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How does Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies Compare?

Cassandra Khaw and Pete Davison investigate Dual Destinies and relate the findings of their cross-examinations in a letter series.

Cassandra Khaw Primary Reviewer/Prosecutor

Hey, Pete!

Did you know that it's been about twelve years since Phoenix Wright first stormed onto the court room and into our hearts? We're getting old, man. We're getting old. Luckily, though, Wright's a clarion beacon in the inexorable advance of the molasses of age. He looks good. A little calmer, a little quieter and a little more informed with the gravitas of age, maybe, but certainly still the same guy. Which leads me to analogy I've been building all paragraph:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is very much reminiscent of the titular lawyer: the hyper smart class clown mostly grown up. I -- hang on. I almost forgot. This letter is public. Hold up. We'll talk Phoenix Wright in a minute. I've got to update the newcomers.

Hi!, if you're only here because you went 'Yay! Letter series!' and have no idea what this is all about, the Ace Attorney saga is, by and large, best described as a lawyer simulator jammed into a Japanese comedy show (You know? The one where they rocket unsuspecting people out of lavatories with the help of rocket propelled potties?) jammed into a visual novel. Like a turducken except infinitely more clever and arguably less tasty.

Much like its predecessor, Dual Destinies is split into two categories: the courtroom puglisms and the this-could-probably-get-you-arrested-in-the-real-world investigations. In the former, you do what defense lawyers try to do best: defend your client against overwhelming odds and poke holes in testimonies from some extravagantly silly witnesses. In the latter, you coyly snoop around in an attempt to find evidence you probably should not have no access to. Just like in real life! I think.

(Did I get that right, Pete? I don't want to mislead the voyeuristic purveyor of our letters.)

Most of the Ace Attorney is text. Big, honkin' truckloads of exposition and hilarious dialogue. Ace Attorney guys don't believe in showing or telling; they advocate showing through grandiose amounts of linear storytelling. Luckily, the writing is and always has been stellar. More on that later.

Dual Destinies features both old friends and new.

Let's talk about the first case, Pete. The game opened with an unsuspected bombing and what may easily be the blandest defendant yet. She's sickly, shy and attractive in an infuriatingly wholesome way. Miss Juniper Woods' only quirks appear to be an aversion to city air and a tendency to knit furiously when discussing her crush. Okay, to be fair, that's kinda quirky but she's boring. At least, that's what I think. Did you find her an appealing character?

The jury - god, I love puns - is still out on the rest of the case. For the most part, I enjoyed it. Ted Tonate is simultaneously competent, smarmy and repulsive. And the new prosecutor? Gaspen Payne? The "Rookie Humiliator"? The badgerer of attractive women? Brilliant. It's a nod to the fans, an acknowledgment of how it all first went down. There's a certain kind of poetic symmetry to having the younger brother of Phoenix Wright's first opponent serve as Dual Destinies's first prosecutor. Having said that, I also saw the outcome from about a mile away. I understand that this indeed the first case but did it have to be so obvious?

For me, the first case felt emblematic of the rest of the experience: gorgeous, grin-inducing but a little blatant with its answers. What do you think? I've got an absolute boatload to say about the look and feel of the whole affair but I want to know first: what was it like walking back into the court room for you?

Secondary Reviewer/Defense Pete Davison

Good morning Cassandra,

Twelve years, eh? It honestly doesn't feel like that long, though that said, Phoenix Wright and friends have been a comfortably familiar part of my life for some time now. My own curiosity about what "a lawyer game" could possibly look like was the reason I bought a DS in the first place, in fact.

Although technologically quite primitive -- they were originally Game Boy Advance games, after all -- the Ace Attorney games have always felt fresh and interesting to me, perhaps because they represent something we don't often see outside of the PC market: a blend of unashamedly wordy (and well-written, if not quite so well-proofread) visual novel storytelling and honest-to-goodness "use this thing on the other thing" adventure game happy funtimes. They are, in short, exactly the sort of game I want to play, though I recognize and acknowledge that by very definition this means that they're not necessarily something with particularly "mainstream" appeal.

But I'm fine with that. The mainstream has plenty of fun stuff to play with, and Ace Attorney caters to a specific audience, and that's cool. It hasn't changed a lot over the years, but it's grown and evolved much like, as you said, the eponymous hero Phoenix "Nick" Wright.

Nick's evolution as a character is actually quite interesting to me. It's not often that we get to spend a significant period of time with a single character like this and get to see them "grow up." Nick wasn't a kid in the first Ace Attorney game, of course, but he was an inexperienced rookie lawyer who gradually grew in confidence over the course of his subsequent cases. It was inspiring to see his growth, beginning with his confrontation against the clearly incompetent Winston Payne, moving into his longstanding rivalry with Miles Edgeworth and culminating in showdowns against powerful foes such as Manfred von Karma.

In Dual Destinies, we see Nick very much in the "mentor" role Mia Fey played in the first game, accompanied by a slightly more "grown-up" suit featuring a waistcoat and pocketwatch as well as his signature blue jacket and red tie. It's a subtle change, but it makes it clear that this isn't quite the same Nick we've seen in previous games; he's all grown up but still willing to get his hands dirty -- though most of the heavy lifting will seemingly be left to relative newcomer Apollo Justice and complete newbie Athena Cykes.

But isn't she cuter than Junie?!

Okay, let's ponder the first case. I didn't have as much of a problem with Junie as you did -- yeah, she's quiet and perhaps a little dull at first glance, but I do find her appealing. This may be just my own personal tastes, of course -- I always tend to be drawn to "the shy one" in dating sims or games with relationship mechanics -- but she has just enough of an air of mystery around her to make her intriguing to me. Why does she cough when she's stressed? What is she hiding? What's going on with her and Athena?

I, too, was pleased to see a new Payne take the prosecution's stand. Gaspen was similar enough to his brother to be recognizable but distinct as a character in his own right, and it was enjoyable to square off against him in the traditional "first case" format for all of the Ace Attorney games. You're correct to note that the outcome is blindingly obvious pretty much from the get-go, but this is absolutely nothing new to the series as a whole, particularly in each installment's first case, which usually acts as a tutorial; besides, knowing who the culprit is from the outset -- an issue that isn't confined to the first case in several of the games, including this one -- doesn't necessarily diminish the thrill of making that journey through all the evidence to discover how to prove what you, the player, already know.

I'm utterly delighted to be back in the courtroom with Nick and the gang, and I'm particularly pleased at the technological advancements the new installment has made. I was worried when I heard that Dual Destinies was switching to 3D environments and characters, but I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that the characters in particular have just as much personality as -- perhaps more so than -- their 2D counterparts. The smooth animation is beautiful to watch, and each character is a delight to spend time with. Plus, of course, there's nothing more satisfying than that traditional five-page "NOOOOOOOOOO!!" from the real culprit when you eventually manage to take them down with your flawless logic and/or bluffing skills.

So you're clearly itching to say something about the look and feel of it all; let 'er rip!

Cassandra Khaw

Nick? Nick? How did I go through twelve years of Ace Attorney without even thinking of that nick-name? Get it? Nick. Name? I'm on a roll. Eh-heh-heh.

'Hem.

You've struck gold with that description of Phoenix Wright, by the way. And again, I can't help but feel like Nick's an analogy for the franchise. The usage of 3D models in Dual Destinies is comparable to the additions to his now iconic outfit: subtle but brilliantly effective. I expected Capcom to go overboard, for some reason. Most people tend to get overexcited when it comes to anything 3D, after all. I mean, look at all those 3D movies these days - they practically ram it down your throat.

But Dual Destinies doesn't do that. Instead of bludgeoning the audience and screaming "Look at how dynamic we are!!!!", Capcom made use of the new technology the way a neurosurgeon makes use of a scalpel. I keep getting surprised whenever characters slam their fists onto the table or do something like forcibly attach a charm to my forehead. It's only then that I remember that Capcom has indeed rehauled the entire audiovisual component. Which is brilliant. Because subtlety is a dying art that far more people should practice. That said, I imagine part of it must have been them wanting to be on par with Bones, the anime studio in charge of the cut scenes. Were you aware that those guys were also in charge of Ouran High School Host Club and two adaptations of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga? It'd hardly do for the rest of the game to pale in comparison to the animated sequences, don't you think?

That said, what's your take on the usage of 3D environments? Did you like being able to change the perspective while investigating crime scenes? I did. I like how it let Capcom insert more stuff into the various locations without having to resort to extreme measures. I'm a little less enthused about Athena Cykes's prowess of perception. Acute hearing and a semi-aware computer that lets her play at being a resident of the Minority Report movie? Sure, I guess. But doesn't it feel, just a little, like a new mechanic was being implemented for the sake of having new mechanic? (Noise in the heart. Pfft.)

Doesn't this dude practically scream "bad guy"?

Before I get totally sidetracked, let me circle back to the first case. You're right. This is on par with almost everything we've seen before. I also agree that knowing the outcome doesn't necessarily detract from the satisfaction of bringing justice home. (Wait, that could be misconstrued.) Still, I've played enough games since the first installation to want more, I guess. Take the second case , for example. We're told precisely who the murderer is within the first minute. That's fine. Yet, as we grind slowly towards the case's eventual outcome, Dual Destinies kind of flings hints and clues at you with all the gusto of a doting parent. Is that really needed? I can practically feel Dual Destines' hand curl around mine. Go here. Do this. Do that. And no, don't worry about making wild guesses. You won't be sent back to the beginning of the day if you empty the penalty bar.

Long story short, I didn't feel challenged. What makes it worse is how disconnected the real culprit's actions are are from the rest of the case. In retrospect, I suppose it was as good a reason as any to drive a pointy object into someone's chest but I honestly would have appreciated a bit more storytelling in that respect. Why wasn't this hinted at more? Why weren't we told more about the murderer's motivations? Maybe, I missed the clues. I could have. I've been told I'm oblivious. But it feels to me like Capcom went, "Welp! You know who it is! So, we're not going to waste more time than necessary on this!"

Man, I'm curmudgeonly these days. Help, Pete. I don't want to turn into a Dragon Lady in five years.

Pete Davison

It's evidently been a while since you played the earlier games in the series, then, since Maya constantly called Phoenix "Nick!" But I digress in the name of not embarrassing you further with my clearly superior knowledge of Ace Attorney lore. (I jest. Mostly! Teehee.)

I did not know the animation was done by Bones, though I had been impressed with its quality, and now I know it's the work of a studio who worked on one of my favorite anime series -- Ouran, if you were wondering -- I'm super-happy. I still find it peculiar to see fully animated sequences in a handheld game -- in many ways I'm somewhat stuck in the past -- but they're very welcome, and a good way of punctuating important story moments. (There REALLY needs to be a subtitles option, though, particularly with how quiet the 3DS is even at max volume. Some of us are playing in noisy environments, Capcom!)

I hear what you're saying re: Athena's powers of perception, but I'm a fan, personally. Her emotion-tweaking shenanigans are, to me, no more or less weird than Apollo's magic twitch-detecting bracelet (why does he need a bracelet to notice people's nervous tics, anyway?) or Nick's past use of the Fey magatama to dispel Psyche-Locks. I like that there's a new mechanic in there alongside the stuff that was introduced in previous games -- it's another example of that "evolution" we mentioned previously, and it's nice to see the various aspects from the individual previous titles all brought together in this one. The only thing missing is Edgeworth's "logic" system from Ace Attorney Investigations. (On that note, I'm halfway through the third case and there's been no sign of Edgeworth at all as yet. I'll be very disappointed if he and Franziska are completely absent -- though there have been some other pleasingly familiar faces showing up.)

I'm also a big, big fan of the 3D environments. Rotating the crime scene and looking around allows for a much greater feeling of being there, investigating things, and the 3D environments are rendered with surprisingly high quality -- so much so that I actually thought they were 2D art until the camera started sweeping and panning around with gay abandon. As an aside, can I also give a shoutout to how effective the use of the 3DS' 3D in this game is? Normally, I feel that 3D adds relatively little to a game's presentation, but in this case, it looks great -- particularly at those inevitable points in a case where there's a particularly emphatic "Objection!" and the letters pop onto the screen individually.

Just say it from the heart.

You're right that Dual Destinies does fling clues and tips at you pretty strongly, but I can understand why that's the case. While this is the fifth installment in the series -- and without a doubt you'll get a lot more out of it if you've played the previous four mainline games (Investigations, while excellent, stands by itself) -- it's also likely to be a significant number of gamers' first encounter with Nick and the gang due to being on the 3DS. New platform, new players; it needs to be accessible both from a narrative and mechanical perspective, and one of the most common criticisms of the series as a whole -- which is still true to a certain extent with this one -- is that you're often required to make leaps of logic to figure out exactly what the game wants you to say or do; there's frequently a disconnect between what you, the player, knows and what whichever of the cast you're controlling at that point knows. I'm frequently grateful for the new "Notes" function giving me a checklist of things to do; it saves me cycling back around through the locations just to see if anything's changed. (Pro-tip: if the "typewriter" effect appears when you arrive at a location, something new is about to happen there.)

For me, that's all part of the fun, though; I've never played Ace Attorney games to be challenged -- rather, I've always played them to immerse myself in the series' own peculiar little world and hang out with its quirky cast of characters. I'd happily play the games as straight visual novels with even less "gameplay" than they have already, so I don't mind that there's a bit too much handholding at times, and it's not uncommon to have figured out what really happened well ahead of the characters. It's got it where it counts for me -- I'm just delighted to be spending time with these characters again. It's been far too long.

Cassandra Khaw

Oh, my god. You're right. I had forgotten entirely about it. What the hell, brain? See, this is why I stick to typing my thoughts in isolation. I embarrass myself so much less this way.

That said, hah! Something I knew that you did not. So, take that! I do agree that subtitles should totally have been included. I've found myself scrambling madly for the volume control at least once. We'll agree to disagree, I guess, on the Athena front. (Apollo? Athena? I love the name continuity here, incidentally.) But, if it's any consolation, I'm grumpy about all these new-fangled investigation techniques. Coming from a childhood rife with point & click adventures, I remain a fan of simpler ideas. (What's wrong with good, old-fashioned click-on-anything-and-everything-till-something-happens?) I suppose that's also why I'm so reluctant to embrace Dual Destinies' more easygoing disposition. The games I grew up with were often agonizingly hard, often for no reason at all. Heck, the games I enjoy most today tend to run roughshod on its audience. Dota 2, I can assure you, is a female canine to all and sundry. But all my grumbling and nitpicking aside, I love Ace Attorney and I'm absolutely smitten with Dual Destinies. By and large, Capcom has done an absolutely bang-up job here and I, much like you, am happy to walk the halls of the law with the gang again.

Shower time. We'll speak more next week!

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals:Dual Destinies is absolutely stunning. The character design for the Ace Attorney franchise has always been very strong but Dual Destinies puts the rest of the installments to shame.
  • Music and Sound:I don't normally notice the music but I loved what I found in Dual Destinies. Again, little of it is meant to overshadow the gameplay or the narrative but the new orchestral backbeat works excellently. Also, bonus points for maintaining everything from the iconic typewriting sound to the enthused "OBJECTIONS!".
  • Interface:Dual Destinies is considerably more accessible than its predecessors. While it follows the traditional point-and-click formula, Dual Destinies also includes little touches like a notes system which relates exactly what you should be doing and a log of all recent conversations.
  • Lasting Appeal:Sadly, asides from whatever DLCs may follow, Dual Destinies remains very much like a good book: something to be savored, completed and put away for a few years.
Fans of the Ace Attorney franchise may find themselves with an easier experience than what they bargained for. However, that shouldn't be reason to pass on Dual Destinies. The latest installment in the franchise remains wonderfully written, happily off-the-wall and even more attractive now that it has shed its 2D carapace and embraced the wonders of modern technology.
4/5

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