There are some games you never expect to be released in the West. Occasionally, a passionate fanbase might do an unofficial localization, but there are still many amazing games out there never brought over from Japan. Since its Japanese release on 3DS in 2015, my most-wanted game was Dai Gyakuten Saiban: Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Bōken, a prequel to the long-running Ace Attorney series. Though I reviewed a rather exceptional fan translation of the game a few years ago, I honestly never thought we would get an official localization, let alone the game’s sequel. But Capcom stunned the entire Ace Attorney community when they announced both games would be released as a single title in the West: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Do the games live up to the unbelievable hype that has built up around them?
In The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, you play Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a second-year English student in Meiji-era Japan (and the 19th-century ancestor of long-time Ace Attorney protagonist Phoenix Wright). After finding his calling as a defense attorney while on trial for a murder he didn’t commit, Ryunosuke and his legal assistant Susato Mikotoba travel to London, England to study law in the self-proclaimed capital of the world. But he soon discovers that behind the bright facade of the “world’s greatest justice system” are lies, corruption, and murder. In case after case, Ryunosuke must find his resolve to pursue the truth, assisted by Susato, the brilliant 10-year-old inventor Iris Wilson, and her partner, the world-famous master of deduction himself, Herlock Sholmes!
Originally a 3DS game, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles isn’t overly eye-catching in the graphics department but more than makes up for it with exceptional character and location designs. The 3D modeled characters retain the simplistic anime charm of the 2D sprites from the original games, simply with smoother animation and expressiveness. In the first case, Ryunosuke’s eyes are darting everywhere, signaling his lack of confidence in himself and the situation he finds himself in. By the end of the game, these jittery animations have vanished, replaced with strong, confident finger points. Seeing character development reflected in the character sprite is wonderful and something that I hope we see more of in future entries of the series.
The designs of the locations throughout the game are also outstanding. While you will see many of the usual Ace Attorney staples (the courtroom, detention center/prison, the law office), they received a 19th-century makeover, and the results are stunning. This exaggerated, steampunk-inspired version of London is an engaging environment, feeling simultaneously familiar and otherwordly. It may not be entirely period-authentic, but it does make an excellent setting for the game!
Something that DOES feel authentic to the period, however, is the casual anti-Asian racism that Ryunosuke and Susato face at every turn. Despite being one of the most multicultural cities of its time, Victorian London is, unsurprisingly, a shockingly racist place. For example, Barok van Zeiks, the primary prosecutor you face in the courtroom, regularly says appallingly racist things to Ryunosuke, facing no penalty from the judge or his superiors. You also face this anti-Asian prejudice in witnesses, jury members, and even some of your clients. It will likely make the player uncomfortable, and that’s entirely the point. Western gaming rarely addresses anti-Asian racism, and I am relieved that Capcom decided to keep these depictions intact when localizing the script. It would have been easy to remove them, but keeping them made Ryunosuke’s resolve to succeed despite the prejudice against him that much more powerful.
Another reason to be excited about the release of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is that it’s an excellent jumping-on point for the series. As it’s a prequel set over a hundred years ago, there are no direct links to characters or situations in the original games. It’s a perfect way for new players to become acquainted with the Ace Attorney gameplay and storytelling style without needing to get on board with a half-dozen entries plus worth of lore. These two games tell a complete story, with just a few nods to the original series that only long-term fans might recognize.
When I first played it a few years ago, I felt the primary weakness of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures was that it was almost entirely setup with no resolution. Each case raised dozens of questions, but no answers were forthcoming, ending with several cliffhangers! It doesn’t even attempt to tell a complete story. Thankfully, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve is also here to tie up these loose ends and provide a satisfying conclusion to the prequel series (while leaving room for future prequels). The point is that neither game in the compilation can stand alone, but when played together, they deliver one of the most complex, engaging, and satisfying stories in the Ace Attorney series. And with ten chapters between the two games, you’re in for a lengthy and rewarding narrative experience!
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also doesn’t follow the traditional structure of the series. You usually have a day of investigation, head to the courtroom, more investigation, and repeat. Here, you might not even enter the courtroom. In one case, you both investigate and solve a murder right at the crime scene. Moreover, the vast majority of courtroom cases usually take place in a single day, giving actions in the courtroom much more weight. Rather than allowing you to leave to do some more investigating and catch your breath, you’re stuck working with the evidence you’re given, often desperately grasping at straws in hopes of making a case. Though logical reasoning will usually win the day, there are a few occasions of “moon logic” in cases where you need to simply guess pieces of evidence to move forward in the story.
I also love how the courtroom system of London differs from that found in most other titles in the series. Here, a jury of six London citizens decide the verdict, and they are easily swayed by public opinion, flimsy evidence, and their existing prejudices (often against the Japanese defense attorney). When they call for a guilty verdict before the end of a case, you must give a closing argument to convince at least half of their members to change their ruling and keep the trial going. To do this, you must point out individual flaws in their reasoning and pit them against each other (something you can also do when there are multiple witnesses on the stand). These systems are similar to the ones used in the crossover game, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and add a ton of tension to the courtroom scenes.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles knocks it out of the park with its sound design. While voice acting is used sparsely (except for necessary screams of “Objection!” in the courtroom), it is used to great effect, deepening emotional moments. Though you have the option to switch between the English and Japanese language tracks, I do wish there was a way to have the best of both worlds, where the characters speak Japanese with subtitles in Japan and English while in London. A bilingual approach would have been much more authentic, but I do understand why Capcom didn’t go this route.
The music of the Ace Attorney series has always been outstanding, and it may have reached new heights in these prequels. Delivering incredible interpretations of Ace Attorney staple tracks, like “Pursuit” and “Confess the Truth,” the game uses period-appropriate instruments to create a remarkable sense of time and place. And boy, did they ever deliver in the character theme department. Every character is immediately recognizable by their theme, including Susato’s beautiful, thoughtful theme “A New Bloom in the New World.” But for my money, the best track in the game belongs to the great detective himself, “Herlock Sholmes ~ Great Detective of the Foggy Town!”
Not only do I adore his character theme, but I also find the character of Herlock Sholmes to be one of the most entertaining in the history of the series. Though the Conan Doyle Estate is notoriously litigious when it comes to the famous sleuth (even though he is technically in the public domain), The Great Ace Attorney neatly sidesteps this issue by calling the detective Herlock Sholmes (a name first used by the writer of the Arsène Lupin novels when he wanted his great thief to face off with the great detective). Alternatively brilliant, bumbling, friendly, maddening, and egotistical, this steampunk version of Holmes/Sholmes is a singularly memorable interpretation of the character. The gameplay sections where you must gently “correct” Sholmes’ brilliant but completely wrong deductions are a highlight of any case, as you and Sholmes gleefully dance around the crime scene, pointing out contradictions and clues to baffled and astonished witnesses.
I am amused that, despite the potential threat of copyright lawsuits, Herlock and his partner “Wilson” still live at 221B Baker Street and regularly work with Inspector Tobias Gregson from Scotland Yard. I guess the Doyle Estate isn’t overly concerned about copyright infringements involving the somewhat lesser-known aspects of the Holmes works!
While I would have been content with Capcom simply delivering acceptable localizations of these two games, they really went the extra mile with The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s jam-packed with extras, including a music player that features alternative unused versions of songs and sound effects, character costumes, concept art galleries, special playable “mini-cases,” and much more. There are also over a dozen short videos featuring the characters, including a VERY memorable skit featuring the main characters of The Great Ace Attorney meeting their Ace Attorney descendants in a delightful, tongue-in-cheek celebration of the series.
Obviously, I loved The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, but there was one aspect that left me feeling oddly empty. In Japan, Dai Gyakuten Saiban is not just a prequel about Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, it’s the origin of how the entire Japanese justice system of the original games developed. Ryunosuke’s experiences in London directly shaped the court that Ryuichi Naruhodo will walk as a defense attorney in Gyakuten Saiban. However, in the West, our localized Ace Attorney games take place in California, not Japan, so the emotional resonance of building up the justice system in Ryunosuke’s homeland is lost. I feel this might be the real reason why The Great Ace Attorney wasn’t localized sooner, as it wouldn’t share the same continuity between Dai Gyakuten Saiban and Gyakuten Saiban.
On the other hand, seeing how much of Japanese culture exists in the United States of Ace Attorney, it’s possible the American justice system was directly influenced by the Japanese justice system that was impacted by Ryunosuke’s experiences. In which case, I should probably just shut up and eat my hamburgers.
Not only are the two games in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles remarkable examples of what this series can do, but they deliver a massive amount of content for the price. When played back-to-back, you’re looking at around 70 hours of playtime in total, and that isn’t including all the extra content. I’m delighted that I can now go from desperately wanting Capcom to localize the games to desperately wanting Capcom to announce The Great Ace Attorney 3! These games are full of the same over-the-top craziness and heartbreaking melodrama that makes the series so memorable, and I highly recommend it to both long-time fans and those who are simply looking for a fantastic story. Absolutely no objections here.