It’s been five years since Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, and three years since Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth was been released. After America got cheated out of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (in large part due to Capcom executives who aren’t aware they’ve been sitting on a potential goldmine) and bizarre delays on the localization of the Ace Attorney/Professor Layton crossover game, many fans began to wonder if and when we’d see our contradiction-loving characters again.
With last week’s release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the answer is officially “now.”
Dual Destinies returns the game to its investigative-courtroom visual novel roots. It’s the exact game Ace Attorney fans have been waiting half a decade for, and it does not disappoint. It has everything you’d expect from an Ace Attorney game and improves on almost everything. It’s not a prime starting point of the series – almost every previous game gets a passing reference of some kind – but veterans couldn’t ask for much more.
The bulk of the game’s story takes place roughly a year after the events of Apollo Justice. Wright has gotten his attorney’s badge back. The player follows the three lawyers at the Wright Anything Agency – Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice, and the newly joined Athena Cykes. Each lawyer at various points in the story takes up the lead in a case, with another one serving as a team member behind the bench.
The overarching story format follows a pattern familiar to Ace Attorney fans by now – the first case is a warm-up case which seems insignificant but proves to be vital to the story against a pathetic prosecutor. (In this case, Winston Payne’s brother, Gasper.) After that, a series of cases against the game’s primary prosecutor, all leading to a case that culminates the story.
The gameplay is in essence exactly the same as all of the previous Ace Attorney games: it alternates between investigating for clues and looking for contractions in the courtroom. As per usual, the courtroom scenes involve the player getting boxed into a proverbial corner and escaping it like a cartoon Vince Gilligan character. You get to tear down big egos bit by bit on the witness stand and relish seeing your clients removed from suspicion. Not much has changed, which is good – we’ve missed it.
The investigation scenes have actually improved – an icon will pop up when you mouse over something that is worth examining while searching a room. Another icon takes its place once the piece has been examined. This prevents a lot of the BSing that was so common to finding clues in a scene in previous installments. Additionally, some rooms can now be examined from multiple angles, instead of just left and right.
As with any Ace Attorney game, you can expect to find a number of colorful characters with pun-based names. Foremost among the new characters are new attorney Athena Cykes and Simon Blackquill – the game’s main prosecutor. He is a convicted murderer serving time and a master of psychological manipulation who has been ordered to stand in court.
It’s hard to talk about Blackquill without giving too much away, but Athena was the biggest surprise of this game. I originally believed she would just be the game’s Spunky Female Sidekick With A Special Ability, but she turned out to be a more complex character than that – she was eager to a fault, intelligent, cheerful, inexperienced, suffered occasional mental breakdowns, and had a pretty fascinating backstory that becomes vital in the last case. I can safely say that she is the most complex Ace Attorney character since Edgeworth.
The newest interrogation gimmick is Athena’s Mood Matrix. Athena’s specialty is using analytical psychology to understand witnesses. She is able to use technology and her strong sense of hearing to sense discord in witnesses’ hearts, and maps it out on a grid showing four emotions: joy, sadness, fear, and anger. It’s up to the player to pick out contradictory emotions during cross-examinations.
There’s a bit of a learning curve with it – especially since it’s not always based around presenting evidence directly after finding the contradiction – but it’s a fascinating, fun and often challenging addition to the game. The only major black mark against it is that there’s seldom a penalty for a wrong guess, thus giving the player a bit of an unfair advantage.
Interrogation gimmicks from the previous games – specifically Apollo’s Perceive ability and Wright’s Psych Locks – make a return in this game.
While each previous game has taken small steps forward in terms of animation quality, Dual Destinies takes a running leap. The use of 3D models allows the characters to move naturally from one gesture to another – a start contrast to the sprites we have been seeing up to this point. Also for the first time, full motion anime cut scenes are interspersed within the story. All of the voices in the game – including each “Objection!” “Hold it!” and the cut scenes – have been recorded and rerecorded by voice actors, thus replacing the previous voices done by random Capcom employees. While it’s fascinating hearing the voices of characters – some of whom we have known over the course of several games – as with any time a previously silent character is given a voice, it can be a bit disorienting.
Here’s most of the first cinematic in the game (released by Capcom as promotional material) to give you an idea. This, like 100% of the game, is actually in 3D, though this clip is simplified to 2D for your home enjoyment:
Two of the most welcome new features to the game are a new save feature and the dialogue log. Instead of being forced to exit the current case upon saving the game, players are given two save slots that can be accessed at almost any time. The dialogue log tracks dialogue spoken by the characters from the current point back a reasonable distance. This is exceptionally useful, as it allows players to pick up bits of dialogue they missed (all of which are crucial when deciding which evidence to present) and gives immediate reference of what occurred to anyone loading a saved game. Additional features include a note function that allows you to keep track of tasks you must do before proceeding, and the ability to correspond with you partner at the bench if you get penalized in court too much.
Many have noted the M rating and how it’s a bizarre rating for an Ace Attorney game. It is somewhat confusing at first – there is no foul language in the game, and the few sexual references that are in the game are subtle enough for younger players to miss – but the cut scenes do feature a fair amount of dripping blood. The final case in particular, however, have some of the most gruesome implications of any Ace Attorney case thus far, even if it is only implied. It’s certainly just past the point of a T rating, even if it means Dual Destinies must have the same rating as Grand Theft Auto V.
By the way, if you were wondering which characters from games past visit, I’ll drop a few hints: guests include a couple of prosecutors and a spirit medium. That should be more than enough for most fans.
Make no mistake – Dual Destinies is the game for which we have been waiting. It’s exactly what fans wanted, with a little extra for your trouble. Besides, don’t you want to see Wright behind the bench again?
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is available exclusively through the Nintendo eShop. Sorry, fans of tangible games.