Phoenix Wright, Dual Destinies (Capcom, 2013)

Dual DestiniesI’m slowly crawling my way through the latest Phoenix Wright game, Dual Destinies. I want to like them: the bombastic courtroom setting is funny; the impossible crimes are intricate and original. But they’re just so boring. Every possible ounce of subtlety is drained by a script that’s petrified you might misunderstand what’s going on. So the characters’ feelings are explained, at length, and then repeated again five minutes later. Clues and themes are reiterated again and again until it’s impossible to care any more.

Some of this is understandable. I tend to play each case straight through, but they’re also designed to be enjoyed in very short chunks. If someone is playing for five minutes every other day then repeating things is the only way to ensure they don’t get confused.

But the script doesn’t need to be so banal; endless platitudes and exaggerated shock or misery at every tiny setback or twist in the plot. Take this, for example:

“This is a homicide any way you slice it. In other words, we have a murder on our hands.”

Is there any context where that’s not a terrible line of dialogue?

Dual Destinies 2The biggest shame is that this most recent iteration actually has a better calibre of writing and plotting. The mysteries so far have been interesting, with genuinely clever third act twists. But the actual technical standard of the writing, the boring nuts and bolts of spelling and punctuation, has never been lower. I’d say as many 10% of the lines have errors, most often missing pronouns or mangled tenses like “Let’s see if the defense can response”. Apollo Justice, one of the main characters, talks about his “Chords of Steel”. It’s a common enough error, but the writers should know better: they’re vocal cords – physical cords of flesh. Much of the overarching plot revolves around bombs, but the writers don’t know the difference between “diffuse” and “defuse”. As an editor I understand that no long piece of text is ever going to be perfect, but Dual Destinies reads like no-one ever bothered to proof it at all.

And it’s not like the story branches or the text is procedurally generated, common difficulties in editing video game stories. The Phoenix Wright games are as linear as they get, and any given player is going to see the same 90% of the game text, in the same order. The developers could have printed it out and given it to people to read like a screenplay.

This is a full price game. I know how little proofreaders get paid. Can it really be worth putting out such a shoddy product to save the price of a dozen units?

25 thoughts on “Phoenix Wright, Dual Destinies (Capcom, 2013)

  1. To my shame, I still haven’t finished it. I’m still on the space centre chapter. I love the idea of Phoenix Wright, but I find the execution very boring. The Miles Edgeworth game was even worse. I actively groaned when there was another case to play, even though individually the mysteries were very clever. It’s just like wading through treacle.

    Have you played Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward? I’ve had that for about a year now and still haven’t opened it!

    • Oh and Phoenix Wright vs Professor Layton! Have you played that. Since I feel the same way about Professor Layton (awesome idea, terribly executed), combining the two could either iron out all the problems or make my brain explode.

      • Replying to both here…

        I think that we’re going to have to agree to disagree before I start yelling, “Pistols at dawn!” Ace Attorney has never (except for the final boss of AAI but everyone thinks that was boring) been boring to me. I watched Dual Destinies over the course of about a week on Youtube, and never really got bored at all. It’s just a fun series, which is why I like it. There’s no pretension at all. (And the music is awesome.)

        As for Zero Escape, no. Which is weird because I love room escape games. I blame the lack of a 3DS and not playing the first one. I warn you, though, from what I’ve heard of it, it sounds like Uchikoshi decided to see how he could one-up the last game’s plot twists, then took many different mind-altering substances. But then, I kind of like stuff like that.

        As for PWvsPL, no. I wanted to get a 3DS for it, but their just isn’t enough other stuff for it that I want (that I know of). I’ve heard good things about it though, and, again, I love Ace Attorney, and can plow through all of it’s flaws. What’s a game-breaker to you might irritate me slightly, if I notice it at all.

      • Actually I think it might be better to watch! Because even though tapping with the stylus is a tiny action, doing it hundreds of times to get very little plot progression has a cumulatively irritating effect for me. It’s like why I gave up with Last Window: Secret of Cape West. 200 stylus taps to learn absolutely nothing six or seven words at a time feels like Chinese Water Torture!

        I don’t know why I haven’t played Zero Escape yet. I enjoyed Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, even though the mystery is too clever for its own good and is ultimately broken.

        Which is a shame, because it had some incredibly clever ideas, and it’s got one of the best and strangest motives for murder I’ve ever come across.

        Have you played/watched all the standalone Professor Layton games? I admit I may have been a bit too grumpy about Phoenix Wright (although so many proofing errors really is unacceptable!), but the last Professor Layton game is a real stinker. It’s like they completely forgot how to tell a story.

      • I have not. the games never interested me, though I have been tempted to try them.

        While we’re talking about games, have you ever played Ghost Trick? It was made by Shu Takumi, the guy responsible for the first four AA games. You also might like Dangan Ronpa, but I’m not sure. The mysteries are said to be pretty easy, but I like the idea of a group trial.

      • The first Layton game is really good. Effortlessly charming, and perfectly achieves what it sets out to do. They should have left it at that. The later ones add a pointless back story (and don’t even bother to tell it properly).

        Ghost Trick is wonderful, with a truly original premise and gameplay. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and didn’t guess the (well-clued, unusual) twist until about three quarters of the way through, which I think is about perfect.

        I’ve never even heard of Dangan Ronpa. I’ll look it up!

      • Oh actually I have! But I completely forgot about it. I didn’t realise it was available for iOS. I’ll definitely check it out.

        *EDIT* Oh it’s only on iOS in Japan. That’s sad. I don’t have a PS Vita.

      • Good! If you complained about Ghost Trick, I’d have to drag you out to a duel. As for DR, you could always watch it on YouTube or at least the first chapter to see if you like it.

        And while I’m throwing out recommendations… have you ever heard of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Umineko no Naku Koro ni?

      • I’ve heard of Umineko no Naku Koro ni. I watched the first episode of the anime and enjoyed it a lot, but I heard that it wasn’t a very good adaptation of the Visual Novel (is that right?).

        I then tried Chapter 1 of the novel but I had the same problem I’ve described above: it’s incredibly overwritten, for no obvious reason, and I just got really frustrated and bored. There’s obviously some stylistic difference between Japanese and Western writing styles that I’m failing to understand. I just can’t understand what’s gained by artificially stretching out every dialogue sequence. I’ve tried to be open-minded, and I’ve asked friends who speak Japanese to explain it to me, but their answer is always some variation of “Yeah, you’re right, but I just ignore it.”

        So it seems like people like it in spite of the style, not because of it.

        But I’ve heard the novel’s pace does pick up a bit after the early chapters. I tried to give it another go while I was travelling, but then my laptop got destroyed 😦 Maybe third time will be the charm. It’s such an interesting premise that I really want to enjoy it.

      • Just about everything I’ve heard about the anime has said that it’s atrocious. It doesn’t even cover the whole series. You have a point on the writing style, and in some ways it’s an acquired taste. I don’t mind it, but I read it out loud, so maybe that helps. Some of it is probably translation though. (It seems more readable than The Tokyo Zodiac Murders…)

      • That’s interesting that you read it out loud. Do you mind if I ask why? Were you reading it TO someone? I’m always trying to get clients to read their work out loud, because it’s a good way to hear problems. They never do though!

        With the Western approach to writing most weak or overwritten writing sounds worse out loud, because it highlights how artificial it sounds. The aim, especially in genre writing, is to use artificial techniques without SOUNDING artificial.

        But I can see how the Japanese style could sound better that way. Despite the unusual nature of most of Japanese mystery stories I’ve encountered, the dialogue usually strives for a lot of realism, with a large number of features (ellipsis, repetition, exclamations of surprise) that in Western writing would be deleted as padding, or used incredibly sparingly.

        Western writing guides usually advise that trying to emulate realistic dialogue is a trap: real conversations are discursive, full of pauses and false starts and generally so context-laden that they’re only intelligible to the people directly involved.

    • I’m not sure. I only do it when reading visual novels like the AA games. If you were to press me for a reason, I think it’s because I read faster than the text can appear. Reading it out loud helps to slow me down. (And it’s fun. Umineko dialogue is fun, to me, when it’s read out loud.)

      Or I could just be weird. That works too. (And while I remember, you probably should finish Dual Destinies. I think that the killer is well-concealed, and the lengths they go to are something to behold.)

      • I’m in full support of people being weird!

        But I think that’s another factor these games have against them, at least for me: I work with words for 8 hours a day, so my natural reading speed, especially if I don’t think I need to pay close attention, is miles faster than the text is displayed. Which means I can either read artificially slowly, or add a SECOND button press to make it display immediately. Which, added to the regular press to bring up the next line, means I have to make roughly a bajintygillion presses every hour.

        You’ve got me intrigued about Dual Destinies now. Unless there’s a case beyond the one I’m playing, I’d assumed the killer was the Space Centre’s owner and couldn’t muster much enthusiasm (I’m only on the first investigation day). The killer in the law school case might as well have put a sign on his face the first time he appeared.

        But presumably there IS something else, because I still haven’t had any information about the killer prosecutor yet, and that arc doesn’t have much time to resolve itself.

        I think it’s a shame the wrestler case shows you the killer in the opening sequence. The way the case played out would have been clever and surprising if it was a regular whodunnit, but it wasn’t right for an inverted detective story.

        Anyway, I’ll dig out my 3DS later on.

      • Oh wow. The end of Case 4 is pretty exciting. Once I learned that the whole station could rotate, I assumed it was the (now dead) cop who was the killer (the space director followed her in, she escaped into the launch pad, was sent round to the other side of the station and then, instead of escaping in the lift, ran straight back into the room to pretend she was following the space director, even though he was following her. It has the kind of paradoxical symmetry these mysteries thrive on.) Maybe that’s still the case, but the fingerprint analysis on the lighter is a really good surprise.

        I should reiterate that, while my reservations about the writing on a line-by-line basis still stand, the construction of these mysteries is extraordinary.

      • Glad to see you’re having fun! I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t get case 3, but that was because I was hoping the writers weren’t going to go for something that “easy.”

        Incidentally, and you might not care to comment on this here, I started thinking about just how bizarre Japanese fiction is compared to Western fiction. Not just mysteries, but fiction in general. Maybe it’s just culture or something, but I keep being impressed at how different it is.

      • I think Case 3 is easily the weakest, and strongly contributed to my giving up at the beginning of Case 4.

        Assuming there are no major upsets, Case 5 looks to be the strongest in the series. In fact this might be the strongest game in the series in terms of its mysteries.

        Although I get what you mean, I don’t really feel qualified to judge Japanese fiction as a whole. Is it really more bizarre than Western fiction, or is only a particular subset translated to match what people think are Western tastes? I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle.

      • I’m nearly finished, I think. Just got some loose ends to tie up (I’d clocked early on that some evidence would have been sent up with the space capsule and that was the motive for the new killings, but I couldn’t work out what it was)

        The killer is a brilliant surprise. I didn’t work out who the phantom was until the business with the ladder, and I literally hadn’t considered them at all before then. But they’re hardly a minor character! Very clever misdirection.

        In fact (because I’m congenitally unable to offer unqualified compliments, it seems) I think they could have been a lot more brazen with it. The culprit is so well hidden that there could have been a lot more clues and I think it would still have been a blinder of a surprise. It’s certainly the best in the series. Shame the two non-bombing cases are so heavy going and inconsequential in comparison.

      • Glad to see you liked it!

        Also, I watched the prologue of PWvsPL and I like it so far. A little easy, but it is a prologue.

        And there’s good voice acting.

        And 3D breakdowns.

        And voice-acted 3D breakdowns.

        (Also, I don’t know if you care, since you didn’t like the last one, but AAI2 has a fan translation out there. I watched the first case and part of the second, with a different translation I admit, and I thought it was good. The story’s also been praised.)

      • Have you seen the DLC for Dual Destinies? Here in the UK it’s not particularly cheap. I wondered if it was worth getting.

        I’ll give AAI2 a look. I liked the gameplay of AAI, maybe even more than the regular series. The characters just wouldn’t shut up though!

      • I have, and I thought it was good. It’s probably the only case where that logic path thing is used correctly. There are some other elements I liked, but they’re spoilers.

  2. I’m oddly determined to keep this post alive, aren’t I?

    I was wondering if you ever got around to either the Layton crossover or AII2. If not, quite sorry, I’ll stop poking this post. 😛 If so, what did you think?

    • I haven’t yet, although they’re still on my list. I’m working my way through Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, but it’s a bit of a slog. I don’t know if I’ve picked an unfortunate route through the story tree, but the characters’ all behave so implausibly that I’m finding it difficult to both follow and care.

      • Ah! A shame, I was looking forward to see what you thought. I can give a quick and dirty review, if you wish.

        And yeah, my limited knowledge of VLR gave the impression that it was a lot stranger than the last game, and a little more, ah, loose in it’s plotting. But it’s been a while since I read that. Hopefully you’ll find something to enjoy though.

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