Platforms: 3DS (eShop)
Release Date: October 24, 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
The Ace Attorney series is very much an odd one. Focusing on a defense attorney that gets thrown into increasingly bizarre and dramatic cases, the games center on balancing humor with insane plot twists and unusual characters. Since the release of the DS original (itself a remake of the original GBA game), the series has gained quite a cult following, eager to see Phoenix and the crew in the courtroom again.
Capcom has finally granted that wish after two spin-off games with Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, with the original spike-haired protagonist returning to the legal field after being disbarred for seven years. Will this new entry bring new fans to the side of justice? Probably not, but those that were already yearning for more objections and turnabouts will not leave disappointed.
Dual Destinies picks up about a year after the fourth title in the series, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. The titular protagonist, Phoenix Wright, has gotten his attorney's badge back and is ready to return to the courtroom with previous protagonist Apollo Justice and new attorney Athena Cykes in tow. Together, the three of them hope to dispell 'the dark age of the law' that has been hanging over the legal system for the past seven years.
This plot thread, along with Athena's and new prosecutor Simon Blackquill's backstories, are the core of Dual Destinies' story. Sometimes it feels a bit stretched; the characters are not afraid to bring up the fact that it's the dark age of the law at every moment, and sometimes it interferes with the overall writing, making a normally remarkably written script feel just a bit off. Also, having three protagonists and a swath of returning characters makes it feel like there wasn't enough camera time for them all, with some reappearances feeling all too brief and forced.
These hiccups in a series so entirely focused on the plot might make it look as though Dual Destinies is not the return to form that fans wanted from Capcom, but these bits are minor to the great overall plot and the new characters within it. The new Detective Fulbright (sorry, no Gumshoe here!) and Blackquill are very interesting, and of course the new batch of defendants and witnesses are up to the standard quirky par. Odd quirks aside, the whole of the game comes together well, especially during the last couple intense cases.
As for the gameplay, for the most part it remains similar to previous Ace Attorney entries. The game is split into two distinct sections: Investigating and the courtroom battles. When you're investigating, you question witnesses for new information as well as scour the scenes for new evidence. It's also far more straightforward than previous entries of the series: You can only examine certain areas instead of everywhere, and a Notes section helps you figure out what you need to do next. Phoenix's Magatama and Apollo's bracelet also come into play during these sections, using their unique abilities to expose lies and secrets and find out the truth from witnesses.
When Dual Destinies goes into the courtroom, you cross-examine testimony and present evidence to back up your claims. These sections are more text heavy than the investigation segments, so sometimes it may feel like it can drag as the lawyers slowly try to explain their new revelation to a relatively slow-minded judge, but overall the objections and table slamming help keep the tension and your interest high.
The courtroom is also where Athena gets to shine with her Mood Matrix. Various times throughout the game, you'll be tasked in studying a witness's emotions during their testimony to find unusual (or lack of) emotions that may suggest they are hiding something. From there you can question about the unusual emotion, or present evidence to put the witness's mind at ease. This new addition is very nice, but unfortunately doesn't feel like it reaches its full potential. Since each session into the Mood Matrix is relatively different, you have to rely more on trial and error than any actual strategy in order to find the right answer.
For fans worried about the series' transition into 3D, worry not, as Dual Destinies looks great. Besides a couple stiff animations from a couple returning characters, everyone makes the transition from pixels smoothly, and it feels almost like Phoenix and the gang belong in 3D. The investigation portions also benefit significantly from the transition to the third dimension, with crime scenes being viewed in 360 degrees and offering new ways to examine. In addition, the actual 3D effect is nicely done, with characters popping out and the overall effect being subtle but effective.
Can someone new to the Ace Attorney series jump into this entry without playing the previous games? Technically, yes, as the game does a decent job of re-introducing old characters and small upgrades to the formula makes everything flow a bit better. However, most of important bits about the protagonists (such as why Phoenix was disbarred for seven years, or why Apollo is around in the first place) are mainly left unexplained, and it would be far better to play the four main titles first (Ace Attorney: Investigations is a spin-off title that isn't required, but recommended).
All in all, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies may not be the best entry to the series, but it still holds up to the series' high quality. After waiting years for Phoenix's true return to the courtroom, fans will come away from Dual Destinies satisfied.
+ Cases overall remain high quality, with quirky characters and dramatic twists
+ Athena's Mood Matrix is an interesting addition to the courtroom
- Writing can sometimes feel like it's preaching with 'the dark age of the law'
- Phoenix's and Apollo's respective powers feel tacked on instead of properly implemented
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Dual Destinies will not win any new members to the cult of shouting objections and slamming tables, but fans will get another great set of courtroom dramas to enjoy.