Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Review

“The same old questions asked, the same denial…”

These are dark times. We live in a world bereft of trust and compassion. Morality has become a thing of the past. Truth and justice – the very cornerstone of the legal system – are no longer sought for their own sakes. Accusations come without merit. Witnesses are bribed and manipulated. Evidence is forged to counter false claims. Whole court cases are built upon nothing but lies. Lawyers are being taught to believe that the truth no longer has purpose. All that matters are the results. Most courtroom veterans simply shake their heads and lament the ruins of their profession…but not all of them. Phoenix Wright, the famous fallen defense attorney, has risen from the ashes again. Fully redeemed and armed with a new assistant, he’s ready to guide the judicial system back into the light.

What makes the story of Dual Destinies so intriguing isn’t necessarily Phoenix’s return to the spotlight – he personally handles only a couple of cases this time – but the consequences of his past actions. His infamous blunder in Apollo Justice not only cost him years of his career, but set the precedent for the rest of the legal world. By the time this game takes place, nearly every aspect of the judicial system has been corrupted. While the philosophy of seeking the truth above all else remains unchanged, exactly what truths are put to question. What happens when the truth opposes everything you believe? What if it destroys all you’ve strived so hard to build? How far will you go protect your loved ones? Who can be trusted, and how much? The answers aren’t pretty. It’s no coincidence that the new opposing prosecutor, Simon Blackquill, is a convicted murderer. He’s introduced as a symbol of how far the court has fallen, but his sharp mind and sense of honor imply otherwise. By the time you reach the final case, you’ll realize that nothing is what it seems.

That goes double for Athena Cykes, the new lawyer working for Phoenix’s agency. Her introduction as an upbeat, headstrong young woman serves as a contrast to her boss’s maturity and experience. She also plays the foil to Apollo Justice, who has developed into a competent attorney since the previous game. While Dual Destinies is about Phoenix’s attempt to restore the courts to their former glory, much of its story is dedicated to Athena and Blackquill. Despite taking the lead for majority of the cases, Apollo doesn’t get nearly enough attention. His character development is mainly based on his interactions with Athena and the necessity of acting as the voice of reason. The pacing suffers as a result; the first case reintroduces the core gameplay and the setting, while the second case establishes the previous games’ continuity. It’s blatantly obvious who the first three murderers are – the game literally shows two of them committing their crimes – which destroys a lot of the intrigue and satisfaction. It’s much more fun unraveling mysteries along with the characters. The story doesn’t get interesting until its halfway point, slowly building up and culminating in a tense, fast-paced courtroom showdown. There’s a ton of foreshadowing right from the beginning, though it’ll take a second viewing to fully appreciate it.

Considering this is the sequel to Apollo Justice, it’s no surprise that Phoenix and Apollo retain their unique abilities. The Magatama Phoenix obtained in the original trilogy is still as powerful as ever, but its power to see people’s secrets is limited to a few crucial moments late in the game. Apollo’s body movement-sensing bracelet comes into play more often, though its use is usually limited to the investigative sections of the cases. Instead, Athena’s training in analytical psychology steals the spotlight. Using her electronic Mood Matrix, she can read witnesses’ emotions during their cross-examinations, allowing her to find inconsistencies and contradictions. If the person is happy, sad, angry, or surprised in unexpected ways, the flashy symbols and color-coded buttons on the touch screen make it easy to notice. It’s a horribly oversimplified depiction of psychology, but it serves its purpose.

Magic powers and new technology make cases interesting, but sound logic and physical evidence are still the most important aspects. The process is far less tedious thanks to a few small gameplay tweaks. The ability to review previous dialogue and have an investigation to-do list is immensely useful. If you make too many mistakes during a cross-examination, you can have your assistant point out a contradiction. Evidence details are now displayed alongside the objects, which eliminates unnecessary menu browsing. You can even restart a case from the moment you failed, thus sparing you from having to do everything over. These small changes make a huge difference; the days of blindly bluffing and suffering for it are long gone. It’s a double-edged sword, though; when you can restart immediately and save at any time, there’s no pressure to present the correct argument. There are no consequences for failure, which goes against everything the story attempts to teach.

The changes aren’t limited to the cross-examinations, either. If you’re not in the courtroom, you’ll be investigating the scenes of the crimes. You move from one room to the next, carefully looking for clues and tapping important objects with the stylus. Collecting information and evidence is nothing new for the Phoenix Wright series, but it’s become much easier. Whenever you stumble across something pertinent to the case, it’ll be marked with a circle onscreen. It’ll be check-marked after you’re done with it, which reduces a lot of second-guessing and pixel hunting. Thanks to the 3DS’s graphical capabilities, it’s possible to rotate a crime scene and view it from multiple angles. Things like bullet trajectories, building layouts, and spatial relations figure prominently in most of the cases. The crime scenes feel more realistic; little details like trees swaying in the breeze and light filtering through windows allow for more depth and variety than those of the previous games. While a few pivotal moments are portrayed in animated cutscenes, there’s something entertaining in the way courtroom cameras dramatically pan around during a huge plot twist.

The characters have been touched up for the 3DS as well; while Phoenix and his cohorts have the speed and sharpness of their 2D counterparts, there’s much more in terms of animation. It’s great seeing some of the old characters as cameos, but their animations are often proportional to the importance of the case at hand. Only the main cast gets a full range of motions. The primary purpose of Athena’s massive ponytail isn’t for style, but how it sways as she moves. The game treats us to visions of lawyers angrily pounding on tables, shifty eyes, dramatically broken handcuffs, strange sword metaphors, liar-seeking hawks, rogue segways, and criminals epically breaking down under the scrutiny of the law. The localization is as deliberate as ever; expect references to Metal Gear Solid, Sailor Moon, Harvey Birdman, Lord of the Rings, and several others. Some of it is silly and beyond suspension of belief – the last case manages to be both poignant and ridiculous at certain points – but it’s certainly within the series’ tradition. That’s especially true for the soundtrack; the Cornered, Objection, and other iconic tunes have been revamped with orchestrated versions. Newcomer Bobby Fulbright’s jazzy theme is surprisingly catchy and will make you grin at least a few times. Whenever a trial gets interesting, it’s tempting to turn the volume high and just listen to the awesome music.

It’s been a long wait. Too long, really. Phoenix’s Wright’s return and premiere on the 3DS has been highly anticipated, and Capcom delivered…for the most part. By focusing on a new character, the narrative suffers a few pacing issues. It pays off with an incredible ending, but it takes a long time to get there. The game doesn’t continue Phoenix’s story as much as it sets the stage for future games. It’s appropriate that his character development goes full circle and allows him to become a mentor, but what does that bode for the series? The theming and implications of a corrupted legal system are presented in thought-provoking ways. The cases themselves are fine, though the nonsensical choice to show you some of the culprits kills the suspense. The improved cross-examination options and menu interface make the process far less tedious, but it sacrifices tension in the process. Much like its new protagonist, Dual Destinies may not be perfect, but it could be just the start of something great.

Taken from my original post here:

The Ends Justify The Means? Objection!

Hey, folks. I’m playing through Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies right now. For the uninitiated, Phoenix Wright is a video game series that focuses on the life and career of the titular Phoenix Wright, a defense attorney. Over the course of five games (and two spinoffs that focus on his rival prosecutor), players get to see a rookie lawyer develop into a courtroom veteran, eventually becoming a mentor to a new generation. These text-based games are famous for their humor, wacky characters, stunning twists, and an expansive, intricately-crafted storyline. Think of it like Perry Mason, but with crazy courtroom antics, supernatural entities, and truckloads of snark. Dual Destinies – released this past weekend on the 3DS – is no exception, so expect a review for it soon.

One of the series’ most prevalent themes is the search for truth. Phoenix (and eventually his rival) must use logic and evidence to uncover lies in witnesses’ testimonies, stubbornly enduring and unraveling counterarguments put forth in the cases. However, it’s no longer so simple. As the story progresses, the legal system slides deeper and deeper into amoral territory. It’s not about seeking truth, but how you get that result. False claims, baseless accusations, and forged evidence become huge, destructive plot points in not only individual cases, but Phoenix’s career as well.

Dual Destinies takes this to the next logical step by giving the player a glimpse into an in-universe law school. Promising up-and-coming lawyers are not taught to seek the truth, but to achieve the desired result – a conviction or acquittal – through whatever means possible. The head professor flat-out states that “the ends justify the means” and encourages his students to follow that philosophy. It results in murder, potentially ruined careers, and innocent people come within inches of wrongful sentencing. To the game’s credit, the implications of “the ends justify the means” approach are made abundantly clear; not only does the player character understand how badly it hinders the judicial system, but actively fights against it through proper legal means. Given how the Phoenix Wright series is a satire of the Japanese court system, you have to wonder how much of this issue is strictly plot-based.

My problem is with the phrase itself. We’ve all heard “the ends justify the means” so much that it’s become a mainstay in pop culture. Not only is it used in novels, movies, and television, but in real life as well. A lot of shady policies are lazily explained away by these five words, often without anyone reflecting on their meaning. Most people know that it’s a quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince, an Italian political treatise written in 1513. What most people don’t know is that the phrase is never stated anywhere in it. Going back to the original text, the exact quote is ”si guarda al fine”, which roughly translates to “you should look at the end”. Put into context – it’s in Chapter XVIII if you want to look it up – it’s a reflection of how a ruler maintains his kingdom. A prince must reflect on how best to keep control while still be judged honorable and praised by his people, lest he push things too far and gets his head impaled upon a pike. The same holds true for anyone who wants to adapt Machiavelli’s opinion to his or her own exploits; in reaching your goal, you have to carefully consider how to reach it.

Pragmatism, anyone?

Here’s the funny thing. If the phrase “the ends justify the means” were to be taken at face value, then Machiavelli would have vehemently opposed it. The man really cared about the means; the entire function of The Prince was to advise rulers on how best to maintain their rule! With brutally practical, but intelligent ways. Thus Machiavelli’s defining teachings are perceived by modern audiences in the opposite way he intended.

Let that one sink in for a while.

Oh, and one last thing. “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Yeah…try reading the rest of the chapter. Machiavelli states that it’s very important to avoid hatred. You know, by not always achieving your goals via blatantly dubious and tyrannical means? Just saying.

…I’m going back to my video game.