It will take you about 7 minutes to read this review.
Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies starts with a bang – literally – when a bomb that was part of the evidence presented in a trial suddenly arms itself and explodes. Despite a hasty evacuation, when the dust clears a body is found in the rubble. Was the explosion accidental or on purpose? In the fifth game in the acclaimed Ace Attorney series to be released outside of Japan, and the first to have 3D graphics, defense lawyer Phoenix Wright is joined by Apollo Justice and rookie Athena Cykes. Playing as each of these different attorneys in turn, players will travel back and forth through time to learn more about not just the bombing, but also how Phoenix returned to the courtroom and how Athena and Apollo first met. It's great to have Phoenix back with new characters on board, though you’ll soon discover that when you start with an explosion, it's hard to keep the momentum going quite that strongly after that.
The five original cases (plus one downloadable extra case) offer a variety of settings, both in terms of crime scenes and in the temporal sense. The first case takes place in the courtroom that’s destroyed in the intro, in which a childhood friend of Athena's is accused of setting off the bomb. The other cases take place in different time periods and don't follow chronological order. One details Phoenix's first case following his hiatus, and of course there’s a re-enactment of the trial that led to the courtroom bombing. With such diverse locations as a Space Center, a Japanese village and a law school to visit outside, there is plenty of variety in the scenery.
The story starts out a bit dull and slow-paced, especially after the spectacular opening drama, but after two cases it picks up more than enough speed and depth to make Dual Destinies another worthwhile entry in the series. An additional case, “Turnabout Reclaimed”, can be bought separately as DLC. This case takes us to an aquarium, and the client is a killer whale accused of killing its trainer. Since the killer whale obviously can't talk or come to the courtroom, this is one of the more interesting cases, as well as displaying the most gorgeous looking backgrounds and animations.
Phoenix is now a mentor with his own agency, called Wright Anything, consisting of Phoenix himself, Apollo Justice, Phoenix's adopted daughter Trucy (a wannabe magician), and a new, fresh-out-of-law-school rookie attorney, Athena Cykes. Athena’s specialty is analytical psychology, and she can attune herself to the emotions in someone's heart with the aid of her pendant, the Mood Matrix. The three attorneys are different enough from each other to keep things fresh, yet they work well together, often aiding each other in court. A couple of other new characters include a defense attorney who has been convicted of murder and is still in shackles, and a police officer who is eager to help in the name of justice. Each case also has its own set of weird suspects and witnesses, such as a bomb expert called Ted Tonate, and a journalist hiding inside a huge cardboard box.
A recurring theme in all of the cases is the so-called Dark Age of the Law. Time and time again, Phoenix and his companions run into attorneys, judges and witnesses that live by the adage that 'The end justifies all means.' It appears that truth no longer has a place in the courtroom. Evidence may be fabricated, memories can be biased, and witnesses bribed or manipulated, so the only thing that counts is the end result: the verdict. A law school even teaches their students in this manner. Fortunately for us, Phoenix is determined to bring back the 'olden' days of justice, and the cases in Dual Destinies follow the familiar pattern of investigating/exploring and speaking to witnesses, presenting evidence and pressing contradictory statements during cross-examinations in court. The ultimate goal is to prove your client's innocence while the prosecution does their best to prove them guilty.
Every time you think you've found the crucial turning point, the prosecution comes up with new statements and revelations that make the experience feel energetic and keep the story interesting. It’s business as usual for those who have played the earlier games, but you need no knowledge of previous instalments. In fact, what happened to the judicial system in Apollo Justice’s own spin-off game seems to have never happened here. The forensics system (in the form of animated diagrams) and the ability to view objects up close and from all angles are gone, but during investigations you can now turn the room around with the arrows provided so you can look at it from different perspectives, which sometimes reveals new evidence that was previously hidden behind some furniture. The exploration part still only ends when you've clicked on everything relevant though, plus it's limited to the crime scenes so you can no longer examine everywhere at will.
An issue that all the Ace Attorney games share – Dual Destinies being no exception – is that sometimes you as the player know exactly what is needed to prove something vital in the case, but the game won't let you use that evidence or statement just yet. Instead, it forces you to follow a very linear path of dealing with some minor details first. This can be frustrating when you have the evidence to turn the case upside down and want to get on with it, such as spotting something very incriminating in a crime scene photo but the witness only wants to talk about something completely different.
New to this game is that all the cases are interlinked somehow, whether through a common witness or event or through Athena's past. The cases are all told from the perspective of one of our three heroes, so series veterans will get to use the familiar Magatama to perceive Psyche-locks, Apollo's bracelet to discover telltale twitches whenever someone lies, and Athena’s Mood Matrix pendant to point out discrepancies in witness emotions during a statement. For example, if someone is talking about a scary experience but is actually feeling happiness in their heart, you can touch the corresponding emoticon to ask why they feel that way. There is a nice variation in these approaches, although of course they all boil down to finding a way to point out contradictions.
During trials a health bar is shown that decreases if you get penalized for presenting the wrong evidence or failing to point towards the correct location on the screen when the judge asks for it. If the bar depletes completely, you will need to start over from the last time you saved your progress. However, since you can save at will at any time, even when there is an important decision to make, there is never any real danger of failing. As an extra protection against that happening, a hint system kicks in if you make several mistakes. You can then ask your partner in the courtroom for hints on what to do (such as what statement you should press).
The game in general feels a bit easier than its predecessors, but I'm not sure if that's because it actually is or that I've played so many that I've come to understand how we’re expected to think. The checklist that some cases have, showing what needs to be done before you can end the investigation and start the actual trial, felt totally unnecessary. The developers have fortunately removed some of the aimless moving about, as it is always obvious where to go next and there are fewer locations available when trying to find someone to talk to or something to investigate. A text log can be consulted, showing the last few minutes of dialogue in the game, which can be useful when a witness loses their cool and starts talking or rapping very fast.
The art style is similar to previous games, but the backgrounds are far livelier here with lots of ingeniously-looped animations such as windblown banners, flocks of birds and entire schools of tiny coloured fish moving dynamically across the screen. Gone are the 2D sprites from before, replaced by 3D models that look great. The 3DS's stereoscopic capabilities aren't used for much more than embellishments, making it possible for an 'Objection' gesture to seemingly reach toward you or the judicial hammer coming to life in glorious 3D, but the game can be played in 2D just as well.
While the majority of the game has the usual blips and beeps instead of voice acting (the occasional 'Objection' or 'Hold It' excepted, as usual), the animated cutscenes are fully voiced, which is a welcome change from the earlier games in the series. Some characters sound a bit awkward, however, with acting that’s a bit too over-the-top. The soundtrack consists of catchy tracks, with some recurring characters or locations like the courtroom having individual tunes and each chapter having its own theme. Sound effects include the judge's gavel banging down, prosecutor Simon Blackquill throwing a feather and slicing it with his ninja blade, the gallery murmuring and various others. A bunch of typos throw a bit of a blemish on the game's polish, however.
For Ace Attorney fans, everything you’ve come to appreciate about the series (including its headlining star character) is back, though the new adventure is slightly more streamlined and less challenging this time around. Although not all cases are equally interesting, the stories are fairly strong overall, with a nice variety of gameplay between the three attorneys. In the end (an end that can be extended with an extra downloadable case), Dual Destinies offers very little that’s really new, but the formula is as fun as ever and even a little bit improved.