It's time to warm up those CHORDS OF STEEL, locate your magic panties and don the blue suit — Ace Attorney is back and it's as wacky as ever. Introducing a new cast of zany characters, as well as your old favourites, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is a welcome return to the franchise, complete with a fresh, updated art-style and wonderful 3D effects. The court is officially back in session.
Dual Destinies' storyline takes the form of five separate cases, each one introducing new characters, bringing to light new information from previous battles in the courtroom and bringing you one step closer to that wonderful 'eureka!' moment at the end of the last chapter for which the series is famous. Set roughly a year after the events of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Dual Destinies brings together the two main series protagonists Apollo and Phoenix, and introduces legal protégé and psychology fanatic Athena Cykes to solve more bizarre crimes. Discovering more about Athena's background underlines each case, as we slowly learn more and more about this fresh-faced law graduate, but that never overshadows the core focus of the investigations. It would be a crime in itself to reveal the events of each Turnabout — as every legal trainee knows, Ace Attorney is all about the gripping plot twists — but know that it includes psychotic bombers, Japanese mythical monsters and love triangles.
To any series veteran the gameplay will all look rather familiar, and can be split into two sections; investigating and witness questioning and then legal battles and cross-examinations in court. After witnessing a spectacular anime cut-scene of a murder taking place you will be put in the shoes of one of the series protagonists, transported to the scene of the crime and asked to search for clues ready for the trial the next day. Thus begins the real challenge, using the evidence you have collected to slowly tease out the lies and secrets of the witnesses in the courtroom, and trust us when we say: everyone in this game has something to hide. It's a simple system, but great fun, especially when you have bluffed your way through a whole cross-examination, only to suddenly remember a vital piece of information, take a second to gasp and then hammer your stylus on the 'present' icon wailing "TAKE THAT!" at the top of your voice as you completely destroy the prosecutor's argument.
Dual Destinies introduces a few new, minor features to the gameplay such as new camera perspectives to give a complete 360 degree view of a room when investigating crime-scenes, a 'notes' tab in the Court Records to keep track of what you should be doing and Athena Cykes' power of psychology. As in previous games, each main playable character has their own special power, such as Apollo Justice's golden bracelet which spots nervous ticks in witnesses to tell if they're lying. Athena, armed with her cute little robot Widget, uses her knowledge of psychology to read the emotions of witnesses to spot contradictions in their testimonies. While the testimony is being read the top screen of the 3DS becomes the 'Mood Matrix' and shows four different emotion panels — happiness, sadness, anger and surprise. These emoticons will flash when the witness discusses something particularly emotive, yet at points these emotions do not reflect what the witness is saying; for example if there is a hint of happiness when someone has been shot, or sadness if they have been rescued, at which point Athena can step in and try and tease out the secret. Athena's power is a little simple compared to Phoenix Wright's Psyche Locks or the magical Magatama (given to him by assistant Mia Fey in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All), however this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the court scenes.
The only big issue still plaguing the series is the problem that at some points in the story you will have already figured out a key twist in the case long before the rest of the cast. It can get a little frustrating when you have to sit back and scroll through lines and lines of text waiting for the game to catch up with your wisdom, and even once the defence have caught up there comes the daunting task of slowly explaining everything to the rather dimwitted judge, but rest assured this is a rarity, with many shocking mysteries lurking at the end of each case to cool any frustration.
Being a visual novel with interactive elements Dual Destinies is, of course, very text heavy. Many players will shy away from the seemingly 'dull' experience of button-mashing A to get through reams of text to occasionally tap the screen to change topic, or present a rather obscure piece of evidence, however the story really is what Ace Attorney games are all about. As with previous games, Dual Destinies is excellently localised, brimming with wit, humour, shameful puns and plenty of charm. It may not be laugh out loud material, but will definitely keep a smile glued to your face from beginning to end.
There are also a number of quirky new characters to meet your acquaintance, including a new prosecutor nemesis, the moody Simon Blackquill, a convicted murderer whose powers of suggestion allow him time out of his cell to take on defence attorneys, threaten witnesses and feed his pet hawk. Other additions to the cast include Bobby Fulbright, a hopelessly heroic detective who works alongside Blackquill, Jinxie Tenma is a superstitious maid working at Nine-Tales Vale Manor, and Juniper Woods a country girl with a bit of a crush on Apollo. Every character has their own quirks, catch-phrases and wonderfully unique traits, making each completely unforgettable and a asset to the story.
Visually Dual Destinies is a real treat. Character models are wonderfully detailed and have each been spruced up for the series' first venture onto the 3DS, now sporting bold out-linings which really make them pop out from the background when the 3D slider is pushed to the max. Characters no longer sit statically while they wait, often fidgeting and winking every so often, and animation and transitions are a great deal smoother. Locations and background are absolutely beautiful, particularly one scene which shows a traditional Japanese garden with lovely lanterns swaying in the breeze, softly popping out from the background. It's obvious that Dual Destinies has been designed with 3D in mind, incorporating awesome 3D effects, such as wisps of flames and smoke spewing out of the screen, and pieces of debris fluttering in front of the courtroom drama as a bomb devastates the scene. It's great to see a game really facilitate the 3DS' potential, so make sure you have your 3D slider pushed up when you're playing this one.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that Dual Destinies also includes a smattering of voice acting during cut-scenes, really helping to bring out the personalities of each character. It's a shame there wasn't more English dub to break up the particularly text-heavy sequences, however considering the sheer volume of script packed in each Ace Attorney title, it would be a substantial localisation job to translate audio into so many regional languages.
Wonderfully witty as ever, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is another excellent entry into the Ace Attorney series. Bursting with humour and new extravagant personalities, Phoenix Wright fans will find much to enjoy, thanks largely to the excellent skills of the localisation and script-writing team at Capcom. The few minor gameplay additions do somewhat polish the investigation and courtroom experience, but — as with any visual novel — it's the story, character developments and gob-smacking plot twists that you really play for, and this one will keep you screaming 'OBJECTION' until the gavel drops.