This is the ninth in a series of Ace Attorney reviews and I recommend reading the others before this. This post will contain spoilers for Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and all the games preceding it, including Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney. Thanks for reading!
Ace Attorney doing DLC seems like a pretty natural concept, seeing as each game has a couple of cases that don’t fit neatly into the overarching narrative. Turnabout Reclaimed, however, the DLC case of Dual Destinies, was supposedly originally planned to be in the main game, before being cut. It does indeed have an important part to play in the narrative of the game, depicting Phoenix’s first time back in court after being disbarred in Apollo Justice.
It’s a bit odd, then, that Turnabout Reclaimed takes its major inspiration not from one of Phoenix’s classic cases, but instead from Turnabout Big Top, the much maligned third case from Justice for All. Much like that case, Reclaimed returns to the entertainment industry – here it’s an aquarium with a performance show as opposed to a circus, but the basic story beats are cribbed almost entirely from that prior case. There’s a slightly dysfunctional group of performers and workers at the aquarium who are mourning the loss of their boss. There’s animals roaming the halls, a prior case involving one of those animals in a tragic accident and the culprit makes a mistake during the murder and kills the wrong person. Even Pearl Fey is here, doing even less than usual. The question then, is does this case manage to improve on that skeleton?
For the most part, the biggest difference between the two cases is one of tone. Although there are certainly prickly customers in the aquarium, such as the veterinarian Dr. Crab, the overall atmosphere is one of good-natured sincerity. This certainly fits with Dual Destinies’ mood as a game better than a Big Top style cast would have. It even allows for elements that might tip over into cheesy in other games, such as the Swashbuckler Spectacular song or Marlon Rimes’ “rapping”, to come off as more goofy and sincere than cringeworthy.
It’s also essential for allowing the case’s central conceit to work – Phoenix’s client this time is not a person but an orca – a definite one-up from cross-examining a parrot. Of course, the case loses its nerve after the first day in court by making Sasha the defendant, much like The Stolen Turnabout, but it’s still fun enough as a fitting way for Phoenix to re-enter the courtroom. There is a bit of a flaw in it, however, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s one that’s probably my own fault. Although partial to the occasional cat video, I simply don’t care much about animals. What’s worse is that the animal in question is a killer whale in captivity. Now, I don’t want to go all Blackfish on an anime game, but I have a pretty large moral reservation about keeping large animals like that as performers in marine parks, and when Norma DePlume is presented as a villain for writing a book about the orca killing its trainer, I tend to lose my sympathy with Phoenix and Sasha.
You might well be bought in by a mix of suspension of disbelief and the game’s constant and loud assertions that Orla is happy as Larry and would never hurt a fly, in which case the emotional core might work better for you than it did for me. What I take more issue with than simply the orca, however, is the case’s ending, which attempts to wring heartfelt emotional beats out of some truly bizarre material.
The case’s ‘killer’ is Marlon Rimes, the animal keeper at the aquarium. The game sets him up as the villain pretty well, baiting the player with the expectation that the killer and Azura Summer’s boyfriend would be Dr. Crab, before pulling the rug out from under them by refocusing on Rimes. After being revealed as the culprit, he undergoes a complete body transformation — something that Dual Destinies showed itself to be a fan of with Aristotle Means — although it works much less well in the tone of the case here than it did there. Rimes is convicted of mistakenly killing the captain after trying to kill the orca as revenge for it having killed his girlfriend. However, what he wasn’t to know is that the orca he’s trying to kill is a different one from the one convicted of killing his girlfriend, and that his girlfriend actually died from a secret heart condition rather than any sort of killer whale-based killing.
There’s a few oddities here that are immediately apparent, such as the fact that no autopsy must have been performed on Azura’s corpse to determine that she didn’t actually die from whale attack. Or that even though no one knew of Azura’s heart condition and believed the orca to be responsible, Crab and Shipley still neither euthanised it nor set it free, but instead simply hid it in another aquarium.
But what really doesn’t work for me is Marlon’s treatment at the end of the case. After seeing him as a cartoonish villain for most of the second trial day, Marlon is revealed to be simply a poor widower seeking revenge against what he saw to be a dangerous animal. But in a cruel twist, it’s revealed to him the truth of his girlfriend’s death and the two orcas. In my review of Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, I mentioned how Takumi was careful not to be too cruel to his characters, especially in situations where the murderer is supposed to be slightly sympathetic. In revealing the truth to Greyerl, it gives her some closure about the case and lets her off the death of her mentor. But revealing the truth to Marlon only makes his situation worse – he now caused the death of his friend for no reason at all, rendering everything he did meaningless. He was right to be upset about the orca that killed his girlfriend and they were wrong not to tell him about the swap. Telling him accomplishes nothing except making him feel worse. The only thing he and the player learn is to always trust the killer whale. You know, the animal with ‘killer’ in the name.
There are arguments to be made for the case being an improvement on Big Top, mind. The twists are, as is characteristic of Yamazaki, well done and the murder method is a lot less strenuous on the suspension of disbelief than the one in Big Top. It runs along at a pretty steady clip, and the characters are also simply more likeable than the circus folk. Dr. Crab is a particular favourite of mine, playing the perfect ‘grouch with a heart of gold’ — one of those character archetypes Yamazaki’s team seems to have got pitch perfect by this point. It’s also just an easier case to swallow in general, lacking the creepiness of the Regina Berry subplot, the annoyingness of Ben and Trilo, or the generally claustrophobic atmosphere of the Berry Big Circus.
However, in smoothing off the edges to that case’s premise, I also can’t help but feel that Reclaimed loses something in the process. Although the characters are certainly more likable, they’re also a whole deal less interesting. I like Crab, but I can’t pretend I haven’t seen him in other Ace Attorney cases or anime before. Moe, who occupies a parallel position in his case, is a lot more unique, which makes his transformation throughout the case significantly more interesting to watch. It also doesn’t help that much of the cases’ character development is shoved into the final trial segment. While Big Top builds a picture of its characters and their relationships from the start, including the murdered Russell Berry, Reclaimed coasts along without doing much of that, preferring to postpone the fleshing out of character relationships for exciting twists that the player has to drag out of people. Acro’s guilt might be obvious from the moment you know that Bat was killed by the lion, but it still works better emotionally by allowing Acro’s confession to breathe rather than crowding it among hundreds of other smaller twists.
Although often called the best case in Dual Destinies and released separately from the main game, the problems I talked about with the other cases there remain a problem here. A devotion to spectacle and twist over emotion, along with a commitment to a light-hearted tone as paramount, make Dual Destinies’ better cases fun to play through, but mean they unfortunately lack some of the depth and delicate emotional balance Takumi’s cases often had. Turnabout Reclaimed tries harder than most to recapture this, but can’t quite stick the landing.
Apologies for the wait on this one, but it’s going to be an even longer wait before the next entry, in which we head to distant lands in Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice. As always, you can support me on patreon or follow me on twitter. Thanks for reading!