A year has passed since the events in Apollo Justice, and Phoenix Wright has regained his attorney’s badge. Apollo himself is still employed at the Wright Anything Agency, and is now joined by fellow greenhorn attorney Athena Cykes. However, the world of Ace Attorney is in the midst of the Dark Age of the Law, where few are willing to place their trust in a court system where it seems neither prosecutor nor defense attorney—supposed pillars of the court system—are afraid to disregard it.
Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies follows the same formula as the other main Ace Attorney games where the story is divided between investigation and court portions. Despite my initial expectations (thanks to the demo), you play mostly as Apollo and Athena for most of the game, with Phoenix standing back as support. The story primarily centers around Athena and new prosecutor Simon Blackquill’s respective histories.
Phoenix is back in form as an attorney and feeling more alive than he was during the entirety of Apollo Justice, as he returns to doing something he loves. Despite his familiar animations and his now-legendary talent at bluffing, he retains some of the laidback, blasé aura to him from his hobo phase. Instead of recycling his character from Apollo Justice or, worse, pretending the installment never happened, his character reflects both what we’ve come to know and love and the change in his personality after the seven years prior to the events of Apollo Justice.
Apollo, on the other hand, has changed little since the previous installment, since only one year has passed. He’s more hot-headed than Phoenix, and his defense always teeters on just this side of successful. He actually serves as a pretty lively partner to Athena, although in my opinion, the two are a bit too similar to work off each other. Athena is also impulsive and prone to spouting reckless declarations that come back to bite her in the rear later. Her inexperience shows in her defense, setting all three characters apart in personality and style. I really liked this attention to detail.
There’s also the new prosecutor, Simon Blackquill—a resident convicted felon—with his partner hawk Taka in tow. Simon carves out his niche nicely among the existing colorful cast of antagonists in the game. While previous prosecutors have often been ruthless about hiding evidence from the defense (or plain forging it), Simon is often just as in the dark as the defense is, and the lack of preparation shows. However, he is still skilled enough to hold his own. He also refuses to resort to outright cheating due to his samurai-like honor and instead, most of his technique comes from the power of suggestion and witness manipulation.
I particularly like how most of the characters are animated with the 3D models. While some like Miles Edgeworth (who returns in full form for a single case) appear stiff, others like Athena have snappy, lively motions that imply action and cheer. There are also some unique poses difficult to convey in 2D art, such as the literal and figurative weight that you can see in Simon’s turn as he practically heaves himself around.
I also enjoyed how the 3D models are implemented in the investigation portions, where the stereoscopic view is beautifully implemented and you can move around to see the room from a completely different angle. For example, during the third case you have to investigate a stage, and in addition to rotating around the stage to see the area from a different angle, you can also zoom in on certain areas for closer investigation. I also like how you don’t have to hunt for pixels—the pointer changes whenever you move over something that can be investigated, and it will change again to show that you’ve already investigated something before.
In fact, a lot of the game is streamlined this way. You can use the B button to fast-forward the dialogue, and you can use the backlog to view text that has already appeared—a helpful feature new to Dual Destinies for when you accidentally zipped past an essential clue. You can save the game easily at any time without having to restart the game, making redoing certain sections easy, and finally you can travel from area to area without limitation (where in previous games, you had to travel to a certain area first to access other areas).
And then, there are larger additions, such as the Mood Matrix and the Logic system. Some testimonies have choices, making players think about which point to press on and introducing more to puzzle about. Apollo’s Perceive ability and Phoenix’s Magatama return as well, although both are only usable outside of court. Finally, the Mood Matrix is surprisingly intricate. Rather than just pointing out emotions that seem out of place, you also have to point out emotions that are unexpectedly absent or grow too strong given the intensity or the context. Unfortunately, the Mood Matrix is used in a slightly different way in each case, which makes it feel more like a gimmick than something that actually requires strategy and reasoning to use.
Like this, many of the improvements in Dual Destinies are a double-edged blade. When one aspect is strengthened, it also has other effects on the game, for better or for worse. For example, while we are now more used to fast text delivery, the B button bypasses the cadence of beep-boops that show us how the words are said in the absence of voice acting. The save feature makes the game incredibly easy to retry sections, enabling players to forego logic and just opt for easy trial-and-error. This is especially true for the Mood Matrix, where you don’t lose “health” for mistakes.
The large cast of main characters means that your time is split between all three—Phoenix, Apollo and Athena. While this isn’t a bad thing in itself, with only five cases, the focus is spread between each character and the game feels like it’s stretched itself a bit thin. I also feel like there are fewer side characters in each case this time around, making “whodunit” answerable simply through process of elimination.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I felt that this game had less content. Objectively, it appears that I spent about the same number of hours on this game as in previous ones. However, because the time is spread between three characters, none of which you spend significant time with, I feel like I didn’t spend enough time with any one protagonist. Dual Destinies focuses more on telling the story than stopping to smell the roses.
In addition, there is less exploration to be done. In previous games, you had the ability to examine your surroundings outside of Investigation Mode and you could read your main characters comment on their surroundings. In my opinion, this contributed greatly to world building and character voice on top of giving the writers the opportunity to create references to previous games or nods to character back story.
With this, a lack of side characters in each case, and the new streamlined system making enabling everything to move faster and smoother, the game’s five chapters feel like bare-bone structures. Dual Destinies, unfortunately, failed to do something all of the previous games before it had managed to do rather well—bringing me into the world and refusing to let go.
Oddly enough, despite the lack of characters to serve as potential suspects, the cases themselves manage to grow increasingly contrived, and not in a good way. Pinpoint timing and a highly unlikely number of coincidences would be needed to carry out any of the murders in Dual Destinies, which makes nearly every mystery in the game seem like an outrageous happenstance rather than a carefully planned scheme. Rather than feeling like the perpetrator was some genius mastermind, I was always conscious that this is something a writer came up with to try and pull the rug out from under you. It brought me out of the experience and sometimes frustrated me as yet another unbelievable detail was thrown my way.
Not only that, but so focused was the game on telling me its story that the characters often became mouthpieces for its ideals. Even if they were well-rounded, it was much more difficult to get to know them because of a lack of buildup to the cases and of “unnecessary” optional dialogue from exploration segments. Without a sense that the characters are their own people rather than just the story’s instruments to make a point, I found myself bogged down by a healthy amount of apathy.
And, finally, even if I did somehow occasionally submerge me in its world, the Ace Attorney world of Dual Destinies is uncharacteristically humorless, save for a few shining moments (usually in the Phoenix segments). In addition, some of the dialogue comes off as a bit stilted rather than smoothly flowing. Perhaps there was little need to be so creative with limited screen space, now that the 3DS allows for a wider text box, or perhaps it’s an attempt to accommodate the “darker” theme in Dual Destinies. Either way, this game lacks much of the charm that—while hopefully not the sole factor driving you through the series—practically defines the wacky world of Ace Attorney.
Adding all of these factors together resulted in a significant lack of personal investment on my part. I went into the game blind, and yet, whenever a twist in the cases in Dual Destinies came up, I didn’t feel shock or surprise as the game unfolded. Unlike previous games, I didn’t think, “I have to defend my clie— No! Why would you do that?! Don’t throw in a wrench like that!” Instead, I thought, “Sigh, here comes another problem. As usual.” Even during the climax, the game tries very hard to get your blood pounding with the Logic sections and tossing seemingly inescapable imbroglios, but when this happens every single case, you start expecting it.
Ultimately, if I knew the conclusion, I didn’t care about how the crime took place or why the events happened in the first place. This means there was little driving me to finish the game. Additionally, I would grow interested in the characters only to be brought out of the experience every time they act as the author’s mouthpiece. Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is like a roller coaster ride, where I’d find myself jumping right into the game and enjoying it, and then finding myself dragged out by the collar, kicking and screaming.
To be fair, I feel like the game is solid. I would never have gotten so submerged in the game in the first place if this weren’t the case. However, there was so much promise in its concept, especially with the theme of a “darker age of law” that when its execution just barely misses the mark, it is all the more frustrating. I will say, though that Dual Destinies sets up the stage for the next Ace Attorney game very well, introducing new principles and techniques and answering questions that open up new ones for future installments.
Food for thought:
1. I had some problem with the backlog in the game. During the middle of the game (around case 3), I would have entire stretches where the backlog would register incorrectly. The dialogue just wouldn’t appear. As such, I suggest using the backlog as a last resort and hoping, on the rare occasion you do miss a line, that that line does make it into the backlog screen.
2. While Dual Destinies handles character growth well in terms of returning characters, it isn’t as successful in unveiling new facts about new recurring characters to the player. One example of this is how the judge never once comments on a certain character that is accused of murder not once, but twice, during this game. Seeing as how he’s made such comments in the past, you would expect him mention it at least once. However, instead the game simply pretends the first time didn’t exist.