I’ve always been fascinated by law. Not necessarily the real-life subject – I certainly did not go to law school – but it’s treatment in the media. Growing up it was normal for me to catch a couple of episodes of Law and Order or Bones with my mother. My grandparents liked Monk and got me into Psych, which became one of my favorite television shows. Now not all of these shows spent much time in the courtroom, but crime and what comes after is an interesting subject for storytelling. So it’s surprising that I didn’t discover the Phoenix Wright series until my mid-twenties. But once I found it through its music, the storytelling drew me in and never let go.
Over the course of about a year and a half, I’ve played through every Phoenix Wright title released in the States with the exception of Spirit of Justice (and the Layton crossover, if you want to count that). The game’s hilariously overdramatic witnesses, colorful prosecutors, and compelling (if soap-operatic) storytelling has elevated the series from “those lawyer games” to “one of my top three favorite series.” Apollo Justice, the fourth game in the series and a serious gamechanger as far as the setting and characters, was my favorite entry prior to playing Dual Destinies. This game is a direct sequel to Apollo Justice but continues the trend of adding a lot of new things to the game’s world and mechanics. So how does this title stack up to others in the series? Today, I’ll share my thoughts!
Warning: this whole “review” will contain unmarked spoilers. I mean, I guess this is technically a mark right now, but still. If you want to play this game and be surprised by the story, bookmark this page and come back later.
Dual Destinies takes place after the events of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Apollo continues to work at the Wright Anything Agency as a lawyer, and they’ve also taken on a new attorney named Athena Cykes. The opening case of the game introduces us to Athena through her second trial, in which her friend Juniper Woods is accused of bombing the courtroom while court was in session. She is supposed to be supported by Apollo, but due to his injuries during the bombing, he is unable to help her. Instead, our boy Phoenix puts on his coat and badge and enters the courtroom for the first time after an eight year hiatus (if you’re wondering why Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney hasn’t been in a courtroom in eight years, you gotta circle back and play Apollo Justice).
During the course of this case, we are introduced to a couple of mascot characters known as Bum Rap Rhiny and Phony Phanty. While they only really play a significant role in this first case, they are symbols of a greater issue: the general public has developed a serious distrust of the court system. Bum Rap Rhiny represents the false charges filed by prosecutors while Phony Phanty represents the forged evidence used in the courtroom by defense attorneys. They are mascots in a widespread protest against the corruption of the court system, a phenomenon that in the game’s second chapter will begin to be referred to as the dark age of the law.
THE DARK AGE OF THE LAW
Dual Destinies is really interesting in that the story is structured in a really unique way. The chronological order of the chapters is actually chapter 2, the DLC special chapter, chapter 3, the first half of chapter four, then chapter one, then the second half of chapter four, and finally chapter five. It’s an interesting way to start in a very dramatic moment and then take a step back to fill in the backstory leading up to that point. It is during chapter two when we first learn about the dark age of the law, a time where the court system cannot be trusted.
There is no greater symbol of the corruption of the modern court than this game’s prosecutor, a man named Simon Blackquill. Like our new attorney Athena, Simon is an expert in psychology. His primary technique in the courtroom is to use the power of suggestion to manipulate his witnesses, the opposition, and the judge in order to get the verdict that he wants. As if that isn’t shady enough, Blackquill is a convicted murderer who for some reason is permitted to leave the detention center in order to serve as a prosecutor.
Blackquill is what you would expect from the typical non-Edgeworth prosecutor. He’s got a ridiculous over-the-top samurai theme, a pet hawk who attacks witnesses in court, and he routinely breaks his shackles and attacks the defense with…honestly, I don’t even know. Throwing knives? His ridiculousness irked me and he definitely seemed to be a good representation of the dark age of the law. That is, until the game’s third chapter.
In typical Ace Attorney fashion, the second chapter has almost nothing to do with any overarching storyline. It simply introduces Blackquill, his detective companion Fulbright (a total moron whose obnoxiously justice-oriented personality is a real pain in the neck), and tells a little more about Athena and her relationship with Apollo, who mentors her somewhat in the early game. Chapter three is when things really start to build up and we learn how the legal world is reacting to the public’s perception.
The third chapter takes place at Themis Legal Academy, where aspiring judges, prosecutors, and attorneys are trained at a high school age. Here we again meet Juniper Woods, Athena’s best friend who is also very distant and cold, seemingly a completely different person. We’re also introduced to Aristotle Means, a character whose aesthetic totally screams “I’m gonna be the bad guy in this chapter so get ready.”
Themis Legal Academy is torn between two schools of thought. One is advanced by Professor Means (who has read The Prince one too many times) and can be summarized as “the end justifies the means.” Prosecutors and attorneys are evaluated based on winning cases for their side in court, so whatever methods bring victory are acceptable and should be pursued. If that seems like it could create some pupils who are willing to forge evidence, rush trials, fabricate witnesses, and use all manner of deception to get a guilty verdict (or not), then you’re absolutely right. This guy’s philosophy represents everything awful about the dark age of the law.
Conversely, Professor Courte believes that prosecutors and attorneys must use their positions to seek the truth. Real victory can only be achieved together, when a verdict is reached by a thorough examination of every bit of evidence and testimony with no alterations. Naturally, when Professor Courte turns up dead, your first thought is “gee, I wonder if her rival professor who believes in doing anything you want to win might have murdered her,” but you have to spend like 75% of the case chasing false leads and red herrings to get to the point where Athena and Apollo come to the same realization.
ATHENA AND BLACKQUILL
It is at this point in the story when we begin to discover that Athena and Blackquill may have more of a connection than we first suspected. Athena is driven to become a successful attorney because she wants to save someone, a figure she refers to in her mind as “him.” This “him” seems to be connected to Blackquill as well, as he references “him” during the trial to push Athena to fight harder. We get some pretty crazy flashbacks of Athena standing in a pool of blood while a bloody katana falls to the floor – wait, did Athena witness the murder that Blackquill committed?
It was around this point that things in my mind started to click together. If Athena and Blackquill were connected in the past, there was a good chance that the “him” Athena wanted to save was the prosecutor himself. After all, when Detective Fulbright explained the origin of the dark age of the law, he stated that it began with Simon Blackquill’s conviction. Not his being allowed to prosecute as a murderer – his conviction. This implies that Blackquill’s sentence is a false charge, and that Athena became an attorney in order to free him permanently of his shackles.
Everything comes to a head when we once again reach the point where the game started. Apollo Justice served as the defense attorney for his best friend’s old mentor, Solomon Starbuck. Apollo’s friend, Clay Terran, was murdered just before the launch of his spaceship. He and Solomon were the only ones together on the ship, making Solomon look very guilty indeed. It is here that we begin to see and learn of the origins of both Athena and Blackquill – both are connected to the Cosmos Space Center where the crime took place.
PSYCHOLOGY, SPACE, AND SPIES
It turns out that each of our heroes had some connection to the space center. Athena’s mother worked in the laboratory as a psychologist alongside Simon’s sister, Aura Blackquill. The two women together made a series of robots with the ability to process human emotions (apparently the origin of Widget, Athena’s nifty psychology-necklace). Also, they may have made love? Or wanted to? At any rate, these two women connected both Athena and Blackquill to the space center and to each other – the woman Blackquill was accused of killing was Athena’s mother Metis.
Things start to clear up as we learn why Blackquill was falsely charged for the murder and, more importantly, why he allowed it to happen. Simon found Metis’s dead body on an operating table (of sorts) with a bloody Athena telling him that she was going to “fix” her mother. The child didn’t understand the differences between robots and humans and didn’t comprehend that there was no bringing her mother back. Assuming that Athena must have murdered her own mother, Simon shielded her and allowed himself to take the blame for seven years.
Naturally Athena did not, in fact, kill her own mother. She and her friends are able to prove that both Metis in the past and Clay in the present were murdered by a foreign spy sent to steal secrets from the Cosmos Space Center. Who is this wicked spy? Why it’s none other than the idiot detective Bobby Fulbright, which is actually a false identity stolen from a dead man. We never learn the spy’s true name – he is murdered in the court room by a sniper for having his identity as a spy publicly revealed.
HEY, ISN’T PHOENIX WRIGHT IN THIS GAME?
If it seems like our old friend Phoenix is somewhat absent from this description of the story, that’s because he very much is disconnected from the overall narrative. If you don’t count the DLC chapter (which has no meaningful connection to the main storyline), Phoenix is primarily a background character until the second half of the fourth chapter. This was probably one of my biggest issues with the game – the drama between Athena and Blackquill, and the way that Apollo’s own backstory is integrated into it and advanced through it, could stand pretty squarely on its own. Phoenix could have hung back as a meaningful mentor to the two younger lawyers and it would have been a satisfying story to experience.
Instead, right at the end we get a whole bunch of Phoenix Wright stuff shoehorned into the game. Oh hey, is that Pearl Fey? And a reference to Maya? Oh, hi Edgeworth, nice to see you suddenly showing up in this game. It turns out that Phoenix took up his attorney’s badge once again at the request of Miles Edgeworth, who asked Phoenix to help him prove Simon Blackquill innocent in order to end the dark age of the law. Phoenix feels somewhat responsible for these dark times due to his unwitting complicity in the false evidence half of the problem (again, you gotta play Apollo Justice to fully understand and appreciate this game) so he’s glad to step in to save the day.
I’ve read in the past that Phoenix wasn’t really intended to be in the newer Ace Attorney series until some Capcom big wigs basically forced the creative team behind Apollo Justice to find a way to fit him in there. This game feels very much that same way. “Hey guys, Phoenix is the title character, so he can’t just teach these two new kids to be good lawyers. HE has to be the good lawyer. Capiche?” If the goal was really for Phoenix to feel burdened to do something about the dark age of the law, it could have been built up better. There are no scenes showing that the attorney has any sense of personal responsibility for public perception of the court system. Without that context, a lot of the ending details feel a bit like a Phoenix-ex-machina.
Ultimately though, that’s my biggest complaint about the game’s storytelling. I enjoyed Dual Destinies and I think it told a pretty compelling story about what it means to stand in a position of power where it feels like one can manipulate the law. I think the overarching message of the entire Phoenix Wright series is that both defense and prosecution have a responsibility to perform to the best of their ability so that the real truth can come to light – they are a team, two sides of the same coin, not opposition. Phoenix and Edgeworth are the best reflection of this but we’ve seen it too with Apollo and Klavier and now Athena and Blackquill. As a way to explore this ultimate theme of the series, the dark age of the law proved quite the interesting setting to do so.
That’s gonna be it for me today, adventurers! I decided to mainly focus on my story-related thoughts this time, but in the future I may touch on more gameplay elements. I may simply wait until after I’ve finished Spirit of Justice and then do a sort of “favorite special powers across the series” kind of post. Now’s the part where I want to hear from you in the comments! Have you played Dual Destinies? What were your thoughts on the story and characters? Which chapter was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!