Preview events offer only brief glimpses at big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.
The comic book is a proven format. Put some dialogue on a page, surround it all with vivid imagery, and you’re good to go. Fine way to tell a story. There’s always room for innovation, though, and that’s what’s makes the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games so damn fun to follow. Each one is an experiment in comic book evolution. What if you had to talk with the characters yourself to move the story along? What if you had to dig into the background of panels to find evidence in a trial? Phoenix Wright, Shu Takumi’s long-running series of courtroom-drama games, is a playground for tinkering with comics, a century-old storytelling form. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney—Dual Destinies tweaks the comic book even further with new visual panache.
Dual Destinies is the fifth game in the 12-year-old series, not including spinoffs. It follows the excitable, accusatory trial lawyer Phoenix Wright in a surreal legal system that’s part Japanese, part Law & Order-based hallucination. Wright is usually defending some innocent person in a trial where the real criminal appears as a witness. That’s what I saw in the fun-size serving of Dual Destinies on display at E3. Phoenix’s new partner, a psychologist with extrasensory abilities, is trying to help her pal Juniper shake some serious charges. Junie is accused of blowing up a courtroom with a stuffed-animal bomb, but it looks like the creepy bomb-squad cop Ted Tonate (heh) is the real culprit.
Earlier in the Phoenix Wright series, characters like these appeared as hand-drawn characters on the screen with only the slightest animation. The screen would flash when a witness was pushed on testimony, and boom, the kind old lady transforms into a sneering hag. In Dual Destinies, the characters are 3D models, and they move with an exaggerated fluidity that speaks volumes about who they are. The prosecuting lawyer twirls his coif. The evil bomber extends his goggles and blinks too fast. And Phoenix slams his hands down decisively before yelling, “Objection!” When something shocking happens, the camera does a panoramic swoop around the courtroom—which is still mostly static, but prettied up. It’s awesomely impressionistic.
Unfortunately, my demo ended almost immediately after I learned about the game’s other new trick: the ability to read people’s emotional state while they testify. An overlay of moods appears on the screen, and you pick out what doesn’t fit. Why does Junie seem happy when she recalls the bomb going off? Ask her, and the whole trial changes. I can’t wait to read more and poke around the panels in this latest comic story.