Capcom’s Ace Attorney franchise celebrates its 20th anniversary this October, and to some it might be strange to think that such an odd premise has endured and flourished over so many other Capcom properties (sorry, Power Stone). For Ace Attorney fans, it’s a no-brainer, thanks to the life and humour injected into its lawyering characters and premise by series’ creator, Shu Takumi, also responsible for the engaging Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. While the series has enjoyed popularity around the world, it really took off in its homeland of Japan, with an anime produced, along with a live-action movie and several musical theatre adaptations. While most of the series’ media eventually filters through to the rest of us, there are some exceptions which have escaped international translation and release.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles seeks to remedy that, as it finally translates the two games in the Great Ace Attorney spin-off series which never made their way to us in the West, along with a boatload of extras. Originally made for the 3DS back in 2015 and 2017 and written by Takumi, this duology serves as a distant prequel to the main Ace Attorney series, set at the turn of the 20th century, at the dawn of Japan’s legal system and their expanded relationship with Great Britain during the Meiji Restoration. While the narrative moves backwards in time, the visual novel gameplay is advanced in ways that make the Great Ace Attorney its own unique beast, that still stays true to the core tenets of the series.
The collection includes The Great Ace Attorney Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, which follow the exploits of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a Japanese student who through an unusual series of dramatic events, finds himself travelling to England to study as a defence attorney. Once there, he’s immediately thrust into trial after trial, defending an array of weird and wacky clients from improbable murders and crimes, and armed only with his own grasp of the facts, evidence and knack for pointing out contradictions. It’s not enough to prove his client innocent – Ryunosuke often has to find the real culprit while trial is in session, in intense drag-out bouts in the courtroom. While each game is split up into five chapters, which are episodic in nature, the two games act as two parts of one much larger narrative and share many characters, as well as plotlines which only pay off by the end of Resolve. Even small, casual events that are teased in Adventures, have their significance not fully understood until Resolve, which can be a fair time later as both games clock in at about 25-30 hours each.
As visual novel games, your time in The Great Ace Attorney is spent reading through volumes of dialogue and description, with voice acting reserved for short exclamations in court (Objection!) and occasional anime cutscenes. While earlier Ace Attorney games were limited with simpler 2D artwork and basic animation, The Great Ace Attorney evolves into full-3D, while still keeping just as much detail as its 2D-roots and the same genuinely memorable flourishes of animation. However, what makes the Ace Attorney series a delight is in the wacky, yet smart writing which frequently presents you with absurd situations and trains you to see their strange logic. Gameplay is divided between ‘Investigation’ and ‘Trial’ sections, where you investigate crime scenes and other locations for evidence, which you can then present in court to contradict witness testimony.
Investigations are spiced up in a very welcome way due to the inclusion of Herlock Sholmes – a world-famous detective with a familiar, legally distinct name. Herlock, himself an actually faithful and infectiously jubilant adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective, has the unique ability to make accurate general deductions, although he tends to lose his way when it comes to the details. As Ryunosuke befriends Herlock, he learns to make ‘Course Corrections’ in Herlock’s deductions, represented as theatrical dances complete with spotlights and dynamic camera angles. These are really fun little scenes that are impossible not to get wrapped up in, even if the corrections you end up making are all fairly easy and obvious.
Speaking of Herlock, across the board there’s a great cast of characters, which are always at the heart of an Ace Attorney game. From Ryunosuke’s perky and knowledgeable assistant Susato, to the grouchy Inspector Gregson, and tsundere Gina Lestrade. Australia even finally gets some Ace Attorney representation with a character named Bruce who’s fresh from the Gold Rush in Ballarat. The Great Ace Attorney also sprinkles in quite a lot of real-life information about life in London in the early 1900’s, as well as a real-life famous author, who might be the game’s funniest character. It actually surprised me at how consistently funny The Great Ace Attorney was, and there are many, genuine laugh-out-loud moments that arise from the interplay between these characters. The only somewhat weak link is the mysterious prosecutor, Barok Van Zieks. A mix of Ace Attorney‘s Edgeworth and Dracula, he doesn’t really have a lot going for him in terms of personality, apart from a penchant for chugging wine while court is in session, and a hostility towards foreigners.
In Trials, Ryunosuke goes up against Van Zieks in the British court system, which not only allows multiple witnesses to take the stand at once, but also includes a jury. While the jury is billed as a new system that can shift the balance of a trial at any time, in reality it’s a series of scripted moments that give a more visual representation of how you’re faring in court. The jury may suddenly decide to declare their verdict of guilt early, at which point you’re able to request a ‘Summation Examination’ to hear each member’s reasoning, and then pit their statements against each other if they’re contradictory.
While the multiple witnesses system feels perfunctory and isn’t really used effectively outside of a handful of times, the rest of these new Great Ace Attorney gimmicks actually feel welcome as they revolve around the core gameplay of finding contradictions and exploiting them to unveil new layers to the truth. Sometimes that truth can be a little disappointing, especially in some Adventures cases where there’s some real Final Destination-level shenanigans at work to get your client’s innocence declared. However, the big cases of each game have solid mysteries behind them, and work as epic, climactic battles in court.
Where The Great Ace Attorney is not always as successful is in its pacing. The first game, Adventures, especially deviates pretty wildly from the established Ace Attorney structure and while it’s certainly a different take for returning fans, it feels padded and baggy. The first case is far from an easy tutorial like most first Ace Attorney cases, the second case contains no trial, and the third contains no investigation. It all feels a bit lop-sided, but thankfully Resolve is a much, much tighter affair that resolves (hah) a lot of pacing issues from Adventures. The story also deals with some pretty dark subject matter, and it doesn’t always feel like it’s handled as well as it could have been. While there’s always been murder in the series, there’s also matters of depression and suicide, and Barok Van Zieks is just straight-up racist towards the Japanese, although he holds back from any particularly foul language. The Great Ace Attorney bounces back and forth between mixing wackiness with seriousness, fictional matters with real-world figures and events, and occasionally it errs a little too far and fails to completely come together.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also includes a gallery of really cool extras, including short playable episodes that imagine fun scenes that could have occurred through the main games, to anniversary promotional videos which crossover Phoenix Wright with his ancestor, and in-game alternate costumes. You really feel like you get a pretty comprehensive collection here, and at its cheaper price-point it’s great to see so much included.
It’s easy to recommend The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles as a meaty collection of hilarious and engaging mysteries, which are well suited to the Nintendo Switch in particular, to pick-up and come back to in docked or handheld mode. While the second game is superior to the first, where plot and pacing is an issue, both feature incredibly memorable characters and moments, as well as gameplay gimmicks that keep the visual novel gameplay fresh and exciting. Fans who’ve been waiting for this release can rest easy, while I’m certain the antics of Ryunosuke and Herlock Sholmes will no doubt generate many new fans, proving this franchise has plenty of life left in it yet.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, with code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PS4 and PC.
-Two meaty, delightful Ace Attorney adventures in one package, along with extras -Memorable characters and genuine laugh-out loud moments -Hilariously well done animation -Interesting shake-ups of the Ace Attorney formula make these games stand apart from the rest of the series
-The first game has weird pacing and design choices, though it's significantly remedied by the second -The narrative strays into fairly dark subject matter, which doesn't always successfully jive with the levity of everything else -Van Zieks is no Edgeworth