nowhere. Instead of just trying to replicate the success of the original game, as Justice for All was lazily doing up to that point, it was treading new ground. The simplistic ideal of the defense attorney defending the wrongly accused was shattered. Would “Farewell, My Turnabout” be Phoenix’s redemption story? Would he learn a similar lesson that Edgeworth did - about how it’s not about being right all the time? Would the writers use this amazing opportunity to teach the audience why defense attorneys do what they do, and what it means to defend someone who was rightly accused of a crime?

The answer is no. As much as I love Engarde’s alignment shift, the way it plays out is less satisfying. The writers set-up this so-called “moral dilemma” in a such a way that nobody has to get uncomfortable about it, stopping it from becoming a real dilemma in the first place.

Let’s review again: Phoenix has two options. First, he could go for a not guilty verdict, even though he knows about Engarde’s role in the murder, in order to “pay” the ransom and save Maya’s life. Or, he could basically give up and allow Engarde to get convicted, which would be the correct outcome for the case but would guarantee Maya’s death at the hands of the assassin.

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Phoenix ends up doing the “right” thing and essentially helps the prosecutor win. As could be expected, the game also gives him a convenient way out of dooming Maya, and everyone gets a happy ending. Choosing the opposite option and letting Engarde off the hook lands you an immediate bad ending, where Maya refuses to speak to Phoenix ever again and he’s seen walking morosely into the distance, forever a lonely and broken person thereafter.

This duality completely fails to challenge the audience and it paints a miserably inaccurate picture of legal ethics. Defense attorneys represent people who they think may be guilty all the fucking time, and there isn’t a kidnapped teenager waiting in the wings to help them feel better about having to do it.

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This may sound objectionable to the non-lawyers reading this, but when you get right down to it, being an attorney really isn’t about determining who is right. That’s the responsibility of the judge or the jury. Rather, a lawyer is an advocate. A lawyer puts on the best argument she can, acts on behalf of her client’s wishes, and help him get his fair day in court. This is regardless of what the attorney personally thinks about the client in question. Even civil lawyers who represent people in non-criminal cases, like foreclosures or divorces, have to constantly put their own feelings aside in order to do the job they’ve been hired to do.

Lawyers are hated in society for representing the unlikable or those who are “clearly” in the wrong, but this hate exists only because people don’t appreciate or understand why we have lawyers in the first place. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney - and lawyers who represent insurance companies, and lawyers who represent patent trolls, and government attorneys who have to argue against same-sex marriage because their governor is conservative - are cogs in a much larger machine. We have a job to do. We perform a function. You might think that lawyers are dishonest and help people lie... until you need a lawyer, and “lying” becomes “helping me tell my side of the story.”

Being an attorney - especially a defense attorney - isn’t about picking the “right side” and only accepting cases from that side. A defense attorney is not gonna get to represent the innocent party every single time. That’s what makes case 2-4 such a missed opportunity. Instead of challenging the player’s concept of defense lawyers and teaching them about the profession, it actually plays into the negative stereotype. The moral ambiguity of Phoenix’s decision isn’t given enough space to exist in the first place; Maya’s kidnapping absolves him of all responsibility for representing Engarde in the eyes of the audience. And the writers’ message here - that the “correct” decision for Phoenix to make is to prioritize the “truth” over the requirements of his job - is wrong. That is not what a defense attorney does, and it’s borderline degrading to people whose job it is to uphold criminals’ rights regardless of their guilt.

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Now, I’m certain that the writers meant no offense by writing this case the way they did. They were probably just trying to write a good finale for their fun detective/investigation game. This is a goofy cartoonish visual novel about bishounen anime lawyers, not the The Pitt expansion from Fallout 3.

But Ace Attorney is still based on the real-life legal system, a critically important part of modern-day civilization. Like any piece of media, it both reflects the values of the people who made it and has the potential to mold or reinforce the values of the people who consume it. There is a clearly a side that you’re supposed to pick here, a set of values that you’re supposed to agree with. But these values are not accurate to “real lawyers” and skirt the line of being misinformation. As much as I love this case for the melodramatic high-stakes roller coaster that it is, I would have preferred it if the game gave its audience a little bit more credit and challenged us by giving Phoenix a character arc of the same quality as Edgeworth’s.

So You Think Your Client is a Sociopath Who Killed Someone Over a Petty Rivalry About Children’s TV Shows

At this point, you might be thinking, “What are you trying to say, lawyer woman? That Phoenix should have no problem defending someone who proudly, gleefully admits that he hired an assassin to kill somebody? That real lawyers wouldn’t have any problem doing that? That they’re supposed to go along with it? How could you ever help someone you know is guilty?”

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That’s a very normal thing to wonder about lawyers. All lawyers have two competing loyalties: first, to their client, and second, to the court and the public. Problems arise when these loyalties conflict. Laypeople always want to know what a lawyer is supposed to do when he “knows” his client is guilty (a question that assumes from the outset that a lawyer can ever truly “know”). Which loyalty would override the other?

There’s no easy answer. A lawyer’s job is to fight for her client, but that does NOT mean she has no responsibility not to commit fraud on the court. Pointing out the holes in the prosecution’s case and sniffing out lying witnesses? Offering a plausible alternate explanation for the evidence? Requiring the government to meet its burden to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt? That’s all fair game. A lawyer isn’t being dishonest by doing those things; they’re doing their job. But no lawyer is permitted to submit evidence they know is fake or call a witness to the stand that they know is going to lie, regardless of what the client orders them to do.

So, what about what we see in JfA? What should Phoenix have done in this situation?

1) This Situation Would Never Happen in Real Life

First of all, I want to stress that it is not something that would ever actually happen in real life. If real-world rules were applied to case 2-4, Phoenix wouldn’t be allowed to represent Matt Engarde to begin with. He was at the hotel when the murder happened, and he was the last person who saw Maya before she was kidnapped. That makes him a material witness, and he would not be permitted to act as Engarde’s lawyer. (As a side note, this would apply to other cases in the Ace Attorney series as well, including JfA’s second case with Morgan Fey.)

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Secondly, the three-day rule strikes again: in the real world, the crisis with Maya would probably be resolved before Engarde’s trial. In Ace Attorney, you watch the lawyers figure out the facts of the case in real time within the courtroom itself. But in reality, criminal cases can take 2+ years of investigation before they’re ready to go to trial. When Phoenix, Edgeworth, Gumshoe and Franziska collectively figure out where Maya is and swoop in to save her, it wouldn’t be happening at the 11th hour, but during this long investigation period. I think it’s extremely unlikely that Matt Engarde’s attorney would have to start the trial with the weight of Maya’s fate on his shoulders. The urgency artificially created by the three-day rule is the only thing that raises the stakes so high for Phoenix.

2) Phoenix Did Exactly What He Was Supposed to Do (and He Shouldn’t Feel Bad About It)

With that out of the way, I’ll answer the question I started this section with: no, it’s perfectly understandable and realistic for Phoenix to feel uncomfortable with representing Engarde, and I’m not trying to say that Phoenix had some absolute obligation to take this case or feel okay about it.

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But once you remove the extraneous element of Maya’s kidnapping, there is nothing for Phoenix to get upset about. De Killer never falsifies any evidence for Phoenix to present at trial, nor does Engarde insist on testifying falsely in his own defense. Phoenix is never asked to do anything that would violate any legal ethics rules.

All de Killer and Engarde want is for Phoenix to get an acquittal. This is a pretty standard request for a client to make of his defense attorney, guilty or not.

So, when Phoenix simply soldiered on and continued to point out whatever inconsistencies he could find, hoping for the best? He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and no one would have faulted him for it. Again, it’s the judge who makes the ultimate decision, not Phoenix or Edgeworth. Engarde could not hide from the evidence against him, no matter how much he tried to get Phoenix to wave a magic wand and make it go away.

...But I Still Like This Game

As I type this sentence, I’ve been working on this article for about four weeks, on-and-off during my lunch breaks and in the evenings. I wrote the above section a couple weeks ago, and I’ve continued to think about it since then. And, you know what? Maybe... this case wasn’t actually that bad.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have a problem with it. I think that case 2-4 has too much potential to make players misunderstand defense attorneys (who are misunderstood enough as it is). I still wish the game presented the situation in a way that was more respectful to real people who have to deal with similar situations on a daily basis. Edgeworth learned something important and 100% true about being a prosecutor, and Phoenix should have, too.

But as I mentioned earlier, Ace Attorney is idealistic. It paints a very romanticized, very positive picture of what a defense attorney’s job is like. Phoenix is a hero. He saves people from an inept police department and overzealous prosecutor’s office. The writers set up this idealism on purpose, as it’s very appealing to people who are into crime drama. It’s part of why Ace Attorney has been so successful, and I’d be lying if I claimed that I don’t enjoy the hell out of it.

They absolutely weren’t obligated to break their successful formula, and yet, they decided to. Perhaps this is the best we could have asked for if we wanted them to ever include a scenario like this. They took a risk. They acknowledged that, sometimes, defense attorneys do represent people who are guilty. Sure, they did it in a way that’s convoluted and objectionable, but they still did it. They tried. I’m always willing to give points to those who try with good intentions, which I believe the Ace Attorney staff had here.

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Still, I wrote all that - and kept it in - because I want everyone reading this to come away understanding that legal ethics is an enormous issue for lawyers, too. American law students are required to take an entire class just about legal ethics, no matter what kind of law they plan on going into. Not only that, but we all have to take and pass a standardized test on ethics and professionalism, separate from the bar exam of whatever state we’re trying to be admitted to. If a lawyer is found to have breached an ethical obligation, she can be reprimanded, disbarred, sued by a former client for malpractice, or imprisoned. We take this stuff very seriously, way more seriously than I think the public realizes.

The whole legal ethics thing is a lot more complicated than being forced to represent a scummy guy because he kidnapped your cheeseburger-obsessed spirit medium assistant. When you play Justice for All, please keep in mind that Phoenix’s hemming and hawing is because Maya’s life is on the line, not because there’s anything wrong with him representing Engarde in the capacity that he did.

Besides, once we ignore all these inaccuracies and bad messages, we still got a really enjoyable and thrilling finale to Justice for All. The other three cases are pretty weak, and Franziska is horribly underutilized, but I still like the final case and to a lesser extent, the game overall. It’s not nearly as good as the other Ace Attorney games, but it’s still worth a play through.

Thanks for reading!

Anyway, that’s all for now - as always, all feedback is welcome and I look forward to any thoughtful comments you guys might have. Am I totally wrong? Did I forget some important line of dialogue from the game that obfuscates one of my points? Got a different perspective on legal ethics than I do? Go for it!

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And I’m sure nobody’s comments will be angry once you see the newest adorable addition to my office’s decor:

Lawyerchu wants to know if anyone wants to grab a burger at the Vortex in Little 5 Points tonight.

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Thanks for reading, and join me next time when we take a look at the third game in the trilogy, Trials and Tribulations!