It's been five years since a new Ace Attorney game hit U.S. shores—other than the Edgeworth-helmed spinoff—and if you've played any of them, you're probably counting down the days until the next one.
Capcom's lawyer adventure series is consistently charming and delightful, and it's always fun to help the bumbling (yet badass) defense attorney Phoenix Wright get innocent people off the hook.
At E3 last week I got a chance to play the next entry in the series—Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, which will be out as a digital release for 3DS this fall—and from what I saw, it looks just like a Phoenix Wright game, which is just about the highest compliment I can give it.
I stopped playing after 10 or 15 minutes, because I knew that if I stayed at the booth, I wouldn't be able to leave. But I did get a chance to check out the newest mechanic, which involves, as it often does, reading peoples' inner thoughts.
I also spoke to longtime Ace Attorney producer Motohide Eshiro, who had some interesting things to say about how the next game will be structured.
(Warning: Spoilers for the last Ace Attorney game, Apollo Justice, follow.)
"So after the ending of Apollo Justice, Phoenix says he's gonna become a lawyer again," Eshiro told me through a translator. "He becomes a lawyer once again. He has his attorney's badge back. He actually has a very important promise to keep this time around, so he's gonna go keep his promise."
Phoenix teams up with the last game's protagonist, Apollo Justice—who is still working at Phoenix's makeshift law firm. Then there's an explosion. Apollo is injured. Apparently the court is wrecked, as you can see in the above concept art provided by Capcom.
"The story revolves around both Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice and this whole situation that they have entered," Eshiro said. "And it has all the plot twists you have come to expect from an Ace Attorney game."
At the beginning of the first case, Phoenix is taking the defense attorney's podium for the first time in quite a few years. He talks about how rusty he is. When he catches a contradiction in a witness's testimony, the Judge is impressed: "I see the great Turnabout Terror is back!"
Most Ace Attorney games have a special gimmick to change up gameplay. In the second and third games, you could break into peoples' hearts and use pieces of evidence to unlock "Psyche-Locks" and pry out their secrets. In this game, you can read peoples' emotions.
Here's how the system works: during a testimony, Phoenix's new partner Athena Cykes can crack into someone's heart and see what emotions they're feeling at any given moment: happiness, anger, sadness, or surprise.
Sometimes, a witness's emotions will contradict the words coming out of their mouth. In one case I saw, a woman named Juniper was describing the moment that a bomb went off in the courthouse, and for some reason she was feeling happy. We pressed for more information and she suddenly remembered that she was stoked that Apollo came to rescue her. Bam, more useful information for the testimony.
Other than that, the game should feel rather familiar if you've played any previous Phoenix Wright games. (And if you haven't, I mean, come on.)
"So the actual flow of the game, going from investigation to court and investigation, that hasn’t changed," Eshiro told me. "What has changed is, during the investigation part, you’re not looking at just a 2D scene anymore. You’re actually looking at full 3D. When you get to an investigation scene, you can actually look at it in full 3D, move the camera angle, find new evidence, new story bits. That actually enhances the gameplay a lot. It makes everything more interesting being able to look at things from a different perspective."
Let's pause for a second. At one point during our interview, I told Eshiro I had a random question for him. A brief transcript:
Kotaku: As you know, the new Smash Bros. was introduced yesterday. What are the chances of Phoenix Wright getting in?
Eshiro: (laughter) I haven't heard anything about the new Smash Bros. yet, but I don't really think that there's a chance that Phoenix could get into Smash Bros.
Kotaku: Well Mega Man did...
Eshiro: I actually didn't know that. I was very, very surprised about that.
Back to the game. Lots of familiar characters are coming back, in addition to Phoenix and Apollo. Pearl Fey is back. Trucy Wright. Klavier Gavin. Longtime Phoenix Wright Rival Miles Edgeworth will be there, this time as head of the prosecutors' department.
"I always like it when Edgeworth and Phoenix team up," I told Eshiro.
He laughed. "Well then you're definitely gonna look forward to Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies."
This time around, they handled localization—the process of bringing the game from Japan to the U.S.—a little bit differently. Instead of making the game in Japanese and then handing it off to a team for translation and localization programming, Capcom's Phoenix Wright team worked side-by-side with localization staff from the getgo. When the Japanese writers finished the first chapter, they gave it to the translators, and if they needed to make changes, they told the translation team right away.
"It was a very new process for this series, but we’ve wanted to do it for the longest time," Eshiro said. "By doing it this way, we’re actually able to get a real high quality translation that’s pretty much to the quality of the Japanese version, and also get that out a lot quicker than usual."
And what's next? I asked Eshiro about the future of the Ace Attorney franchise: will Phoenix keep coming back for more insane legal battles?
"There's lot of playable content in Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies," he said. "Once users start to play that, once they finish the game and they feel like, 'I need to play the next one right now, I need to know what happens next,' we want to get those impressions first, and then decide, 'OK, this is what we’re gonna do with the series.' We’re asking fans to go get the game, try it out, give us your impressions, give us your thoughts and then we can start thinking about the future of the Ace Attorney series."
"So does it end on a cliffhanger?" I asked. "Will you leave us hanging?"
Eshiro wouldn't answer. He just laughed.