I finished Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies a while ago, but only recently did I complete the DLC case “Turnabout Reclaimed” after a break from the long run that was the main story. Now that enough time has passed, I figured I would leave some thoughts about Phoenix’s most recent foray into the courtroom, and how it stacks up for an Ace Attorney fan such as myself.
While it IS possible to play this title before other entries, I wouldn’t recommend it. Although the majority of the cases can stand on their own, the development of the overall series has always been sequential to a degree. Furthermore, there is little reason to make Dual Destinies a starting point considering the older games most likely hold up just as well today. Their text-heavy design is already a niche calling, so curious audiences will most likely be attracted to the series on the promise of quality writing rather than any slightly improved 2013 mechanics.
Dual Destinies is commonly referred to as “Ace Attorney 5” because it is the fifth main game in the series if you discount Edgeworth’s spinoffs (the Layton crossover will probably also count as a sidestory). It stars the titular Phoenix Wright, which may be a bit of a surprise for fans that thought Apollo would be taking the mantle for a new generation. I can only assume that Wright’s iconic presence was too much to let go, and that every future protagonist would have to share the spotlight with him in order for the majority of fans to be happy. Many people pointed out that Wright had an unexpectedly large role in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, and it seems that this newest game reinforces the blue lawyer’s mascot status. Combine that with the existence of Edgeworth’s own two games, and I can clearly tell that there’s a reverence for the franchise’s original rivals.
The result is a 3DS title under the direction of Takeshi Yamazaki, who previously worked on the Ace Attorney Investigations games. In a sort of compromise, Dual Destinies puts three attorneys in the playable spotlight: Phoenix, Apollo, and newcomer Athena Cykes. Playing as multiple characters isn’t new for the Ace Attorney games, but Dual Destinies makes this trio one of the focal points for the character development that ensues. It works quite well, and doesn’t end up feeling like a cheap option to safely please fans. Although most of the game is spent as Wright, players take on the role of Justice and Cykes for at least a full episode each which is more than enough time to establish their status as up-and-coming talented attorneys.
The storyline is divided into episodes like the previous games, with Episode 1 comprising of an introductory courtroom battle and subsequent episodes extending into detective/lawyer hybrids. While the main things I suspect most fans remember from each Ace Attorney game involve their final episodes, Dual Destinies does an excellent job at tying its earlier cases into a meaningful whole. While I anxiously awaited the inevitable higher drama of the last case, the game at least held me over well with its clever wit and charm throughout. Well, maybe except for Episode 2, easily the weakest case in the game thanks to a nonsensical villain plot and overly weird supporting characters. At least it was placed near the beginning of the game to introduce major characters such as a new detective and prosecutor.
The debut of prosecutor Simon Blackquill is a strong one. While he may not reach the heights of Godot, he’s certainly more engaging and entertaining than Klavier (and probably Franziska). Blackquill carries a mischievous samurai personality that often leads to humorous intimidation tactics, especially with his “SILENCE!” shout and pet hawk assaults. He lives in a strange position of being a prisoner who is actually allowed to stand in court as a prosecutor. This oddity ties into the “dark age of the law” state that Dual Destinies occasionally touts as the current issue with its fictional world. While this overarching problem doesn’t translate into anything as far as a gloomy atmosphere (nor a harder game), the perception of law in the game world leads to some interesting conflicts and moral quandaries for the characters. Episode 3 in particular benefits from the added weight of this state of mind, becoming arguably one of the best “middle” cases in the franchise so far.
It’s worth mentioning the DLC case too, because it certainly doesn’t falter in entertainment value. It doesn’t do anything drastically different (other than feature a wildly unusual defendant), but its quirkiness, likeable characters, and relatable setting make it a particularly strong standalone episode. I only wish it was implemented as part of the main game, since I suspect many players experienced it after the final case as a result of its DLC status. It takes place between Episodes 2 and 3, and would probably be better off being played as such (it doesn’t act like it exists in a vacuum). At the very least, it could’ve replaced Episode 2 to strengthen the core experience.
In terms of gameplay, not much has been altered from previous mainline Ace Attorney titles. I feel the investigation scenarios are a bit more streamlined and straightforward this time around, as there’s little-to-no forensic analysis manually enacted by the player. While some may see this as a downgrade, I honestly don’t miss it (though I do miss Ema Skye). One thing I greatly appreciate is the red circular indicator for individual objects in "examine" mode. It’s a minor visual difference, but prevents pixel hunting and accidental repetition. A neat side effect of playing as 3 protagonists is the altering roles that the lawyers assume depending on the case. I enjoyed looking through the eyes of both Athena and Apollo during investigations, as well as seeing how they fare as sidekicks to each other.
While Phoenix and Apollo still possess their respective magatama and bracelet powers, they aren’t utilized as frequently as in previous games. The courtroom’s biggest gameplay addition comes in the form of Athena’s signature power: the Mood Matrix. This electronic program allows Ms. Cykes to analyze the emotions she detects within a witness’s testimony. The emotions are represented by happy, sad, angry, and surprised mood markers which bleep in various signal strengths. “Pinpointing” contradictory emotions on certain statements will cause witnesses to admit reasons behind the mood in question. Additionally, “probing” involves tracing the source of an overloaded emotion via the recreated images of a witness’s recollection. Although there are no penalties for guessing wrong in the Mood Matrix, there isn’t a significant difference in challenge. Penalties and Game Overs have always been circumvented via constant saving in Ace Attorney titles, and the absence of that process with this minigame isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Besides, I’ve always had a sort of self-imposed embarrassment when I answer wrong in Ace Attorney games, which is punishment enough in the presence of a cynical judge and prosecutor.
As the first entry on the 3DS, the changes to the franchise’s presentation are mainly graphical. The biggest difference is the polygonal characters, which animate more fluidly and dynamically than I ever expected. The background locations benefit from depth, and not just the stereoscopic 3D effect. Players can now switch camera angles around a crime scene while investigating to get a better sense of place. There are also anime FMVs for significant occurrences or character introductions, and they’re even fully voiced for the brief times they last. However, the English voice acting (outside of Phoenix) isn’t exactly satisfactory, somewhat hindering the impact of these sequences. Even worse than mediocre voices are the striking number of typos in Dual Destinies. Typos are the #1 cause of broken immersion for me in a text-driven game, and it brings to question how much proofreading was actually done at the end of the title’s localization. Overall, the best aspect of an Ace Attorney’s presentation has always been its soundtrack, and Dual Destinies does not disappoint. While it doesn’t surpass the first game’s compositions in my opinion, the relatively high quality and endearing tunes possess serious staying power. The ending theme is an absolutely gorgeous reward for completing the story.
Even though Dual Destinies doesn’t peak as high as the original trilogy’s greatest moments, Yamazaki has proved to be a worthy successor to Shu Takumi (at least for the time being). Dual Destinies pays minor tribute to old features while updating the series with appreciable new ones such as a text review log and two separate save files. The trio of defense attorneys makes for an interesting and dynamic storyline with Phoenix as an older, mentor-like boss who still can learn much from his fellow lawyers. Apollo is stronger in this new entry than he was in his own dedicated title, and Athena makes a wonderful debut thanks to her lovable facial expressions and compelling arc. In the end, Dual Destinies soars high with a powerful narrative themed on the nature of truth, and enough over-the-top comic relief to make it fun all over again for “Objection!”-yelling audiences.