Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies Review

Author: Rory Young
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/phoenix_wright_dual_destinies/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Solving mysteries is an outrageously gratifying experience. Pouring over evidence, interviewing witnesses, breaking down dat logic and finally, climactically, unmasking the villain and saving the day. Sherlock Holmes was right to consider mystery solving a greater drug than his many other addictions. It's no wonder then that the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series has thus become so popular, considering its robotic construction of unique and exciting mysteries, outstanding character writing, and simple yet challenging gameplay. 

Why then has it been six years since the release of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney for Capcom to revisit the main franchise and put out Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies? Perhaps, in part, it starts with the departure of Shu Takumi, Director and Writer of the franchise. Or perhaps it was the handheld generation jump from DS to 3DS? One thing is for certain, it has been too long since since Phoenix Wright's been gone and I wouldn't blame the fanbase for worrying if things went wrong.

Consider that mystery solved, because Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is true to form. Nick is back and as great as ever, though with some notable eccentricities.

Finding Phoenix Wright

Writing, writing, writing. It makes sense that a game like Dual Destinies, where a majority of the player's time is spent reading scrolling text, hinges so heavily on the quality of writing. Whether it's interviewing potential witnesses at the crime scene or cross-examining in the courtroom, there's rarely a moment in Dual Destinies where the player isn't reading. 

I can't even describe how much of a relief it was then to discover the writing is superb and comparable to some of my favorite cases from the original Phoenix Wright and even Trials & Tribulations. While Shu Takumi has moved off of the series, his protege and writer/director of the Miles Edgeworth spin-off titles Takeshi Yamazaki has taken the reins and is driving the franchise forward. Yamazaki's Phoenix Wright is certainly unique compared to Shu Takumi's work, preferring less complicated mysteries with bigger and more common revelations. The core remains the intact: rich, diverse characters, dialogue filled with nuance and detail, and story arcs that push the player through an emotional roller coaster.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies features five chapters, each a court case where Phoenix or one of his apprentices, Apollo Justice and newcomer Athena Cykes, are driven to prove their defendant’s innocence. Just as each chapter involves unraveling each character's story thread, so is the overall story arc a rope woven together from each of its chapters. The way the drama unfolds, slowly coming together and suddenly, climatically, explosively reaching its conclusion? Spectacular. Another cast of characters that will remain poignantly unforgettable. 

I do prefer the more focused, detailed cases of the original three Phoenix Wright releases, as they felt more challenging and to an extent realistically designed – as if I could potentially solve the cases myself. Whereas in Dual Destinies it often feels like the case will slowly solve itself despite the player's involvement. Consider a game of chess. Early Phoenix Wright often felt like staring at a chess board wondering what the best move would be. Dual Destinies feels like the next four out of five chess moves are obvious, it's just a matter of which comes first. Of course, in both cases just experiencing the game as it plays out is beautiful in motion.

Final note here before moving on. So much credit deserves to go to the localization team at Capcom. Game after game they must put their heart and soul into creating not just direct translations of so many jokes, puns and figures of speech, but translating the intent and depth of most lines. Countless Japanese games lose so much of their personality, their heart in translation, but Phoenix Wright in English may just be better for how much effort Capcom goes to making the cultural eccentricities approachable. If only the voice actors in Dual Destinies' cinematics would put in that much effort...

Visually speaking Phoenix Wright makes the jump from 2D sprites to 3D models beautifully. While there will always be a special place in my heart for the sprites, at no point during Dual Destinies did I think the 3D models created an inferior experience. In fact, I found many of the animations much clearer, bringing the characters to life in a way I'd never have considered. Do yourself a favor and turn on that 3D slider to experience the full benefit of the 3D model conversion. Though sliding it down looks outstanding as well.

Do I even need to mention how mind-blowing the soundtrack is? This is Phoenix Wright we're talking about. If a player's heart-rate doesn't jump whenever they hear an “Objection” or a “Hold it” then I am of the belief they are already dead. There are so many outstanding songs, natually including an updated version of the iconic objection theme. All the sound effects that should sound familiar are back too, like a certain gavel hammering and a very particular sound effect involving hands slamming onto a desk. Some things never change, even after many years of hiatus.

Dual Destinies' does have one pervasive flaw that becomes more definite as the game progresses. Not only is it much too easy, but there's little difficulty curve from one case to the next. Typically Phoenix Wright titles escalate both in drama and in difficulty, matching story with gameplay. Once I was accustomed to the mechanics of Dual Destinies, however, it was simply a matter of playing out the narrative, rather than meticulously analyzing the scenario and evidence hunting for clues. Each and every puzzle is very clearly laid out, with multiple hits – some subtle, some straightforward – laid out to ensure no player is left behind. It's clear that Dual Destinies' goal was for all players to experience the story first and enjoy the gameplay second.

And by all means, Dual Destinies' gameplay is as good as ever, including the newly introduced “Mood Matrix” feature, which joins the previously implemented “Psych-Lock” of Maya's pendent and Apollo's bracelet's “Perceive System.” Athena can use the “Mood Matrix” during the trial to read a witness' emotions as they give testimony. Calling out a witness based on emotions that seem out of place will solve the puzzle. While not particularly compelling, the emotion mini-game does add some diversity to court cases, though it's a growing trend that these mini-games are becoming prominent at the expense of the core gameplay. That said, it's only a notable trend and I'm not going to say it adversely affected my experience.

That's because the core gameplay oh Dual Destinies still stirs my inner investigator in the best of ways. Nothing's more gratifying than catching crooks in a lie and seeing them sweat on the stand. “Objection!” Phoenix shouts, either at the press of a button or through shouting at the 3DS' microphone. That's when it's clear things are about to get real. What follows is the presentation of evidence, pushing witnesses on their testimony and making clutch decisions that could save an innocent person from a life in jail. If only real law was like that in Phoenix Wright, I might change my profession.

Again, however, there are multiple trends worth noting while playing Dual Destinies that could grow into serious problems with the franchise. The actual investigation and witness interview portion of the game has become extremely simplified, to the point where it almost feels like an on-rails visual novel. Go to an area, ask as many questions to the witness as possible, the game points you to the next area, repeat asking all questions to the witness, next area, click on everything because this is a clearly noted area to be searched and will mark everything after being clicked. So much of my love of the early Phoenix Wright games came from the challenge and it's startling how little of that remains. The amount of general hand-holding the game provides does it a disservice. I still had to think, but at no point was I ever stumped in Dual Destinies. I never thought I'd miss being made to feel like an idiot like I have here.

Final Thoughts

Hold it! If I exaggerated Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies' flaws then let me clear that up straight away. Dual Destinies is one of the best games available on the Nintendo 3DS and my worries are at best just that, worries for the future. Every single moment was filled with a drive to see each chapter's conclusion, followed by a brief moment of relief and awe before starting the next chapter. The worst thing I can say about Dual Destinies is that it's only five chapters long when I could easily have played 20. Please don't make me wait too long for more, Capcom!

Meanwhile my list of compliments for Dual Destinies runs long. First and foremost is the writing, brought to life through a range of diverse characters with rich backstories and purpose to their actions and decisions. If anyone can get through Dual Destinies without getting misty eyed, they're likely some sort of robot. 

It's this empathy created with each character that drives the player to dedicate themselves to each case. It makes presenting the right piece of evidence and saving the day feel rewarding. What use is solving a puzzle and reveling in your own intelligence if the reward is simply another puzzle? Phoenix Wright's solution is perfect: give player's a goal, a purpose, and they won't just feel accomplished, they'll beg for more. Five cases in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, five friendly faces worth fighting for. 

The future of Phoenix Wright is in great hands.

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