Do you want to be a lawyer? Perhaps you like to shout a lot, talk to robots/animals/robot-animals, or hoof it through space museums and get pick-pocketed by the mayor of a neighboring town?
Ace Attorney may be the game for you. The newest entry, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (3DS) is the fifth in the main series (and yet somehow manages to be one of the least-wordy titles), created by Capcom. The games function as hybrid visual-novel/puzzle games, centered on the fictionalized court system of Japan California. Primarily standalone, Dual Destinies allows new players into the series while throwing in enough references to the previous games for old fans, and while the difficulty is a little on the low side, it’s a fun ride.
Several years after Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, eponymous characters Apollo Justice and Phoenix Wright are back in the courtroom, joined by their new apprentice, Athena Cykes. The reason they’re working so hard: to solve cases and end the “dark age of the law.” If it sounds a little ridiculous to you, rest assured: it is. That’s part of the charm of the series–it in no way correlates to real-life law, and therefore over-the-top actions (such as a prosecutor that threatens death-by-sword at every turn, or in the first game, cross-examining a parrot) are par for the course in the world of Ace Attorney.
The game’s presentation is rather simple. The 3DS’s bottom screen is reserved for menus and examining rooms; you’ll have the options to talk, to move, to search the rooms you’re in, and so on and so forth. It’s slick, although the main problem I had was that sometimes the fast-forward function for repetitive dialogue didn’t want to work properly. It’s easier to use the buttons than to use the touch-screen, which felt like a bit of a step down from the earlier entries–the screen isn’t nearly as responsive.
Graphically, it’s pretty solid. Dual Destinies doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but the series’ transition from sprites to 3D models is barely noticeable. Each character is distinctively animated, with their own quirks–Athena’s novice status, for instance, comes through in her overexaggerated motions and up-and-at-em poses. The backgrounds of each scene survive the transition to 3D as well. They aren’t as detailed as previous games in the series, but on they’re own they’re full of life whether it’s a bleak abandoned courtroom or a futuristic lecture hall. The 3D functionality of the system itself, however, doesn’t lend much to the atmosphere. Several moments–particularly when you’ve cornered your culprit–are clearly made to take full advantage of the 3DS’ glasses-free capabilities, but left me feeling cold. It’s pretty much safe to say that you can leave the 3D function switched off and not miss a single thing. Also worth mentioning are the occasional animated cutscenes, voiced primarily by well-known voice actors (changed from previous titles). They don’t add a lot, but neither do they detract from the game, and they’re well-animated.
The game’s plot is a fun ride. What seems at first to be a series of mostly-unrelated cases gives Phoenix’s group a chance to finally bring about the end of their “dark age of the law,” and characters from previous games even make cameos at several points. Some of them are more clearly marked as villains than others, but each has a distinct personality and motivation. Several of the cases share some characters, including one girl who we get to see grow into someone more confident in herself, to say nothing of Athena’s growth and backstory. One character in particular stands out against the typical background of heterosexual gender-normative characters in games, so be aware–spoilers in the below paragraph for Case 3, italicized so you can skip it if you choose:
Robin Newman, at first, seems to fit the stereotype of the hotheaded anime boy. As the case continues, it’s revealed that Robin is in fact a girl, forced to be masculine in order to be respected as a prosecutor when all she wants is to be an artist. When she’s revealed, Robin drops the hypermasculinity and goes for the other end of the spectrum, becoming easily insulted, in touch with how others feel, picking up a variety of stereotypically-feminine mannerisms. The game treats it as that Robin is now able to show her true feelings, and a strict canon reading of it shows that while Robin didn’t want to be outed, she’d rather live her life as a girl than as the man she’s pretending to be. Whether or not Robin presents a problem for the trans* area of the LGBT spectrum is up to individual interpretation, but there’s definitely room for multiple readings.
Besides being of possible interest to those who don’t fit within their gender norms, the cast is well-rounded and diverse, all contributing bits and pieces to the overall plot at hand. Switching between examining crime scenes and going head-to-head in court, Dual Destinies does what it can to keep players on their toes, allowing them to connect the dots between each individual piece of evidence. Most of the evidence can be examined in further detail, whether delivered verbally by the characters or shown visually. Unfortunately, there isn’t much reason to show evidence to the characters outside of courtroom scenes, and thus there are lots of missed opportunities for humor and characterization. Showing Apollo an irrelevant piece of evidence, for instance, causes him to say he knows nothing about it, with no further confusion or even multiple kinds of flavor text.
Furthermore, investigation scenes now helpfully tell players which parts of a room they’ve already examined… again at the expense of characterization. Previous installments allowed for examining not only potential evidence but also things as irrelevant as stepladders and noodle carts, which generally would result in humorous exchanges between characters. Those bits and pieces lent a lot of heart to earlier games in the series, and while this game is charming on its own, it feels almost as if it’s missing something.
The ability to see what you’ve already inspected definitely cuts down on the frustration factor present in previous Ace Attorney titles, but there are other parts of the game that make it clear that Dual Destinies is primarily for newcomers to the series. Courtroom exchanges carry high-stakes drama just as they did in older games, and they’re a great mix of ridiculous and engrossing, but oftentimes players will be prompted to present evidence… only to watch whichever lawyer they’re controlling explain nearly every reason why the item is relevant. Previous titles often required players to connect each and every dot in any given case in a specific order, when they may have already jumped ahead three pieces of evidence and figured out the case; Dual Destinies eschews that. In the context of Ace Attorney, doing this is a way to continue the dramatic beats while again avoiding player frustration, but as a standalone title it feels like the game is trying to appeal to a younger audience than before. It’s a disappointing step down in difficulty, and I found myself several times wondering out loud why Phoenix was lecturing instead of letting me take over.
Each of the three playable characters has their own style of deduction, giving the game a sense of variety while solving cases. Phoenix and Apollo have their magatama and bracelet, respectively; those familiar with the other Ace Attorney titles will be familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, Phoenix’s magatama allows him to see if someone’s keeping a secret and lets players break the “locks” on their hearts to find the truth, whereas Apollo’s bracelet hones in on specific mannerisms each character has when they lie, pointing out possible inconsistencies. Athena’s method relies on what the game terms “analytical psychology”: using the gadget around her neck, she can sense when a witness’s emotions are incongruent with what they’re saying. When doing this, players access the “Mood Matrix” and choose which emotion is out of place. Unfortunately, each lawyer’s method is only used a few times throughout gameplay, and only within specifically-marked segments. Continually comparing Dual Destinies to its predecessors feels almost unfair, as it’s clearly meant as a way to bridge the gap for new players and old fans alike, but previous games in the series didn’t always specifically mark when Apollo had to use his bracelet, for instance. It causes this entry to feel a little dumbed down, and left me wanting to be able to figure out what the next step in solving the case was on my own.
Though the game has several letdowns, its music certainly isn’t one of them. It’s still done digitally rather than played with real instruments, but the tracks are all orchestrated and fit perfectly with the scenes they’re used in. The music during courtroom cross-examinations, for instance, made me feel as if I could solve a real-life murder case on my own. Music from previous games is present alongside that composed specifically for Dual Destinies, also fully orchestrated, and is a total aural treat for those who played the other Ace Attorney titles.
On its own, Dual Destinies provides an intriguing mystery that is well worth solving, and while I found the very end to be a little anticlimactic, the ride there was absolutely worth it. It’s a little on the easy side, and it doesn’t address some of the mysteries left in previous games, but engaging characters, catchy music, and intriguing mysteries prove that despite its shortcomings, Dual Destinies is a solid entry in the Ace Attorney series.
- Piecing together a good defense is every bit as compelling as before
- New voice actors are solid replacements for originals
- Music makes you feel like a Real Attorney!
- Humor blends well with serious story beats
- Characters fall a lot more into anime-trope territory than previous games
- Anticlimactic ending
- Tendency to handhold
- There aren’t a lot of extras to explore outside of the courtroom
Play it if: you played previous games in the series, or are looking for a way to exercise your logical reasoning while still participating in an engaging story that has a unique blend of ridiculous humor and lots of heart.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies was completed over the course of a month, totaling just over 21 hours of gameplay. It is available for Nintendo 3DS solely via digital download through the eShop.