Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies preview: reordering the court

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is coming this fall, marking the triumphant return of the series' original lead character after a short detour. The game has gotten a major facelift and some renovations for its upgrade to the 3DS, but Capcom seems to be crafting an appropriate homecoming for its hero.

Set after the events of Apollo Justice, the young defense attorney is now part of Phoenix's law office. In fact, Phoenix seems to be building an entire team of lawyers, with the addition of rookie attorney Athena Cykes. Cykes has a new "Mood Matrix" ability, which detects whether suspects are showing surprise, anger, happiness, or sadness while giving testimony.

Functionally, this serves as a unique wrinkle to a series that has always been so focused on logical contradictions. Instead, this makes a mechanic out of finding emotional contradictions: noticing feelings that are incongruous with what one might expect from a statement. One witness showed signs of happiness while explaining that a piece of rubble nearly crushed her, leading me to question why. That led to the revelation that she had been saved by another character, a detail she'd previously left out of her testimony.

Producer Motohide Eshiro told Shacknews that the team first created Cykes's story, in which the fiery upstart went to America to study analytical psychology. Her power isn't magic, just a very keen sense of emotional observation. "They went with that backstory first, and then asked, how can we fit this into the gameplay?" Eshiro said, through a translator. "And they thought of the ability to use the little widget to visualize if someone is telling a sad statement but they're actually very happy. It started from the story and then turned to how to visualize that process."

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Phoenix's team will be used contextually, letting you tap their powers for special moments. But, Eshiro emphasized, this is Phoenix's game, and cited fan demand for Phoenix's return. Of course, it helps that it was strongly implied by the end of Apollo Justice.

The transition to the 3DS means a graphical overhaul, which is a big change from a series that started its life on the Gameboy Advance and retained its 2D art style for years. Now all of the characters are full polygonal models, and the camera angles are more dynamic. A shocking statement might be punctuated by the camera pulling out dramatically. Eshiro said the polygonal models were "extremely challenging" to perfect, since they had to match the established look of the characters. They ultimately decided to fix the camera mostly in spots similar to the angles used in the 2D games, so they could control the poses.

That might sound restrictive, but during my hands-on time I was struck by how well Capcom pulled off the transition. The characters are more emotive than in prior games, and the slight camera flourishes actually add to the sense of watching a courtroom drama unfold.

Eshiro also shared his own reasoning behind bringing the game exclusively to the eShop. He called it a "matter of convenience" since not all players live near game stores, and also pointed out that the digital release will help the company shorten the release window between the Japanese and North American versions. As Capcom's Christian Svensson noted, though, market concerns also came into play on the decision.

Ace Attorney games have always been defined first and foremost by their plot and characters. The next game appears primed to not only bring back a cast of characters that fans have grown attached to, but to deliver its story with a few new tools at its disposal.