Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies by Capcom is a game that has it all: an eye-catching presentation style, quirky characters, and intricately-woven stories. These stories are legal cases that players are tasked with solving, and they are addictive. I poured hours into this game every night for several days, and when I was away from my Nintendo 3DS, I had the cases replaying in the back of my mind so I could pounce on the next piece of evidence as soon as I got back to the virtual courtroom. Plus, there are astronauts. And magic panties. Dual Destinies is just plain fun, and for me it’s been a refreshing reminder that that’s exactly what video games should be.
You start the game as Athena Cykes, an 18-year-old defense attorney just starting her career at Wright Anything Agency. Throughout the game, she and rookie attorney Apollo Justice try to prove themselves as lawyers. When things get sticky, Athena often feels like an amateur, but she always manages to pick herself up and try again. And Apollo has his Chords of Steel to make himself feel more confident. (“I’m Apollo Justice, and I’m fine!”) The two of them are the protagonists for most of the game, but Phoenix Wright is at the agency to give them advice, and he later makes a grand return to the courtroom.
Besides these main characters, there are several recurring characters who reappear during different cases. These include Athena’s childhood friend Juniper Woods (who is always being accused of murder in spite of how sweet she is), over-eager detective Bobby Fulbright, and prosecutor Simon Blackquill, a convicted criminal who comes to the courtroom with chains still on his wrists and his pet hawk in tow. I enjoyed most of the characters — even the unlikable ones and the killers — because for the most part, their eccentricities make them charming rather than annoying. I found myself laughing out loud at some of their outbursts and clever turns of phrase.
Cases seem simple at first, but that’s how they’re deceptive. As an investigation progresses, new details come to light. Mistaken identities, new clues, and red herrings are all perfectly placed. I never felt confused by a case; everything was always in order, and evidence cropped up naturally, often at just the right moments. It made every case feel real. Often, you (and the characters) figure out who the killer is long before the case is concluded — the trick is how to prove it. When the whirlwind of details settle and you’re are finally able to make your case with evidence, it’s a totally satisfying thrill.
The cases also take on themes that I imagine are present in the real world of law. Wright often has advice for his rookie attorneys; when they’re stuck, he reminds them to go back to their roots and believe in their client first and foremost. The game is set during the so-called “Dark Age of the Law,” with prosecutors and defense attorneys fabricating evidence to win cases. For instance, in the third case at Themis Legal Academy, students are split between one professor’s belief that the “end justifies the means” and another professor’s belief that only through legitimate means can a case be won. Idealism and honesty are at odds with the idea of winning at all costs. These themes deepen the game and make cases even more thought-provoking.
Just be prepared for long cases. Never having played a Phoenix Wright game before, I didn’t know what to expect. The first case took me about three hours to complete, but the next ones took longer. When I thought the second case was drawing to a close around 11 PM on Thanksgiving night (in my real life, that is!), I, determined to finish it, stayed up for three more hours. Cases often take unexpected turns that postpone verdicts, so don’t get too excited the first time you think you’ve nailed it!
To solve cases, you need to investigate the crime scene to gather evidence, interview people (who could become potential witnesses and suspects), and then make your case in the courtroom. There is some back and forth here; for instance, after a day at court, you may be ushered back to the crime scene to do some more investigating. This involves moving the cursor around the screen and selecting areas to research; sometimes the camera zooms in on the area for more detailed digging. During the investigation phase of a case, you can choose from a list of unlocked areas — such as the crime scene, the Wright Anything Agency, and the Detention Center where your defendant is being held — to talk to different people and investigate the various spots related to the case.
But the courtroom is where some of the most interesting information comes to light. Evidence that once seemed cold suddenly becomes relevant as new testimony is revealed. After witnesses testify, you cross-examine them by pressing them for more information and identifying contradictions between what the witnesses are saying and what the evidence actually shows.
This can be tricky. At first I thought that every time a witness testifies, I must find a contradiction — so if I was stumped, I made wild guesses. But by the third case, I’d learned that sometimes you have to accept a piece of testimony you don’t want or focus on something unusual rather than presenting evidence. It’s not possible to beat Dual Destinies by trying to figure out how the game works; you really have to take it trial by trial, conversation by conversation, and immerse yourself in the evidence and testimony. Things don’t always go according to plan, so you have to think on your feet.
However, there was one thing I found slightly frustrating: there are times when two pieces of evidence are similar, but only one will work, leading to “wrong” answers and unfair penalties. For instance, I once presented a voice analysis of a recording, only to find out that I had to present the actual recording to proceed. These instances reminded me that I was playing a video game and made cases feel less dynamic. It’s not a major issue, but it might have been helpful if the game allowed for two answers where both made sense.
There are also times when you must choose from a list of possible answers to progress a case. Instead of showing evidence, you have to present the correct theory and watch as your character backs it up.
When you get something wrong, the judge slaps them with a penalty. Get too many penalties, and the judge declares the defendant guilty — meaning you lose your case. However, the game is very forgiving; losing a case just means you have to “try again” and pick up at the last crucial moment in the case. I never lost more than a minute of progress when I failed the first time.
Athena and Apollo have special skills they use to shed light on the case when talking to people. Athena studied analytical psychology, so she’s able to sense when people’s emotions are discordant. Using her Mood Matrix, she can identify when witness’s emotions are too strong, too weak, or contradict what is being said; for instance, someone might be happy when describing a tragedy. Once these emotions are cleared up, the witness might be able to remember things more clearly or spill a secret. Meanwhile, Apollo has a bracelet that tightens around his wrist when someone is lying. He can then identify tics that give away which part of a statement a witness is lying about.
Of course, it’s up to you to pinpoint the emotions and tics. I found using Apollo’s bracelet was a breeze, but I was stumped using the Mood Matrix a couple of times — which was great. I only wish the game gave players more opportunities to use these!
Dual Destinies’ presentation was a pleasant surprise for me. The 3D is stunning. My eyes always get tired from it after a while, so I typically turned the 3D on and off at different times depending on how I felt — but it’s always an option and works very well. For instance, in the second case, the defendant Jinxie Tenma slaps a warding charm on Apollo’s forehead, which is shown from Apollo’s first-person perspective. In 3D, it’s fun to see the paper fluttering on “your” forehead, with Jinxie standing there beyond it and the buildings even farther back behind her.
I also loved that the screen was almost always animated. Characters move their mouths when they speak, leaves fall in the background, lanterns sway in the breeze. Juniper whips a sunflower off her hat and breathes from it when she has a coughing fit. Phineas Filch tips his head to the side until his hat starts to fall off, then catches it to push it back on. And Florent L’Belle does all kinds of things, from fluffing the flower on his lapel to laughing behind his hand. These are just a few of my personal favorites.
Another thing I noticed is that the text scrolls faster during exciting moments. Other times, it seems to pause or scrolls out haltingly, as if a character is thinking carefully as she speaks. It’s a subtle touch, but it adds a nice sense of pacing and presence to the conversations (as long as you don’t hurry through them by pressing B, which I totally did after the first couple of cases).
Cutscenes are few and far between, but they have an appealing anime style and offer a welcome break from clicking through conversations. Aside from the thrilling interjection of things like “OBJECTION!” or “HOLD IT!” the only voiced parts of the game are during these cutscenes. Dual Destinies is definitely a dialogue-heavy game, and you’ll be reading your way through almost all of it. I can see this being tedious for some players, but that’s the type of game this is, and I didn’t mind it at all. It’s a visual novel elevated by the voiced cutscenes, the interactive case-solving, and the frequent character animations.
As for the music… I might not love the soundtrack to this game, but it works. The music changes frequently enough that no single tune becomes annoying. I also liked that when the case picks up, so does the music. And some characters have what could be considered theme songs; for instance, guitar rock starts playing whenever rockstar-turned-prosecutor Klavier Gavin turns up.
The sound effects add another level of immersion to the game. Though subtle, sounds like birds chirping in the background, the whir of a globe being spun, and chains rattling make each scene feel more real.
Most importantly, the screens are easy to navigate, and information is handy to keep you on track. You can almost always click on the speech box at the bottom of the screen to scroll through the latest conversation, which is helpful when the game prompts you to do something specific that you can’t quite recall. You can also save your game at any time. The evidence is always available to flip through, and during the investigation phase, you can check your notes to see what activities you’ve just completed and what else you need to do to progress to the next stage. For instance, your notes might tell you to talk to a certain character or head to the crime scene.
When it comes to difficulty, Dual Destinies feels balanced. There are times when the game maybe holds your hand a little too much — such as when it whisks you through black-and-white flashbacks of things that just happened — but hey, sometimes that’s helpful. After all, I probably played for longer sessions than others, so the refreshers are bound to be necessary if you’ve spent a couple days away from the game. Overall, I appreciate that Dual Destinies is straightforward, because the cases have enough twists and turns to keep your brain going as it is.
The bottom line for me? I loved this game, and now I can’t wait to go back and play the rest of the series. I had no idea what I was missing. =)