Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies makes you glad for digital distribution. The Ace Attorney games have a dedicated fan base, but unfortunately, the titles have never been huge sellers. The last game in the series that was released in North America, Ace Attorney Investigations, was well received but did poorly enough saleswise that we never got the sequel. For a while, it seemed that Dual Destinies would go the same way until Capcom announced it as an eShop-only release. Fans of the previous Ace Attorney games will be glad to know it was worth the wait.
Dual Destinies opens up some time after the end of Apollo Justice. Phoenix Wright has finally gotten his attorney status back and has opened up the Wright Anything Agency, a combination talent agency and law office. Working under him are two new attorneys: Apollo Justice, the protagonist of the previous game, and Athena Cykes, a genius fresh out of law school. Together, the three must take on cases and save innocent people from possible doom. This is all complicated when a bombing during a trial injures Apollo and threatens to tear apart the fledgling law office.
Phoenix Wright's writing has always been its most solid point, and Dual Destinies is up there. It isn't as good as the original game or Trials and Tribulations, but it's a big step up from Apollo Justice and Justice for All. The three protagonists work together extremely well, and I liked Athena more than I liked the other "sidekick" characters in previous titles. All three protagonists benefit from not being the sole hero and having another character to play off. I wasn't very fond of Apollo Justice in his titular game, but he comes into his own here. Not being overshadowed by the Phoenix Wright plot really helps him, and as a result, he evolves into more of his own character. A few of the classic Ace Attorney characters are no-shows, but their replacements do a good job. In particular, Detective Fulbright, this game's version of Detective Gumshoe, is an enjoyable substitute, although it's hard not to miss Gumshoe's good-natured goofiness.
The case writing is of a similarly good quality, although a few cases are a little weak and rely too much on characters who are not as funny as the script thinks they are. In particular, Case 2: The Monstrous Turnabout suffers from a large and wacky cast who do things for insane reasons and take forever to tell the truth. They're not unlikeable, but the setting and plot is crazy enough that even the in-game characters say it's more convoluted than a Rube Goldberg device. The later cases completely make up for it, and the final two cases absolutely shine as some of Ace Attorney's best. The game is held back from being as good as Trials and Tribulations by a weaker batch of antagonists. The new prosecutor, Simon Blackquill, is just not as interesting as Edgeworth or Godot. Fortunately, most of the characters are funny, likeable, or the right kind of annoying that makes you happy once you break down their testimony and point out their lies.
The game also deserves praise for its localization. The Ace Attorney games have always been heavy on localizing the names, clues, and settings to make them more appealing to players, but Dual Destinies gave them a run for their money. Several clues depended on pretty obscure Japanese word puns, and there's an entire part based entirely around Japanese mythology that must've been a pain to handle. The game does so with surprising ease, and while there are some points that had to stretch to convert a weird Japanese language clue into something that works in English, they pulled it off well enough that it doesn't stand out for long.
Dual Destinies is also a great place to start the franchise if you're a newcomer. There are a lot of references to previous games, but most of the cameos and returning characters are explained on-screen, so you won't miss much. It's a very self-contained game and is immensely playable. A few things may seem off, especially if you didn't know that magic just exists in the game. Long-time players have the option to skip tutorials for mechanics they've already used, but anything new must be explained before you can use it.
The basic gameplay in Dual Destinies hasn't changed much. The game is divided into two segments: investigation and trial. Investigation involves exploring the various locations and searching for evidence about who committed the crime and how. Any areas you already searched are marked with a useful "X," and anything you can search is highlighted when you move your cursor over it. This avoids the tedious pixel-hunting from previous games and keeps things moving at a steady pace. You also have a notebook that tells you which steps you still need to take to advance the plot, so you don't have to wander around until you hit the trigger to continue. It's a straightforward mechanic, but you have a few features you can use during it. Psyche-locks and The Perceive System return from the previous games, and they're functionally unchanged from their predecessors.
The trials are also very similar. Once a trial starts, players take the role of the defense attorney. The attorney changes from chapter to chapter, and you're often switching between attorneys as the plot demands. Your goal in the trial chapters is to use the evidence you discovered during the investigation phase to point out flaws in witness testimony or force them into contradictions to ferret out the truth. All the while, the opposing prosecutor is doing his best to block you. As in previous games, you have a limited life bar and lose life every time you make a mistake and present the wrong evidence. Do it too often, and you'll be forced to restart from an earlier checkpoint.
One of the few new features in the game is the Mood Matrix. Just as Psyche-locks are Phoenix's special power and the Perceive system is Apollo's, the Mood Matrix is Athena's special ability. She can sense the emotions behind people's testimony using a combination of enhanced hearing and goofy super-science. When using the Mood Matrix, you can see how Angry, Happy, Sad or Surprised someone is, and how intensely he or she feels that emotion. The goal is to point out the contradiction in their emotions. If someone is happy upon finding a dead body, there is usually a reason for it, and that reason is often the key to solving the case.
Dual Destinies has flaws, but most will seem familiar to long-term Phoenix Wright players. The game follows its own logic. Even if you figure out something before the characters do, there's nothing you can do. Likewise, if the characters figure out a clue before you do, you may be left trying to catch up to their leaps of logic. This can lead to frustrating moments where you're expected to present a specific piece of evidence, and what you think is correct evidence is not what the game thinks is correct evidence. It's a trivial problem considering you can just save and reload if you're unsure, but it can really interrupt the flow of a cool moment when you screw up and your lawyer looks like a doofus. There are also a number of typos or minor editing mistakes that should've been caught in proofreading. None interfere with the case or dramatic moments, but they stand out.
Dual Destinies is the first game to move away from 2-D artwork in favor of 3-D models. Surprisingly, this is entirely in the game's favor. The new 3-D models do a fantastic job of mimicking Ace Attorney's vivid character animations. Each character has tons of little quirks and animation details that give them a lot of life. The 3-D models also allow the developers to do more with the camera than they could in the previous games. It often zooms around, changes directions, and moves in ways that weren't possible with flat 2-D artwork. It's one of the best-looking games on the 3DS and a great example of how well-made 3-D models can look as good as hand-drawn 2-D artwork. The soundtrack is also excellent, with each of the three characters having distinctive theme songs and music.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is definitely an Ace Attorney game. The mechanics are almost unchanged, but the writing is as fun, witty and clever as ever. It isn't quite up to par with the best of the series, but it's still an incredibly fun experience. The new graphical style really makes the visuals pop, and the new characters really fit the story. If you liked the previous games or were turned off by Apollo Justice, you'll enjoy Ace Attorney. It may not redefine the formula, but it brings it back on track and polishes it. If you're a newcomer to the series, it's a great place to start, especially since digital distribution makes it so easy to pick up a copy.
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