Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was released in North America in February of 2008, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was to be the last mainline Ace Attorney game for over five years. There have been a pair of “Ace Attorney Investigations” games starring the beloved prosecutor Miles Edgeworth since then (with only the first appearing in the West), but nothing in the core franchise starring the defense attorneys that we have come to know and love. Five years isn’t exactly a neverending period of torment, but it was a long enough time to build up some serious longing and make me more than ready for another round of Ace Attorney. I came into this game with high expectations, not just for another great Ace Attorney experience, but for one that could make the five long years of waiting worth it. And in that it has delivered. For the most part.
He’s back! Five years is too long to live without epic finger pointing.
When Dual Destinies was revealed, I was a bit worried about the shift from 2D sprites to 3D models for the characters and environments, as many a game series loses something in this transition, and the Ace Attorney games especially thrive off of their expressiveness. But I can happily report that Capcom nailed it, recreating the 2D style in 3D so flawlessly that at times I would question if what I was looking at was actually 3D until the camera shifted and showed me a new perspective. Barring a bit of disconnect between the characters’ feet and the ground when viewing the short but sweet cutscenes in stereoscopic 3D, everything looks rather excellent; you can rest assured knowing that every flashy finger point from an attorney or pained grimace from a criminal about to crack captures the same feeling that it did in the 2D games. In regards to the audio, we have come to expect a high level of quality in the soundtrack and effects as well, and Dual Destinies lives up to those expectations.
I suppose it is possible that a reader out there has never played an Ace Attorney game, considering that the series has been dormant for a bit, so a quick explanation is in order (established fans can skip this paragraph.) The Ace Attorney games are essentially defense attorney simulators, provided that your concept of how court works is akin to a completely insane circus of unique and quirky characters and trials with several unpredictable twists presided over by a naive and slightly incompetent yet ultimately lovable judge. Hmm, maybe that isn’t too far from how actual courts work after all. The games are essentially broken up into two gameplay modes, investigation and trial. The investigation mode generally contains fairly standard point and click gameplay, having you talk to witnesses and investigate crime scenes in order to obtain evidence to use in the upcoming trial. The trial mode is where the series stands out from the pack, letting you hear witness testimony and seek out contradictions which you can expose with evidence. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, I don’t know what to say other than we’re very different people.
Now you can look at bloody tables from a variety of perspectives!
Dual Destinies starts off with a very literal bang. A courtroom explosion acts as the impetus to tell a larger story about legal corruption in the period that the game dubs as “the dark age of the law”. I don’t want to spoil Dual Destinies’ precursor Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney too much for those who have not yet experienced it, but you may recall that in that game Phoenix Wright was forced to retire due to a controversy involving planted evidence. Picking up a year later, we learn that Wright’s case spurred on a brand new legal age of darkness where truth is just a detail, winning is everything, and even a convicted criminal can be called into court (in chains) to act as a prosecutor, as you learn quickly enough when you are introduced to your new nemesis Simon Blackquill at the start of the second case. One of the things that I love about Dual Destinies is that, unlike past Ace Attorney games, every single case is directly tied into the overall plot, so that you never feel like you are merely biding time until you get back to the main thread of things, so to speak.
I must admit that while playing Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney many years ago, I was never totally sold on the character of Apollo Justice himself; he was a solid enough lead, but he kind of felt like a lesser Phoenix Wright to me, created simply to take on Wright’s goofy characteristics so Wright could grow into the more mature mentor figure. Whatever my issues were back then, everything feels more natural this time around. It probably helps that instead of primarily focusing on Apollo Justice, Dual Destinies constantly mixes things up, having you jump between playing as Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice, and newcomer Athena Cykes, a young female lawyer who has recently joined the Wright Anything Agency and specializes in “analytical psychology”.
Every time I go to court I get attacked by birds. Standard fare.
Speaking of Athena Cykes, she has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the franchise. Sure, she is yet another spunky young female helper character, something that is not exactly unique in the Ace Attorney series. However, her “analytical psychology”, in conjunction with a computer hanging around her neck named “Widget”, allows her to tap into the "Mood Matrix", letting her feel the emotions of the people around her, which sets up one of the best new gameplay mechanics that we have seen in the series, wherein Athena must search for emotions that conflict with a person’s testimony. It’s not particularly difficult and you receive no “penalties” for mistakes, but it’s a great addition nonetheless. As for Athena herself, I won’t spoil anything here, but she might just play a bigger role in the game than is first evident.
There are a few other new mechanics in addition to the Mood Matrix. Investigations now take advantage of the 3D graphics to let you shift your viewing perspective in certain areas while looking for clues, which adds another layer of depth (both figuratively and literally) to the clue hunting, although this functionality is somewhat inconsistent in its usage. Dual Destinies also includes a new “Thought Route” feature which is similar to the “Logic” feature in the Ace Attorney Investigations games, allowing your lawyers to quickly mentally revisit evidence in their minds in order to come to new conclusions. Finally, there is a new “Consult” feature that pops up if you make too many mistakes too quickly while pouring over testimony, allowing you to look to your partner for some hints on how to progress.
The Mood Matrix… like the normal Matrix, but more moody.
Many mechanics from past games have also returned, including Phoenix Wright’s ability to break “psyche-locks” on people to discover their secrets and Apollo Justice’s bracelet / “Perceive” combo that allows him to sense and identify the tics that certain characters display when they are acting in a suspicious manner during testimony. Plenty of familiar characters make their return as well, although there is a certain series staple that is oddly absent, among others. I won’t spoil who does and doesn’t return here though, you can play the game and find out for yourself.
At this point in the review I want to make it clear that I am very satisfied with the return of Phoenix Wright. However, Dual Destinies is far from perfect, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the issues surrounding this game. The first and most glaring issue is that the localization is just plain shoddy. I’m not talking about the actual dialog per se (which is generally up to par with the rest of the series) but more the fact that there is a clear a lack of editor attention at several points, resulting in poor grammar, misspellings, missing words, etc. that make it obvious that the localization was a rush job. My second major issue with Dual Destinies is that, I’m presuming in order to appeal to a wider audience, Capcom has streamlined the Phoenix Wright experience a bit, resulting in a significantly easier game during both the investigation and trial phases. You will constantly receive hints, often pointing you to a specific object to investigate or a specific piece of testimony to search for a contradiction in, which takes away from the feeling of really using your own mental resources to solve things. The irony here is that a few of the episodes have some of the more convoluted plotlines in the entire series, making it easy to push forward but difficult to really grasp what is happening around you at times. My last complaint involves issues I have with the series as a whole that have not really been rectified in this latest outing; the dubious “contradictions” that pop up sometimes, accidentally getting stuck reviewing huge chunks of dialog, the lack of any real penalties for failure, etc.
The cast of characters is as wacky and insane as ever.
In the end, however, the good outweighs the bad, and several of the new presentation, character and gameplay additions are much appreciated. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies manages to expertly ride the thin line between the old and the new, feeling simultaneously familiar and fresh. I’m not sure if it can convert the unenlightened Phoenix Wright haters, and it relies a bit too much on its history to be the best game for newcomers to the series to jump in with (though it certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice), but if you’re a longtime fan of the series, there should be no question in your mind; Dual Destinies, despite its flaws, is a very worthy entry that you should definitely check out.
PS. I should also note that there is an entire case already available as paid DLC that I have not played as part of this review. However, I am planning on playing through it within the next few days and I will write my feelings on that case below. There are also some DLC alternate costumes that you can purchase, if you feel so inclined.
The cutscenes are sweet, though Apollo’s fashion choices leave a lot to be desired.
Nice writeup. I agree with the score and most of the comments; while the typos are a bummer, they don't bug me all that much to be a major issue (and they showed up in the past games as well). I'd much rather a game that had some typos but retained great writing than one that was error-free but completely lacking in personality (Pokemon!).
My main two complaints involve the aforementioned obviousness that the game now has, and the very very convoluted nature of some of the cases, which occasionally crosses the line into ridiculousness.
Also, I'm curious to hear what you think of the DLC case. Most AA fans agree it's one of the best cases in Dual Destinies, and I think I'd rank it 2nd or 3rd, myself (behind 5-5 and maybe 5-3).
@TriforceBun I think this one had WAY more typos / etc. than the other ones. I can't help but think it had to do with the digital download only decision too, or rather, both had to do with cutting costs in the localization.
@PogueSquadron Hmm... very minor spoilers if anything... I think I spoil Apollo Justice more than I spoil Dual Destinies (and only to the level that Dual Destinies spoils Apollo Justice early on.)
Nice review Zero, I'm looking forward to playing this! Very good to hear the transition away from 2D sprites still manages to capture the spirit of the DS graphics. Also good to hear how every single case is directly tied into the overall plot.
Good review, Zero. I really enjoyed playing Dual Destinies. The typos threw me off at times, but they're my only real complaint with this game. In typical Ace Attorney fashion, the characters are great and the writing is clever, funny, utterly absurd, and heartfelt. I'm seriously impressed by the 3D character models too. They're wonderfully expressive, just like the sprites of past games.
As for Apollo, I think he's a good character. His no-nonsense personality tempered and complimented the wacky cast in Ace Attorney 4, and I just like his personality in that game. I think it's cool that you play as different characters in Dual Destinies, complete with their own courtroom themes.