Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Review
Personally, when Capcom announced that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the fifth installment in the Ace Attorney main series, will be on the 3DS, I have my doubts, but after playing it, I understood the reason behind the switch. There are obviously quite a number of changes, and especially in the gameplay aspect, it actually brings more good to the series than bad.
To those uninformed of the series, I think the best, most simple explanation of what Ace Attorney is in a nutshell, is that it is a series of lawyer-simulation games with a “visual novel-like” storytelling (not bona fide visual novel, mind you, though you might argue to the contrary.) The basic structure of the games is divided into two parts – the investigation segment where you had to talk to people, investigate for evidences and so on, and the courtroom segment of the game where you had to defend your client against false charges, using all the evidences you found in your investigations and finding contradictions in testimonies.
One of the most interesting element in Dual Destinies is that even though the English title specifically had the name “Phoenix Wright” in there, I think it can honestly do without. Dual Destinies introduced a refreshing change different from the previous installments in a way that the narrative is actually putting you into the shoes of three different protagonists, namely – Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice and a new character, Athena Cykes; and perspectives are periodically shifted between the them. Since Ace Attorney is such an old series, the characters, especially old characters like Phoenix Wright who had really aged, and the game’s characterization really shows it. Phoenix Wright who was only a rookie lawyer in the first game, but he had pretty much taken a mentor role in Dual Destinies just like how Mia Fey was to him. He seems much more cooler, calmer, wiser with the passing of age, yet he still possessed traits that we all adore, especially his unfounded confidence in the courtroom (aka bluffing technique) and his last-minute objections.
“Hmm… For something I pulled out of a wormhole, it could turn out to be true, right?”
~Classic Phoenix Wright
While Phoenix Wright certainly has his screentime in the courtroom, a majority of the cases are still carried out by Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. I think what the game, or the series as a whole in general, is good for, is developing their characters in very gradual manner, and VERY gradual, in fact. In Dual Destinies, the disposition between the juniors and seniors of the Phoenix Wright gang is shown in a very distinct manner. When you’re switched to Athena’s perspective, you can easily sense her incompetence and clumsiness, and constantly needed assistance from others, which I believe, is a trait common with Wright during his rookie days. The vibe I get from Apollo Justice is that he’s someone who had gained seniority and experience (mostly from the previous installment), but still has room for growth. And aforementioned, Phoenix Wright himself, who we had been playing as from the very first game, had now pretty much taken a mentor role, and helped the other two “juniors” and the cases whenever needed.
While some of Wright’s style in court seem to had rub off on Athena and Justice, perhaps in due part with Wright guiding them, the way these three deal with their cases are still noticeably different. The difference between juniority and seniority, and their respective skills and experiences, while obvious, is still a very interesting, noteworthy dynamic between the protagonists; as you can clearly see that some of these characters had been developing these very skills and experiences over the course of multiple installments.
Aside from the three protagonists however, there are additionally old and new characters alike coming into play. That’s even excluding all the silly, quirky witnesses, the judge, Gaspen Payne (first prosecutor) and some other side characters. The cast, just like it had always managed in the past, make for a wide, colorful cast of characters which make the game that much fun.
The stellar writing of the game is also a keen reminiscence of why we love the series so much – the snappy dialogue can be hilarious when it needed to, which is all thanks to the character dynamics, and it can instill thrill and excitement at the same time during the more serious and cliffhanging moments. There are also those nostalgic, shocking, jaw-breaking revelations causing your characters to scream “WHHAAAT!?” or perhaps “NOOOOOOO!!” which could drag as long as 5 pages on the dialogue box. There was never truly a dull moment in the game. Although, I find that the actual happenings in some crime scenes can get actually ridiculous, and require extreme jumps in logic. Then again, perhaps it’s because I had stayed away from Ace Attorney for so long that I had forgotten just how ridiculous Ace Attorney normally is.
Another thing I notice, is that, perhaps being on a new console, Dual Destinies seems to make attempts to introduce this game to players who may be their first entry into the series. Whenever, and perhaps, especially, some key characters from the older titles in the series are shown in Dual Destinies, descriptions pertaining to their past with the protagonists are explained almost without fail. Nonetheless I personally think it is still more enjoyable for players to play and experience the past titles first, so they can get a feel of the character dynamics, since one of the best thing about Ace Attorney, is undoubtedly, the quirky characters.
While most of the series’s story are written in a way that morality is a bit more distinguishable, Dual Destinies finally did something that I always thought will be interesting to the series, “deconstructing” justice and brings a slightly dark twist. I think there are some elements of that introduced in the old titles, especially in the fourth game, but they were just never developed to such an extent in Dual Destinies, to the point that it becomes a pivotal plot point behind the game’s story. Some very common quotes in the game include “The Dark Age of the Law” or “The End Justifies the Mean”, which are some very short, concise but straightforward statements for the juridical situation in the game’s world. The main rival of Dual Destinies – Prosecutor Blackquill, is also a perfect embodiment of the game’s setting.
The one thing that I had the greatest praise of for Dual Destinies, is oddly, it’s gameplay and technical aspect. Aforementioned, the switch to 3DS seems questionable to me at first, but now I think it’s more of a welcome change. There are a few changes if you compare the technical aspects to the older titles in the DS. One of the most major change is definitely the graphics overhaul. First of all, the most noticeable change is the sprites, which are now in 3D models. It may take a little getting used to, but for me, it feels natural in just a while. Despite the switch to 3D models, most of the animations and expressions are mostly intact from the previous games, only, they are improved, with crisper, smoother and more dynamic. The addition of animated scenes is also an odd one, and to be frank, they feel kind of cheap in contrast to the rest of the game’s production.
The best thing about it’s gameplay though is it’s investigation, mostly reinforced by the more better graphics. While in the DS, as far as I had known, during the investigation segment of the game where you are required to click-and-investigate objects-the camera is fixed in one angle, or at best, just pans sideways; let alone to pixel look. In Dual Destinies however, you can actually investigate in 3D. That means which a click of a button from the D-pad, the camera will actually rotate in different angles, giving your investigations that much more dynamic, allowing you to investigate objects scattered about in different perspectives. It gives a stronger feeling of immersion, and as an upside, the 3D environments are actually rendered with superb quality, and looks stunningly detailed.
Another interesting element is that since you are technically controlling three different protagonists, all three of them have a special ability of their own, so it really spices the game up in terms of variety. Long time fans of the franchise will immediately recognize Wright’s Psyche-Locks dispelling, or Justice’s lie-detecting bracelet and additionally, Athena’s ability comes in the form of analytical psychology and emotions-detector, which the game dubbed as “Mood Matrix”. At the moment, I’m still not sure what to think of it, other than that it is a strange ability added to an already strange plethora of seemingly supernatural abilities. It does however serve it’s purpose of providing variety of gameplay in it. I might add however that I had so far, never switched on the 3D on my 3DS, and since Athena’s ability is actually a pretty high tech ability, it might actually be pretty fun to play hers with 3D on.
Being on the 3DS, the music sounds more professional than the DS games. While I usually never thought much of Ace Attorney music (since well, the DS ones sound like 8-bit tracks), the music on 3DS is remarkable in a way that it uses a more orchestrated rhythm and structure to their songs, which deliver a certain magnificence to the game’s atmosphere. There are also some tracks specifically tailored for certain cases and atmospheres, for example, a few oriental pieces which seem custom-tailored for Case 2. There are also some ballads which are pretty good to listen to too.
Dual Destinies may not be the best game in the series, it is still a very good game. It uses the same established formula in the series, and made a few subtle refreshing, welcoming changes to it. One of those very positive changes and improvements came in the form of gameplay, in most part due to it porting to the 3DS, utilizing it’s powerful hardware capabilities in the process. Additionally, Dual Destinies is also a good foundation for being the first Ace Attorney game on the 3DS, setting up for any possible future sequels.