After yeas of waiting and an excellent demo to build up hype, Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright-Dual Destinies has finally arrived. For the most part, reviews are solid, clocking in at a solid 81 on Metacritic’s website. One review in particular, though, stands out for being an odd assessment of the game. Labeling Dual Destines worthy of a 7.2 isn’t necessarily strange, but when IGN reviewer Chuck Osborn declared that the game has “little gameplay” when listing the title’s flaws, my eyebrow went up. This is an outrageous claim to make when you realize that the Ace Attorney series is known for text adventures that require the player read quite a bit as part of the experience. Unless the reviewer had no clue what sort of game Dual Destinies is, there’s no excuse for penalizing the title for adhering to the fundamental style of its genre.
The visual novel is a genre of videogame most popular in Japan, where the primary form of gameplay is little more than reading. Visual novels have yet to make much of a dent in the American market, but there are exceptions here and there, and the most popular are titles that eschew traditional takes on the genre and incorporate more interactivity. Professor Layton, the Zero Escape games, and the Ace Attorney series are some of the more successful examples here in the States. The Ace Attorney approach has been to mix the visual novel with elements of point-and-click adventure titles, all wrapped up in an outrageously over the top story. Huge patches of text interspersed with logic puzzles and environment investigation are hallmarks of the series.
So when I read that Osborn didn’t appreciate what he saw as limited gameplay in Dual Destinies, I was irked. The reading is part of the gameplay. Anyone evaluating an Ace Attorney game should be aware of its genre and make their judgments accordingly. Complaining about Ace Attorney’s lack of gameplay is like saying there’s too much driving in Forza. It speaks to a complete absence of understanding how to evaluate a video game and is sadly a far too common problem. I Osborn finds the visual novel style of game uninteresting, he shouldn’t have been assigned to review Dual Destinies. It’s no different than someone who hates sports games being tasked with reviewing Madden; there’s no way that they can make an unbiased assessment of something that they have a predisposition to dislike.
While I have yet to play Dual Destinies, I know that when I fire up my 3DS I’m at least aware of what sort of title it is. Anyone who rates a game has a responsibility to make their evaluation based on the titles inherent qualities and nothing else. Playing a visual novel and marking it down because it’s not the sort of genre a reviewer finds enticing is a massive disservice to the developers and fans. Here’s hoping that sites like IGN can stop making that mistake.