The Ace Attorney series had an interesting start. Born on the Game Boy Advance (GBA) in 2001, the series - also known as Gyakuten Saiban -- was released only in Japan, and, for what seemed like obvious reasons, was thought to be a little too niche for the western market. How could anyone but a Japanese audience fall for an idea as strange as a courtroom drama visual novel?
Four years later, however, and a version ported to the DS saw a release outside of Japan, and gamers and critics alike praised the game for being a breath of fresh air in the adventure genre. Since then, we’ve seen the other two GBA titles ported to the DS, an original DS title with a new protagonist (Apollo Justice), and a spin-off series revolving around the original trilogy’s prosecutor: Miles Edgeworth.
Twelve years after the initial release, the next game in the Ace Attorney series is now available. Called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies (affectionately known by me as P Double-U Double-A Double-D) starts off a year after the end of Apollo Justice. Phoenix has managed to get his Attorney Badge and is practicing law once again. Just like every Ace Attorney game before it, there’s a lot of text to go through, and while the western market deems this to be an adventure game, I feel the Japanese term does it way more justice; PW: AA - DD is a visual novel through and through.
Since a lot of text has been translated, it’s not uncommon to see more than a few mistakes. It’s disappointing that the spelling and grammatical errors managed to find their way through again, but it’s something that feels as much a part of the series as the signature call of Objection! Hopefully we’ll see a future sequel that gets this ironed out, but considering we’re seeing it seven titles in…. I don’t hold out much hope.
Like each of the previous Ace Attorney games, there are five distinct chapters to play through. The first two straight up show you who the culprit is as the murder is occurring, and this may feel a little cheap for those that are loyal to the franchise. However, they also serve as nice easy cases for newcomers, being less about the mystery and more about showing you what an Ace Attorney game is all about. Sure enough, from the third case onwards, mystery is injected into the story and you’ll be adding a bunch of your own theories to the cases at hand. This approach does a great job of pulling you into the intricacies of a case, and with the insanely well spun stories, you’ll have your feet pulled out from under you on more than one occasion.
I don’t know how they do it, but the writers Capcom hire for these projects do an amazing job of making every theory the prosecutors and defence have sound plausible. You’ll be adamant that what you’re trying to prove is the truth, and it’ll fit perfectly into the mystery of the deaths, only to find one piece of evidence change EVERYTHING. The hows and whys of the cases are rarely cut and dried. This usually means the last hour of the four to five hour chapters is spent with your head spinning, objections being thrown back and forth, music pumping, and heart pounding.
The biggest change in Dual Destinies is the look. Every part of the franchise has previously been delivered with hand-drawn 2D backgrounds and snappily animated 2D characters. All of this has now changed, with environments and characters now modelled and rendered in 3D. I was a little hesitant to accept the new look at first. One of the hard and fast rules of 3D animation is that, if a character is still, they look dead, so I immediately dreaded the “breathing loop”. You know the one, it’s in every single game you’ve ever played that has 3D characters. They stand on the spot, and loop some crappy animation to make it look like the character is alive.
The characters in Dual Destinies look so close to their 2D counterparts that Capcom have managed to break away from the “rules” of 3D animation. The animations are just as snappy as those in the earlier games and, like those games, the characters are more than happy to stay completely still. Characters look fantastic, animations are beautiful, and the added camera movements - enabled by 3D environments - really help push the look of the Ace Attorney series forward.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the gameplay in Ace Attorney games is amazingly simplistic. Push buttons to advance the text, flick through evidence, search environments for clues, and - for the brave - shout into your mic to object in court. Over the lifetime of the first trilogy, more and more gameplay mechanics were slowly added in. You could review camera footage in real-time, dust for prints, and a participate in other minor tasks. Strangely, while reviewing footage and dusting for prints both emerge in Dual Destinies, the mini-games have been removed, taking away a chunk of what little traditional gameplay there was.
Despite the loss of these mechanics, there’s still more to the gameplay than just making choices. Phoenix Wright has the ability to see when someone is hiding something, and Apollo Justice can sense when a lie is being told. New protagonist - Athena Cykes - comes with her own ability too: to hear the true meaning of someone’s heart. Effectively minigames, and only appearing at certain points, they’re a great mechanic, both in the way they further the story and how they break up the monotony of just bouncing back and forth in a courtroom.
Another addition to the series is hand-drawn cutscenes. They’re what you would expect from your typical anime and, while it’s nice to hear some voice acting for the characters, it ends up feeling a little bit forced. Essentially, it falls into the same trap that localised anime is stuck in: they need to match the voices to the pre-drawn mouth shapes. It works well enough, but it also clearly demonstrates that a fully voiced sequel is where the series needs to go - maybe even turning it into an interactive audio novel.
Just as a final side-note for those that have played through the series in its entirety, I feel I need to mention a few things. Trials and Tribulations (the third in the series) wrapped up pretty much every loose end from the original trilogy. So much so that, just like Apollo Justice before it, there really aren’t many returning characters other than Phoenix Wright himself. If you’re expecting to have Gumshoe being berated by Edgeworth, or having Maya looking after “Nick”, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be some small throwbacks to the original series, and the selection of new characters will definitely find a place in your heart. Heck, this entry in the series may even get you rethinking your thoughts on Apollo. In fact, it would almost make more sense to have released Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice after Dual Destinies, now that we get to see him and Phoenix working so closely together.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is a perfect addition to the franchise, despite having some of its mechanics removed. I did find the game a little easier than previous installments, but I’m not sure if it has been dumbed down or I’ve just become accustomed to the thought processes you need to be successful with this series. The fresh look and new faces, matched with the familiar game style, make it a must-buy for fans of the original trilogy.