By Matt Hawkins . June 18, 2013 . 3:20pm
One focal point of this year’s Capcom E3 booth was the return of the original Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright, in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. It’s been over five years since we’ve seen him as the star of the show, 2007’s Trials and Tribulations to be exact, so anticipation is high, to say the least.
The E3 demo kicks off with the game’s leading case, which sets up the entirety of the game’s narrative. As one might have guessed, it’s the return of Phoenix Wright, who is now practicing law after having his name cleared by Apollo Justice in the last main Ace Attorney game, one year prior.
Wright’s first client is Juniper Woods, a meek and modest high school girl who is accused of a fairly nefarious crime: blowing up a courtroom. Wright is determined to prove her innocence and discover the true culprit, especially since Apollo was injured in the aforementioned accident. Apollo makes a quick cameo before the trial starts, but he doesn’t play a bigger role until later in the game.
The overall look and feel is similar to Ace Attorneys of past, except for one key distinction: the 3D visuals. All of the flat, 2D line art has been replaced by full three-dimensional polygons. The character models look great; any concerns that any of the personality would be lost are ultimately unfounded. Phoenix Wright and company move great, and not unlike how everyone moved in Ghost Trick, another of Capcom’s excellent adventure games. By the way, the backgrounds are equally fantastic, to the point that they can be often mistaken as 2D artwork.
What really makes the visual overhaul work, though, is the camerawork. Pre-trial it’s not that dramatic; it’s simply characters addressing you, straight on. In this case you meet your new assistant, Athena Cykes, whose specialty is analytical psychology. Aside from explaining the case’s specifics, you get some backstory as well. Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies explains this is Wright’s first case since Trials and Tribulations, as well as how Cykes is actually friends with the accused. You also get to chat a bit with Woods herself, who seems innocent, but you can never tell, since this is an Ace Attorney game.
The graphical overhaul only becomes truly apparent during the actual trial. The camera glides in and pans around, to highlight the drama, giving everything added oomph. For example, instead of Phoenix pointing towards off camera, it now slowly shifts in front of him. It’s simply a joy to see a moment we’ve become so accustomed to in such a different, dramatic fashion, even if it is relatively minor. There are plenty of other smaller yet equally impactful flourishes as well, like slow trucking of the camera towards the witness stand, with the same kind of onscreen text that we’ve seen before given a new sense of personality, as it too is treated like an onscreen object or character. Even the courtroom itself feels more regal.
The nuts and bolts of Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies’ first case is exactly what Ace Attorney fans have come to expect: a wacky witness whose accounts you must dissect, and Wright trying his best to do so without losing his cool. This is Wright’s first time back as a defense, so shaky nerves are understandable. The key witness is Ted Tonate. At a first glance, he’s your average looking bomb disposal expert, but he has the same over the top character design as other Ace Attorney witnesses. Ted’s goggles double as googley eyes and he communicates purely through a touchpad that speaks what he says. Did he lose his voice when a bomb went off accidentally in his past?
The key evidence against Juniper Woods is a stuffed animal that Woods was in possession of, which supposedly had a bomb inside, and which set off and blew up the courtroom. The case itself is relatively short and not exactly complex, but it does the job of explaining the mechanics to someone who is new, and reviving the instincts of those who haven’t played a traditional Ace Attorney game in some time. Every step of the way, from hearing Ted Tondate’s account, to accepting and examining evidence, Cykes points out everything that’s importance and explains what needs to be done, much like past assistants of Wright’s.
Eventually, the player is able to deduce that Ted Tondate’s account is wrong. He claims to have seen signs that indicated that the stuff animal was a ticking time bomb, but given that it was enclosed, no such signs should be visible. Still, there’s the matter of the smoking gun in Woods’ possession, the tail of the destroyed stuffed animal that has her fingerprints on them. Thus we are introduced with a brand new gameplay element that Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies introduces—emotions.
This is where Cykes and her ability to read emotions come in. Whereas Wright’s job is to hear a witness’ testimony and then try to find inconsistencies or flat out lies with the evidence that is made available, Cykes’ duty is to see if the person on the stand is holding any information back, perhaps due to being nervous from being cross-examined.
As Woods recounts that day in the courtroom, four icons that form the brand new Mood Matrix indicates her emotional response as statements are being told. The key here is to see if what is being said matches what the Mood Matrix tells us. Example: if something pleasant is being recounted, a happy face icon should light up. But if the sad face icon lights up, that’s a clue right there.
In this case, Woods tells us that she was elated to be rescued by the courtroom’s rubble by Apollo Justice and the Mood Matrix clearly indicates happiness. Yet it also detects traces of sadness, which doesn’t make sense. Leading to Wright to probe Woods, with the discovery here being that there were actually two stuffed animals, and she was sad to see one of them blow up. The tail that she was in possession of belonged to another that she also owned and not the one that was housed in the incendiary device.
It’s definitely an interesting addition to the gameplay, but the way it is introduced and executed has a real mystical quality. (Although, granted, there’s always been a supernatural element to the game, in the form of Maya Fey.) As is, Phoenix Wright fans should not be disappointed and even Apollo Justice devotees will be happy to know that their guy has a role in Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies as well. While the jury is still out on the Mood Matrix, it’s at least an interesting idea and adds to the rock solid gameplay.