Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. My near-complete thoughts on the game, haha.

Alright! I finished Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies last week. I think I have sorted out my feelings about the final case and can talk somewhat calmly and analytically about the game. However, I am still playing the DLC case, so I’m technically not yet fully finished with the it.

This is a very long post and it will contain big spoilers.

First of all, I was really impressed with the graphics. Of course a limited number of animation sprites and relatively static screens are a trademark of Ace Attorney, and changing them too much would change the entire atmosphere and identity of the games. But the update feels organic. The sprite animations are smooth, the lines crisp. Everyone looks gorgeous. I did not usually play with 3D activated, but when I did, I enjoyed just looking at the drawn backgrounds. Actually drawn backgrounds, in 3D, for some reason, I find that so beautiful to look at. In the same sense that I like looking at stereograms…

I didn’t really follow all the news and announcements leading up to the game’s release. When you know that you’re going to buy a game anyway, why bother risking spoilers? I barely knew the new characters. I’d seen a picture of the new prosecutor, but did not remember anything else. Fulbright was completely new to me. As for Athena, all I remembered reading was an impression that she would be “the new female teenage assistant”. It was a pleasant surprise when she actually turned out to be a lawyer herself and a part-time playable character.

I realize this is something that a few people have problems with, because they want all the attention given to just one character, but I absolutely loved that the game had protagonist duties and sidekick duties rotated between Phoenix, Apollo and Athena. It was beginning to be a weird pattern that there would always be a teenage girl sidekick! At the very least, it’s a bit unrealistic and inviting certain jokes… Changing the player’s point of view also makes the characters feel more multi-dimensional, I think. It’s the trick of ensemble casts, where changing the POV makes you see a character in a new light and discover different facets of their personality. Also, there are some plots that only work well from a specific perspective. This goes for Apollo’s little angst arch in Dual Destinies. That sort of thing only works if you look at him from a different character’s perspective, worrying about him, wondering what’s going on inside his head.

Phoenix is great in this game. He’s the same old dork, but he’s also an experienced, well-connected lawyer who is the boss and mentor of Apollo and Athena, a role he fills surprisingly well. The sense of cameraderie is strong in this game! Again, I think that the POV switching helps to make the trio feel like three individuals who are a team, rather than one guy and his gameplay-assigned sidekicks. Phoenix’s rivalry/friendship/romance/whatever you want to call it with Miles Edgeworth is adorable and very satisfying in this game, where they’ve overcome their various hang-ups and appear as easy allies who openly, if not entirely uninhibitedly, talk about their feelings. They’ve really come a long way and both are in a good place now!

If there is one complaint that I have, it’s that the game felt too easy at times. I almost never made use of the “notes” feature where you could check what you are supposed to do next, who you are supposed to talk to next. As annoying as it is to get stuck in a game like this because for some reason you’ve blanked out that you’re supposed to ask X about Y, that’s what this sort of game is all about, isn’t it? There were several moments during trials where I thought “Wait, I know this!” only for a character to come up with the solution without the player even getting a choice. I also felt like the way characters phrased their inner thoughts or questions sometimes pushed you much too obviously towards a specific answer. I vaguely remember that I had similar thoughts when I was playing Apollo Justice (the game, not the character), but I don’t remember if it was as extreme as in Dual Destinies. Look, dumbing down adventure games’ riddles to appeal to players who don’t want to think too much? No, no, nope! Don’t do that. I have noticed about myself that I’ve become more impatient when I cannot immediately solve a riddle in a game. With the internet’s omnipresence, it’s much too easy to just check a walkthrough. *shakes stick* When I was starting out, whenever I was stuck in an advanture game, I was STUCK, period, until I happened to figure it out by myself! Even if it took days or weeks to figure out. Even if it was not a difficult riddle, just something I didn’t realize for no particular reason! Staying away from walkthrough was and is a matter of pride, too. Anybody can click through dialogue, the thing that requires skill is solving the riddles. It’s why this is a “game” instead of a comic or a movie.

So, hmm. I hope that when the next Ace Attorney game comes around, it will be more “difficult” again. I think that it would even be possible to implement different difficulty levels: “hard”, where the hints are vague and the players have to make more choices and connections themselves, and “easy”, where the hints are obvious and some steps towards the solution are skipped?

Come on, that would be really neat!

I realize that up until this point, I have not really revealed any spoilers. Well, I am going to start with the spoilers now. I am going to start by talking about the ending, so be warned, be very, very warned. In my opinion, this game has the most amazing twist, the most startling villain reveal and the most upsetting finale in the entire series. So don’t spoil yourself that! In a game whose entire concept revolves around the idea of “twists”, I nevertheless see people talk about “the twist” because there’s one ~so flabbergasting~ that it makes every previous little twist seem less twisty.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

I fear that very soon, the existence of the twist, and what the twist is, will become common knowledge. In the same sense that we all know that Norman Bates’ mother is dead, that Darth Vader is Luke’s father and that Planet of the Apes takes place on Earth. Even knowing that there is a twist can spoil an experience. When I was watching The Sixth Sense back in the day (yup, I’m old), knowing there was a twist ending, I naturally tried to figure out what it was – and figured it out immediately when the kid said “They don’t know that they’re dead”.

So, maybe just stating that the identity of Dual Destinies‘ main villain is a shocking twist, spoils the surprise?

And I mean, a shocking twist. I don’t know why, but it shocked me more deeply than Godot turning out to be the final killer of Trials & Tribulations. Sure, I’d liked him, and I was quite disappointed in him… but at the same time… hmmm…

I actually figured out the Dual Destinies‘ villain’s identity (or what passes as his identity) a few gameplay hours before the reveal took place in-game. I was lying in bed and thought about the game for a bit. They had built up this killer very well, all of his crimes were very personal for several major characters: the courtroom bombing injured Apollo, Apollo’s best friend was murdered, Athena’s mother was murdered and Blackquill was about to be executed for this crime he did not commit! Considering how personal the crimes were, I thought that the killer couldn’t be just some random character. It had to be someone more major, someone surprising/shocking. Everything else would be a let-down.

When you think about it that way, here really weren’t that many characters to consider. Haha, I thought, what if it’s Fulbright? Haha, no way, he’s not … he couldn’t be … he’s the last person who’d … Shit. Seriously, it was past midnight and I was suddenly wide awake. My suspicion towards him wasn’t based on evidence, motive or his personality or behaviour, it was simply based on “well, that would be one helluva plot twist!” … which almost felt like cheating or spoiling the game for myself. I fell asleep eventually, and I kid you not: I had uneasy dreams where all the characters reacted to the news that Fulbright was the killer they had been hunting …

Sometimes, dreams affect my mood throughout the whole day, and this was such a case. I felt gloomy and strange, personally disappointed and rather confused. Sometimes, I would remind myself that it was just speculation at this point, that the game has not confirmed my suspicion yet, that my theory was based on nothing concrete anyway … and I always reached the same conclusion: that I would actually be disappointed now if it turned out to be someone else, because it would be less dramatic.

Detective Bobby Fulbright is a strange character. Since he is the new police detective, my first reaction to his intrduction was a mild reluctance. I want Gumshoe back! But I quickly accepted him. He was entertaining enough, incompetent in his very own way, and his dynamic with new prosecutor Simon Blackquill was interesting. These two were obviously laid out to be a contrasting pair, starting with their colour schemes and personalities. It also immediately felt like a dynamic similar to the classic detective/prosecutor pair: Gumshoe and Edgeworth. The oblivious detective who thinks they’re BFFs, and the mostly exasperated prosecutor who nevertheless trusts the guy on a basic level.

Here, the dynamic is made spicier because Blackquill is a convicted murderer and Fulbright is his handler, whose job includes not only crime-solving, but also keeping an eye on Blackquill, intervening if Blackquill gets out of line. While Blackquill seems to be pretty much the dominant force in their partnership, Fulbright is still the one in control. The fact that he rigged Blackquill’s handcuffs so he can tazer him whenever Blackquill misbehaves … is … funny at first, but completely terrifying in hindsight. Because Blackquill is not a murderer at all. Despite the way he presents himself, he’s a fundamentally good guy. And beneath Fulbright’s sunny, cheerful and justice-obsessed persona, he is a cold-blooded killer. :(

Whenever Fulbright idealistically, naively states that he believes that Blackquill can turn his life around and be reformed, it sounds like he cares for him, but it’s the worst lie ever. He knows that Blackquill is innocent because he himself committed the crime in question. He’s just manipulating him and he doesn’t actually give a shit about the fact his execution date is approaching …

I don’t think I will ever actually be over this twist. I am still currently in the process of re-evaluating EVERYTHING about the character. Playing the DLC case makes this confusing, because it is set chronologically between cases 2 and 3, where everything was still alright and no dynamics have been shaken or destroyed yet. Fulbright is dorky, helpful and naive, his dynamic with Blackquill is funny, Phoenix is amused that Blackquill has a higher opinion of his pet hawk than of his partnered detective. It is very ironic now, and things that would be funny are now scary, like the tazering mentioned above. That’s a character being unaware that he’s completely at his nemesis’ mercy, being pushed towards his doom by his only (human) ally.

Somewhere in the depths of Tumblr, I found someone who took issue with the twist because it destroys the character Fulbright and it destroys the established relationship between him and Blackquill. I don’t think it destroys either. It transforms them. It adds another layer to the dynamic, making it very sinister and uncomfortable. Considering you were previously led to believe it was a variation of Edgeworth/Gumshoe, or like the relationship in the TV show White Collar, it really made the dynamic more unique and more complex! Hard to digest, but I like that.

“Masks” and “characters pretending to be something they are not” is a theme that runs throughout the game.

Take the third case, for example. Juniper, Hugh and Robin all turn out to be pretending to be something they are not. The second case also deals with hidden identities, but I didn’t like it much so let’s not talk about it. But of course none of these things are as impressive as Simon Blackquill and Bobby Fulbright. Blackquill acts the role of the sinister, dangerous murderer, Fulbright acts the role of the likeable detective firmly on the side of good. Both are the opposite of what they pretend to be … and in retrospect, their personas do seem exaggerated, somewhat fake. They overcompensate because their true identities are opposite of how they want to be perceived. As shocking as Fulbright’s real identity is, as impossible as it was to predict, it still makes sense and does not feel like one of those twists that writers sometimes make up as they go along, without having intended it right from the start, creating plotholes and contradictions in character motivation.

No, this twist makes sense. D:

A recurring theme throughout the Ace Attorney games is “trust”. The trust between defence attorney and defendant, between defence and prosecution, between prosecution and police, mentor student, all of these things have been explored … along with other trust-based relationships, like assassin/client.

Villains often violate the trust put in them, and the main antagonist of Dual Destinies is no different. There’s probably a whole essay I could write on the topic, but this post is running long and I feel that I’m winding down a little.

It’s been an emotional last week for me, haha. One thing I’ve noticed is that I can spend dozens of hours with a game, but what will eventually set the mood, and decide how I remember it, will be the last few hours or even minutes. I wasn’t always blown away by Dual Destinies. In fact, the second case really just annoyed me through and through. But the final case was so emotionally engaging and captivating that it clouds my memory of the game as a whole. In retrospect, I actually think it’s a feature, not a bug, that the villains of the first cases were either revealed to us outright, or very very obvious. Maybe this put me in a false sense of security, making me think the killers in this game were always unsurprising and a little underwhelming – only to pull the rug out from under me with the least expected person turning out to be the evil mastermind who has been destroying everyone’s lives!!!! Haaah.

It was the opposite with Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice. I enjoyed the game a lot more than I thought I would, since the fandom had been largely negative about it. But now the first thing I remember about it is my mood when I finished it: annoyance at the final case’s stupidity, disappointment over the villain reveal and the lack of antagonism from the overall very harmless prosecutor (I like him as a character, but I prefer my prosecutors to be intimidating and aggressive before discovering their hidden angst!) and a sense of dissatisfaction because some things felt unresolved and unfinished…. I don’t know, it could have been such a good game if the final case had been done differently somehow. Or maybe it was the overall structure, maybe it was a mistake to prove Kristoph Gavin to be a killer in the very first case, when the player hasn’t had time to build a sense of trust with him. It completely undersells the emotional impact the revelation should have on all of the characters, who are betrayed by their mentor/friend/brother.

I think they did that wrong in Apollo Justice, but tried the same thing in Dual Destinies with Detective Fulbright, and this time they did it right because they introduced him as a friend and ally and all all-around trustworthy guy, they had you solve cases with him throughout the game, seemingly developed his “concern” for Blackquill, and THEN they revealed his true self. Some twists just need time and patient preparation to be impactful.

And now to finish the DLC case so I can finally play Bravely Default!!!

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