Wednesday, July 29, 2015

GOT 'IM - Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

Here it is!  My first 2015 target game finished and its review posted here on the blog!  Yes, I finished the game in mid-February and now it's... late July.  Oops.  But whatever.  I'm making progress!  The fifth main-series Phoenix Wright game, Dual Destinies, gets a review.


I'm going to try and make these reviews shorter from now on.  Like, way shorter.  My writing has taken an ugly backseat to gaming recently, but if I want to keep writing I need to keep these reviews short-form.  I'm not going to skimp *too* much, but the story and gameplay sections need to be way shorter than in the past.  Gonna try and do that for this one; limiting myself to three paragraphs for background, story, and AV sections, four in the gameplay section, and one paragraph for the final thoughts section.


Man, when was the last time I played a Phoenix Wright game? *checks Wikipedia* I guess it was back in 2010, when the first Miles Edgeworth game was released in the United States.  Wow.  Well, North America never got the second Edgeworth game, and the 4th Ace Attorney main-series game landed back in 2008.  I played most of the Ace Attorney titles right as they were released and I never replayed any of them, so it's been awhile. 

I played the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney shortly after getting my first DS in 2006.  Totally into the visual-novel-meets-courtroom-drama hook and aware of the multiple sequels on the horizon, I enthusiastically bought and played each Ace Attorney game as they came out in English, with my eventual favorite being the third one, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations.  Really good time with them.  Ghost Trick, a DS murder mystery puzzle game from the same Capcom creative team, was even better.  This team has great design ideas and a fun sense of humor.  I'm all in on any Shu Takumi game. then there was a bit of a lull.  When Ace Attorney 5 (this game, which I'll be calling Dual Destinies from now on) came out in the U.S., it had been four years since the last Ace Attorney Investigations title, and I honestly had to consult a wiki on some story details before getting started on this one (i.e. whether Edgeworth, Maya, or Pearl were in the Apollo Justice game or not).  So whatever.  I binged on Phoenix Wright HARD as those first games came out, and now they're back.  So let's talk about the new one. 

Story and Characters

Duals Destinies takes place right after the the fourth Ace Attorney game, and both Phoenix and Apollo are working lawyers at Pheonix's old agency alongside Trucy Wright, Apollo's sister and Phoenix's adopted daughter.  They also have a new charge, Athena Cykes, working for them.  These three protagonists take turns as the main character in different cases, and their personalities and backgrounds show up in mostly-interesting ways.  I dug it.  Athena, Apollo, and Phoenix are all obsessive truth-seekers and wrong-righters, but their personalities do shine through a little.  Nick is the most chill outside of court, Apollo is probably the most determined (to the point of self-harm in pursuit of justice), and Athena is the hyper-optimistic one, if a little naïve.  It's a good dynamic. 

The pasts of those three main characters each catch up in different court cases throughout the story in some cool ways, with Athena's background in particular being key to the last three cases (out of five total).  I don't know if Athena is the most *necessary* addition to the world of Phoenix Wright, but those last few cases were great so I'm not complaining.  The slate of cases overall was solid in this game, and the new ones each feel fresh since there's a rotating cast of defense attorneys and prosecutors.  The only exception is perhaps the 4th case, which doesn't have a strong resolution and acts more like a setup to the final case rather than a standalone chunk of narrative.  Phoenix Wright cases are always an entertaining balance of wacky, melodramatic, and suspenseful, and Dual Destinies delivers on that front, especially in the grand finale. 

Lots of other returning characters make appearances, including Klavier Gavin and Miles Edgeworth; nice fanservice for fans of the original Phoenix Wright games.  The new characters are a pretty entertaining bunch (especially the new attorney Simon Blackquill and new detective Bobby Fulbright), and I have to say: I didn't see the final boss coming at all.  I usually pride myself on figuring out who the culprit is well before a case finishes, but in the final case of the game, I was SUPER WRONG.  That was a nice surprise.  This is a good story in general, but really it's about that colorful cast of anime goofs. 

Playing the Game

The basic gameplay loop of the Ace Attorney games hasn't really changed since the first one, but that's hardly a complaint.  Most cases have an investigation phase followed by a courtroom phase, and then repeat those two steps once or twice.  Investigation phases involve scoping out crime scenes, interviewing witnesses, and finding evidence, and are set up like a visual novel.  You travel between static rooms, finding clues by moving around the camera angle and taping the touchscreen like you're playing an oldschool adventure game or a search-n-find.  Once you've found all the evidence in that phase, you move to the courtroom, where you cross-examine witnesses and respond to the challenges of prosecutors. 

The courtroom stuff in Dual Destinies is the most elaborate it's ever been in a Phoenix Wright game.  Sure, the old standby techniques are still there - you press witnesses to add details to their testimony, you attack inconsistencies in the dialog with contradictory evidence, and you respond to direct questions with explanatory dialog and more evidence until the truth comes to surface.  But adding wrinkles to this is your selection of three different defense attorneys; Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena each have a unique gimmick skill for breaking down witnesses' lies. Phoenix uses his evidence to break "psyche locks" when someone is hiding something; Apollo can detect "tells" in testimony to determine exactly someone is lying in dialog; and Athena uses an emotion scanner to detect joy, sadness, anger, and surprise, and acts when a suspect's emotion doesn't match up with their statement.

Dual Destinies streamlines the investigation process in ways that aren't very noticeable, but certainly are welcome.  In older games there was very little direction as to what areas needed to be revisited or when an area was finished exploring, but in Dual Destinies you receive clear messages when every item has been found in a certain area, and the notes screen tells you of the room where the next clue is located.  That's huge.  Also, there are more environmental puzzles and tricks hidden in each investigation phase; not a bunch, maybe one for each case, but that's still more interesting than the more boring investigations in the first few Ace Attorney games.

Athena's Mood Matrix emotion-detector thing is another positive addition, and makes the courtroom phases better than ever.  Now there are more tricks in your basket, and a greater variety of gameplay mechanics at work means more interesting wrinkles to cross-examinations, which are the most interesting parts of any Phoenix Wright game.  My biggest disappointment with the caseload is that I wish they were longer (great complaint to have), and there's even a DLC case I haven't touched that mitigates that a little. 

Visuals and Audio

The Phoenix Wright games have never looked better.  Dual Destinies forgoes the medium-framerate sprites of its DS predecessors for 3D models, with smoother animations and more nuanced movement than before.  It makes things like reaction poses a little less snappy, but I think it's a small price to pay all those extra frames of animation.  The color palette is still as bright and cheery as ever, with Athena's yellow coat fitting in nicely with Phoenix's classic blue suit and Apollo's dapper red vest. 

The character designs are as over-the-top as ever, and the improved character animations have made them more expressive than ever.  All of the character actions look great (especially when Blackquill quick-draws his katana) and characters have idle animations and tics that make them seem a little more well-rounded.  It's a good look.  The leap from the Apollo Justice and Miles Edgeworth games on DS to Dual Destinies is noticeable, and I'm certainly impressed.  The best visual flairs, as usual, are the "death animations" when a culprit is found out and then admits defeat in the most melodramatic, insane way possible.  Especially the school case and the final case, holy shit that got intense. 

The Phoenix Wright soundtracks have always been effective, especially for building tension during the final moments of an investigation phase or for providing an intense audio backdrop during cross-examination.  They're usually catchy, and the chipset is a fun set of very "video-gamey" sounds that appeals to me.  Probably not something I'm going to go out of my way to listen to, but I enjoyed the audio presentation in Dual Destinies.  And there's nothing else in video games as quite like the OBJECTION! / HOLD IT! / TAKE THAT! suite of voice work found in the Ace Attorney series. 

The Final Word

Dual Destinies has the same problem as Trials & Tribulations - you really need to play the others in the series to get the most out of it.  If you haven't played the other games, you will have no idea how far the characters of Phoenix and Apollo have come, and won't enjoy the references and callbacks as much.  But as a fan, I think Dual Destinies is one of the better games in the series.  The characters and drama are great, the courtroom "dialog puzzles" are as fun and satisfying as ever, and the graphics have never looked better.  Dual Destinies is either my second- or third-favorite Ace Attorney game, ranking behind T&T and roughly tied with the first Ace Attorney.  That is high praise. 

Games Beaten: 2015 Edition

1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
2. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim
3. Fire Emblem: Awakening
4. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
5. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (NG+)
6. Persona 4 Golden
7. Ys: Memories of Celceta
8. Her Story
9. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
10. Persona 4 Golden (Platinum)
11. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
12. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
13. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

Targets: 4/15


That's that!  And look at that completion list, yikes.  Too many games, man.  Tons of catching up to do.  Hopefully I'll get back to my 15 in 15 quest in the second half of the year and finish with a percentage above 50 on the year.  Sollosi out. 

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