There was some confusion among longtime fans as the previous instalment in the Ace Attorney series focused on the cases of a new lawyer named Apollo Justice - rather than the iconic Phoenix Wright. The reasons for this became clear as the game progressed.
Phoenix had been stripped of his attorney's badge. This time they are both involved, as Phoenix has regained his right to practice law. A new junior partner teams up with them, as Athena Cykes makes her first appearance in the series. Their adventures in and out of the court room are really entertaining, and they all have their own ways to wrestle the truth from sometimes pretty uncooperative witnesses.
All lawyers have special charmed items, which give their users special abilities. Phoenix Wright has magatama which allows him to see a person's Psyche-Locks, which protect their most guarded secrets. Unlocking these is vital in order to uncover the truth. Apollo Justice has a bracelet, with which he can sense people's nervousness by examining their subtle body reactions. Athena Cykes has a robotic pendant, Widget, which enables her to sense conflicting emotions. All of these abilities are somewhat different from each other, and they have different impact on the hearings.
The series can be best described as a crossover between adventure games and interactive novels. The gameplay can be roughly divided into two parts: searching the crime scenes for clues, and verbal battles fought in the court of law.
Searching the crime scenes is vital, because they can yield valuable evidence. These can be used in the upcoming trials to pinpoint errors in the witnesses' statements. They aren't always easy to find, but the 3D effect really shines here. It manages to bring these gruesome places to life and important objects can be easily distinguished from the detailed environments.
After the investigation, it's time to move on to the court room. There the attorneys get to meet really bizarre witnesses, who are usually also compulsive liars. It's up to the player to find the errors in their statements and prove their claims through the use of logic and evidence. The prosecution doesn't rest on their laurels, and they are quick to fill in the holes the attorneys have found. These verbal exchanges can be seen as figurative battles, as both sides try to find a weakness in the other's statements. The debates can last for several hours, and they contain ridiculous amount of dialogue. The series has always been known for witty dialogue, and Dual Destinies is not an exception.
In the court room lays the game's biggest complaint, and this is that the sessions are extremely scripted. Most of the time I could figure out what I was supposed to do, but didn't know how to do it. The right evidence must be presented in the correct order at the exactly right time, otherwise the game doesn't progress. It would be nice to be able to get the same end result by multiple paths. Although this kind of solution might have affected the game's strong writing. Now the dialogue always stays tense and witty. Since this game relies heavily on storytelling, the drama requires action to unfold in a strict sequence. It wasn't an issue with me, but some might find this too restricting.
The game's characters are a pretty funny bunch. Most of them can be easily described with just a couple of adjectives, but this isn't meant as a negative remark. Most of them can be remembered instantly, and some of them even made me laugh out loud. Just don't expect to find any truly complex characters in this game. My own favorite was the dark and foreboding new district attorney Blackquill. He's currently serving time for murder, but of course that doesn't prevent him from acting as a prosecutor. He also has a pet hawk, who he occasionally orders to threaten the witnesses and opposition. Blackquill is also a masterful manipulator, and he can even occasionally trick the opposition to do his work for him.
Although Dual Destinies doesn't change the series' gameplay, it gives it a really fresh look. The paper like characters of old have been replaced with fully animated 3D characters. The most important events are presented with animated cut scenes, which also contain the game's only spoken dialogue. This is understandable, considering the ridiculous amount of dialogue.
Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies doesn't change this successful formula, nor should it. It is a welcome addition to the series, and will certainly please fans of the previous titles. This doesn't mean that the game can't be enjoyed on its own, but some of the clever banter between the characters might get missed. If you're into TV shows about court room drama or detective stories, you should definitely try Dual Destinies. It has a bit of both, but it also throws in lots of good humour to the mix. The most negative aspect can be found in the game's replay value, which is pretty low. Once you crack a case, there's no suspense in revisiting it again.