- Developed and published by Capcom
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies finally hit the Nintendo eShop a few weeks ago. With neither the second Ace Attorney Investigations spin-off nor the film adaptation hitting the US, it is the first Ace Attorney title to be released stateside in three years, and the first proper sequel in nearly six. Needless to say, I was eager to get my hands on Dual Destinies.
Those who have played Capcom’s cult hit (outside of Japan, at least) know that it’s difficult to describe. Simply saying it’s a game where you defend clients doesn’t capture the absurdity of the courtroom that once called a parrot as a key witness. Perhaps the most succinct pitch would be that Ace Attorney is a game where you play as a defense attorney in a world perpetually on the verge of spiraling into madness. Appropriately, Ace Attorney borrows the seemingly inappropriate aesthetic of Capcom’s fighting games for its courtroom drama–characters are all harsh angles with broad shoulders, and shout their objections with speed lines flying. The end result is predictably ridiculous, and often endearing, made more so by updated character models–all of which are animated beautifully and expressively.
As the first proper sequel to the series in nearly six years, Dual Destinies combines everything we’ve learned from previous installments, both as titular lawyer Phoenix Wright and as his one-time successor Apollo Justice. It follows the familiar five-case format perfected by previous games, where the action is divided between point-and-click-esque investigations of crime scenes and interrogating witnesses by presenting the correct evidence at the right time. With its convoluted cases, you’ll often see a contradiction in someone’s testimony, but the challenge comes in figuring out which piece of evidence the game has deemed the most appropriate for this time. This is the source of some of Ace Attorney’s greatest frustrations as well as its fun. For their part, the investigation segments have been tweaked and streamlined. You can now view the crime scenes from different angles, and the combined addition of a checklist and script reference helps you stay on task and focused on the investigation.
The real joy of any Ace Attorney game is its writing. A majority of the hours you’ll spend playing any given Ace Attorney game is reading pages of dialogue, and Capcom’s reliably excellent localization team make sure every joke makes it in. Because Ace Attorney is so steeped in puns–as evident by looking at the character roster, Apollo Justice–it inhabits that weird, 90s Toonami world that is clearly Japanese but no one dares acknowledge it. Rice balls are donuts. Ramen noodles are hamburgers. Unlike the colonization of anime from our childhood, In the world of Ace Attorney, this makes sense; if the game’s primary pleasures lies in its written dialogue and jokes, then the localization team makes sure the punchlines translate–even if that means the joke is tweaked to be culture-specific. It’s a fascinating process that I only wish we had more insight into. Del Ray’s localization of the Ace Attorney casebooks had several pages of translation notes; I would love to see something like this for the series proper.
Of course, some of the jokes don’t stick. Dual Destinies continues the series’ unfortunate habit of making effeminate men the butt of the joke. One case in particular has an uncomfortable segment in which you must out a character’s gender identity. It’s played for laughs and never revisited after the case is finished, giving the distinct feeling that the game sees this as being of little consequence. This is the only part of Dual Destinies that I found truly disappointing, and it made me hesitant to recommend it to new players. Series veterans will no doubt still appreciate other aspects of the game, especially the return of familiar faces.
Dual Destinies is at its best when favorite characters from previous games make appearances. I was surprised by how happy I was to see even Gavin Kalvier, the prosecutor from Ace Attorney’s least memorable entry. Additionally, because Dual Destinies let’s us play as three different attorneys instead of just Phoenix or just Apollo, we get to see how they interact with all of our favorite characters. Especially with the new animations and character models, this becomes a real treat for fans.
As its third lawyer, Dual Destinies throws a new junior partner with all new abilities into the mix. You see, part of the “spiraling into madness” picture painted earlier is the fact that each attorney has a special sixth sense that gives them an edge. For Phoenix, it is a mystical token a medium gave him; for Apollo, he has the ability to sense when someone is lying when his bangle tightens around his wrist; now Athena shows us the ability to “hear people’s hearts.” Each of these abilities comes with its own GUI and methodology. For example, Phoenix’s token can tell when someone is lying, but he must present the right evidence at the right time to pull out the truth. Athena’s new ability takes the form of the “Mood Matrix” in which icons representing different emotions react at specific points in a witness’s testimony. Although I liked investigating as Athena, and her ability becomes central to the plot in later cases, I never really got the hang of how to use the “Mood Matrix.” Perhaps I just needed more practice, but it wasn’t always clear what emotion didn’t belong at what point and why. Additionally, the “Mood Matrix” interface is diegetically explained as a pseudo-scientific gadget she developed through her psychology studies. Aesthetically, it’s interesting as it seems to build on Takashi Miike’s film adaptation that interpreted much of the game’s GUI as diegetic (characters sent Minority Report-esque screens flying at one another just as often as they pointed fingers). On the other hand, the weird pseudo-science explanation feels unnecessary when we’ve already accepted Phoenix’s and Apollo’s abilities as essentially magic.
Despite some missteps, I consider my time with Dual Destinies well spent–even if it was with the help of my nostalgia goggles. Seeing old characters again with newly-refined 3D models was fun in an of itself, and I found myself falling back into the familiar routine with cases. Some especially unfortunate jokes make me reluctant to recommend it to new fans without a caveat, but I have no doubt others who enjoyed the previous installments will find this a satisfying fix.