The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is an interesting case in itself. The two games that form this collection saw their initial release on the Nintendo 3DS as Japanese exclusives. Now, six years since the release of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, these historical prequels to the much beloved Phoenix Wright series have finally been translated into English.
I’m happy to report that it’s been worth the wait. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a well presented collection with a lot of content to chew on; so much that after 43 hours of play, I’ve barely had time to explore the second game. Across those dozens of hours I’ve been introduced to a swathe of inspired characters, forming a quirky and exhaustive cast to populate its many mysteries.
It’s the interplay between these characters and the cases they become embroiled in that defines an Ace Attorney game. More so than the mechanics of any particular mystery, the people you meet are core to the experience: the friends, the foes, the defendants, and the witnesses.
In furtherance of that, The Great Ace Attorney places a greater emphasis on character with the introduction of a jury mechanic. Now, beyond merely impressing the judge, fresh-faced protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo must also sway a bench of six eccentric jurors. This new dynamic adds significantly more variety to courtroom proceedings, albeit severely lengthening their runtime.
In the event that Ryunosuke can’t sway the jury in his favour, which will happen as part of the story, the court enters a phase of Summation Examination. This new mechanic tasks the player with addressing each juror individually, pitting their statements against each other and turning opinion in your favour. These moments were extremely satisfying, and a worthy change of pace from the typical cross-examinations.
These new ideas play to the game’s premise: a historical narrative in which law student Ryunosuke Naruhodo must contend with the complex legal system of Victorian England, a far cry from the still-developing courtrooms of Japan. The player follows Ryunosuke throughout his entire journey: from his first case in Japan to the establishment of his own law practise in Great Britain, we cover significantly more ground than Phoenix Wright did in his first game.
That journey is very much defined by the setting. Within its historical context, The Great Ace Attorney explores a period of significant change following the end of Japan’s isolationist practises, as relations between it and western colonial powers threaten its very foundation. Though it isn’t thoroughly explored, Ryunosuke’s ethnicity plays a significant role in how he is treated in the UK. In many cases, the jury is predisposed to distrusting him and he’s forced to perform extra legwork to capture an advantage.
I really liked the way this historical context was incorporated into the story, though the game does shy away from the more uncomfortable realities of discrimination. Instead, the period setting is most notable in its introduction of legendary detective Sherlock Holmes – or as legal complications demand: Herlock Sholmes.
Sholmes plays a significant role within The Great Ace Attorney, both as a character and on a mechanical level. This take on the famous detective exudes charm, recasting him as a bumbling overthinker with a generous assistant to embellish his stories. Sholmes is every bit as brilliant as we expect, only with a tendency to fixate on the wrong details. The new investigation sequences involve Ryunosuke acting as a voice of reason, redirecting Sholmes’ absurd deductions into something productive.
This comical deconstruction of Sherlock Holmes is one of my favourite depictions yet, and avoids many of the common missteps associated with fiction’s most overused detective.
By introducing all these characters and mechanics, however, The Great Ace Attorney ends up being exceptionally long. There were several points in which I slipped into the mindset of an editor – identifying lines, or entire conversations, that could be shortened or removed. I can’t help but wonder if this story would be better on a stricter runtime. Perhaps it’s a testament to the well constructed mysteries that my mind would often race ahead, but I can’t deny feeling frustrated as I waited for the game to catch up.
Longer sessions also exposed issues with the game’s sound design. While the music and sound effects are fantastic and packed with character, there are simply too few over the game’s enormous length. I fear the repetitive beeps that form each character’s voice are permanently etched into my brain. Though voice acting is out of the question in such a dense game, I hope to see a greater variety of effects in future entries.
One area in which The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is particularly generous with its variety, however, is in its extras. The collection features a library of music and concept art, complete with unused designs and tracks. The associated letters from the game’s artists, designers and composers provide fascinating insight into the game development process, and deepened my appreciation for the game as a whole.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is an outstanding entry for existing fans and a great starting point for new ones. If you’re prepared to read through hours of text, this entry provides a collection of supremely well-written cases populated by fascinating characters with no prior series investment required. While its portable origins are plain to see, these newly translated games are a well-earned triumph brought about by a dedicated fanbase.
Title: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Release date: 27 July 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.