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March 10, 2014 / Jett

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies Review

In Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, gaming’s favorite lawyer returns to a court of law that’s in shambles. For one, Courtroom #4 has just been decimated by a bomb that went off mid-trial. Worse yet, the reputation of the entire justice system has been destroyed by years of poor conduct from prosecutors and attorneys. In this “Dark Age of the Law”, forging evidence has become a common practice by those looking to get ahead. While Phoenix’s goal of defending his clients hasn’t changed, he also aims to put an end to this fraudulent era of justice by proving that the truth always prevails.

Like its predecessors, Dual Destinies plays like a graphic novel with point-and-click adventure elements. Spanning across five cases, you’ll uncover the truth by investigating crime scenes, then use that evidence to defend your client in court. While the game does little to break away from its tried-and-true formula, there are a number of improvements in place that address many legacy issues that have bogged down past efforts.

One of my biggest beefs with the older Ace Attorney games was that it was very easy to get stuck during the investigation sections. This time, the process has been streamlined in a way that makes your path very clear. When you search a crime scene, an icon hovers above hotspots to indicate whether you’ve examined it or not. This cuts out the time you waste from clicking on things you’ve already searched. After finding everything in a particular location, the game tells you that no further investigation is required. You’re also given a checklist of things to do that automatically updates as you complete each task.

Cross-examinations have always been the most thrilling part of Capcom’s courtroom dramas, but they haven’t been free of fault either. If you couldn’t spot a hole in your witness’ testimony, your only options were to force your way to the correct contradiction through trial-and-error, or to find the answer in a guide. In Dual Destinies, your partner can provide you with hints after you’ve made a few mistakes. Should you leverage their help, they’ll pinpoint the offending statement, leaving you to find the evidence that debunks its validity. This solution isn’t perfect, as the task of sourcing the proof may still require guesswork, though it’s still a step up from its predecessors.

Thanks to these mechanical improvements, most of your time will be spent making forward progress in the game’s five cases. Each has its own self-contained story that also fit together as part of a bigger tale about the Dark Age of the Law. Previous entries have connected their cases together in a similar manner, though it’s done particularly well by establishing the thread early and referring to it throughout.

The moment-to-moment drama plays out in classic Phoenix Wright fashion, as its story beats and dialogue sequences feel like an anime take on Law & Order. With this latest release, the franchise also makes the jump to 3D models and backgrounds. The graphical bump does make for a prettier game overall while smartly using camera angles and animation routines to retain its signature vibe. On top of that, there are a handful of fully-animated and voice-acted cutscenes that add an extra punch to its overall presentation.

Despite this being the first starring role for Phoenix Wright in quite some time, the story shuffles him out of the spotlight for long stretches to focus on his two proteges: Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. As you may recall, Apollo starred in his own Ace Attorney game on the Nintendo DS a few years ago. Athena on the other hand, is a hotshot newcomer with the ability to read a person’s emotions. This comes in handy during certain portions of the game, as you’re asked to spot contradictions in someone’s testimony based on the what they felt during each statement. For a series that has leveraged fantastical mechanics in the past, such as Phoenix’s secret-unlocking magatama or Apollo’s lie-detecting bracelet, Athena’s special ability is a worthy inclusion.

In absence of their mentor, Apollo and Athena do an admirable job of moving things forward. However, Phoenix’s parts are clearly the highlight. He’s always been a likeable character, though he now benefits greatly from a level of maturity that he’s developed over time. As someone who remembers his days as a rookie, it’s great to see him now as someone with a strong grasp on the world around him. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the main man behind the game’s best cases.

The cast of active attorneys frequently shuffles, though the prosecution is largely constant thanks to series newcomer Simon Blackquill. This menacing figure is actually a convicted murderer who has somehow been cleared to practice in court. With his hands still shackled, he takes on every trial as if he were a samurai engaged in battle. He plays the bad guy role extremely well, as there are no shortage of moments where you actually want to inflict bodily harm on him. However, I can’t help but love his on-screen antics, his intolerance for crap and his respect for the truth, even if he’s trying to make your clients his new cellmates.

As someone who was disappointed to see Phoenix Wright reduced to bit roles in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and Miles Edgeworth: Ace Attorney Investigations, it’s good to see him return as the star in a quality title like Dual Destinies. Capcom once again supplies a tale that’s tough to put down while taking meaningful steps towards making its gameplay more intuitive. With this being the sixth entry in the series, this isn’t necessarily the best place for newcomers. However, if you have any experience with the franchise, this is worth tracking down in the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

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