It's been a long time since Capcom's premiere attorney has been able to shine in a title bearing his name. But Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies isn't just the story of the titular character's return to the courtroom. It's a series of tales that mixes together high-stakes drama and goofy anime antics to create a satisfying ensemble production, albeit one that dangerously tows the line between engagement and tedium.
The move to 3DS makes an immediate impression. With new animations and anime cutscenes, the series has never looked better. The tone is also drastically different. The world has become a darker place since Phoenix last practiced law. Set in the middle of "the dark age of law," the ends justify their means, and crooked methodology is not only overlooked, but encouraged. At the heart of the game is the bombing of the court--with Apollo Justice caught in the blast.
However, these changes are largely cosmetic, as much of Ace Attorney's gameplay remains untouched. Courtroom encounters see both sides making their cases, as they question witnesses of varying credibility. Cross-examination sequences challenge players to find inconsistencies in testimony by presenting evidence or pressing witnesses for clarification. Botching evidence presentations or missing a multiple-choice question results in penalties.
There aren't a lot of new additions to the gameplay side of Dual Destinies, as the series plays it mostly safe with its tried-and-true formula. However, new to the series is rookie lawyer Athena Cykes' ability to use the "Mood Matrix." Through it, players are tasked with finding emotions that contradict a witness' statement. It's an interesting wrinkle to a familiar formula, as these sections rely more on analyzing a witness's conflicting emotions rather than rummaging for the right piece of evidence.
Ultimately, Phoenix Wright games are judged by their scripts, and Dual Destinies knows how to entertain. The twists and turns that tangle each case are genuinely surprising and well thought-out. Even when I thought I had a suspect nailed, the case would get thrown on its head and a new piece of evidence would shock everyone in the courtroom--including myself. Over-the-top problems demand over-the-top solutions, and Dual Destinies delivers.
However, like previous games, this is very wordy experience, and there often isn't any gameplay to interrupt the massive walls of text. It's not difficult to feel disengaged, having to read through dozens of lines of minutiae and inconsequential anecdotes. However, there are select moments where this works, particularly towards the end of each case. Each case's resolution is filled with enough valuable exposition and clever bits of comedy that I didn't mind having to go several minutes without a gameplay instance.
There isn't much player agency either, as the narrative follows a strictly linear path. For example, the game may refuse to progress forward until you present a specific type of evidence to a specific person. It can be incredibly restrictive, because there are going to be instances where you'll guess the culprit well ahead of everyone else. In one egregious instance of dramatic irony, the opening cutscene actually reveals the perpetrator before the episode even begins. Yet it takes hours before this person can even be fingered as a suspect. Dual Destinies revels in its dragged-out formula, forcing you to slog through every single step without any chance to skip ahead in the slightest, which becomes a problem when there are so many gameplay-free stretches.
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While Dual Destinies may initially appear like a fresh take on the series, it ultimately doesn't take a lot of chances. Still, Capcom continues to do what it does best: creating a compelling courtroom drama with fun, campy, off-the-wall characters. It may be more of the same, but for fans, that's really all they need. 
This review is based on early downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies will be available on the eShop later today for $29.99. The game is rated M.