Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies - Thoughts

[contains minor spoilers]

Like Mega Man X6, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is an unnecessary sequel to a finished storyline, failing to do a single thing better than its predecessors. Unlike X6 however, Dual Destinies remains a "fun" experience from start to finish... provided you can ignore its flagrant leaps in logic. The core Ace Attorney experience remains intact—quirky characters, queer mysteries, and plenty of manzai—so it's not like Dual Destinies is the untouchable black sheep of the series. It's just that the game is... sadly mediocre.

The big question that Dual Destinies struggles with is "who is the main character?" There's effectively three different protagonists (Athena, Apollo, and Phoenix) and they often bump shoulders to stay in the spotlight. By all accounts Dual Destinies is Athena's story and I quite like her cheery demeanor—but Phoenix Wright curiously receives the most screen time. Meanwhile Apollo flitters about, initially acting as a straight man to Athena's naïve goofery before transforming into this weird... aloof vigilante? It's hard to discuss him without veering into spoilers, but I can reveal that despite the series landing into his hands in Apollo Justice, he (and Trucy) have been wrongfully sidelined here. It's like Capcom wanted to return to the Phoenix Wright of old, as well as continue Apollo's journey, and introduce a brand new character. And then instead of making different franchises for each, the developers shrugged and mashed them all together, not realizing it would result in an unsatisfying and messy story.

Speaking of, Dual Destinies comes with plenty of fun twists and turns fans have come to expect from the franchise, but the central theme underpinning the game is extraordinarily weak. Dual Destinies hammers home the ominous "dark age of the law" at every opportunity it can get in its latter half, but it doesn't lead to any pointed remarks or nuanced insights. In fact, the story feels like the most uninspired shonen anime, where "truth = good, lies = bad" and your clients are hopelessly innocent while the killers are unapologetically evil. Even the game's central antagonist—the elusive "Phantom"—shows a lot of promise in the case they're involved in, but the trial inevitably devolves into slapstick, stretching the limits of plausibility as you cry out, "How the hell haven't you been arrested yet?!"

While I can forgive the storytelling of Dual Destinies somewhat—Ace Attorney games never aim to be literature—I remain disappointed in how simple the game's cases are. Dual Destinies is obsessed with guiding the player to its solutions, badgering them with unsubtle hints even after the answer couldn't be made more obvious. On one hand it's nice being able to play a Ace Attorney game without gambling on loosely-related evidence, but on the other your brain barely gets a workout. The only time you're forced to seriously ponder a case is right before the game makes a bizarre leap of logic—surely the killer didn't go to this length to cover their tracks, right? There's always a little bit of that in every Ace Attorney title, but I don't remember it being quite so egregious and cartoony.

Ironically, the oft-derided case 5-2 was my favorite of the lot. I found its theme charming and each stage of the trail was interesting and vaguely plausible—outside of one or two details. It might also be because it centered upon the Apollo & Athena duo, which felt more refreshing than playing as Phoenix Wright for the... 13th? 14th time? Besides that, no other trial stood out to me as notable; 5-1 was unconventional but weak, 5-3 took a nosedive towards its end, and the final two cases squandered too much of the Phantom's potential.

But I'm not all groans and gripes—Dual Destinies knocks its presentation out of the park. The new 3D models are smooth and lively, replacing the 2D sprites almost seamlessly. Likewise the soundtrack continues the franchise trend of implanting secret earworms in your head and being generally fitting overall. I also enjoyed the new mechanic Athena brings to the table (the Mood Matrix), as its more engaging and sensible than having the magatama magically detect lies, or using Apollo's bracelet to repeat a sentence over and over. Occasionally the Mood Matrix could be misleading based on how you think someone should be reacting to the situation, but as there's no penalty for wrong answers, it's really not too bad.

I suppose I was too hasty comparing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies to Mega Man X6, considering the latter is an irredeemable trash fire while the former is just... dull. But conversely it's hard not to see Dual Destinies as the low point of an otherwise fairly remarkable series. It's loyal to the franchise's roots and earnest in its efforts, but its passion fails to overcome just how bog standard the entire game is. If you've not tired of Ace Attorney's peculiar brew, Dual Destinies might be your cup of tea. But I personally feel that Capcom needs to spice up this blend before it gets too bland...

... Thankfully, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles would be the answer to my problem.

Images obtained from: nintendo.co.uk, amino.com, gsmarena.com, toucharcade.com

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