The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Review

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Review Image

If you’ve been an avid fan of Capcom’s Ace Attorney franchise, chances are that you’re aware of a particular duology that never received official localizations. Dai Gyakuten Saiban and its sequel were spin-offs on the Nintendo 3DS that were released in 2015 and 2017, respectively. They stand out significantly to the mainline entries, taking place at the end of the 19th century. You might know them better as “The Ace Attorney games with Sherlock Holmes in them.” Technically they are prequels, but they feature brand new adventures that require zero knowledge of any other Ace Attorney game to enjoy. We can only speculate why these games that took place primarily in Victorian era Britain never made it west, but fans have been waiting years for the chance to play them. I, along with many others, had practically given up hope that they’d ever receive an official western localization. 

Capcom decided at the eleventh hour to surprise us all with a booming “OBJECTION!” Both games were announced to come west in a collection for Nintendo Switch (plus PS4 and Steam, but we’re not called Sony Insider or Valve Insider), titled The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. I was excited to revisit The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures (it was one of the first 3DS games I ever imported, fun fact) and finally experience the conclusion to the saga with The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve. 

Being mystery adventures with a heavy focus on their stories, more so than the other entries in the franchise, I’ll be limiting what I talk about in that regard. This duology subverts the established structure we’ve seen from past titles. Instead of having a tenuous overarching story that still tries to tell loosely standalone tales, the Great Ace Attorney games break tradition. They are two vital parts of one large story, written and designed to be played as such. The first one sets up the world, characters, and overall mysteries. The second then offers pay-off for all of that. They don’t work by themselves, but I guarantee that they’re better off for it. Each case builds off the last, with a change in focus on crafting a thematic throughline that is unbelievably strong and human. It’s rather impressive how well they break conventions at every possible turn, yet still maintain the identity of the series. 

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The localization approach taken is new for the series, but extremely commendable. The emotional core is largely ingrained in its setting, and you can tell the localization team understood that their usual Americanized style wouldn’t work here. Ryunosuke Naruhodo finds himself leaving his homeland of Japan and traveling to Great Britain during a time of rapid technological and cultural advancement for the world. He and his legal assistant Susato Mikotoba end up staying with the famed Great Detective Herlock Sholmes (Take That, Doyle estate), and must deal with the culture shock of adjusting to life in Great Britain while trying to find his place as a budding Defense Attorney. These are period pieces that mix the fantastical (yet overall grounded) whimsy the series is known for with biting historical accuracy. 

Ryunosuke’s identity as a Japanese man in a country that largely views him as inferior because of his race is intentionally uncomfortable. The subject matter frequently gets heavy, but clearly came from a very personal place for game director and writer Shu Takumi. Ace Attorney always has elements of satire that exist to critique the criminal justice system and society as a whole, but these two games easily have the most to say for themselves. It’s impossible to understand the full scope of these stories without playing them, which I certainly recommend doing.

The localization keeps every aspect of the original stories intact. Some names have been changed so that the intended puns translate better to an English audience, but the translation overall keeps the intent. I’m sure some were worried that the well-known depiction of the common racism used in the time period would be toned down, but the critique of it remains incredibly striking and helps keep the script’s themes on point. This is easily the best localization I’ve seen from Capcom and has perhaps even heightened the stories thanks to some genius choices made. 

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Because the games take place across two different cultures with two unique languages, the bilingual nature of the two main cast members was expanded on. Janet Hsu, localization director at Capcom, previously highlighted how they approached this project in a blog post. One of my favorite touches they made was how Ryunosuke and Susato change how they speak depending on the situation they find themselves in. When in Japan or alone with each other, you’ll find them using honorifics. When among their British colleagues, they’ll drop these honorifics and use the English “Mr”, “Ms”, or “Mrs.” Great deal was also taken to make the British people speak authentically to the time period while not being too archaic, and the scripts read beautifully.

Thank you for indulging me in my passionate gushing about English localization. Before I pivot to discussing the gameplay I should probably make something clear. If you were expecting any trailing off in disappointment that typically follows a discussion of a high-quality aspect in a review, you won’t find it here. The games not only feature wonderful stories, but they also offer the pinnacle of visuals and mechanics in the adventure game genre. If you were to look at these without the context of their original release, you could very well be surprised to hear that they were originally 3DS games. They have made the jump to HD marvelously because of a few key factors. 

The model quality was some of the best on the system, the aesthetic is near timeless, and the sense of style is so powerful that it bleeds over to every single aspect. The backgrounds and textures look wonderfully crisp as well, and I imagine this might have had to do with the Japanese-only mobile version of the games being used as the basis. The Switch version of the collection might also be the new definitive way to experience both titles. It features a stunning 1080p resolution while docked and a crisp 720p undocked with full touch screen support. That’s right, are you shocked to remember the Switch has a touch screen? You know, that thing that no developers ever utilize. Especially the ones that make visual novels or adventure games? Thank you Capcom for letting me experience your game in tablet mode and let me easily advance the story without the need to use any buttons. 

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Ace Attorney’s gameplay loop is pretty well established by now. Half of your time is spent investigating crime scenes, and the other half is spent using the evidence you’ve gathered to point out contradictions in witness testimony in the courtroom. The Great Ace Attorney duology fleshes out both modes to give them flavor and variety. Adventures tries to mix things up further by even dedicating an entire case to purely investigation with wonderful results. Resolve doesn’t add any new mechanics, but opts to refine what the first game established and polish the already strong pacing to perfection. 

There are two new main mechanics, one for both gameplay modes. Because of Ryunosuke’s friendship with Sholmes, each investigation (which are point-and-click-adventure-style segments) will at some point be interrupted by the Great Detective. What follows are stylish battles of wits as Sholmes uses his razor-sharp observational skills to uncover the truth of the curious situations the group finds themselves in. This is where things will deviate compared to what you’d typically expect from a modern adaptation of fiction’s most famous detective. I’ll make a bold claim. The Great Ace Attorney’s “Herlock Sholmes” is the best version of the character to date and is easily one of the most interesting characters in Ace Attorney now. He’s wonderfully written, but how his unique portrayal influences the gameplay is where he truly shines. Sholmes’ observation skills are brilliant, but he tends to be overeager in his deductions. He jumps to conclusions, so it’s up to Ryunosuke to work with him to correct anything he misses and find the truth. To do this you’ll need to engage with the environments and characters in them, which was a first for the series. While the full usage of 3D might be less impressive in 2021, for an Ace Attorney game in 2015 this was a huge deal. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the title released before this, attempted to keep to the 2D roots at the cost of limiting its own potential. The Great Ace Attorney fully embraces the third dimension with fluid animations and incredible camera perspectives. Even when the camera stays static characters still appear leaps and bounds more alive than ever. The animation quality is that good. Deductions take the established mechanics and reframe them in a wonderfully fun and stylish way that never got dull across my 50 hours spent with both games. 

Trials are still incredibly entertaining, yet don’t simply regurgitate what fans are used to. Witnesses will offer testimony, and it’s up to you to find their lies (intentional or not) and expose them by presenting specific pieces of evidence. However, British courts in the Victorian era were a lot different compared with those in Japan(ifornia). You’ll find yourself needing to navigate multiple witnesses at the stand at once, a feature first explored in the painfully underrated Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. It’s pretty obvious for those who played it that Takumi felt the idea of an Ace Attorney taking place in a world without modern forensic science to have incredible potential. Pressing witnesses on specific statements can cause others to react, and calling them out on that can create new avenues to explore. In addition to further exploring multiple witnesses, British courts also work with a Jury System. If the Jury finds the defense’s arguments too weak, they can elect to end the trial immediately by all voting guilty. When this happens Ryunosuke will get to ask each Juror why they chose to vote how they did, and needs to look for inconsistencies between the statements to change over half of their opinions and keep the trial going. These sequences happen at set moments in each trial, but like Deductions kept the story advancing in trials in fun ways that didn’t involve the usual witness testimony. If you’ve never played these before it’s worth mentioning that these are linear experiences, and you’ll always be ready for anything thrown at you. The games are designed with this in mind, so the trick ends up solving complicated logic puzzles and The Great Ace Attorney games ride a satisfying line between obtuse and approachable. I’ve previously stated, The Great Ace Attorney duology has a stronger focus on story. Thankfully this doesn’t mean that it comes at the cost of the gameplay suffering. Both are remarkably great, the best I’ve seen in the franchise.

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Gameplay and presentation hit hard, but surpass expectations with the wonderful sound design serving as the cherry on top. Usage of music and sound effects are taken to new heights, creating a soundscape that is fresh yet authentic. It sounds like Ace Attorney, but the full orchestration gives it an impact previously unheard of. The soundtrack has been stuck in my mind since finishing the collection, its quality can’t be praised enough. I’m not the best at describing music, however, so if you need evidence presented to prove that claim then YouTube is your best friend. What adds to several of the most intense scenes is the occasional usage of voice acting, which sounds wonderful in both English and Japanese.

In terms of features, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles offers just about everything you could want. Every bit of DLC for the original 3DS releases is included. Capcom usually delivers when it comes to their HD collections, but I feel like this one went above and beyond. There is a plethora of behind-the-scenes information from the artists involved in creating the game, including never before heard variants of songs with blurbs on why they didn’t make the cut. In terms of how it improves the gameplay, the UI has been streamlined from the original 3DS release and is an overall improvement. A new feature for the series is a Story Mode, which is a toggle in the menu that lets the story advance itself if players find themselves stuck. Overall, all of the new additions and visual improvements come together to make this version feel definitive.

If there are two shared criticisms I typically have with Ace Attorney titles, it’s pacing and filler cases. I have nothing against the need to have small excursions that had nothing to do with the main story. However, due to the stronger focus on story filler cases simply wouldn’t fit. Every case across both Great Ace Attorney games matters. They all build on each other in significant ways while still fleshing out the world far past what the six mainline games accomplished. Even the two cases (one for each game) that initially seem like filler end up being important to the events of the story and the themes it’s trying to convey. Resolve is worth serious praise in relation to this too, as it was such an incredible game that it retroactively makes Adventures’ cases seemingly weaker cases better. I think altogether, Resolve is the stronger of the two games. The comparison feels unnecessary though since it only is able to hit those heights because of how effective its predecessor was at establishing the world and characters. The games take a lot of time examining the cast, especially in regards to its protagonist. Ryunosuke develops significantly during his adventures in Britain, and you get to see and feel him grow into his own as a truly great ace attorney. The supporting cast also all shines, and are as elevated by him as much as he elevates them. They all feel more defined and fleshed out than characters from past entries, but they still have their eccentricities to keep them from being too boring. 

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The reveals of Resolve are paced perfectly, presenting themselves to the player just when they start to figure them out. It always felt like I was figuring out the twists alongside the main cast, and it makes the story far more gripping because of it. All of this continues to build until it reaches a glorious conclusion that had me at the edge of my seat for hours as it unraveled. I’m not ashamed to admit, I cried more than once by the end. I said a comparison between the two was unnecessary, but I’ll contradict myself for dramatic effect: Great Ace Attorney 2 has now solidified itself as my favorite Ace Attorney game of all time. Bar none.

These are Shu Takumi’s (and frankly, every other member on the development team’s) magnum opuses in every aspect, and were completely worth the wait. I love this series and have played almost every entry, and these are easily the finest of the bunch. They feature a brilliant usage of a thematic throughline to tell a powerful and emotional story that spoke to me in a human way I’ve never seen from this franchise. The localization is incredible, bringing both titles to potentially greater heights thanks to how they mesh with the setting. The gameplay was engaging from start to finish, working hand-in-hand with the story to maximize its effectiveness. The production value is insanely impressive, and the game really nails portraying the time period. If there are only two games in this entire series that you need to play, it’s these. If you always wanted to know where to get into this series, it’s here. If you’ve been a fan of these games for years, then you should not pass on The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. It breathes new life into the franchise, showing that there is still plenty of potential for unique stories to be told. They raise the bar for not only Ace Attorney, but the entire adventure game genre. 

Like with all of the best gaming experiences, I ended my time with The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles feeling satisfied… yet painfully empty. Games this special don’t come out often. I was sad to see it eventually end, yet honored to be a part of the adventure.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Capcom

Total Score
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