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Thursday, December 12, 2013

(Spoiler-Free!) Ace Attorney 5? JUDGE KOOPA IS PRESIDING. VERDICT IN!

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - The long-awaited Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies review.

I have been saying I'm going to write a Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies review ever since the day it came out in North America, over a month ago. Since I want you to get it, I decided the best way to approach this review is spoiler-free. If you get spoiled, that reduces the chances you'll get it. So no spoilers. The review format will be a modified version of my earlier review.

Judge Koopa is here. Stand up. ...Now sit down and pay attention!

Fast Facts:

Gameplay:
  • Controls — The game is fully-controllable by the touch screen alone, and also almost fully-controllable by buttons alone. The only time you can't use just the buttons is for the 2-3 times unconventional gameplay happens, like rotating evidence. Same controls as the rest of the Ace Attorney series, in other words.
  • Difficulty — Dual Destinies is the easiest game in the series, and that's a good thing. There are several user-friendly features put into the game to make it easier. Capcom goes over them well in their own blog post. Basically, they really do go a long way to making the experience feel better. Anyway, investigations are no longer a "pixel hunt", the game tells you when your investigation is over and you've found/done everything in that area, and your assistants basically help you a lot more in court scenes through their normal dialogue.
  • Core Mechanics — The mechanics of Dual Destinies are actually not exactly the same as before. For those who don't know, the Ace Attorney series involves you defending your client and trying to get them a "Not Guilty" verdict. The game is divided into "Court" and "Investigation" phases. Your team of lawyers (Phoenix Wright, the seasoned pro; Apollo Justice, the loser from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney; and newcomer Athena Cykes, an analytical psychologist/lawyer) has to investigate crime scenes, talk to/cross-examine witnesses, point out contradictions, and find the truth. So how does this manifest itself? By reading, of course. The gameplay is all about picking options and reading. And thinking. Cognition is important, because you need to think about the case, the facts, and the truth of the case to present evidence to expose lies. If you're a fan of KoopaTV, then you should be a fan of Ace Attorney. And vice-versa. The fun is reading dialogue. The skills for both things are the same. Now, there's something to note for Dual Destinies compared to previous games in the series: You cannot freely investigate. You can only investigate in specifically defined areas. Which means a lot of opportunities for optional dialogue are removed. That directly influences characterization and fun. Also, all of the investigation minigames from Apollo Justice are basically gone now. Those are two problems I have with the gameplay, because both of those added to the gameplay and made it seem more like an adventure game and less like a "mere" visual novel.

That's my 3DS and my Ace Attorney collection.

Graphics:

  • Visual Style — In a recent KoopaTV article I talked about how the 16 and 32-bit style of older games is so much better than games of today. Does that apply to the Ace Attorney series and Dual Destinies? In short, the answer is no. It may be models, but I'd argue they're about equal in quality. When the game was first announced, I was worried for a bit. 

  • Phoenix originally was going to look like how he is on the top, which is terrible.

    The game is basically as bright and colourful as the series was back on the DS. That's good.

    My statements are fine. Anyway, this is from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

    And this is from Dual Destinies. Looks great.

    The game also has a lot of animated cutscenes. These cutscenes are also fantastic, although their subject matter is sometimes... irrelevant? Before, the series had these drawn still-shots that, for the most part, could convey the same thing the animated cutscenes do now. I mean, they're still awesome, but in many cases, under or misutilized. Anyway, the animations for the models are much better than they were as sprites back in the day. I'd give a video, but, you know, spoilers. Seriously though, if the case happens to be that animations of this quality weren't possible with sprites before, then I'm going to admit that sprites would clearly be inferior here. And for the first time, the animations can change mid-dialogue box. That's pretty amazing.

    Apparently this game has the best 3D effects on the 3DS, but I don't play with the 3D on ever anyway.


Audio:
  • Sound effects — The sound effects you'd traditionally hear in the Ace Attorney franchise were redone for this game. And they're great.
  • Voice acting — So before, random Capcom employees did the voice-acting for OBJECTIONS and what not. This time they apparently got actual voice actors. The result? ...Not much better than before. Perhaps a bit worse, depending on the character. Apollo's OBJECTION and Phoenix's OBJECTION sound a bit too similar, despite Apollo being characterized by his "Chords of Steel" (he's very loud). Anyway, the cutscenes I just mentioned have good voice acting. Generally. You won't cringe. ...They're not as good as Kid Icarus: Uprising's or even Punch-Out!! Wii's, but... I like it. Except for one character's voice. He is only seen in one case anyway. I mean, he's important but...
  • Music — I've been listening to this game's music literally every day since I've beaten it. Best music of the series. For the most part, it's orchestrated and almost sounds on-par with the quality that Capcom's orchestra album has. 







Capcom-Unity's blog on sound also mentions this wonderful feature that all 3DS games should have:
"Finally, I’d like to touch on one more new sound-oriented feature in Dual Destinies: this game can automatically detect whether you have headphones plugged into your Nintendo 3DS or not and then optimize the sound output to produce the highest quality sound for that setup. So please feel free to play this game with or without headphones, safe in the knowledge you won’t be missing a note of Dual Destinies’s rich soundscape."
They're not joking about the rich soundscape bit. Here's the music from the first trailer. Judge for yourself. Or don't, since I'm Judge Koopa here and I do the judging around here.


Story:
  • Writing — As I kind of said earlier, this entire game is built on the premise of reading writing. So if the writing is shit then so goes the game. Fortunately, the writing is excellent. I mean, there are probably more typos in the game than there are in the rest of the series combined, but that doesn't detract from the quality one bit. Although... if KoopaTV can avoid typos and Capcom can't but they're being paid to write stuff and we're not, that's sort of bad but whatever. But if you're the type of person who enjoys finding all of the support conversations in Fire Emblem games that aren't Radiant Dawn because you like the character development and find intrinsic pleasure in reading the writing, then you should find comfort with Dual Destinies. As mentioned before, you'll be even more at home with the rest of the series too (with free investigation), but that's not all gone here. Remember to Present your Attorney's Badge to everyone you see! There is actually still a lot of optional dialogue you can trigger, and that's where the writing also shines.
  • Characters — This is probably the strongest point of Dual Destinies. Every case in this game has very well-written and unique characters, many of which have backstories connected in some way to the case at hand. Case 3 and the DLC case might have the best cast of witnesses in the series. No spoilers, but they're well-developed and you feel for them. Since I'm a hardened man I didn't cry at any point in time, but some less stiff folk have had many "feels" over this game. 
    As for the four characters on the boxart — Apollo Justice, Athena Cykes, Phoenix Wright, and rival prosecutor Simon Blackquill? Phoenix is basically a fusion between himself in the original Ace Attorney triology and his 7-years later self in Apollo Justice. After all, Dual Destinies takes place a year or so after Apollo Justice (it's a direct sequel). Phoenix Wright is one of the most likable characters in all of gaming, and he's probably in top forme here. His development comes in that he leads the Wright Anything Agency, and basically becomes the "Mia Fey" boss of the office because he's looking after two rookies. He's the legendary experienced attorney now who recently got his badge back (that's the backstory of the DLC case). Unlike Mia Fey, Wright is humourously disparaging about his own employees (he keeps his low opinion of Apollo's lawyering from the previous game). Some have leveled the idea that Mr. Wright acts inconsistently between how he acts as an NPC and how he acts as playable, and I don't agree with this. Of course he's going to act differently when he's in court, and even though he acts all cool and calm as an NPC, he's probably still thinking the same rookie-ish thoughts internally. You just don't see them. If you haven't played the other games in the series, you might not appreciate Phoenix's development as a character over the whole series, because he has been building with every game. That's one of the advantages of sequels.

    Apollo Justice develops more in this game than his own game. The way he does constitutes as spoilers, but Capcom made him a lot more likable and... defined this time around. The backstory he gets in this game wasn't hinted at at all in his own game, but that's... okay. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was really all about Phoenix Wright, anywho. One of Apollo's problems in Apollo Justice was that he was unskilled and everyone else pretty much did everything for him. That's no longer the case by the end of this game, as Apollo finally takes initiative besides punching Mr. Wright in the face. But imagine if Klavier wasn't his rival attorney and it was someone more malicious and hardass like Manfred von Karma... or...

    ...Or Simon Blackquill. Second-best prosecutor in the series. A lot of why he's great is a matter of spoilers, but his prosecuting style is like Edgeworth more than anyone else. As Capcom's promotional material suggests, he's a convicted inmate. What did he do? Why? How is he allowed to practice law? You'll find out. Although, one thing that's never actually addressed that I was wondering before the game came out was the fact that it should be a conflict of interest for Blackquill to be a prosecutor practicing law while in prison. You know, in the same way why cops don't want to get arrested. What if someone you convicted as a prosecutor winds up in the same prison as you? Fantastic guy though. Good, dark sense of humour. And remember when I said the animations in this game are great? Blackquill has this animation where he slams the table repeatedly while laughing. ...It's unforgettable. In fact, we have a .gif of it. Oh, and his bird, Taka, almost got into the Bird Thanksgiving-Menorah KoopaTV made.


    Anyway, the game is really about Athena Cykes. Some critics say she's a Mary Sue. I'm not one of those. I really, really like Athena. But again, there are a lot of spoilers to discuss with her and this isn't the place for that. So I really appreciate that she's not just the new Maya/Trucy/Kay and she's playable. And unlike previous people who WERE your assistant, she's actually a lawyer. And that's true for all the times you're assisted in this game: Your bench is filled with real lawyers with real law degrees, and not perky females (Athena IS perky, but...). So maybe that's also why the game is more helpful with its hints: You're being helped by characters who know what they're talking about! While there are less characters overall than previous installments (or it felt like that — I didn't do a count), each character is individually better. And none ever reach the point of reviled characters like Wendy Oldbag. Character cameos make some sort of sense this time around, both from within the game and from the other games in the series.

  • Story — Obviously I'm not going to tell you about the story in a spoiler-less review, but the overarching theme you see in the trailers is "The Dark Age Of The Law". So that's what the game is concerned with: What happens after Phoenix Wright loses his badge and forges evidence? Now false charges and false evidence are being taught in law schools! And as I mentioned earlier, Athena and Simon are central to the plot... Phoenix is actually the least impacted of the four main characters. So where does that leave Apollo? Figure it out yourself. By playing the game. Speaking of which, the game IS a direct sequel to Apollo Justice, but this game does an okay job of catching you up to speed. You'll still miss several references and wonder what happened in detail if you haven't played Apollo Justice, and returning character cameos will basically have no impact. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say it does slightly worse than if you played Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn without playing Path of Radiance. Anyway, people who say that videogames are a bad way of conveying a story hasn't played the Ace Attorney franchise. There IS a meaningful story here. It's spectacular. Amazing.


Value:

  • Length — According to the Nintendo 3DS Activity Log, 47 hours for everything (the 5 cases + the DLC case). The DLC case is definitely worth the money and is probably longer than the other cases in the game. Speaking of which, one thing I didn't like about the game is that, in the Ace Attorney universe, trials can last a maximum of only 3 days. This game's cases never reach Day 3. Each individual day is longer than a day in the other games, but... still. By my standards, 47 hours for $36 is a good deal. Far better than getting The Last Of Us.
  • Replay — Wait two-three years to play the game again when you forget the details. That's been the case with the other games in the series, thanks to linearity. As it happens, there is a NEW TO THE SERIES feature that allows you to replay sections of each case in a sort of table-of-contents selection. So you can skip sections! That also helps with...
  • Post-Play — More thanks are in order, this time to the new 3DS Miiverse. Dual Destinies has a Nintendo-driven social community created exclusively for it. And one great thing people are finding out? Posting screenshots is fun. So being able to jump to the relatively specific point in time you want to grab your screenshot from helps a lot to make witty banter. Anyway, thanks to the really great characters, people can continue to write awesome fan-fiction and do fan-art of the game and its cast. So can you, if you're into that thing. Naturally, because of its genre, there is a lot of story (and mystery in that story) to discuss. Good places to do that include GameFAQs, Miiverse, Capcom-Unity, and Court-Records. Oh, and KoopaTV. It's pretty much to be expected that you'll be talking about this game after or while you play it. It makes a lasting impression.  Oh, and the music is great listening. I've been listening to it (and other Ace Attorney music) all while writing this review.
  • DLC — As I said already, the DLC case is worth it. As for the other bit of DLC, the costumes were originally free. Now they're $1. Not worth it. The models for the characters were built for their default costumes. What I'm gettin' at is that these DLC costumes, notably Athena's, clip a lot. Athena's costume is also ugly and goes against the red-blue-yellow theme the game has with the main attorneys.

My conclusion? Buy this game. Not sure if you want to? Play the demo for free on Nintendo eShop. Concerned about digital-only? This article is for you. Get into the entire series. You'll thank me. The pros seriously outweigh the cons.

Wait... what? I hear an OBJECTION?

Bah, punks. That's not how I do reviews. On that note, add that meme to how awesome the post-play value is for the game.

2 comments :

  1. This game is the best one of all Ace Attorney games because of the graphics, the marvelous anime cutscenes, the plot, the characters and the music! It's all in one! Totally a must buy for anyone who likes these kind of games! <3 As for me, I became a fan of Ace Attorney thanks to Dual Destinies. I would love Capcom do more of these games and of course, put more of Simon Blackquill. He's really so much fun! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So I take it that means you played Dual Destinies first, and then played the other games in the series? If so, that's fantastic!

      Delete

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