A legal legend makes his triumphant return…sort of
People who’ve played Capcom’s Ace Attorney games generally fall into two categories. At one extreme, you’ve got those hardcore fans who instantly fell in love with upstart lawyer protagonist Phoenix Wright at first sight in 2005, clutch their Miles Edgeworth plushies on those cold, lonely nights as they drift off to dreamland, and felt so inspired by the series that they ended up in law school…and $100,000 in debt.
At the other end, there are those who—like me—played the first game and enjoyed it, but simply couldn’t find the time to get into any of the four follow-ups (or the 2009 side story, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth).
The franchise makes its 3DS debut with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies—with Phoenix himself returning in an apparent (more on that technicality later!) starring role after the 2008 chapter featured plucky neophyte Apollo Justice—so it’s as good a time as any for lapsed fans to get back into the courtroom and for newcomers to give the series a shot. (Extreme Ace Attorney devotees will need no prodding, of course.)
While longtime fans might recoil in horror that someone would dare play through Dual Destinies without first completing the four previous entries, the game is definitely enough of its own experience—and keeps the callbacks to a minimum—that players can easily go back to earlier Ace Attorneys generally unspoiled.
So, after eight years, I finally returned to Ace Attorney to find…lawyers who look more like Pokémon trainers than successful bar-exam takers. But that’s OK, because one thing definitely hasn’t changed—and that’s the series’ resourceful defense attorneys using guts, guile, and every trick in the legal book to consistently beat the odds of Japan’s 99-percent conviction rate.
And the venerable Mr. Wright is in his 30s now—which, as everyone surely knows, is long past retirement age in the world of Japanese videogames. He’s got a couple of whippersnappers to assist him on the case, though: the returning Apollo Justice and a newcomer, legal prodigy Athena Cykes.
The presentation is a big step up from the DS games, with 3D models adding a real sense of depth to the courtroom proceedings—though it does get a little tiresome watching the same handful of animations repeat. Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps it’s not appropriate for a certain witness to get flustered and throw a vase to the ground in response to every one of Phoenix’s hard-hitting queries.
In the courtroom, as always, the action revolves around finding flaws in the witness’ testimony and calling them out on their inconsistencies with evidence or further questioning (in Dual Destinies, thanks to the 3DS’ microphone, you can even yell out the series’ trademark “Objection!” yourself if you really feel the need). Unfortunately, the same frustration that plagued previous entries returns here—and it’s a case of two extremes. Either the answer is obvious—and the game bangs you over the head with it so that you couldn’t possibly miss it, insulting your intelligence—or you need to present every last piece of evidence because the “correct” answer is so unclear.
The series’ “penalty” mechanic also seems pretty pointless five entries in. Even if you run out of chances, you can just restart exactly where you were before, so I don’t really see the reason for its continued existence—it just interrupts the game with an unnecessary restart. Overall, though, the courtroom drama works quite well; I just wish the dialogue did a better overall job of generally illuminating what you need to look for in order to pin down a witness.
The other major portion of Ace Attorney has always focused on the point-and-click investigative segment of the cases. Here, the 3D presentation really helps in Dual Destinies, since it’s a lot clearer what you can and can’t interact with when you’re scouring a crime scene for that crucial piece of evidence.
Of course, a point-and-click courtroom adventure like this essentially comes down to two elements: the storytelling and the writing. The latter is generally excellent, with intelligent humor and pop-culture references that are clever and subtle enough to not detract from the experience. Dual Destinies also goes to great lengths to localize signage and scrub out overtly Japanese elements—a decision I’m totally on board with in this series’ case, considering that the setting is really more “Lawyerlandia” than anything.
The narrative and overall pacing, however, aren’t quite as consistently stellar. The game starts strong with a doozy of a case, and the solid finish definitely kept me guessing, but I’d have preferred six or seven shorter cases with better pacing. Instead, Dual Destinies offers five total cases, with two in the middle that just…won’t…end. The second and third chapters drag on interminably and hold only tangential relations to the main plot; bizarrely, one of them simply seems like an excuse to shoehorn in the always-fresh-and-not-at-all-played-out “Japanese high school setting.” Maybe it’s due to the absence of series creator Shu Takumi—who was busy with the upcoming Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney while this game was in development—but I don’t recall the original Phoenix Wright featuring such substandard pacing.
I also have to say that, regrettably, the title itself really does feel a little like false advertising. This game doesn’t star Phoenix Wright. For that matter, it doesn’t even star Apollo Justice. They’re both peripheral players in a tale that really revolves around the newcomer of the trio, Athena Cykes. It almost feels like one of those straight-to-DVD movies that slaps a Hollywood star like Vin Diesel on the cover, even though he may only grace the screen for a 5-minute cameo.
It’s not quite that bad here, but when the titular character—and a major reason people like myself were interested in the game in the first place—is MIA for about half the experience, you can’t help but feel disappointed with the narrative choices. Nothing against her, but I’d wager most players aren’t picking up the game for the chance to play as Athena Cykes.
Not that Athena’s a terrible addition to the crew. Her leading role helps make this entry ideal for newcomers—and it’s admirable that Capcom has given the Ace Attorney series a female protagonist. She’s generally sympathetic and charming, and like Messrs. Wright and Justice, she’s got her own supernatural power with the Mood Matrix. This gadget allows her to take a look at a set of four emotions when a witness is on the stand and pinpoint the one that seems out of place with the testimony. Along with Phoenix’s power to break “Psyche-Locks” and Apollo’s bracelet that allows him to perceive witness’ tics and tells, there’s enough variety among the three protagonists to keep the courtroom proceedings reasonably fresh throughout the five chapters.
In fact, if it weren’t for the lackluster second and third acts and Phoenix’s extended disappearing act, I’d be a lot more bullish on Dual Destinies. Even though it’s not quite the legal tour de force I was hoping for, it’s definitely reignited my interest in the series—and it should get newcomers interested as well. But the next time you slap Phoenix Wright’s name on one of these games, Capcom, please make sure he’s actually the star, OK?
|Developer: Capcom • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.24.2013|
It’s great to see the iconic Phoenix Wright back in action after six years, and his segments are definitely the high points in Dual Destinies. But when he’s inexplicably MIA—like during the game’s interminable second and third acts—the proceedings slow to a crawl. Still, the story, characters, and courtroom drama are strong enough to draw in newcomers and satisfy lapsed fans.
|The Good||The writing is generally excellent; a couple of the cases are brilliant and really keep you guessing; the 3D presentation adds a lot to this point-and-click adventure.
|The Bad||The second and third cases d–r–a–g; Phoenix Wright himself is MIA for large portions of the game.|
|The Ugly||Dual Destinies’ laughable “M” rating proves the ESRB is absurdly broken.|
|Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is a 3DS exclusive.|