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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Review: Courtroom Drama
It’s been a long time since an official entry to the Ace Attorney franchise has come out. The last game in the main series, Apollo Justice, came out in 2008 and ushered in a new era of law, with Apollo leading the charge and defense attorney extraordinaire Phoenix Wright serving as his mentor. Now, with Dual Destinies, Phoenix is back in the forefront with a brand new installment on the 3DS. With such a long time in between games, I was both curious and apprehensive to see how Capcom would continue the series. With Dual Destinies, Capcom provides some fantastic cases and implements enough smart gameplay tweaks to make the process of lawyering and investigating more satisfying than ever. And to top it off, the final case may go down as one of the best cases in the entire franchise.
After losing his attorney badge in the events prior to Apollo Justice, Phoenix Wright has reclaimed his badge once again to lead the defense in Dual Destinies. His defense team, the Wright Anything Agency, is composed of Apollo Justice, rookie defense lawyer Athena Cykes, and of course Phoenix himself. You’ll jump into the shoes of each lawyer throughout the game, and although the core game isn’t any different when using the different characters, it’s always amusing to see the different inner monologues of the three defense lawyers and observe how their personalities are all slightly different from one another. As mainly an adventure game, the crux of Dual Destinies lies in its story and writing, and it skillfully hits the high mark on both of those fronts. The fascinating story is filled with twists and unexpected moments, and the roller coaster of the narrative is suspenseful throughout. Each case is a self-contained vignette that has a beginning and an end, but the game has an overarching plot thread that ties all the cases together in an ingenious fashion. The writing is superb as well, filled to the brim with wit and humor that keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. One aspect that I love about the Ace Attorney games they aren’t afraid to broach some dark and creepy subject matters. Dual Destinies is no different, as there are some legitimately haunting and intense events, especially in the last case. The game does an exceptional job of treading the line between a vibrant setting and a story with serious undertones and themes.
That’s not to say the game is perfect from a narrative standpoint however. For one, I felt the motif of “the dark age of the law” is hammered into your skull repeatedly, and at some point the sinister topic of the seedy justice system became numb to me. Try taking a shot every time the game mentions “the dark age of the law” and you’ll be dead by the end. Another quirk in some of the earlier cases is that the game plainly shows the act of the murder with the killer in plain sight in the opening cutscene, giving you no sense of mystery or intrigue. I will concede that it’s really more about the process of solving the case rather than the end result, but revealing who the real culprit is before you even start the case seems like a strange decision to me. Dual Destinies also has fully animated and voiced cutscenes interspersed throughout the game, a first for the series. Unfortunately, I found most of these to be terrible. Not only were they usually completely cringeworthy and cheesy, but the voice acting was stilted and awkward, similar to how most English dubs over Japanese anime usually is. It’s a good thing the game doesn’t rely too much on these animated cutscenes because every time they popped up I prayed that they would be over quickly.
In terms of actually playing the game, the biggest addition also comes in the form of the new main character, Athena Cykes. Athena is the rookie defense lawyer that joins the Wright Anything Agency and she brings a powerful asset to the defense team: psychology. As a student of analytical psychology, she is able to detect the emotion hidden behind people’s statements and able to discern what they’re truly hiding in their hearts. She does with her little robot buddy Widget, and with Widget, you’re able to see what the witness’ true feelings are during his or her testimony. When using Widget, you’ll get a sleek interface that illustrates 4 different emotions that can be conveyed within each statement of a testimony. As you peruse through each statement, it’s your job to find the contradictory sentiment and point them out. For example, if a person claims that a large piece of debris was falling on top of them, but the happy emotion is lit up during this, then there’s an obvious discrepancy between fact and emotion. Using Widget was a welcome change of pace from the usual formula of Phoenix Wright and it was always enjoyable each time it came up.
But other than the inclusion of Widget and his emotion detecting capabiliies, the progression of defending your client is pretty much the same as the previous games. Dual Destinies is still very much like a visual novel; it’s all about the story, the writing, and the characters, and not so much about intricacy of the gameplay. In the courtroom, you’re cross examining witnesses and presenting evidence that disproves their testimonies. During the investigations, you’re exploring different facets of the crime scene to discover pieces of evidence or uncover new bits of information vital to the case. However, there are a plethora of seemingly small, but intelligent changes that streamlines the entire procedure.
At any point during the game, you can access record log that shows a good chunk of the previous dialogue. This is immensely helpful, as in an adventure game like this, it’s always nice to go back and review old statements just in case you thumbed through something a little too quickly. Another addition I appreciated was a to-do list that shows you what tasks you need to carry out during the investigatory phases of the game to advance the plot forward. In all of the Phoenix Wright games, you often need to present a very specific piece of evidence to a particular character to continue the story, and sometimes this piece of evidence would feel extremely arbitrary. Dual Destinies eliminates this problem by listing all the things you need to accomplish to move on, and it’s welcome addition that streamlines the investigation portions of the game. I always thought that the courtroom drama was vastly more exciting than the investigations, so I appreciated the attempt to expedite the investigations.
One especially cool feature incorporated into the courtroom experience occurs near the end of every case. As is the norm with Phoenix Wright, you’re often placed in a logical trap that seems almost impossible to solve, and it feels like the inevitable outcome for your defendant is a guilty verdict. In Dual Destinies, when you are in desperate need of an epiphany, you engage in a brief section in which you answer a set of basic questions to review the entire case and try to piece together all the known information. Although the questions are usually fairly simple and it’s impossible to fail these segments, it’s presented to you in a stylish manner that makes solving the conundrum that’s been baffling you even more gratifying and rewarding.
As the first Phoenix Wright game on the 3DS, it was delightful to encounter all of the visual and audio tropes of the series presented with more powerful hardware. Not only is the goofy, spirited world more colorful and attractive than ever before, but the character models and animations all look outstanding. The facial expressions each character would exhibit were always over the top and hilarious, and I particularly was fond of the exasperated face the defense lawyers would make when they realized they made a mistake. As the brand new character, it was no surprise that it seemed like Athena received more work from the developers on her animations, as I found her movements more intricate and detailed than most of the other main characters. The breakdown of the true killer at the end of every case gets even wackier and crazier, and seeing the insane reactions of the murderers when they’ve been found out is something I always look forward to.
The improved audio fidelity was also something that old school Phoenix Wright fans might notice right off the bat. I was so accustomed to hearing compressed, low quality audio out of these games (as they were originally GBA games ported to the DS), that I was legitimately and pleasantly shocked when I heard the first “Objection!” and its superb audio sharpness. Dual Destinies continues the series’ tradition of having an excellent soundtrack as well. The music is downright fantastic, and it’s big reason why the game can so deftly straddle the boundary of having deep, emotionally resonant moments with a lighthearted and charming world. The soundtrack elegantly complements the situation at hand, whether you’re fiercely cornering a lying witness or having a funny exchange with any one of the more bizarre characters.
While it’s not ultimately necessary to have played the previous games to fully understand Dual Destinies, there is no doubt in my mind that fans of the franchise will get more enjoyment from the myriad of references that is peppered throughout the game. Having prior knowledge of how these characters began their arc is always a plus as well, but there is enough meaningful development to both old and new characters to satiate newcomers. Dual Destinies is only available digitally on the e-Shop for $30, and it’s a great purchase for anyone looking for a more story driven, adventure type of experience. The clever gameplay modifications and the absolutely incredible final case make Dual Destinies an easy recommendation for beginners and a must play for series veterans.