I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of misdirection. I love it when a game (or a book or even a movie) starts off in one direction, lures you in, and while you’re confident that you have a fair understanding of its motives, it rattles your cage. It leaves you in a state of contemplation. It’s not as simple or as mundane as a lazy plot-twist, but rather the art of hiding deeper philosophical questions behind a façade of simplicity. Spec Ops: The Line hid a deeper message under the guise of “a military shooter,” and in similar fashion Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies takes on the legal profession.
The Dark Age of Law
It’s easy to dismiss the latest Ace Attorney game as yet another wild and wacky Phoenix Wright courtroom adventure. After all, Dual Destinies comes with its fair share of silly (new and recurring) characters – set within an established and serialized world. But that would be a huge mistake. Aristotle once said that “The Law is Reason free from Passion”. It’s a powerful vindication of the legal profession; however Dual Destinies delves deeper into the reality of the Courts. One in which truth or the “pursuit of truth” becomes a casualty in a vicious game of one-upmanship. In other words, how far should you go to defend your client? Or how far should you go to prosecute a would-be felon? Or more vexing, how far will you go to defend a friend, a loved one or a family member? And would it be moral not to?
Denny Crane..? Harvey Specter? No… call me Phoenix Wright!
Ace Attorney -Dual Destinies can easily be seen as a stand-alone title. You don’t have to know anything about the previous titles (or how all the various characters fit in). The game does a decent job at filling in the blanks on its own. However, the past is important. As much as Phoenix Wright would love to dispute it, the disastrous events at the end of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney still haunts him, and the overall effect of his disbarment -during the last game- is undeniable. Fortunately, Phoenix has been re-admitted to the bar. He is joined by his partner, Apollo Justice and the newest addition to their law firm, the very capable Athena Cykes. Together, the trio makes it their business to defend those who have been wrongfully accused of dastardly crimes.
Objection your honour!
There is definitely a familiarity with how Dual Destinies is presented. It sticks close to its roots, and the mechanics behind the game has barely changed since the first few titles. If you’ve never played an Ace Attorney game, a typical Ace Attorney game has the following general structure; a short introductory case, to familiarise yourself with some of the basic concepts (how to present evidence or how to perform a cross-examination etc.), and then longer cases that involve courtroom and investigative sequences. But the biggest shock for newcomers is the sheer amount of “text”. The best way to describe Ace Attorney is that it’s essentially an interactive novel. Even though, Dual Destinies features occasional and beautiful anime cut-scenes with audio, you’re still required to read the transcripts, discover contradictions and select the appropriate responses.
The investigative sections are reminiscent of old-school adventure games where you have to point-and-click to find evidence in a crime scene for your court case. Once you’ve searched through all the areas and spoken to all the witnesses, you proceed to the courtroom with a notebook filled with juicy material. I would like to point out though that the “investigative phase” has been streamlined (since Apollo Justice), and not necessarily for the better. There is linearity to the process that I wish could have been avoided, but on the other hand, there’s nothing worse than being forced to try to find a particular piece of “smoking gun” evidence.
The courtroom is really where all the action is. It’s where the defence and the prosecution battle it out through cross-examinations – while objections spew forth, murmurings litter the gallery and a bearded judge bangs his gavel. It’s truly a battlefield and one where the prosecution even throws in a few personal jabs at Phoenix and his gang. Fortunately, Phoenix and co. have secret weapons to defend themselves or at least to carve through the tricky witness testimonies, in their pursuit for the truth. Newcomer, Athena Cykes is armed with a little robot called Widget that augments her impressive skills in analytical psychology. She’s able to read the emotions of witnesses, and through her ability is able to see whether a witness’ testimony match their emotional state. Apollo Justice on the other hand, makes use of his golden bracelet to narrow in on conflicting body language. A feat that’s presented in glorious slow-motion. Of course, the titular hero’s Psyche-Lock and Magatama charm make a welcomed return.
The Gift of the Gab!
One of the biggest surprises of Dual Destinies is that its story is probably the most cohesive of all the Ace Attorney games. There is a broader overarching tale being told, while the subsequent cases provide more insight into the mental workings of both Athena Cykes and her opponent, the mysterious prosecutor, Simon Blackquill. It’s through the humorous and dark interactions between these two characters that extremely hard and far-reaching legal issues are explored.
While I have nothing but praise for Dual Destinies, there is one issue that I would like to raise. The convoluted plots may leave some scratching their heads, but my issue with the game lies more with its inflexibility in some parts. It’s a problem that it shares with previous titles as well. In other words, you have to present your case in a very specific way. Even though, you’ve figured it out. You know which piece of evidence is going to end it all. You have to follow the correct text prompts and present your evidence at specific times. I can understand the limitation, given that the game is structured to also allow for a “fun and zany” narrative, alongside your court battle, but sometimes you wish it was like how Elle Woods serendipitously unravelled the District Attorney’s case in Legally Blonde.
Dual Destinies delivers on all its promises. It’s a stunning example of how there’s still a place for non-conventional games. It also helps that Dual Destinies looks and sounds amazing. It’s a game that’s definitely benefiting from Capcom’s MT Framework Mobile engine. The 3D animations are without fault, and the game is complimented by appropriate and powerful anime sequences. It’s sad that the retail version is “download-only” because I would have loved to own a physical copy of this game and add it to my library of games.