Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

Introduction

With its new protagonist, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proved to be another success for Capcom’s franchise about fierce courtroom battles. Shortly after its release, a planned sequel was announced in May 2007. However, over the next few years, other members of Capcom wound up taking the series in a new direction. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of producer Motohide Eshiro and director Takeshi Yamazaki, two games that cast the fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth in the lead role were produced. Though the localization efforts for both games were drastically limited, they managed to find an audience. Because Capcom’s focus shifted elsewhere, there was no word of a follow-up to Apollo Justice for five years.

This continued silence finally ended in September of 2012 when Capcom revealed a logo for a hypothetical new installment for the Ace Attorney franchise. As if to dash the ambiguity from the beginning, the logo clearly read “Turnabout Trial 5”. In truth, development had begun in 2011. The team responsible for Prosecutor’s Path had disbanded shortly after its release and the members were subsequently reassigned to different projects. As such, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki found themselves in charge of a skeleton team.

The series historically enjoyed success on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The original trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance while Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments saw the light of day on the Nintendo DS. By the time this project started, Nintendo had launched their latest handheld model, the 3DS, in 2011. The development team was initially unsure whether to retain the series’ traditional 2D sprite-based graphics or utilize 3D character models. Ultimately, they realized that because this new entry was being developed long after the release of Apollo Justice, they needed to make a big impact. The new hardware presented the perfect opportunity for them to usher in a new era for the series.

Naturally, one of the greatest difficulties the team had to overcome was preserving the look and feel of the 2D sprites employed by the preceding installments. Takuro Fuse found himself serving as the game’s art director, replacing mainstay Tatsuro Iwamoto. Having to utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic effects, Mr. Fuse understandably had problems getting character designs to fit the series’ distinctive style. This required him to get a lot of feedback from Mr. Eshiro. According to Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki, their goal was so that their product’s graphics were superior to those of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – a spinoff game being developed around the same time by series Shu Takumi himself.

One of Mr. Fuse’s first tasks was to render a 3D model of the series’ former protagonist, Phoenix Wright. He would later call his first attempts “cringe-worthy”, but they were able to use it as a base. From there, other members of the team gave him their feedback, and they collectively refined it until they were satisfied. This process by itself took six months. Their next goal was to translate the series’ trademark lively animation style for this new engine. To this end, they employed various tricks, including using new character models for different angles. They also used the 3DS’s hardware to add dynamic camera movements and fluid character animations.

There was a shared feeling of dread among Western fans after Capcom made this game’s development known. After all, if Prosecutor’s Path never left Japan, this fifth Ace Attorney installment could very well meet the same fate. That Capcom announced the game was to be localized proved to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, Western fans would get to experience more of the series. The downside is that it came at the cost of localizing Prosecutor’s Path, for Capcom decided to skip it in favor of the newer game. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long after its localization was greenlit for it to be given a Western name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.

Capcom USA’s senior vice president, Christian Svensson, had previously suggested to make Prosecutor’s Path a downloadable title when the company predicted its sales wouldn’t cover the localization costs. Because the executives still believed this to be the case, the decision to greenlight the game came with the condition that it would be made available in the West in a digital format only. Because all 3DS games would be sold in both a digital and physical format from the beginning, this was deemed by most to be a reasonable compromise. Under the name Turnabout Trial 5, this game was released domestically in July of 2013. Its international debut came to pass in October of 2013. In both regions, the game enjoyed a fairly positive reception. Though Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney franchise in the past, this would be their first attempt at creating an installment in the core series. Did their efforts pay off? Were the students able to surpass the master?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for Dual Destinies and the series thus far.

From the very beginning, Ace Attorney episodes have been known for their elaborate, if laconic openings. Even “The First Turnabout”, which originally premiered on the Game Boy Advance, had a simple animation of blood dripping from the murder weapon before showing the culprit’s identity. When the series jumped to the DS, these animations became slightly more elaborate, they retained a simplistic presentation. Dual Destinies takes this trend to its logical extreme. That is to say, the opening to the first episode, “Turnabout Countdown”, is fully animated and voice acted.

In Courtroom #4, a trial is being conducted. During the proceedings, an officer storms the witness stand with an urgent announcement: a time bomb has been activated. The timer counts down amid a panicked gallery. When it hits zero, a horrific explosion rings quakes the courtroom, reducing it to rubble.

After hearing of this incident, a fresh attorney employed by the Wright Anything Agency named Athena Cykes prepares herself for a trial, leaving for the District Court. Such is the extent of her zeal that she stumbles while climbing a stairwell. Her boss, Phoenix Wright, converses with somebody on the phone. Apparently, a person they had been watching has made their move. Telling the caller about Athena, Phoenix declares that he is ready to bring a certain matter to an end. Placing a golden badge on his suit, he leaves for the courthouse.

Unbeknownst to them, a man wearing strange goggles makes his ill intents known. He has committed a heinous crime, and intends to place the blame on an innocent.

As Athena waits for the trial to start, she is greeted by her co-worker, Apollo Justice. Athena’s childhood friend, Juniper Woods, was arrested for the courtroom bombing, and Apollo agreed to serve as her defense attorney. Unfortunately, just before the trial begins, Apollo’s wounds reopen. Realizing he is in no condition to continue, Athena approaches the bench alone. She finds herself standing opposite prosecutor Gaspen Payne, an arrogant older man who dubs her a “yellow monkey”.

The case appears to be simple enough. During a trial in Courtroom #4, a bomb hidden inside an elephant doll had suddenly detonated. While nearly everyone successfully evacuated the facility, the body of police officer Candice Arme was discovered near the courtroom’s entrance. When Juniper is called to the stand, it’s revealed that the burnt tail of the doll bears her fingerprints. In the face of this damning evidence, Athena finds herself unable to speak, flashing back to a trial from several years ago.

Just as all hope seems lost, the courtroom doors swing open. Phoenix Wright enters the room, having been called by Apollo, points out that many matters still needed to be considered. Gaspen, annoyed that his easy victory was stolen from him, calls his first witness to the stand: bomb disposal specialist Ted Tonate.

The game has only just begun and it would seem the developers have already fulfilled their promise about making a big impact. Phoenix Wright was disbarred eight years prior to the game’s beginning. Following the incarceration of corrupt defense attorney Kristoph Gavin, Phoenix was exonerated for his slight and is now practicing law once more. These cutscenes perfectly accent the fact that after a long absence, he is well and truly back. For Japanese fans, there is quite a bit of subtext to these developments. The last game that cast Phoenix in the lead role was Trials and Tribulations – originally released in 2004. They had to wait nine years to see him defend the innocent again. However, the moment is so masterfully executed that I’m sure even a newcomer would appreciate the pathos this sequence has to offer.

It is through Gaspen’s badgering of Athena and Phoenix’s initial cross-examination of Ted Tonate that the mechanics of the game are introduced. After two games that set episodes on the crime scene, this one sees a return to form with its classic courtroom battles. Once again, witness’s testimonies are divided into multiple smaller statements. As the narrative makes it clear from the beginning that Ted Tonate is the culprit behind this incident, he would have every reason to lie. In the future, you may find situations wherein a witness is drawing incorrect conclusions. All contradictions you will encounter are addressed in the same manner. You bring the statement up and present the piece of evidence that exposes the falsehood for what it is.

Being the series’ first entry on the 3DS, the interface has received something of a facelift from Apollo Justice. There are only five entries per page in both of the court record’s lists as opposed to eight. As a trade-off, highlighting a piece of evidence or profile will automatically display a description of the person or item. In other words, you no longer have to switch between the list and the detailed descriptions. It’s a minor improvement, but it does save a lot of time over the course of the game.

As was the case with Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments, profiles cannot be presented unless you’re specifically asked to present one. Furthermore, most items can no longer be examined in closer detail. Though this may seem like a step back, I don’t believe that to be the case. The only episode that used it to an extensive degree was the bonus case of Phoenix Wright, “Rise from the Ashes”. Otherwise, you could only really substantially use it whenever the plot mandated it be done. For example, if you thought a puzzle box might have a secret compartment, you couldn’t test that theory until the protagonist or anyone else came down to the same conclusion first. Indeed, by the end of Prosecutor’s Path, the mechanic was barely used at all, meaning its absence in Dual Destinies is a non-issue.

After Phoenix demolishes Ted Tonate’s first testimonies, Juniper Woods herself is asked to take the stand. However, as she gives her testimony, Athena senses something is amiss. Similar to how Phoenix’s magatama allows him to see a manifestation of a person’s wiliness to hide the truth and Apollo has superhuman perception to the point where he can deduce a person’s tell when lying, Athena too possesses a unique ability. Specifically, she can hear emotions of others as they speak. Sensing her friend’s fear, Athena asks the judge if they can conduct a therapy session of sorts in court. Though taken aback at such a request, he relents and permits it.

As promised by Athena, the Mood Matrix offers a completely new method of conducting cross-examinations. The statements that make up the testimony are now accompanied with visuals. The program can pick up four different emotions: happiness, anger, fear, and surprise. They could also be interpreted as enjoyment, frustration, sadness, and confusion depending on the circumstances. Whatever the case may be, your goal when using the Mood Matrix is to find a contradictory emotion. After all, it wouldn’t make any sense for someone to be happy about a piece of rubble landing on top of them as indicated in the above screenshot. When you think you’ve found a suspicious emotion, you highlight it and press the appropriate button to confirm your choice.

What I like about this mechanic is how much it tests your observational abilities. If every therapy session functioned like the first one, they would be rendered trivial. Occasionally, you’ll have to observe the lack of a certain emotion to get more information out of the witness. For example, it would be strange if somebody witnessed the defendant covered in blood, but wasn’t surprised about it at all. Later sessions can get rather tricky, forcing you pay close attention to how much the severity of each emotion changes between statements. A witness’s unstable emotional state is measured as noise. When you find the odd emotional response, the noise percentage will usually decrease. If you eliminate all noise, the witness will begin to recall the events clearly.

It should be noted that the visuals aren’t just there as a gimmick. In some cases, the witness’s emotions will begin running rampant, making normal observations impossible. If this happens, your goal is to cycle through the statements until you find a visual of the person or object responsible for the influx and directly point it out. By doing this enough times, the witness should eventually calm down enough to provide you with a more useful testimony.

“Turnabout Countdown” may not possess a plot as labyrinthine as “Turnabout Target”, but it does get Dual Destinies off to a great start. Ted Tonate’s crime is eventually exposed. When it is, he doesn’t break down like normal culprits. Instead, he reveals that he has a bomb and intends to detonate it unless he is allowed to walk out of the courthouse, though he does allow everyone in the gallery to evacuate before he carries out his threat. Only when Phoenix points out the timer on the bomb is broken does Tonate finally give up. The idea of the culprit threatening to kill the protagonist when cornered is something that rarely happens in this series. Furthermore, it turns out he had been selling the bombs he dismantled on the black market. Pitting Phoenix against such a heinous criminal was an excellent way of signposting to the player that the gloves are off. It also demonstrates how much his character has evolved – it would be difficult to imagine the Phoenix Wright of “The First Turnabout” remaining this calm under pressure.

I also have to give credit to the writers for introducing the character of Gaspen Payne. In every core installment leading up to this one, the protagonist would face his older brother, Winston, in the opening episode. Winston, for all of his bragging, was an ineffectual adversary most players would only end up feeling sorry for as his comedic lack of charisma cost him his case every time. Gaspen, on the other hand, could be summed up as Manfred von Karma if he had none of the talent to back up his arrogant attitude. The result is a vile person who will stop at nothing to not only get a guilty verdict, but utterly humiliate his opponent in court so they would never stand trial again. Though his own relevance to the plot ceases after “Turnabout Countdown”, it serves to foreshadow the darker tone of this installment.

Taking a page of the book of Ace Attorney Investigations, the second episode, “The Monstrous Turnabout” takes place eight months before “Turnabout Countdown”. In something of an odd move, the cutscene actually shows the killer’s identity. This makes it the first time since “Turnabout Sisters” in Phoenix Wright that a culprit outside of the opening episode is shown committing the murder. It is here that the game runs into its first problem.

Because players were still new to the Ace Attorney universe in Phoenix Wright, it was important for them to trust their clients. Knowing the first two defendants were falsely accused meant players had an idea of what rest of the game was going to entail – keeping the innocent out of prison. Mr. Takumi proceeded to play off of this assumption in a particularly masterful way in Justice for All with “Farewell, My Turnabout” wherein the defendant was guilty. Showing the culprit’s identity for the second episode of Dual Destinies doesn’t work because, Matt Engarde notwithstanding, the player has been conditioned to accept that the defendant is innocent. To make matters worse, the episode then proceeds to throw several red herrings at the player – all of which would’ve been far more effective had the narrative kept the killer’s identity a secret.

Apollo Justice has been working for Phoenix Wright’s agency for nearly a year. One day, he receives a call from Phoenix regarding a job. To the defense attorney’s disappointment, he learns that his job is to look after his boss’s adopted daughter, Trucy, for the day as Phoenix himself meets with an acquaintance. The two head for a local village named Nine-Tails Vale for a festival slated to take place there. Arriving at the alderman’s manor, they happen upon Jinxie Tenma, a friend of Trucy’s, who is also a maid at the estate. She is a decidedly paranoid girl, believing Apollo to be a demon. As a yokai craze is sweeping the village, she evidently believes they’re everywhere.

Shortly after their arrival, a commotion erupts. Jinxie informs them that a yokai had killed somebody. Dashing into the mansion, the three of them find the dead body of Alderman Rex Kyubi. Apollo screams, but realizes the other seemingly dead man in the room is merely unconscious. He quickly calls for an ambulance. When the police arrive on the scene, Apollo asks Jinxie what just happened. She tells him that the other man was her father, Damian Tenma, the mayor of the neighboring Tenma Town. Jinxie believes a yokai sealed in the manor known as the Tenma Taro had escaped and killed Alderman Kyubi. The police, on the other hand, conclude that Damian had committed the murder instead and he now awaits trial. Knowing Jinxie will have no one left if he is convicted, he takes the case.

Though “The Monstrous Turnabout” doesn’t exactly factor into the overarching plot, it does succeed in showing how Athena Cykes came to be part of the Wright Anything Agency. From there, the two characters build an interesting dynamic. After playing through the preceding installment and seeing him struggle during his first trials, it’s interesting seeing how much Apollo’s character has progressed since then. Though still prone to shouting and being on the receiving end of more than a few impromptu slapstick routines, he is noticeably more confident in Dual Destinies, willing to use what he learned in Apollo Justice to defend the innocent.

As per Ace Attorney tradition, it doesn’t take long for Apollo and Athena to meet the game’s designated police officer. This time, it’s an entirely new character: Bobby Fulbright. In contrast to the clueless, but well-meaning Dick Gumshoe and the apathetic Ema Skye, Detective Fulbright stands out due to his boisterous, enthusiastic attitude. He claims to be on the side of justice and will stop at nothing to see it served. His larger-than-life persona is something that manages to shine through even without the benefit of voice acting. They even go about conducting an investigation in a different way than with his predecessors: by convincing him that they too are on the side of justice. Considering Dick Gumshoe’s popularity, I can imagine many fans were disappointed over his continued absence in the series. Going into the game, I myself was expecting Ema Skye to make a return. Thankfully, there is a significant payoff for this new character, but it won’t make sense without the proper context, so it will be disclosed when the time is right.

For now, the most important thing is that Fulbright allows Apollo and Athena to conduct their own investigation. These are carried out in a similar fashion as previous installments with a few upgrades. While investigations in first four installments all involved combing a static background, Dual Destinies allows players to view the room from several angles. This effectively translates most of the improvements from the Ace Attorney Investigations installments into a first-person perspective.

Keeping in line with Mr. Takumi’s vision of a game simple enough for his mother to play, the investigation phases are a bit more streamlined. The hand cursor will glow red when highlighting a hotspot. A checkmark will appear on the back of it if the same hotspot is highlighted a second time. You also can only choose to examine a room when the game permits it. If you’re in an area with no evidence to collect, the option won’t appear. This is a something of a letdown, as part of the fun of the series is reading the amusing flavor text, but it’s not too big of a loss.

The other main purpose of “The Monstrous Turnabout” is to introduce players to this game’s primary prosecutor. His name is Simon Blackquill, and his debut cutscene shows him approaching the prosecutor’s bench in handcuffs. It appears that someone in a high position of authority has allowed this individual, a convicted murderer, to prosecute once more. The concept behind his character is an interesting one: the developers conceived of a character whose existence appeared to be a living paradox. He is a prosecutor who is also a criminal. As a prosecutor, he is well known for using psychological manipulation to win, which he demonstrates in his first few lines of dialogue when he convinces the judge to give the opening statement instead. This makes him an effective foil to both Athena Cykes and the new Mood Matrix mechanic.

As they were designing his character, the black-and-white stripes that adorned the prisoner’s uniform Simon was originally to wear reminded Takuro Fuse of the classic tale of the forty-seven Ronin. To further this inspiration, the team had the idea to give him traditional Japanese clothing, even holding a katana on his person. Though Mr. Fuse liked the idea at first, he thought if they made the outfit too Japanese, he Simon wouldn’t look like a typical Ace Attorney prosecutor. He also took issue with the idea of giving him a katana, which average citizens aren’t legally allowed to possess, let alone a convicted criminal. His final design is something of a compromise between these ideas – his outfit brings to mind Western clothes found in the Meiji era and accompanying him is his pet hawk, Taka, reflecting the art of falconry often practiced by samurai.

What sets apart Simon Blackquill from any of his predecessors is that he is quite intimidating. The idea of facing off against a convicted murderer in court adds a level of tension even Manfred von Karma couldn’t manage. When he breaks free of his handcuffs, you know instantly that you’re in for a rude awakening as your case begins to crumble. As Apollo begins countering his claims, Simon goes through hand motions resembling iaijutsu – a combative quick-draw sword technique. This causes the air in front of Apollo to slice like a sword strike.

Though this development is quite absurd, I like it because it addresses an issue I had with one of Simon’s predecessors. Though Godot remains a popular character, one of the problems I had with him is that his propensity to throw coffee mugs at Phoenix didn’t complement his persona. This is why I found Klavier Gavin to be a breath of fresh air; though his lack of antagonism meant the stakes didn’t feel as high as they should have been, it made the proceedings a bit easier to take seriously. With Simon Blackquill, the slapstick antics make a return, and not only does it fit with his samurai theme, it brings his background in prison to the forefront.

Nearing the end of the case, one final mechanic is introduced: revisualization. It was common for Ace Attorney protagonists to reinterpret the events of a case and turn it on its head in the final act of a given episode. This could be seen as early as “The First Turnabout” in which Phoenix and his mentor were able to prove that a clock had been set several hours ahead as a result of the victim’s recent trip to Paris. This was in response to the culprit demanding they prove it was set in such a fashion on the day of the murder. Rather than trying to directly prove that was the case, they opted to answer the question of why it would be set several hours ahead to begin with.

This is where the thought route comes into play. Rather than waiting for Apollo internally drum up the solution on his own, you start with what is already known and work from there. During these segments, he will ask himself a question regarding the facts of the case. You are then made to choose between two or more hypotheses. There is no penalty for choosing the incorrect one, but I like this mechanic because it walks players through the steps the protagonists take to reach their conclusions. Once it’s done, the player will almost certainly know what they need to do to solve the case.

In the end, “The Monstrous Turnabout” may not be a serious contender for the title of the best Ace Attorney episode in the series, but it was great getting to experience another case from Apollo Justice’s perspective. It succeeds in setting up all of the important character arcs before taking them to fascinating places.

Shortly after the original release of Dual Destinies, a bonus downloadable episode by the name of “Turnabout Reclaimed” was made available. The plot, which takes place between the second and third episodes, is about Phoenix’s first trial after regaining his badge. Jack Shipley, the owner of the Shipshape Aquarium has been found dead. One of the employees of the facility, Sasha Buckler, enters the agency to ask for Phoenix’s help. To the newly reinstated defense attorney’s surprise, the prime suspect is an orca that lives in the aquarium named Ora “Orla” Shipley. No autopsy of the victim was written because the death had been ruled accidental, but because the victim owned the aquarium, no formal investigation was carried out. After hearing that Orla would have be to put down, Phoenix steps in, promising to represent her in court.

The Ace Attorney franchise has been no stranger to bizarre premises, but this would seem outlandish even by its own standards. Considering Shu Takumi’s continued lack of involvement, I could see some people citing this as a “jump the shark” moment for the series. While what follows isn’t a transcendently good episode, but it is a lot better than it sounds. When I reviewed Prosecutor’s Path, I remarked that Mr. Eshiro’s team seemed to know exactly what made the series great while also acknowledging it had its share of flaws. They then proceeded to downplay said flaws to the best of their abilities.

I personally feel “Turnabout Reclaimed” could be seen as a sly apology for the rightly maligned “Turnabout Big Top”, for they feature similar premises. A benevolent boss is found dead and it’s up to Phoenix Wright to determine who would want to kill such a person. In both cases, it turns out nobody wanted him dead. However, while the murder of Russell Berry was unintended, it’s revealed at the end of the case that Jack Shipley’s death was entirely accidental. In a case of dramatic irony, the culprit actually attempted to rescue Jack from falling to his death, but was unable to pull him up to safety.

Why “Turnabout Reclaimed” works when “Turnabout Big Top” didn’t is straightforward enough – it features a far more likable cast. The character who could be considered the most obnoxious, a non-fiction author, doesn’t hold a candle to the average member of the Berry Big Circus in terms of sheer odiousness. She doesn’t turn out to be all that bad when she promises to write a new book based off of this case’s developments – even if it means going back on what she penned previously. Some argue the culprit of “Turnabout Big Top” had a sympathetic motive. On some level, this was true, but he still intended to kill a sixteen-year-old girl, which made it difficult to empathize with his cause. The culprit of “Turnabout Reclaimed” wanted to kill Orla, but he wound up engineering his boss’s death by accident, making the case all the more tragic.

The main story beats can be summed up thusly. Phoenix is able to exonerate Orla on the first day without finding the true killer. This is only a slight reprieve, as the new evidence strongly suggests Sasha is the culprit and she becomes the new defendant. When Phoenix does identify the culprit, the latter goes through the obligatory breakdown animation only for it to turn out he isn’t a murderer at all. This is why I can say “Turnabout Reclaimed” is a great addition to the game. It takes a premise that is ridiculous from a superficial standpoint only to play around with the series’ conventions in ways few other episodes have tried.

When the character of Athena Cykes made her first appearance in promotional materials, the Ace Attorney fanbase was quite skeptical. Phoenix Wright was slated to make his triumphant return to the courtroom after eight long years, and one could get the impression the developers intended Athena to be his assistant, replacing the universally popular Maya Fey. If many fans were convinced this was the case, the game’s third episode, “Turnabout Academy”, dashes it to pieces.

A few months have passed since Phoenix Wright’s return. He has been asked by the Themis Legal Academy to give a seminar at the school festival alongside Prosecutor Klavier Gavin. He invites both Apollo and Athena to the seminar, though the latter runs late. Between sessions, Phoenix was to meet with one of the professors, Constance Courte. As they wait for her, Athena and Phoenix hear a loud crash. Arriving at an outdoor stage, they are horrified to find the professor’s dead body. Bobby Fulbright arrives on the scene shortly thereafter and arrests Juniper Woods, a student of the academy, for murder, though he doesn’t divulge why she is the prime suspect. Despite her inexperience, Athena vows to represent Juniper in court and find the true culprit.

Though this episode doesn’t have many moving parts, it manages to fulfill several goals at once. Most obviously, it allows Athena Cykes to make her courtroom debut. I find it fascinating how promotional materials suggested she was to be Phoenix Wright’s assistant when in the actual game, she’s a fully-fledged protagonist in her own right. Being the only lawyer in the series to make their courtroom debut in an episode that features investigation phases, the writers could have easily turned her into a bland Mary Sue. I can safely say they avoided falling into that trap. How they accomplish this is simple, yet effective – by allowing Apollo Justice to act as her temporary mentor for the episode. Much like how Phoenix required help from Mia Fey when he first started out, Apollo is there to guide Athena to make her own debut a resounding success. Not only does this allow her character to develop from a first-person perspective, it allows players to appreciate the extent of Apollo’s arc from a different angle.

“Turnabout Academy” also brings to light the game’s central conflict before fully disclosing it in the next two episodes. In the past six games, the protagonists have exposed many powerful, corrupt figures in or strongly associated with the Prosecutor’s Office such as Manfred von Karma, Damon Gant, and Blaise Debeste. Combined with the trial in which Phoenix unwittingly presented forged evidence and an incident that occurred seven years ago, people began losing faith in the legal process. This caused a new wave of attorneys to adopt an entirely new ethos wherein winning and selfish personal gratification were considered more important than finding the truth. Prosecutors are willing to file false charges, and the defense attorneys have responded in kind by forging evidence. The past seven years have since been declared “The Dark Age of the Law” as a result.

The murder of Constance Courte at the hands of fellow professor Aristotle Means is a clear metaphor for this era. As hinted by his name, Professor Means favors a completely unfettered approach to acquitting clients. As long as he hears that “not guilty” verdict, the ends justify the means. Constance Courte, on the other hand, represented the classical fettered ethos that believes limitations are a testament to one’s strength of character rather than a fatal flaw. It was when Courte confronted Means about accepting bribes from a student’s family that he murdered her.

I can imagine savvy players suspecting Professor Means of wrongdoing immediately. I myself thought his behavior was a bit strange. What this episode does in response is establish a convincing alibi for him, and it’s not until the final phases that it crumbles. Ace Attorney has had something of a problem regarding its third episodes, two of which, “Turnabout Big Top” and “Turnabout Serenade”, are considered the series’ low points. Playing through “Turnabout Academy” with the third episode of Prosecutor’s Path fresh in one’s mind, that person would be forgiven for forgetting it was ever a trend to begin with.

Discussing the Ending

Before I can fully analyze the endgame of Dual Destinies, I feel it’s only fair to highlight some of the narrative’s weaknesses. Similar to when I reviewed Ace Attorney Investigations, the reason I held off on disclosing my personal issues with the game for so long is because they wouldn’t make any sense without the proper context.

Like Ace Attorney Investigations, the episodes of Dual Destinies are presented in an anachronic order. The game’s second episode, “The Monstrous Turnabout”, occurs first chronologically. After that, Phoenix defends Orla in “Turnabout Reclaimed”, and a few months later, Athena Cykes makes her courtroom debut in “Turnabout Academy”. From there, things get a little confusing. The fourth episode, “The Cosmic Turnabout”, takes place just before “Turnabout Countdown” and is actually resolved after the latter’s resolution. Finally, episode five, “Turnabout for Tomorrow” is set on the same night the defendant of “The Cosmic Turnabout” is acquitted.

This leads to several oddities – especially when you consider that despite being the first episode’s victim, Candice Arme was murdered last chronologically. Ultimately, I choose to criticize this structure for the same reason I did when parsing Ace Attorney Investigations. To reiterate my point, Trials and Tribulations did this to a much greater effect. Mia Fey’s trials as a rookie defense attorney set up the central conflict without interfering with Phoenix’s arc. Though Dual Destinies does succeed where Ace Attorney Investigations fails in that I can believe the first, fourth, and fifth episodes could occur within such a short timeframe, it runs into a completely different problem.

If the writers wanted to start off putting their best foot forward with “Turnabout Countdown”, I would say they succeeded a little too well. While Trials and Tribulations could be said to have taken a very similar approach with its own introduction, there was a key difference that made it work. Specifically, the killer was identified, thus exonerating Phoenix Wright. While there a few plot threads lingered, they weren’t obvious in their relevance until “Bridge to the Turnabout” when everything was tied together. “Turnabout Countdown” ends on a rather blatant sequel hook with Apollo Justice announcing that he is leaving the agency. Despite this, player has to complete two – potentially three – standalone episodes to finally receive an explanation for why he left. It’s not an untoward request to ask players to finish the entire game to see how things pan out. However, it’s difficult to start with a development like that only to not address it in the next few episodes at all. I will admit the reason for having the episodes not take place in chronological order is more tenable here than it was in Ace Attorney Investigations. Even so, it still lacked the sheer impact when Mr. Takumi implemented the idea in Trial and Tribulations.

Finally, it should be noted that while there are two episodes following “Turnabout Academy”, one is a direct continuation of the other. The reason for this makes sense given the circumstances, but because a significant chunk of the evidence collecting in the fourth episode is also used in the fifth, the finale doesn’t benefit from being divided into two parts. Fortunately, none of these annoyances detract from what is a solid third act.

The scheduled launch of the HAT-2 rocket at the Cosmos Space Center has been interrupted by a bombing. The two astronauts assigned to the launch make it out with one carrying the other. When police arrive at the scene, one of the astronauts is found dead with a knife in his chest. The survivor is arrested and charged with murder. Without questioning the circumstances, Apollo Justice agrees to represent him in court.

Before the trial even begins, it’s clear this particular case has reached a level of tension rarely seen in the series so far. The defendant in this case is Solomon Starbuck, a melancholic man who has a habit of sighing excessively.

As it would turn out, the victim, Clay Terran, was a childhood friend of Apollo’s. To punctuate the uneasy atmosphere of this case, Simon Blackquill immediately breaks free of his handcuffs. Unfortunately, though Apollo makes a valiant effort to defend Solomon from his murder charge, the trial is interrupted when Officer Ted Tonate informs everyone that the bomb used as evidence in the trial has somehow been reactivated. In the explosion, Apollo is injured, prompting Phoenix to take over the case after acquitting Juniper Woods.

What I particularly enjoy about these final two episodes is how they feature science fiction elements. There had been hints of this scattered throughout the rest of the game in form of Athena’s Mood Matrix, but now they’re out in full force. The Cosmos Space Station staff members have been experimenting with robotics, and Phoenix even gets to cross-examine one of their creations in court. Similar to how you learn why human witnesses lie on the stand, you end up having to learn what makes the robots function in order to deduce how they could produce a faulty testimony. The station itself is quite an astonishing technical achievement as well, featuring entire facilities that can be moved on a rail and a highly advanced security system.

I also like how these episodes recontextualize the events of “Turnabout Countdown”. With the way it’s presented, the glaringly obvious conclusion is that Ted Tonate detonated the bomb to destroy the evidence of his own crime. When Phoenix eventually speaks with him in the detention center, he claims somebody had taken the bomb’s remote switch during his argument with Candice Arme. This unknown person is the one who detonated the bomb, which is why Tonate warned everyone when it was reactivated. The game presented him as the episode’s culprit, and though he was indeed guilty, how he committed the crime is a bit more complicated. Players are led to believe he killed Detective Arme with the bomb, which is technically true, but it was because he bludgeoned her with it rather than using it for its intended purpose. He never intended to detonate it, but took advantage of the chaos to cover up his own crime.

Another aspect players may have picked up on by now is that the victims of Dual Destinies are quite a bit different from their counterparts in preceding installments. While the series would historically feature an unlikable victim every now and again, everyone murdered throughout the course of Dual Destinies is a good, law-abiding citizen. It serves as an interesting counterbalance to Prosecutor’s Path, which featured some of the most loathsome murder victims in the series’ history. Though you’re always given a good reason to solve the murder of even the basest people – namely, to keep the innocent out of prison – this slight change helps establish a dark, gritty tone.

It only gets worse the deeper you delve into the case. Defying the series’ formula once again, Phoenix manages to win a “not guilty” verdict when Bobby Fulbright arrives with decisive evidence – a cigarette lighter used by the culprit. This exonerates Solomon completely. The bad news is that the device bears the fingerprints of Athena Cykes.

With Athena Cykes now facing a murder charge, Phoenix finally learns of the UR-1 Incident. Seven years ago, Athena’s mother, Metis, was murdered at the Cosmos Space Station. Simon Blackquill was convicted for her murder after he pled guilty and now faces an impending death sentence. Because Simon was a prominent prosecutor, his conviction ended up being the other catalyst that started the Dark Age of the Law. His older sister Aura, still devastated by the incident, uses the robots to hold its visitors hostage – including Phoenix’s daughter, Trucy. She demands that a retrial take place in order to solve the UR-1 Incident once and for all.

The absolute bleakest moment is when Phoenix asks Athena about the incident. She realizes if Simon is acquitted, she is the only one who could have killed her mother. At that exact moment, five black Psyche-Locks appear before Phoenix. This is arguably the single most shocking moment in the entire series. After all, the last person in front of whom black Psyche-Locks appeared was Kristoph Gavin – the primary antagonist of Apollo Justice. A knowledgeable friend informs him that black Psyche-Locks represent a secret buried deep within one’s subconscious to the point where the person isn’t aware of it. This does provide some solace because it presents the possibility that Athena is innocent. It also retroactively makes Kristoph Gavin’s actions much creepier; he was so consumed by his revenge that he didn’t even have to actively hide his intentions anymore.

During the trial, Simon Blackquill is called as a witness, and he alludes to the existence of someone he simply refers to as a phantom. This unidentified individual was a spy sent to sabotage the HAT-1 launch seven years ago. He planted an explosive on the rocket and detonated it in space, but the astronaut onboard, Solomon Starbuck, managed to safely return the vehicle back to Earth. Though there doesn’t exist any information about this phantom, Simon was able to record a faint sample of his voice. Using it, he had Metis create a psychological profile. The phantom attempted to silence Metis and take the profile, but Simon had Taka hide the papers. It is only once Phoenix clears his name that he reveals what he had hidden for seven years.

A touch I like about the sequences that follow is how Apollo reacts to these developments. When “The Cosmic Turnabout” begins, Apollo elects to wear an eyepatch. This is because when he asked Athena if she knew anything of the case, he noticed something was amiss with her body language. Choosing to trust in her regardless, he put on an eyepatch to nullify his perceptional abilities. However, Apollo now believes Athena did indeed murder Clay, citing that his bracelet reacted when he presented her with the murder weapon.

What makes this sequence eerie is how Apollo adopts a pose very similar to that of his disgraced mentor, Kristoph Gavin. Though Apollo has obviously evolved quite a bit as a character since then, it suggests Kristoph’s influence over him wasn’t completely erased. Naturally, he does eventually come around and he becomes just as determined as Phoenix and Athena to catch the phantom.

A lot of people when analyzing “Turnabout for Tomorrow” inevitably draw comparisons to the DL-6 Incident. Both cases do hit a lot of the same story beats with a child being accused of killing a parent and an innocent person being placed on trial in their stead. It even features a case of dramatic irony wherein the child accused of murdering his father in the DL-6 Incident, Miles Edgeworth, grew up to prosecute Athena Cykes. When push comes to shove, the episode to which I would compare “Turnabout for Tomorrow” isn’t just “Turnabout Goodbyes”, but also “Farewell, My Turnabout”.

These episodes form an interesting parallel, but in a much more esoteric fashion. No matter how much Phoenix questions the staff at the space station, nobody there had a motivation to kill Metis Cykes or Clay Terran. Even the director, whose actions were the most suspicious, only wanted to protect his men from harm. This is when it dawns on you – the phantom’s identity is of somebody who is normally beneath the player’s suspicion: Detective Bobby Fulbright.

Even the savviest players wouldn’t suspect that the reason the writers introduced a new detective was to set him up as the main antagonist. These kinds of twists are difficult to pull off, so it’s commendable when it goes off without a hitch. This is one of those twists that makes playing through the game a second time a much different experience. Suddenly, Jinxie Tenma accusing Bobby Fulbright of being a ghost goes from being a mere throwaway gag to frighteningly effective foreshadowing – especially once you learn the genuine article is, in fact, dead. There was also a running joke involving Bobby Fulbright shocking Simon Blackquill whenever he stepped out of line. After the reveal, you won’t find yourself laughing at this joke anymore.

Thematically, I feel the phantom is an effective foil to the villain of Prosecutor’s Path. While that game involved you gradually learning about the culprit’s background before you were made to identify them, the phantom is a complete enigma. Nobody knows who this person is or where he comes from – even after his defeat at the hands of Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena. His true face is never revealed to the player, and the one moniker people use to talk about him isn’t capitalized, meaning he hasn’t even an alias attached to his true identity – or at least not one he didn’t steal. Moreover, the psychological profile only states one thing; this individual doesn’t experience emotions. When Athena uses the Mood Matrix on him, it doesn’t pick up a single reading.

For context, the last character in the series even remotely like the phantom was Calisto Yew – also known as Shih-na. Though her true identity was never revealed, players knew just enough about her character that it ruined any mystique she may have had. As it stands, she’s rightly considered one of the most annoying characters in the franchise. The phantom has no such problems. He strives to keep his identity secret and doesn’t care how many lives he has to jeopardize, ruin, or outright end to achieve that goal. Ironically, what spells his downfall is that despite not feeling emotions to the same extent as a normal person, he is afraid of his identity being exposed. After all, due to his storied career, he has a lot of blood on his hands. Sure enough, the second the protagonists tell the world who he is, a sniper shoots him down.

Esteemed critic Roger Ebert once said that “each film is only as good as its villain”. Given the existence of numerous quality works that feature no villain at all, I don’t believe the sentiment to be true, but it is food for thought. I would say the Ace Attorney series became much more consistent in terms of quality starting with Prosecutor’s Path, which had my personal favorite antagonist. Ace Attorney had always been hit-or-miss with its main antagonists up until then, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this post-trilogy era started hitting its stride as soon as the protagonists started facing memorable antagonists. It makes their ultimate victory all the more gratifying – especially in the final cutscene wherein Solomon mans the HAT-3 rocket launch with Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena watching at mission control.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Excellent cast of characters
  • Great music
  • Intriguing plot with several incredible twists
  • Mood Matrix is an intriguing mechanic
  • Less reliance on slapstick compared to original trilogy
  • Good mixture of silliness and seriousness
  • Good voice acting
  • |Terrifying antagonist|
Cons:

  • Anachronic order gets confusing
  • Somewhat easy
  • Large cast leads to unfocused plot at times
  • |Finale doesn’t benefit from being split into two parts|

Though the duo of Motohide Eshiro and Takeshi Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney series before, it was only through the two Ace Attorney Investigations spinoffs. Prosecutor’s Path managed to ascend the series to a level it had not yet known, yet Dual Destinies still presented them with an entirely new challenge. Their new work was now directly competing with Shu Takumi’s. With the legacy of the original trilogy and Apollo Justice having been cemented by that point, fans wondered how these newcomers could possibly live up to it. Which installment is the best in the series is still a hotly contested subject among fans, but I would go as far as saying that with Duel Destinies, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki managed to surpass Trials and Tribulations – albeit by the skin of their teeth.

I do acknowledge that Dual Destinies has its share of flaws. Its newfound save file system makes the game easy to brute force. This feeling is only made worse with the presence of the “Consult” option, which gives players unnecessarily elaborate hints for puzzles that aren’t particularly challenging in the first place. There’s also the sense at times that the narrative has more characters than it knows what to do with. Many characters such as Trucy Wright and Klavier Gavin were stated to return in promotional materials when they ended up playing extremely minor roles.

Despite these setbacks, Dual Destinies is a solid experience that proved the series still had plenty of new ground to cover. What I find admirable about how it continues the series is that it doesn’t back down from the many controversial developments in Apollo Justice. The writers instead directly addressed every single one of them. Though it required a significant amount of backpedaling, I can confidently say they succeeded. Suddenly, Apollo Justice, a character once derided for replacing Phoenix Wright was just as popular as his boss. Even better, Athena Cykes, a character who could easily have been seen as a carbon-copy replacement for Maya Fey, also found a sizable fanbase. Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki proved exceptionally good at playing with the cards they were dealt when they created Dual Destinies and their efforts should be rewarded.

Final Score: 7/10

6 thoughts on “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

    • Thanks! If you’re going to play any game series from start to finish, Ace Attorney is one of the best choices out there – even the weakest installments had great moments. If I’ve convinced you to try this series out for yourself, I’ve done my job.

      The word count is around 8,400. As of this writing, it’s my third-longest review.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve done your job well! Impressive word count, I’ve been getting closer to 1500 with reviews but I find I run out of steam, I think around 2000 is where I want to be as a standard. How do you stay focused on longer pieces?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you! Actually, when I was starting out, I usually struggled to get to 2,000 words myself. I find it a bit difficult to describe how they became greater in length, but I think what helped is that before I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum whereas now, I tend to discuss everything interesting in a game, which is how I stay focused for the longer reviews. The other thing worth noting is that the pros and cons list you see at the end of a review is what I write first – for readers, it’s a summation of my talking points, but for me, it’s an outline.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. The game definitely had it’s missteps, but it strongly delivered on both growing and expanding the core Phoenix Wright gameplay while also stretching it in new directions. I found it a really, really satisfying game overall. It really felt like both a return to form and something completely new, which would be very hard to pull off.

    And yeah, the main villain of the piece. They really took their time with him, and the bits where he were active were very select and concise, but he was just so much stronger of a villain because of it.

    As you said, the quality of this piece really speaks a lot of good things about where the series is going.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean; I remember being blown away by it back in 2013 myself. At first, I wasn’t sure where I would rank it, but after giving it some thought, I think it manages to edge out Trials and Tribulations for the title of my fourth-favorite game in the series.

      Though I prefer the villain of Prosecutor’s Path over the phantom, the latter is easily my favorite villain in the core series. His existence isn’t even remotely hinted at until very late in the game, but when the façade is dropped, he makes excellent use of his limited screentime. He’s probably one of the best depictions of a sociopath in gaming. I played this game as soon as it came out, so when I played through “Turnabout Reclaimed” a few weeks later, it made every interaction with Bobby Fulbright immensely off-putting.

      That describes it perfectly; it somehow manages to be both a return to form and an evolutionary step for the series at the same time. Those guys make an excellent team; I can safely say they surpassed the crossover Mr. Takumi was working on. After Spirit of Justice, I am looking forward to seeing what they throw at us next.

      Liked by 1 person

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