Order! Order in the court! After a long hiatus, everyone’s favorite lawyer, Phoenix Wright, returns to the stand in Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies for the 3DS. It has been a long time since we heard from this spikey haired defense attorney or any of his friends. Miles Edgeworth 2 and Phoenix Wright vs. Professor Layton were sadly not localized here in America, so the last we saw of Phoenix was in the DS’s Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, which had a mediocre reception at best. Luckily, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies makes up for both the lackluster 4th title in the series, and the long hiatus, by being one of the best Ace Attorney games we have seen so far.
The plot of Dual Destinies takes place a year after the events of Apollo Justice. Phoenix Wright has been re-instated after being framed for fabricating evidence, once again putting on the blue suit and defense attorney’s badge. Unfortunately, the slate wasn’t exactly wiped clean. The public is still skeptical of Phoenix’s innocence and other defense attorneys have sadly begun following Phoenix’s frame job example by fabricating evidence as well. This has caused the entire legal system of… wherever Phoenix Wright takes place… AmeriJapan I guess, to descend into moral corruption. Now, Phoenix must face his biggest challenge yet, a criminal prosecutor who is also a criminal.
The villain du jour for Dual Destinies is Simon Blackquill, bird themed goth prosecutor who also happens to be a convicted murderer. Blackquill stands as a sort of symbol for the current state of corruption in the legal system. Even though he is incarcerated, he is allowed to try cases because he is just that good… or perhaps just that cutthroat and underhanded. He doesn't quite fill the shoes of Edgeworth or Franziska Von Karma, but he's way more intimidating than Klavier Gavin of Apollo Justice fame.
The whole plot of Dual Destinies is way darker than previous Phoenix Wright games. Sure it’s still the story of a bumbling defense attorney and his investigations, but it’s also a commentary on corruption in law practice. Phoenix has to somehow use the system to protect the innocent when the system is broken and diseased. Simply put, it earns its M rating. I’m hesitant to go into any plot details about who Phoenix is defending and why, as anything said would inevitably contain spoilers and thus hints for both the investigation and courtroom sections. However, I can safely say that you will see a lot of old faces like Pearl, Apollo, Trucy, Edgeworth, and many more make guest appearances.
The gameplay of Dual Destinies hasn’t changed much from the old Phoenix Wright formula, and that’s a good thing. Like before, cases are broken up into investigation and courtroom phases. Investigation phases play out something like a point and click adventure, as you look for evidence and ask witnesses some preliminary questions. There is a lot less pixel bitching this time around, which does come as a relief. You no longer feel like you have to tap on every single thing just to be able to get to the next area. However, there are times when you feel like you have talked to everyone and picked up everything and yet the game still won’t let you move onward if you haven’t shown the right doodad to the right Joe Schmoe. These moments are few and far between and are bypassed with simple trial and error, but it’s always a bit disappointing when you have to solve a case specifically the way the writers wanted you to, even though you already figured it out in some other way.
Courtroom segments are also the same as before. You listen to witness testimony, press them for more details, and question anything that sounds fishy. Then, when the time is right, you present a key piece of evidence to turn the tides with an epic shout of “OBJECTION!” These moments are as fun as they always was. Nothing quite compares to capturing criminals in their own tightly woven web of lies. The only huge change here is that some testimony comes with motion comic style stills representing a witness' memory. You'll sometimes have to present evidence that contradicts with these pictures, rather than what the witness is actually saying.
Dual Destinies actually does introduce one new game mechanic through your new assistant, Athena Cykes. Athena can best be described as a “technopsychologist” using an A.I. robot necklace and a bunch of strange holographic computer technology, she can measure the state of witnesses' emotions. At times, you will be unable to notice lies or present a piece of evidence that shows a contradiction. When this happens you will have to see if the witnesses' emotions actually synch up with what they are saying. Are they showing joy even though they are feigning sadness? Are they unsurprised even though they appear to be shocked? It’s actually a pretty straight forward mechanic that doesn’t involve a lot of puzzle solving, but it’s fun nonetheless. Phoenix’s Magatama and Apollo’s bracelet which lets him notice physical tells also make very brief reappearances, but never become core gameplay mechanics.
The graphics of Dual Destinies are simply amazing. The still images from previous entries have been replaced with fully moving 3D models. However, these models are designed so brilliantly that you barely realize they are 3D until they suddenly move. You never experience that unfortunate uncanny valley effect some games have when they transition from 2D into 3D. Dual Destinies flat out looks like a moving polygonal anime. It’s one of the best looking 3DS games we have seen yet, and easily the best looking game in the Ace Attorney series.
Unfortunately, all the good comes with the bad, and the bad in this case is voice acting. Most of the game isn’t voice acted, thank god, instead sticking to the old school beeps and boops of a text crawl. However, the random anime cutscenes scenes that do have a spot of voice acting or two never ascend beyond the level of half-assed anime dub. It’s a small gripe about an otherwise awesome game, but it’s certainly groan worthy.
At this point, you probably know whether or not you like Phoenix Wright style adventure/visual novel style games, and if you don’t, Dual Destinies is a pretty bad place to start. It assumes that the player has a lot of knowledge about what happened previously in the series and if they don’t, the world just looks like it’s filled with random legal scumbags. There are also a lot of stingers that require past knowledge as well. For example, Edgeworth’s appearance isn’t nearly as cool if you don’t know who he is. If you are still new to the series, I suggest starting from the beginning with the original Ace Attorney instead. The series is best when digested serially.
If you are an ongoing fan of the Ace Attorney series, then Dual Destinies is one of the best entries. It has a phenomenal plot that has really grown up compared to the other titles. It has interesting puzzles that really get you to think. It has likable characters, awesome graphics, and plenty of cameos and WTF moments to keep you on your toes. It basically has everything we could possibly expect from the Ace Attorney series. Long time Phoenix Wright fans should not hesitate to pick up their copy of Dual Destinies right now. You won’t be disappointed.
This review is based off a retail copy of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies obtained through the Nintendo 3DS eShop.