Preview: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

July 1, 2021

I love Ace Attorney so goddamn much. As a franchise, it’s ceaselessly endearing because it’s built around the core pillars of great characters, satisfying mystery-solving and charming humour. And, of course, the hoops translators jump through to fit the very-Japanese themes and settings into a Western context. There’ve been six main Ace Attorney games which have made their way to the West, along with some of the spin-offs like Ace Attorney Investigations and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, but there have been some notable omissions, chief among them the Great Ace Attorney games. These two games, written by series’ creator Shu Takumi, are even more Japan-centric as they take place 100 years ago during the country’s Meiji restoration, with young students coming to grips with a new and unfamiliar law system. This may have played a role in the six-year wait Capcom has forced Western fans to endure, during which fan-translations have been made thanks to significant effort from the fan community.

Now, the wait is finally over, as both games originally released for the 3DS in 2015 and 2017 are getting official translations and polished ports for PS4, Switch and Windows under the name The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. This collection includes the first game, now called The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and the sequel, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, which seems like a good move, given sentiment at the time of the original release from Japanese players was that both titles felt like two halves of one greater game. It’s also a bit of a shake-up from the traditional Ace Attorney, which we’ve been able to check out, thanks to Capcom granting us early hands-on access to The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.

It’s clear to see the influences from the game Shu Takumi worked on before these titles, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. That game transplanted the courtroom antics and investigations of the series into a medieval world, with different rules and a general distrust of the lawyering profession. While The Great Ace Attorney is set in a relatively more modern era, there’s still some culture shock. The opening case in The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, which historically is a pushover tutorial level in past games, is a two-part drag-out battle in the courtroom with multiple twists and discoveries. The protagonist, student Ryunosuke Naruhodo, is accused of the murder of a visiting Englishman, and the government is keen to have him sentenced and punished swiftly to smooth over foreign relations. With only his friend and fellow student, law prodigy Kazuma Asogi, helping him, it’s a struggle against intentionally unreliable testimonies and purposefully concealed evidence, that requires you to stay on your toes.

This first case introduces the first new feature – imported from Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright – multiple simultaneous witnesses. The core gameplay of the Ace Attorney games typically involves collecting evidence, then cross examining witnesses and confronting them with evidence that contradicts their statements. With multiple people on the stand at once, testimonies flow from one person to the next as they remember details, and statements from one can trigger reactions from others – reactions that Ryunosuke can pounce on with a new command to squeeze more information out of the witness. And in case with multiple parties working against you, not just the prosecutor (Winston Payne’s ancestor, appropriately named ‘Auchi’), you need to make sure you pay attention to every statement more than ever. Ace Attorney works best when you’re the underdog, and as a foreign, inexperienced student only just starting to find his confidence Ryunosuke is a perfect underdog story to root for.

While the first case takes place in Japan, which just has a Judge as the sole decider of guilt much like previous Ace Attorney games, subsequent cases take place overseas in Great Britain. Here, Ryunosuke finds himself in the company of Sherlock Ho-, no sorry, Herlock Sholmes, a completely distinct detective working in London. While he has the same deductive nature as another famous detective, he is also prone to reasoning down the wrong path of logic, and it’s up to you to set him straight. In ‘Joint Reasoning’, you’re able to contradict his theories with evidence of your own, which is a fun little concept.

Courts in Great Britain also have juries, which is also a new concept for the series in terms of gameplay. Similar to there being multiple witnesses at a time, now there are multiple jurors who sit before the judge, who can deliver their own version of events in a ‘Summation Examination’. Here, you can listen to statements from each juror on how they see the case, and use statements from other jurors to point out contradictions in their reasoning, buying you time to continue the trial.

Each of the new elements introduced add a level of complexity to the traditional investigation and courtroom elements of the Ace Attorney formula, but they’re still built on the same foundations of the core gameplay – pointing out contradictions by paying attention to the evidence. This makes it pretty easy to wrap your head around, although it’s also helped along by the series’ trademark charm and humour, which so far has survived well in this translation.

There’s a lot to get through in this collection, as both The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve are meaty games, with an estimated 50 hours of gameplay between them. But, as is always the case with the Ace Attorney games, I’m excited to pull myself through the full case-load to see the full mystery unravel. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles will be released on July 27, 2021.