The world of Phoenix Wright has always been amusingly strange. On the one hand, you have a doddering judge, interrogative super powers and justice doers more concerned about their egos and public image than the fate of the awaiting accused. On the other, you have blood-soaked crime scenes that must be considered in the harsh afterlight of violence; death and destruction wrought upon this idyllic universe.
Although macabre aspects are discussed in these games, often in depth, it’s difficult to feel like the violence described ever actually happened. The crime scenes always have that whiff of murder mystery weekend, with tomato sauce for the blood and the main lines printed on pieces of card. This air of light murder is enhanced by characters that never appear deeply affected by what has happened. Oh, they show the appropriate behavioural signs of grief and remorse, but deep down you’re suspicious. In Dual Destinies, everyone is a liar.
These games are always so light and sassy, quick to throw pop-culture zingers, hovering close to cringe-worthy in deliverance. Every character is over the top and emotionally vapid, an external roller coaster with only the barest supports. Phoenix Wright himself comes across as legendary in his own universe, yet within moments he is making mistakes and doubting himself. For Wright, the contradiction is his bone; give him one and he’ll gnaw on it all day long, with a side helping of alibi and motive.
But these games aren’t meant to be deep, right? They’re meant to be entertaining and interesting, game-novel hybrids that lead you through investigatory twists and turns before spitting you out afterwards, dizzy from legal excess. Beneath this simple brief, Dual Destinies exceeds admirably. It’s zany in all the right ways, replete with magical panties, lawyers who wave attorney badges around like cops at a crime scene, a convicted murderer who serves as prosecutor and a kleptomaniac with the surname “Filch”. The cases themselves are deeply involved and steeped in particulars, with some delivering more twists than a Hasbro testing facility.
One character, Athena Cykes, practices “analytical psychology”, a pseudo science that utilises the Mood Matrix – a program that shows the true feelings in a witness’s heart. Not only do you have logical and evidential contradictions to look out for, but contradictions of the heart. It all sounds like an 80s love ballad. Add to this Apollo’s bracelet, which tightens when people’s nervous tics appear, and every interaction (read: lie) becomes game-like and solvable.
In practice, it’s an enjoyably linear (and that’s not always a bad thing) romp through each case, with every interviewee needing to be pushed to amend their statements and slowly reveal secrets. Dual Destinies marks the first entry of the series on 3DS and the game makes full use of this, with plenty of courtroom camera zooms and some gorgeously animated scenes to each case. Investigations also benefit from the 3D focus, allowing you to switch views at each crime scene, revealing clues from different angles. It’s on rails but a nice addition nonetheless.
Gameplay is rote – click on everyone, ask everything, push every statement and then choose the correct piece(s) of evidence. However, it’s still enjoyable and interesting. The light-hearted writing and involved cases make for some logical brain twisters that are surprisingly warm in their approach. No cold, clinical CSI here – this is all about (perceived) emotion, people and wild mood swings. The soundtrack deserves a mention, too, as it compliments each case perfectly. Often, the music beat fits the scroll of text and evidence revelations in a kind of justice concerto – usually jazzy, upbeat numbers, which again put a somewhat strange happy spin on the serious subject matter.
Dual Destinies is a comfortable sequel. Yet another episode where satisfaction comes not from some new gameplay innovation but the bordering-on-laborious logic hills that must be traversed. The verbose characters and clue interactions provide several hours of likeable humour per case. This is the perfect game for sitting in your favourite chair with a hot drink and a soft chuckle just hovering, perhaps even spilling into a quiet giggle.