I have a confession to make. I actually completed this game ages ago and for some reason I didn’t review it right away. Now that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is coming out in North America in September (my copy just shipped actually), I figured I probably should get around to doing this review.
By now, especially if you’ve read my previous reviews, you should know what to expect from this series. The basic gameplay hasn’t changed: you’ll still be investigating crime scenes and interrogating suspects and witnesses on the stand during trials. Unlike in previous installments (apart from Trials and Tribulations) you won’t be controlling a single lawyer for the whole game. A second new feature is the ability to analyze crime scenes from all angles, and, of course, the graphics are now in glorious 3D.
The game introduces a new defense attorney, hotshot Athena Cykes, a new prosecutor, Simon Blackquill, and a new police contact, Detective
Buzz Lightyear Bobby Fullbright (“In Justice we trust!”). Thus far, we’ve had prosecutors who were obsessed with perfection, coffee, and rock and toll; this time around, Prosecutor Blackquill is a condemned criminal who has a thing for bushido. Unlike previous installments, you won’t see many familiar faces in this game, and as usual the cast is the kind of quirky you would expect from an Ace Attorney game: really, really quirky. However, this game also has an overall darker tone to it, and by “darker” I mean it starts with domestic terrorism and goes downhill from there (and it does end up getting bloodier than previous entries in the series). The game may not be as violent as your typical M-rated shooter but trust me, it earns its M rating. I can’t really say anything without spoiling it but if you’re sensitive to bloody crimes involving minors the last case is not your friend, at all.
If you’ve played any of the previous Ace Attorney games (and you should, especially since the original trilogy is being updated and re-released for the 3DS) you should be very familiar with the gameplay by now. Investigate crime scenes, interview witnesses and suspects, point out contradictions in the courtroom. However, crime scenes aren’t just static backgrounds this time around, you can actually rotate crime scenes to get a better view of hidden objects or interesting points you have yet to investigate. The game also cuts down on pixel hunting by indicating places you can investigate with red circles, and checking them off when you’re finished with them.
Trial segments have a couple of new gameplay elements. The first is the Mood Matrix system. Like Phoenix and Apollo, Athena also has enhanced senses (well, one sense, hearing, in her case). Using the Mood Matrix system, she can “hear the testimony of the heart” and analyze a witness’ feelings, which are then visually represented as different emoticons (happy/sad/angry/surprised) and images. As the player, your job is to find contradictory emotions within the testimony. Is a witness feeling happy when you would expect them to be scared our of their minds? Why are they surprised at that particular moment? The game also throws in a couple twists, such as one of the witness’ emotions overwhelming the others, requiring you to “probe” the images to find the source of their distress. It’s a more versatile mechanic than previous systems and it works really well (although I still love the Perceive system so, so much). The second new gameplay element (which actually isn’t that new) is Revisualization, which is a much more simplified version of Edgeworth’s Logic system in Investigations. Essentially, it’s a review of the facts of the case where you answer some multiple choice questions in order to reach a breakthrough in the case and finger the guilty party once and for all. Much to my delight, the Perceive system makes a comeback, and the animations for it are much more fluid as a result of the upgraded hardware.
As you might expect with the change from 2D graphics to 3D the game looks great. The animations are smooth as silk (in fact, it was kind of weird watching the characters since I was so used to the DS animations). The game also sounds great, with a dramatic fully orchestral soundtrack. There are also animated cutscenes and even a little voice acting.
The one issue I had with this game was that it was just too easy. The areas you can investigate are highlighted for you, and the game only really penalizes you for failing to point out contradictions in spoken testimony. You can (usually) fail as many times as you like in the Mood Matrix and Revisualization sequences without suffering a penalty to your life bar. Compared to Justice for All, Dual Destinies is a walk in the park, seriously. On the plus side, that makes it very accessible to newcomers to the series, but veterans might just find it a little too easy for their tastes. As much as I love this game, there were times where I felt like it was holding my hand way, way too often. Another thing I didn’t care for was the DLC case (which I bought so that the game would feel “complete”) which took me a long time to finish, not because it was hard, but because I just can only take so much pirate-themed stuff before I turn the 3DS off. I’m just not a pirate person. The DLC case isn’t like Dragon Age or Mass Effect DLC where you miss important plot points by not having it though, so it’s not a great loss. I recommend playing it early on to get the most out of it though.
Despite the hand-holding, it’s not a horrible game by any means, and if you’re an Ace Attorney fan, well, you’ve probably already played it. For me, the enjoyable new gameplay elements (as well as more refined familiar elements) outweighs the hand-holding. It’s no Trials and Tribulations, but it’s still pretty good.