If you've gone to court with the members of the Wright Anything Agency before, you can feel free to skip on ahead, but if you're new to the team, prepare to spend a great deal of your time with the game reading. Lying somewhere between visual novel and classic adventure game, Dual Destinies has you searching crime scenes, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses ... at great length.
The characters you encounter seem to enjoy nothing more than nattering on and on about everything except what you actually need to know, amusing you with their so-quirky-it's-painful personalities. Buried within those lengthy confabs are the clues you need to win in court, but you'll swiftly find you're dealing with a somewhat nontraditional approach to adventure game mysteries. In many cases, an opening cinematic reveals whodunnit before you have to make a single argument in court. Your duty, then, is not so much to solve the crime as it is to figure out how to poke holes in the seemingly air-tight case against your unlucky client. After taking on a new client, you'll do some sniffing around to get the lay of the legal landscape. The charge is always severe, the case is always outlandish, and the evidence is always damning, so exhaustive investigation of the crime scene and persons of interest is vital. And, as it turns out, totally unavoidable – you can't progress until you've done absolutely everything necessary for that stage of the proceedings. While this does take away a bit of the thrill of making clever logical connections, it does spare you from the typical adventure game annoyance of having to backtrack to find that last object or have that last conversation before you can move forward. All the evidence you'll need for your defense is shoved right into your hand, and everyone you'll need to talk to is up in your face until you've run down every last conversational avenue with them. You're given far more than you end up actually needing, however, so you'll still have to exercise your brain power to know what bit of evidence to use when.
Even if you're a bit slow on the uptake, Dual Destinies ensures that you can't screw up your case too badly. Should you make an incorrect assertion or present the wrong evidence, the most you'll receive is a slap on the wrist from the Judge; rack up enough punishments and you'll lose an infinitesimal bit of progress, but nothing more. In most cases, another character will simply call you out on your gaffe and let you try again. It takes away any chance of genuine failure, but given how easy it is to know what to do but not exactly when to do it, it's a nice safety net.
The cases of Dual Destinies are quite ingenious, offering plenty of red herrings and false leads to keep the plot exciting. The cases are so far over the top they're practically in orbit, but their various absurd threads all come together by the time the judge's final gavel hits. It takes some deft maneuvering to make a locked room mystery featuring an ancient demon and a flamboyant professional wrestler work, but Dual Destinies somehow manages to pull it off. You'll have to be a little flexible with your view of reality – I don't think I've ever met anyone outside of a Kindergarten that carried a "proof of friendship" with them – but buy into the crazy world of Phoenix Wright and you'll enjoy the loopy ride.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies is aggressively oddball, but it's also sharply written and cleverly constructed. It trades the typical staid approach to murder mysteries and puts a pair of magic panties on its head (yes, there are magic panties), spinning a clever mystery that will please your crime-solving brain.
This review is based on an eShop download of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies, provided by Capcom. Dual Destinies is exclusive to the eShop in Europe and North America.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.