As a defense attorney, you must clear the name of your client while finding the truth behind a heinous murder plot. That is the premise of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies; the first Ace Attorney game released on the Nintendo 3DS. Though the series started on the Gameboy Advance, it was really the release of the Nintendo DS titles that brought these quirky and engaging stories to a wide audience.
The Ace Attorney titles have always been about delivering a great story. A crime is introduced at the start of each case but the circumstances are revealed to you piece by piece through dialogue and careful investigation. The traditional approach of starting off each case with a short snapshot of the murder occurring has been dropped for a few more character development scenes instead. Though it might not have the same hook effect, I appreciate the fact that they took the time to breathe life into the new characters. The stories still remain as gripping as ever. This particular game features 5 separate cases in which you will explore wildly different environments and eccentric characters. The settings include a legal academy, a superstitious village, a bombing at the district courthouse and more. Each case involves a murder, and the gameplay is split between field investigations and arguing in court. The story unfolds itself as you listen to testimonies and find evidence and has done a surprisingly good job of concealing the whole story until the very end.
To keep you on your toes, the game includes surprise witnesses, forged evidence, etc. This is not your traditional court system, but it serves its purpose. In particular, I didn’t feel like there were as many outright plot twists as the previous entries and they didn’t actively try to lead you down the wrong path either. This may not sound like a good thing, but I think they did a much better job of keeping the mystery intact and leaving you with a good number of suspects. As a result, you get a sense that you are trying to find as much evidence as possible to figure out a story, rather than finding one crucial piece that will give the working story an alternate ending. This subtle change in storytelling really signals that they’ve got some talented writers behind the game.
The cases themselves are amusing. They are often not limited to the murder itself. In trying to find out the truth, you get a few pieces of high school romance, some philosophy about law and even the development of minor characters. Are the cases realistic? Hardly. I’d sooner plead insanity than to try and pin the blame on a mythical creature (though that might lead to a more successful insanity plea down the line). Characters are over the top and ridiculous, but the Ace Attorney series has always managed to do it in a tasteful way. There a lot of jokes and bad puns and despite the horrible nature of the game, it is definitely a light and cheery approach.
The audio and visuals are still in the same style as before, but executed quite differently. Phoenix Wright used to be drawn in a style between cartoon and anime, but this latest version has 3D sets and animated cut scenes instead. They’ve kept it quite clean but shifted to a style closer to anime. It doesn’t affect me much and has allowed the game to include a few new features and of course include some interesting video snippets to enjoy.
It’s probably obvious at this point, but the game is incredibly heavy on dialogue and linear by nature. At best you can mix up the order in which you ask questions or pick the wrong answer on purpose to see what happens. So in terms of mechanics, not a lot has changed from the Nintendo DS entries. The game is split up into two different segments in which you are either in court or investigating the scene.
In court, you are listening to testimonies, arguing the case and basically reading dialogue. This portion of the game has remained identical, you still press the A button or the giant rectangle on the bottom screen to move on to the next statement. In testimonies, you have the option to press your witness for more information or issue an objection. These are all controlled by buttons, touch screen, or the more fun and ridiculous method; the microphone. You can shout out the key phrases such as “OBJECTION!” or “HOLD IT!” for the same effect.
One of the new innovations from Dual Destinies is the Mood Matrix. The main character, Athena Cykes, is able to pick up on subtle emotions from the witness during testimony. Her necklace, named Widget, is able to show this on a screen and let you make decisions to question the witness about why she felt happy when she just witnessed a murder.
The other portion of the game is an investigation mode. You have a menu that lets you travel to different locations and in each location you may question a witness or investigate the scene. This is where you are collecting clues. Usually you can talk to one person about the events and hopefully learn something critical, then you are given the chance to look at scene and use the stylus to poke at evidence. The environments are now in 3D, so instead of a static image, you can get several different views of the site to find pieces of evidence hidden under a table or behind a stage. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies has also included a number of subtle changes to make this process a little easier. For example, evidence you have already investigated will have a check mark sign so you won’t repeat yourself. There’s also a notes section that will clue you in to where you should go next should you be stuck. The overall interface will be immediately familiar to anyone that has played the series before, and if not, takes about ten seconds to learn.
For the Fans
For fans such as myself who have enjoyed earlier installments in the series, there are enough returning characters and inside references to give you a grin here and there. Phoenix Wright makes some short appearances and Apollo Justice returns as a lead character. The few jokes and references made are the only links between cases and games.
I felt in the past that some Ace Attorney games have been too heavy on returning characters and have made it difficult for a newbie to truly appreciate the game. Thankfully Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies has learned from past lessons. You need absolutely no knowledge from the previous games to succeed and the vast majority of the characters are new. This is perhaps the most accessible Ace Attorney game to date asides from the original.
One of the major disappointments before the release date was Capcom’s decision to sell Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies exclusively on the Nintendo eShop. This means that it is only available for digital download and you will not see copies of the game at your local game stores. Even though this was a disappointment, Capcom surprised fans by selling the title for $29.99 instead of the usual 3DS retail price of $39.99. This has obvious repercussions for different groups of fans, but I think it’s a reasonable trade-off to pass the savings down to us.
Capcom has also decided to start selling downloadable content (DLC) with the game. I was a little concerned to see a costume pack that was free during the launch window and crossed my fingers that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies wouldn’t betray fans by selling worthless trinkets or carved out pieces of the game for a few dollars here and there. And I am truly impressed that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies will be getting one of the few DLC’s that I genuinely approve of. Additional cases will be made available on the eShop for download. The first case will cost $5.99 and looks to be a great add-on. There is a question as to whether there will be any future Ace Attorney games on the Nintendo 3DS or whether it will all be distributed through Dual Destinies in the future. Regardless, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies already includes a sizable amount of content and, with reasonably priced DLC, looks to be great value.
In the end, it’s not about the mechanics or the graphics. It’s not even about the fan service. It all comes down to the stories, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies delivered big. All five cases still have the appeal that made the series great. They were very conservative when it came to changing the gameplay, with the only notable change being the Mood Matrix from Athena Cykes’ Widget. But when it came to the storytelling, they took a few chances. There’s obviously a new presentation style with 3D and animated cut scenes. And they’re obviously not out of steam yet because their new cases, while flavored differently, still ooze the trademark quirkiness that made the series great.
The game still remains what it is though. It is heavily text driven and linear. It is a story based game and minimal in terms of actual gameplay. If you are not interested in a story, no matter how fascinating and engrossing, then look elsewhere.
If you don’t fall in that category, then I can’t recommend Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies enough. They’ve made it easy for new players to enter and catch up. The price is definitely aggressive and there’s nothing better than trying to figure out a crime from a series of clues.