Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies for Nintendo 3DS
The Ace Attorney series is probably my number one gaming guilty pleasure. The gameplay is thin on the ground, and only gets thinner in this instalment, and the stories are utterly ridiculous, but the charm of the characters and the strength of the writing cement this series as one of my favourites. After taking a break from protagonist duties in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix returns to his rightful position as protagonist, in what will hopefully be the first of a whole new 3DS series of Ace Attorney games.
Dual Destinies opens in the most dramatic manner possible, with an explosion going off in the iconic courtroom. The perpetrator and reason for of this explosion is the driving mystery of the game, which takes a non-linear approach throughout its cases. Phoenix Wright has come out of retirement following his disbarment before the events of Apollo Justice, and now he, Apollo and new attorney Athena Cykes work together to defend the falsely accused. Phoenix’s disbarment, and the conviction for murder by the rising star prosecutor Simon Blackquill, has ushered in the ‘Dark Age of the Law’. With public trust in the legal system at an all-time low, lawyers and prosecutors are increasingly using any means necessary to further their goals, with the truth of the matter becoming secondary to results. Phoenix, Apollo and Athena work through five cases, culminating in the mystery of the courtroom bombing, and the links that this has to the ‘Dark Age of the Law.’
It took me a while to warm to the core plot of Dual Destinies, but by the final case I realised how cleverly everything had been plotted together. The plot of Dual Destinies isn’t quite as labyrinthine as series highlight Trials and Tribulations, but it’s still fairly dense with some really stunning twists. I like the ‘Dark Age of the Law’ backdrop, which actually questions the fundamental precept of the series that colourful prosecutors and exciting trials mean actual justice is being served. There aren’t quite as many links back to the old games as I would have liked, but by and large Capcom did a good job of balancing appealing to new players with fan service. Unlike a lot of people, I liked Apollo Justice, so I was happy to see him taking a prominent role alongside Phoenix, even serving as the player character in the second episode. Athena Cykes is in some way your typical Ace Attorney insane spunky female side kick, but I think I prefer her to Maya Fey and Trucy Wright (who does play a small role in Dual Destinies). She’s more competent than they were, and actually serves as the player character for the third case. Maya and Trucy often felt like useless hangers-on, but as Athena is a fully trained lawyer she stands alongside Phoenix and Apollo as an equal. I missed the loveable presence of Gumshoe, but there are other characters which make up for it. Probably my biggest gripe with the story was the utter lack of acknowledgement of a major twist at the end of Apollo Justice, but by and large Dual Destinies scratched the unique itch of an Ace Attorney game.
The gameplay of the Ace Attorney series has always been thin on the ground, but sadly in Dual Destinies it feels even thinner. Some of the cases in the previous four games could get mind-bogglingly complex, but I felt that none of them ever quite got to that level here. The only real gameplay addition, Athena’s ability to read the emotions of others, is fun but there isn’t any real change here. Apollo’s reading of tells returns, but only a handful of times, as with Phoenix’s Psychelocks, which were intimidatingly complex in previous games but insultingly simple here. The endless investigation stages are simplified, with far fewer examination stages, which is welcome, but nothing is bought in to replace them, leaving the investigative portions feeling hollow and linear. Ok, this series has never been about the gameplay, but if you’re going to take something out at least put something meaningful in to replace it!
I was a bit cautious about the move to 3D character models; the 2D sprites had so much character! My concern was misplaced however, and the personalities of old characters transfer beautifully into 3D and new characters are equally vivid. I never failed to laugh at Athena’s ‘overwhelmed with emotion’ animation. There are a handful of voice acted anime cutscenes, which are nice but so sporadic as to feel quite pointless. The music is a bit disappointing; I have no idea why they bothered to change the old ‘Pursuit’ theme when the protagonist corners the perpetrator, which despite the fact I was simply picking items from a menu made the experience feel more tense and exciting than most FPS games that I’ve played. The new tunes aren’t quite as effective, and there’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke’ going on here.
Still, Dual Destinies is a solid Ace Attorney game, and for its budget digital only price I really can’t complain. It’s not quite a triumphant return for the series, but it’s still one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully future games build on this so we can get this series back up to the devilish complexity of Trials and Tribulations.