Despite the popularity of the franchise, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is the first installment in the Nintendo DS exclusive franchise that has been published in either Japan or Internationally for the last five to six year. This time it has not received a proper retail release, but instead has been exclusively published for the Nintendo eShop for the Nintendo 3DS. Despite not receiving the treatment its former releases had – this does not mean that it is any less enjoyable.
Dual Destinies follows a total of five distinct cases that still carries across the Ace Attorney charm, which see’s returning lawyers Phoenix Wright and Appolo Justice take to the stand once again alongside new female lawyer Athena Cykes, who prior to the events of the game had only just joined the team at Wright Anything Agency. What makes her as distinct as the original characters? Her specialize is analytical psychology which enables her to use a program known as the “Mood Matrix” to better determine the mood of a person giving a testimony.
This trio, alongside other characters who make a reappearance from earlier games are a real joy to watch, and their eccentricities turn even an interesting “case” into something much more entertaining. It does feel that Athena, especially in the earlier cases becomes overshadowed by more familiar personalities, but gains her weight as the game progresses.
Other new characters who make frequent recurrences include Simon Blackquill the new rival prosecutor who is currently serving a murder sentence, the enthusiastic detective Bobby Fulbright with a rather interesting storyline attached to him and Athena’s childhood friend Juniper Woods who despite being frail is alleged to be the culprit of the first case presented in the game, and is training to become a Judge. These fresh faces, like Athena, stand out and don’t fit any cliche roles you might expect to see in a similar “law” based game.
The cases themselves start off with a bang (literally), with the first case involving the bombing of a courthouse and Juniper Woods allegedly being the culprit – leaving Athena and later Phoenix to prove her innocence. Other events in the game include the murder of a town chief during a festival, the mysterious death of a teacher during a mock trial… and actually… pretty much all involving a murder case. Not all cases are delivered chronologically, but all generally take place within the same year and occasionally do tie together in some degree.
While they seem to have attempted to make Dual Destinies into a sort of reunion game with so many characters making a return, the quality of the cases and overarching plot aren’t diminished in the slightest, and as a returning player of the series I thoroughly enjoyed each and every case – both the investigation segments and the court sessions that made good use of logical thinking.
While not perfectly delivered, the visual quality was strong and made use of the Nintendo 3DS’ enhanced capabilities in comparison to its successor. Characters are delivered through both 3D portraits served against a static background, and often use animation to deliver their mood and intentions, while still making use of the similar visual novel dialogue delivery system we have come to expect from the series. This is in comparison to the last release Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney which attempted to deliver a similar experience albeit with 2D character portraits and mouth-flaps. Dual Destinies also provides a small set of animated cutscenes, which were of high quality but given their small number left me wishing they included more in the mix. Overall this release delivered a visual experience far greater than its earlier releases, let down by the overuse of the same animation sets at times – and a few cheap shots at using the 3D capabilities.
The music included in this title favored the intense scenes and really helped get me pumped during the critical moments of the courtroom components of each case. In terms of voice acting, it is of good quality with Wendee Lee taking the lead as Athena Cykes in this installment. The issue was however that there was very little of it – and it seems we are still far away from seeing anything but the words “OBJECTION!” (or the other few phrases the game has become known for) spoken in the courtroom.
For those who have played earlier Ace Attorney games, the core gameplay features don’t differ to much from earlier installments, and are split up into investigation and court room modes. After being given an overview of the case at hand (Either directly or indirectly), you start your investigation by moving between one area and another looking for evidence and witness statements for use in the trial. As before, the progression of this mode is fairly linear and doesn’t give you much freedom in where to investigate, meaning that you will not find yourself in the courtroom with any missing evidence that is not warranted by the storyline.
After completing your investigation according to the storyline, you will be flung into the courtroom environment where the defendant and other witnesses / experts will take the stand with both parties given the option to interrogate them. Your job as the defense attorney (In every case) is to prove that your client isn’t guilty despite the intents of your opposing prosecutor – all the while finding out who the true culprit is.
Usually how this progresses is you are given a statement which is then looped, allowing you to either present evidence, find a contradiction or press for more insight against a certain claim. Alternatively you will be asked to present evidence on the spot, requiring you to either present a piece of evidence or a specific part of a picture / 3D object that pertains to the question. It is simple mechanics that haven’t changed much over the years, but are well suited to the capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS console and the setting. The system can be fiddly at times and isn’t open for alternative reasoning that could also be viable, but is for most of the time enjoyable.
The new inclusion is Athena’s own special ability as alluded to earlier in this review, her ability to determine using a “Mood Matrix” the mood of a character as they provide their testimony. While this is underused for the most part during the game, it felt like a little bit of a cheap way of progressing the plot rather than the more courtroom setting of tests, investigation and/or evidence. But it still was an interesting means of introducing new gameplay mechanics into a refined gameplay system.
The courtroom setting is interesting, as while you can usually have a pretty good idea of the identity of the culprit from early on, it is more about justifying your hypothesis, and requires you to do so lest your client finds themselves deemed guilty based on your own incompetence (Fortunately they don’t make you restart the trial in these cases – although they do throw in some bad ends).
Overall, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies makes a welcome return for the Ace Attorney franchise, and here’s hoping that there is not a half-decade wait until the next installment either. While there are only a few minor gameplay tweaks to an already refined gameplay experience, it was thoroughly enjoyable when coupled with the plot and characters present in each case. If you are new to the series then this is a great starting block, otherwise it is still just as welcoming for returning fans. Just don’t forget to press down the microphone button and scream OBJECTION! at every opportunity.