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Review: Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies

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Phoenix Wright is back! But can he live up to his past successes?

Phoenix Wright opens the game saying, "These are dark times." Since he left, things have changed a lot. Forged evidence has become the norm. Both attorneys and prosecutors will do whatever it takes to "win" a trial. "The ends justify the means" is common catchphrase. The entire legal system seems against his search for truth... but it's not all bad. At his back are two of the brightest young attorneys in the business, and from behind the scenes old friends are working to right wrongs. Now he just has to suit up, return to the desk, and give his heartiest objection. Right?

Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies is the fifth installment of the long-running Ace Attorney series, which mixes courtroom drama and murder mysteries into a delightfully humorous combo. Typically, the gameplay is reminiscent of a visual novel, leaning a bit more on the puzzle solving and exploration. Like most visual novels, you see the game from the perspective of the main character during investigation sequences, but when you arrive in the courtroom the camera offers several different third-person perspectives.

Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies (Nintendo 3DS)
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Released: October 24, 2013 
MSRP: $29.99 

You concern yourself with gathering important evidence in the field that you can then use in court to prove your client innocent. When a witness testifies, the puzzle lies in finding which statement contradicts evidence you have, which leads to a lot of head-scratchers. Previous games in the Ace Attorney series have been criticized for sometimes having extraordinarily obtuse solutions to their problems, but these were the exception rather than the rule. Thankfully, either I have gotten used to Ace Attorney's mental leaps, or the developers have designed better puzzles this time around. Only in two instances did I get frustrated at the game, so I set it down and stepped away. Upon returning, I solved them almost instantly. Sometimes you just have to pull your nose out and rethink the problem.

The mechanics of the game in general are streamlined compared to previous installments. Pressing B will immediately skip the "bip bip bip" of the character's speaking and show you the whole dialogue; before, you had to beat the games to unlock this feature. They also take away some options of what to do in a given scene. If there is nothing to investigate in an area, the game will not even display that button, preventing you from digging around for evidence that isn't there.

Simple changes to the investigation segments improve them greatly: once you've "investigated" an object in the world, a checkmark will appear on your cursor when you hover over it. Once you've found everything necessary to proceed, a character nearby (like your assistant in the first chapter) will inform you of this fact. These are very minor changes, but they improve the experience greatly by preventing you from straying into areas you don't need to visit or examine. Sure, it makes the series even more linear than before (and it was already incredibly linear), but I don't think most players are here for open-world gameplay anyway. At times the game will even forcibly move you to an area you need to be! I am fine with this change, to be honest.

So Ace Attorney eschews choices for linearity-- "What else is new?" you might say. There is a fair amount of new here. The biggest change from previous games is that Capcom made the switch to 3D models, rather than sprites. Worry not, though; through clever use of modeling and cel-shading, they appear very similar to before and still exude the same charm of the original sprites while benefiting from the advantages of models. Sometimes witnesses or other character will suddenly perform an unexpected animation that really brings the game to life, but most of the time Capcom abides by the "rules" of sprites (even though they don't have to.) Characters will still fade out when leaving, just like previous games. It's a bit odd when you could literally make the characters walk, but yet it's an interesting design choice. Perhaps it's to help fans adjust to the new models? It's no hindrance though, as I had no trouble falling in love with the characters all over again.

The characters, indeed, are the soul of an Ace Attorney game. Phoenix is still the lovable, bluffing attorney you've known, but now he's fallen into more of the "mentor" role. Sure, underneath it all, he's bluffing even in that, but his two endearing protégés love him anyway. Apollo Justice returns from the fourth game, this time as a young attorney who is doing his best to hold it all together despite the tragedy he's encountered. His arc is certainly more interesting than last time, but doesn't always make sense for his character.

Athena Cykes, the new attorney, is a young and cheerful force in the courtroom. Her smile really does brighten up the courtroom and gives needed levity when things get tough. Her backstory and character arc are central to the plot of the game, so I won't drop too many details here, but it felt a bit too forced at times. Characters that seem to have no reason to cross paths are suddenly revealed to be interconnected in strange ways. This is, however, pretty typical of the Ace Attorney universe, and the characters involved in these weird cases always win you over, despite the odd circumstances and coincidences that seem to happen constantly. The storyline that leads into the introduction of the main villain actually ends up being very clever, and one of my favorite reveals in the series. It's a slow, creeping realization... But enough vague hints about the finale, I'll zip my lips now.

If you're looking for returning characters, there are some of those. A few people from Phoenix's many journeys pop up and join in the story, but they're kept to the back end of the game. I feel this is a smart decision because it gives the new characters room to breathe and be established in the first two-thirds of the game. Then, when they encounter old friends in the latter portion, the now fully-developed new characters fare much better against them. It's smart storytelling.

You might ask about the storytelling and writing too, given that series creator Shu Takumi is absent this time around. He was also uninvolved in the Ace Attorney: Investigations spin-offs, and those turned out fine. But what about a mainline game? Is that witty back-and-forth dialogue still there?

Yes. Mostly. As an American player, I've only experienced Capcom's localization, and that is still top-notch. All the dialogue retains that snappy, witty quality you've come to expect, and despite a few oddly-phrased lines here and there, I felt the quality was up to par as well. There aren't any "the miracle never happen" lines here.

One last thing to mention from a mechanics perspective would be Athena's new ability, the Mood Matrix. It allows her to sense the feelings of a witness and your job is to point out which "mood" doesn't align with the testimony. For example, if a witness says they were frightened upon finding a dead body, but one of their emotions is "happy," something is amiss. This is a very basic mechanic at first, and I was unimpressed by it for the first half of the game, however some clever uses of it pop up later. It plays with your expectations for what emotions you should be watching for, and spins the mechanic as a supplement to back up evidence.

Music has always played a big part in the series, and the music here is wonderful. Sadly, nothing is quite as catchy as in previous games, but there are plenty of great renditions of old tunes, while the new songs are a bit more nuanced. There's one track in particular that seems exclusive to the final case of the game that really ramps up the intensity.

Finally, I should bring up the animated cutscenes. These were done by Bones, and are a treat whenever they pop up. Given that Ace Attorney shares a lot of similarities with anime already, its no surprise that these fit right in. The only disappointing factor is that they often are too short, popping up at odd times. In the end though, they serve as nice intros and outros for each case. I hope they become standard for future Ace Attorney installments. And I still want an Ace Attorney anime, dammit!

Surprisingly, all these crazy elements come together very well. The Ace Attorney series has always had its oddball moments (and this has a few weird witnesses too, just nothing as crazy as a parrot), but it all melds thanks to the excellent writing and storytelling. It feels in some ways like a "best of" Ace Attorney game, taking the best parts of each previous iteration and throwing it into the soup. It's that warm fuzzy feeling of all your favorite friends returning as you curl up with your 3DS in bed. Ace Attorney 5 has delightful humor and heart-warming characters in spades.

However, I have one condition: while this is the easiest AA game to jump into cold, I still advise you to play the earlier games in the series first. It's definitely not required, but the experience is much richer if that background is there. If you're a longtime Ace Attorney fan who isn't exactly sure about these new changes, I highly recommend you ignore your reservations and jump in pronto! It doesn't quite reach the highs set by AA3, but it's still an incredibly solid entry. Don't let the digital-only release hold you back -- Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies is one of the best 3DS games, and one of my favorite games this year. If you miss out on Phoenix Wright's triumphant return, I must simply object!

9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)


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Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies reviewed by Ben Huber

9

SUPERB

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Ben Huber
Ben HuberContributor   gamer profile

I'm the managing editor of Japanator by day, and a roving freelance graphic designer by night! /  more + disclosures


 



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