On Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

I finished Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (AA5 from now on) the night before last and I have quite a lot to say about it.  I hope I can make this post flow as I want to, but it may be a little choppy in places.  I almost wish I could just present a chart with pros and cons on it, because while I did enjoy the game, I do think it has its fair share of problems.

I should probably start by saying that AA5 impressed me.  After not much liking the story in AA4 and not liking pretty much everything about Ace Attorney Investigations, the spin-off featuring prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, I was pretty skeptical about AA5.  I felt like the development team was going down a path that didn’t interest me any more, and I was honestly okay with loving the original trilogy and being pretty unenthusiastic about the rest of the series.  I did not have high hopes for AA5.  When I started playing it, I was happy to admit that I was wrong, and that the current Ace Attorney team could make a game that I would be interested in playing.

I do think that the games are on a different path these days, particularly in terms of the way the cases are written.  As I mentioned a few days ago in a previous post on this series, many of the cases in the original trilogy are quite simple.  They seem complicated while Phoenix and the prosecutor are fighting things out in court, but this is mostly due to the way the Ace Attorney justice system works.  Once the secrets of most cases are revealed, however, they are often not particularly complicated or unrealistic.  The cases in AA5 are the exact opposite of simple, and the courtroom tension is created mostly through the defense attorney’s inability to sort out exactly what happened.  The mechanics of the cases themselves are loaded with extraordinary frame-ups and other issues, often to the point of being completely ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I think I will just have to get used to this, as I don’t see the developers going back to the writing style of the first two games.  I think it’s also unlikely that the writers will ever be able to match the kind of tension that existed between Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth or Phoenix Wright and Franziska von Karma.  There was some potential for this between Athena Cykes and Simon Blackquill, but the writers didn’t make particularly good use of it and the issues surrounding them weren’t revealed or resolved until the end of the game (though there are vague hints of them earlier on).  Perhaps this could improve during a sequel, but the development team has been pretty consistent in its creation of one major prosecutor arc per game and I don’t see that changing in future installments.

The team that made AA5 was pretty selective in which elements of AA4 they wanted to bring forward to this game.  This was, for me, mostly a success.  The new justice system introduced by Phoenix in the final case of AA4 was left behind, and I think that while it would have been interesting to see more of it, sticking with the known and tested Ace Attorney formula was probably a good choice, if a little conservative.  I think that going back to Phoenix as the main protagonist over Apollo was also a good choice, since I generally think that Phoenix is more interesting.  On the down side, I think that it would have been nice if they had some how dealt with the issue of Apollo’s family and heritage that was revealed at the end of AA4.  This was not mentioned at all and it’s hard to tell if they just didn’t want to deal with it or if it’s being reserved for future games.

I am also not all that sure about Phoenix’s character development in AA5.  He is, in many ways, exactly as you would expect him to be had the events of AA4 never happened.  It has been quite some time since I last played AA4, however, so I’m not really sure how accurately I’m remembering his characterization.  It does feel, in many ways, as though the team was trying to retcon AA4 without rocking the boat too much.  This was quite surprising to me, because AA4 sold well in Japan, and the cast of that game seemed to be popular with Japanese Ace Attorney fans.  The retreat away from so many of the things that that game introduced seems far more in line with what many Western Ace Attorney fans would have wanted, which seems odd given that the series has struggled here sales-wise in recent years.

It all makes me wonder even more if the rumours surrounding AA4 were true: that it was originally intended to be a complete reboot, with the addition of Phoenix coming quite late in the development process.  There are some Ace Attorney fans that are so cynical about Phoenix’s enormous character change in AA4 that they have suggested that his sprite was literally just skinned in after the game was complete.  I’m not sure I believe that’s the case, but I think that the minor retconning they’e done in AA5 is an indication of something about the development process of AA4 being a little off.

Despite these caveats, AA5 was super fun to play.  Athena Cykes is an excellent addition to the main cast and I would argue that her Mood Matrix minigame is far more interesting than Apollo’s Perceive ability.  Actually, it was quite nice to have all three abilities, including Phoenix’s Psychelocks, to tackle, though I would have preferred less Perceive and more Psychelocks — I’ve always liked those better than most of the Ace Attorney fandom.  Simon Blackquill is also an excellent character, and I’d say I liked him about as much as Godot from AA3, which is quite a bit.

The real highlight of AA5 is its production values.  The character animations are lively and interesting, though I think that the team struggled with updating the original cast’s animations, which are pretty similar to the sprites used in the first trilogy.  Though Phoenix looks pretty good, both Edgeworth and Pearl are quite stiff, particularly compared to the new cast, including many of the witnesses.  The sound track is excellent, though I’d argue this is a strength of the entire series, with nice updates of older music from earlier games and good new tracks as well.  What was really surprising is that the 3D in AA5 is actually quite well done.  I don’t use it often because it hurts my eyes, but if you’re in to actually using the 3D functionality of the 3DS, I would recommend using it in this case.

Really, it’s awesome.  If you like the Ace Attorney series, you should play it, definitely worth the price of admission.


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