Summary Judgment: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

             Going back into an Ace Attorney game after going through law school and passing the bar exam was a somewhat curious prospect. As the game’s release date neared, I found myself wondering if I would be capable of handling all of the ridiculous courtroom shenaniganry that transpires in that series now that I had been so thoroughly educated on the way that real trials operated. Would my love for the series’ manic courtroom drama be overcome by cynicism, causing me to look down my nose at the farce of a legal profession shown in the game?

            After playing Capcom’s latest entry in the series on the 3DS, Dual Destinies, I feel relieved to say that the answer was a resounding NO. Dual Destinies is a game that was only enhanced by my experiences in law school and feelings toward the legal profession, and on top of all of that, it represents a great self awareness and evolution in the series’ design and is summarily the best game in the series.

            The formula here hasn’t changed much. The player inhabits the law offices of the Wright Anything Agency as one of three attorneys who work there, depending on the case: hotshot Apollo Justice, precocious rookie Athena Cykes, or the veteran legend himself, Phoenix Wright. Throughout a series of cases, the lawyers piece together an impromptu defense for their deseperate clients using various means of investigation, ranging from simply examining areas for evidence to using magic bracelets to analyze facial movements.  All of this culminates in a courtroom battle, where the player matches wits with a prosecutor, utilizing cross examination to present the collected evidence in such a way as to reveal contradictions and inconsistencies in the witnesses’ statements and unravel the truth.

RAISING THE BAR

            What has changed, though, is that Capcom has learned a thing or two from Ace Attorney Investigations and has fixed quite a bit of the tedium and pacing issues of the previous games. Much of the investigation phase has been streamlined and smoothened out, making them a much more organic process of accumulating evidence rather than the drawn out march of trial and error they were in previous titles.  Often, the game will directly lead to where you need to be next, and there’s a convenient notebook in the Court Record that allows players to quickly reference exactly what it is they should be doing. It does, perhaps, make the game “easier” from a certain standpoint in its small increase in handholding, but when the “difficulty” of previous entries largely revolved around being made to throw evidence at the wall to see if it stuck, I have a hard time lamenting the relative ease of Dual Destinies’ experience.

            The trial segments have been similarly improved. Gone are the irritating segments wherein the player would be required to present the proper evidence under threat of instant game over upon failure, and the general penalty for running out of your “lawyer health” bar has been drastically reduced. Again, this was never true difficulty to begin with, so the reduction in repetition resulting from failure is a huge improvement to the court experience and vastly reduces the amount of retreading necessary.  In addition, the court record has been trimmed, often times automatically removing unnecessary evidence as well as segmenting the “profiles” section away from the evidence, only allowing you to present people’s profiles as evidence when directly prompted to do so.

            The biggest gameplay addition to the courtroom segments is the introduction of Athena’s Mood Matrix, which enables the player to examine the way witnesses are feeling while they give testimony. This is a great addition largely in part due to the way the game conveys it, providing illustrations to scenes in the case’s story that change as the witnesses testimony is cleared up. It really helps to paint a picture of the events of a case, and it’s very satisfying to watch the truth unveil itself before your eyes as you point out emotional contradictions.

            The game is still an Ace Attorney game, though, and some of the flaws of the previous entries haven’t been dispelled completely. While the tediousness of failure has been minimized, there are still a few points where the logical leaps the game wants you to make in connecting the dots are a bit far fetched, and as a result, presenting evidence can still be a bit of a crapshoot as you throw evidence randomly at a statement, hoping it’s the correct answer. On top of that, I still think the Investigation/Courtroom dichotomy is a bit of a pacing issue; the courtroom sections are infinitely more interesting than the investigations in most places, and I think Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth had a solution to that problem in integrating them together that Dual Destinies regressed from marginally.

A WELCOME REMAND

            Another notable step forward for the series in Dual Destinies lies in the writing. The story of this entry shines as both a possible conclusion to the series and a Band-Aid that fixes some of the mistakes of the previous entry, introducing wonderful new characters like Athena and Prosecutor Blackquill while simultaneously bringing back many of the past favorites in ways that make sense without feeling like fanservice.

            Blackquill in particular represents a correction to one of the major flaws of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney by a presenting a prosecutor who is far more adversarial and challenging to the player than the rather oddly accommodating Klavier Gavin in the previous game ever was. Blackquill is clever, antagonistic, and efficient, cutting moments of poor reasoning or shaky evidence down like so much bamboo.

            The story itself is all a very well crafted mix of the old and the new, highlighting Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena fairly equally and never feeling like one character is the favorite over the others. Each of the game’s cases is well contained within itself, and none of the manic energy of past cases is lost.

            On top of that, the visuals are an astonishingly well executed transition from 2D to 3D, with carefully created cel-shaded models that almost perfectly evoke the 2D sprites of the past in their artistry.  Returning characters have animations and models that flawlessly mirror the art of their sprites in past games, and the new characters are made to have just as much quirkiness and vitality as ever before.  This is one of the cleanest 2D -> 3D transitions I’ve ever seen, and we gain a new level of animation freedom and visual cohesiveness from the 3D without losing any of the charm or artistry of the earlier games’ sprites.

            Dual Destinies is an excellent return for the Ace Attorney series and is easily the best game in the series when taken as a whole. Anyone looking for something that’s light on gameplay but heavy on charm, personality, and compelling story should give it a whirl. In my legal opinion, you won’t go wrong with it.

 

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies is available in all its excessively subtitled glory on the 3DS’s eShop.

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