Objection! “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies” review

Tired of the same grungy first person shooters and yearly sports games? Looking for something different for the bus ride to work? The latest installment of the ever-fresh “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” franchise may appeal -- but those with little patience for lots of dialogue may raise an objection.

“Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright – Dual Destinies” has just been released for the Nintendo 3DS, but unless you're a regular browser of video game sites, you may have missed it.

“Dual Destinies” hasn’t been heavily advertised, and isn’t even being released in games stores anytime soon; instead the game is being sold solely via the 3DS’s eShop. Capcom told FoxNews.com that this is in order to get the game over sooner to Western audiences, but it also means it would be very easy for the casual gamer to miss this, the fifth installment of the legal franchise that began in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance.

Which would be a shame. Over the years the series of visual novel/adventure games have developed a devoted fan base, and for a good reason. They're fresh and lots of fun.

The series focuses on a hotshot attorney by the name of Phoenix Wright, and his eccentric legal team. The game places the player into his shoes, or the shoes of one of his colleagues, as he wages his courtroom battles defending the innocent and prosecuting the wicked.

Studying the testimony of a witness, examining their emotions and comparing their narrative with the evidence ... is deliciously satisfying.

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Although a perhaps dry sounding concept, the reality is quite different. The Japanese series has never sought authenticity as its goal, and therefore plays fast and loose with legal procedure in order to squeak the most fun out of cases, which frequently delve into the bizarre.

So for instance in “Dual Destinies,” in one of the first cases you will face off against a lawyer who himself has been convicted for murder, and threatens the judge and opposition attorneys with his sword and his pet eagle -- who attacks witnesses and hovers over the judge menacingly.

Gameplay is part interactive novel and part adventure. You must investigate the case, exploring environments, picking up clues and speaking to witnesses before moving onto the courtroom to do battle.

It is in the courtroom where the series is at its strongest, and catches the essence of legal drama perfectly. Fast music, plot turns and loud cries of “objection” are the order of the day, along with tough puzzles and unique gameplay devices for the player to navigate.

Spending 10 minutes studying the testimony of a witness, examining their emotions and comparing their narrative with the evidence, only to find a tiny hole in their account, and subsequently using it to blow the case wide open, is deliciously satisfying and makes for a highly rewarding experience.

The story behind each case is always involving, the characters always intriguing, and each case last a good few hours, so when they finally wrap up, it delivers a real sense of achievement.

Unfortunately, “Dual Destinies” strong story is also its weakness, as it places a strict linearity on gameplay that at times suffocates proceedings. Due to the complex trials at work, the game has to stick to a strict story, meaning that player choice is often reduced to repeatedly pressing the “A” button to progress through the dialogue that makes up the vast majority of the game, or finding the one correct piece of evidence to present at one moment.

There are no multiple ways to go about a case, or different ways to succeed. It is about finding the right option at the right time, or not progressing at all.

The result is that, while the story is a compelling one, and the game is no doubt fun to play as the gamer solves all the puzzles, it can lead to a feeling of a lack of immersion, as the player can feel merely like a spectator as opposed to an active participant at times.

The great plot, fun characters and superb soundtrack make up for this, meaning that “Dual Destinies” is definitely a title worth taking a look at, but the linearity and narrowness of the gameplay may be too much for gamers hoping for more interactivity and involvement.


Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is available now for the Nintendo 3DS. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M – Mature.