It’s been nearly five years since we’ve seen an entry in the Ace Attorney series arrive in the west, but at long last the wait is over. Coming to Switch, PS4, and PC on July 27, 2021, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a remaster of a pair of 2017 3DS Ace Attorney titles that never made it to the west before: The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney: Resolve. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Court is in Session
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles follows new protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo… though perhaps “new” isn’t the right word to use here. It’s our old pal Phoenix in spirit, and the game takes place way back at the dawn of the 20th century. It was an important time for Japan with the introduction of western ideals and the recent alliance with England.
With the recent opening of Japan’s borders, Ryunosuke’s best friend and lawyer in training, Kazuma Asogi, has a dream of studying abroad in England and bringing back what he learns to improve Japan’s fledgling judicial system. Things, unfortunately, do not go as planned, leaving Ryunosuke to fulfill Kazuma’s dream in his place… even as it forces him to come face to face with the dark underbelly of the English legal system.
This change in time period and focus meant a shift from the usual localization for the series. When the series began, it was during that era of localization that insisted on changing everything that took place in Japan to America, and later games in the series followed suit for the sake of continuity… even as Japanese elements become more and more prominent to an almost ludicrous degree. Looking at you, Nine-Tails Vale. With The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles however, the politics between Japan and England at the time are paramount to the story, and there was no avoiding changing the setting back.
That said, the writing is absolutely as entertaining as ever. Half the fun of the series is watching the protagonist get roasted for their naivety when investigating random things or pressing witnesses on irrelevant points, and poor Ryunosuke is no different. It’s lighthearted and fun, while still managing to sober up for the moments when the case reminds you that this IS a murder trial we’re investigating.
The trials themselves are presented in an episodic format, and really do feel like an old TV series in a way: While there is an overarching plot concerning Kazuma’s ambitions and the famed “Reaper of the Bailey” Barok van Zieks, this story is kinda drip-fed over the two games. Most of each episode involves whatever latest circumstance surrounds your current case: You’re introduced to the case and often whatever personal stakes are in it for you, you meet and get to know all the parties involved, solve the case and resolve whatever problems were brought up by it by the end of the episode. In a way, it’s fair to say there’s six stories going on in each game, one for each episode as well as the overall story you get bits and pieces of as you go.
Gameplay is much the same as previous entries: examining crime scenes to come up with needed evidence, and then during court pressing witnesses for more info on their statements and presenting evidence to challenge their contradictions. Thankfully, the formula has been tweaked here and there, enough that even though entire cases purely take place in a courtroom (or avoid the courtroom entirely) they still stand up on their own.
Courts now have a jury that must be won over. These jury members, which change from one case to the next, largely act as secondary judges and commentary, but at pivotal moments in the case they also act more like witnesses. If the jury decides your client is guilty, you are given a chance to hear the reason why they’ve delivered a guilty verdict, press them for more info, and refute their contradictions—not with evidence but with another juror’s statement.
There are also now frequently two or more witnesses on the stand simultaneously. This allows you to catch one witness’s reaction to another’s statement, giving you the opportunity to press them for more info. All in all, Capcom has kept the gameplay of the court sections mostly intact, while adding additional layers using the same mechanics fans have loved for years.
Investigation sections have also been expanded, as well. It’s still largely your typical adventure game/visual novel fare of examining scenes, talking to characters, presenting them with evidence, and enjoying their reactions until you find whatever moves the plot along, but The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles includes my favorite new addition: the Logic and Reason Spectacular!
One of the main characters, Sherl— I mean Herlock Sholmes will unveil his marvelous deductive skills in a theatrical show that never fails to identify the broad strokes of what’s going on… while getting every last important detail wrong. Things like identifying that someone is planning a crime while confusing theft for murder, or claiming someone hid something while getting the item and location wrong. It’s then up to you to correct these misconceptions, typically by making use of the 3D models and environments to look around and find what the real clue is…usually hidden from view in the default view of the scene. It’s a natural expansion on the classic investigation gameplay and the delivery is so stylish and over the top that it never fails to make me smile.
For all the fun I had, there were a few downsides here and there, but none were so glaring as time. The full collection is maybe 40 hours long depending on how often you check out obvious dead ends for fun dialogue, but maybe half that time was spent just… waiting. The text crawls at a fairly leisurely pace, there appears to be no way to speed it up, and you can’t advance to the next text until it does.
To be perfectly fair, this is how earlier games in the series have always functioned, but after playing tons of visual novels that allow me the luxury of controlling how fast the text goes, it feels almost painful to go back. While there are a few times where the text speed serves a narrative purpose by either speeding up or slowing down to reflect someone’s mood or allowing someone to get interrupted by something, it largely just became a source of frustration for me.
I was however pleased with the difficulty. Ace Attorney games have never been especially difficult, with the penalties for bad decisions serving more of a narrative point than actually risking failure, and that’s still largely the case here. Pleasantly, however, more than a few times I thought I had a case figured out only to have it challenge my assumptions. For example, during one case I believed the location of the murder weapon was the critical point that would turn a case around, when instead the characteristics of the weapon proved to be crucial. Much like Herlock Sholmes, identifying the killer and suspicious parties was the easy part, the hard part was nailing down the specifics.
The Decisive Proof
Unfortunately, while I’m usually a huge fan of the music in the series, the music felt far less memorable this time around. Admittedly it’s not “bad”, and there’s a few tracks I legitimately loved like Herlock’s theme, but in trying to go for a more English orchestral sound it wound up sounding less distinct than earlier entries and didn’t have quite the same impact even in recurring themes like Pursuit.
The character design, however, is as great as ever. Even the jurors who don’t even get names are absolutely overflowing with personality in their designs and all the animations are hammed up to high heaven. Every last character is memorable and I’m sure everyone will have their own favorites. The environments also get their chance to shine when correcting Herlock’s deductions, making full use of the 3D space to encourage considering the case from literally a new angle.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is well worth the wait, a welcome addition to the series that keeps everything that made the old games great while adding new elements to keep the series feeling fresh. The change in time and setting also forces it to rely less on familiar characters, and while long-time fans may miss series stalwarts such as Maya Fey, Miles Edgeworth, or Detective Gumshoe, it makes it an excellent place for newcomers to hop into the series.
Whether you’re an old fan of the series, looking for a fun visual novel about courtroom intrigue, or just saw a few of the series memes flying around and want to know what it’s all about, you owe it to yourself to pick up The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.
Review copy provided by Capcom for PS4. Screenshots provided by reviewer.