Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies 3DS Review

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I can honestly say I was getting a little concerned after hearing the announcement from Capcom that Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2 wasn’t coming to English shores. I’ve played through every single entry in the Ace Attorney series, so I know how disappointing it is when you have followed a franchise from the beginning, but are denied the pleasure to continue the games you adore for whatever reason. It happens too often. Ask anyone who enjoys such games as Yakuza, Suikoden and other countless RPG series that have titles crossed off the translation list (where are you Final Fantasy Type-0?) and no doubt they’ll curl up into a ball and begin crying on the floor.

I was so close to doing that myself after the Japanese announcement of Dual Destinies, the fifth entry in the main Ace Attorney series. Thankfully, my spirit didn’t break, and Capcom did well by announcing a digital only release for the Western world. I’ve got no objection to that if it means I can return to the amusing court room antics of the Ace Attorney series.

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Following on a year after the events of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright is back to being a lawyer after getting his licence reinstated. Mr Wright is now in charge of Wright Anything Agency, a company that consists of Phoenix Wright, his magician daughter Trucy, Apollo Justice and new employee Athena Cykes, a young woman who is fresh out of law school and is ready to help Phoenix tackle some new cases with her analytical psychology ability.

Problems have arisen for the country’s courts, as the game is set in a period known as “the dark age of the law,” an era where the public has a big doubt in their legal system, especially when the new prosecutor of the game, Simon Blackquill, is a convict who is serving prison time, but is let out to participate in indicting the accused. It’s a phase where winning is valued more than finding the truth. A time where false charges and fabrication of evidence is used to win and become the best prosecutor or lawyer in the business. It’s now up to Phoenix and the team to turn this around and earn back the trust of the people.

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In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, fans had concerns with Apollo taking centre stage for the series. To some, he felt like a palette swap of Phoenix, but I personally felt that Apollo had enough in him to be a great character in his self-titled game. In Dual Destinies, that idea with Apollo being a younger Phoenix makes sense, because Mr Wright now takes the role of a mentor to Apollo and Athena. Phoenix is no longer the young lawyer. He comes across more mature – knowing that people are looking up to him and he must set an example to them. Occasionally he can’t help but release some of his inner youth out with some of his trademark expressions, but don’t expect to see Phoenix act completely like he did in the first couple of games. It’s nice to see Phoenix mature to where he is now, and even though this game is named after him, it comes across more like a trio of heroes fighting for justice, with Phoenix only being in control of three cases, and Apollo and Athena getting to star in their own during case 2 and 3.

Dual Destinies is a visual novel with adventure elements, so it makes sense that one of its main attractions is its well-written story and characters. It’s a game that you shouldn’t take too seriously, as this is a court room where the witnesses lie to their heart’s content and the outcomes become so ridiculous that you can’t help but be absorbed in its tale with a chuckle and a smile. Yes, it’s about people getting murdered, but it’s one you can laugh with without feeling guilty. It’s silly, but ingenious, dumb, but intelligent, funny, yet heart-warming, and it all comes across in its writing and offbeat characters that range from a journalist who hides in a cardboard box to a head of a school who has one of the most freakish smiles you’ll ever see in a video game this year.

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Gameplay is split into two areas, investigating at the crime scene and defending the client in the courtroom. Dual Destinies plays like a “best of” collection from all the Ace Attorney games, because a lot of elements make a return. Investigating is done from a first-person perspective, as you interview witnesses and look for evidence at the crime scenes that will help the defendant. Speaking to the witnesses hasn’t change; it’s still selecting scripted dialogue options to progress the story, with the occasional showing of evidence to get more information. What helps is the newly included “note” feature, which lists the tasks you need to do to advance the game to the courtroom. Searching for clues at the crime scene has also had a tweak. The game now tells you what you have interacted with by showing a tick on the hand. It’s nothing extremely game changing, but these features help people who have been away from the game too long and can’t remember what was happened, or are simply stuck, because they have missed interacting with something to progress the game forward.

Most of the thrilling action takes place in the court room, where twists and turns are aplenty and the prosecutor and the lawyers are throwing out “objection” and “hold it” left, right and centre between each other. It might seem crazy, but it works well to add suspense when the truth starts coming to the forefront of the story. The court room gameplay is structured in the same familiar fashion that fans will be accustom to – cross-examining the witness’ testimony and finding contradictions with the evidence you have. Along with this, each character has a special ability that can help move the tide of the battle to their side. Returning gameplay elements, such as Phoenix’s ability to see psyche-locks, hidden secrets locked deep within a witness that are represented by chains that you need to break with evidence, and Apollo’s bracelet that lets him sense when someone is lying by letting the player discover a nervous twitch somewhere on the witness’ body, are used to add different gameplay elements, even though they are still targeting the same thing – discovering the truth.

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Athena’s ability is new the series. Using her little computer necklace called Widget, she has the power to use analytical psychology to hear the emotions coming from a witness’ heart.  This requires the player to pinpoint missing emotions or additional feelings – joy, sadness, anger and surprise – that seem to contradict what the witness should be feeling when describing the events that happened. It’s not a ground breaking new feature and becomes more key to the plot than it should, but just like the returning characters’ specific mechanics, it adds flavour to the mix that switches up the gameplay so that players are doing something different during the long hours of examining for holes in a person’s testimony.

My only concern for the game was that some might find themselves jumping ahead of the game’s pacing. For me, this rarely happened (twice throughout the game’s 20 hours), but it’s something that can make you feel like the characters are stupid and should be seeing the obvious.  This might not affect many people, as I’m sure most will be absorbed in the game and not over analyse situations, but for people who do, you might see yourself outsmarting the best lawyer in the gaming world.

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Dual Destinies is the first time the series has been on the 3DS, and the developers are using the extra power to move the game into the realm of 3D. At first, I was extremely worried that this could be hazardous to the series. You see, the Ace Attorney games thrive on their charming sprite work and exaggerated animations. If those were missing, then the game wouldn’t be as entertaining. Thankfully, somehow, Capcom has managed to make the 3D models look better than their sprite counterparts, and yet still manage to have them animate well that you could mistake them for sprites. The addition of 3D means that that the developers can do fancier tricks with the camera, with the game showing this off by zooming around crime scenes or showing characters acting out testimonies in the middle of the court room. The 3D is a welcomed design choice that adds to the presentation of the game, rather than spoiling it.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is a title that sticks firmly with the formula that the series has been using since it first began. If you have no interest in getting absorbed in a story that requires reading, then you won’t enjoy the game. For others, don’t let the idea of reading put you off, because Dual Destinies will likely win you over with its peculiar cast, the quality story, fantastic soundtrack, amusing puns, and charming 3D graphics that captures the series’ best artwork. Fans will be happy that Phoenix Wright was able to localize it – it really would have been a massive injustice if this game never saw the light of day outside of Japan, as Dual Destinies is up there with the best entries in the franchise.

8/10

by

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Version tested: 3DS

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel