Here’s an admission – I’ve never played any of the much-loved Ace Attorney games. I’ve heard the series’ praises sung and certainly been interested in jumping in from time to time, but it’s just never happened. So what better time to get started on the series than with The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, a set of prequel-esque titles starring an ancestor of Phoenix Wright himself? That’s the deduction I came to when WellPlayed was recently invited to go hands-on with a significant chunk of the freshly-localised release of 2015’s The Great Ace Attorney Adventures thanks to Capcom Australia.
The Great Ace Attorney Adventures’ opening episode, and the first section of the game we played, sees its main character Ryunosuke Naruhodo in handcuffs. Dragged to court for nothing short of a grisly murder in a steak restaurant, not only does Ryunosuke believe he’s wrongly accused but he winds up having to represent himself, aided only by his closest friend and studying lawyer, Kazuma Asogi. The episode essentially serves as a drawn-out tutorial as basic courtroom concepts are taught to Ryunosuke, and by proxy the player (often in chuckleworthy bouts of fourth-wall-breaking). As an Ace Attorney initiate myself, I was surprised at how simple this first courtroom sequence seemed to be. I mostly watched my defence and the prosecution go back and forth, stepping in only to select from the occasional, preset responses. I’m not sure how I’d lived this long not understanding just how linear and heavily visual novel-esque the series can be, but here we are.
Where the challenge comes from in The Great Ace Attorney Adventures’ first big case then, is in cross-examining the witnesses on-stand to expose both new evidence as well as inconsistencies in their statements. In the case of Ryunosuke’s alleged murdering of a visiting British professor, the witness testimonies are that of the only two other diners at the restaurant when the incident occured. During these sequences, the game allows Ryunosuke to re-examine everything said by those on the stand and choose to either press them for more information or present evidence that contradicts their claims. By examining grainy police photographs and studying the layout of the restaurant I was able to discover that the original statements weren’t entirely true, and that wound up blowing the case wide open. I guess I’m cut out for the lawyer life after all.
Skipping ahead to The Great Ace Attorney Adventures third of five episodes, I once again find myself thrust almost straight into a hearing, but luckily this time it’s not my own. Ryunosuke has made it all the way to London by this point, accompanied by another student by the name of Susato Mikotoba. In his very first case as a London lawyer, he finds himself up against a famous prosecutor known as the ‘Reaper of the Bailey’. On trial is a well-to-do London philanthropist known as Magnus McGilded, who faces charges of murder inside a moving carriage. This is a make-or-break case for the Japanese pair as London’s Chief Lord Justice informs them their stay, as well as McGilded’s life, depends on it.
At this point in time, London’s judicial system is far older and more developed than Japan’s, so proceedings are decidedly more complex than in our first trial. For starters there’s now a jury, with six individuals whose vote of innocence or guilt will make or break the case. This particular trial feels quite scripted, with the jurors pushed to a guilty verdict almost right away, which gives the game an excuse to task me with examining them over the witnesses. Just like the witness cross-examinations, my goal is to poke holes in the jury’s statements to create an unrest that causes their once-unanimous opinions to break down. During this episode I can already start to feel the reins loosening a little on how I approach court matters and make decisions, with a touch more freedom (and consequence) in how I act. It’s still a relatively linear experience, though things are definitely heating up from a narrative standpoint and so I find myself still very engaged.
By the time I get to playing the fourth episode, titled The Adventure of the Clouded Kokoro, I’ve got a pretty firm grasp on the flow of the courtroom sequences in The Great Ace Attorney Adventures. This time though I’m treated to a spot of pre-hearing investigation as I try to gather as much information as possible about a crime allegedly committed by another visiting Japanese student. In the hours leading up to the trial itself, I’m able to jump between areas significant to the case to look for clues as well as speak to anyone who might have crucial information.
This episode also marks my first visit with London’s greatest detective, Herlock Sholmes (yep). Sholmes is an eccentric and ostentatious man, helped by his inventor/child prodigy assistant, Iris Wilson. Aside from introducing Sholmes as an entertaining new side character, the game also pits Ryunosuke’s powers of reasoning against his. Here, Sholmes comes to a series of deductions that the player must then corroborate or refute based on evidence they find in the scene, with the two minds ultimately coming together to form a final conclusion. Like the courtroom bits, it’s a very rigid process of simply identifying the correct clues in each step, but it’s made all the more entertaining by the exuberant delivery of Sholmes’ often-incorrect assumptions. For a visual novel adventure game made up of mostly-static dialogue sequences the animation and flair in Sholmes’ presentations are enthralling.
At the risk of spelling out three-fifths of the entire first game in the Great Ace Attorney Chronicles package I won’t divulge too much about the hearing that follows, save that this particular chapter was far longer than the ones before. I actually wonder how I managed to slog through a lot of what I was able to play, committing an entire day to these three text-heavy chapters. It’s definitely more reading than I’ve done in a very long time, though just about all of it was compelling enough to keep me engaged throughout. It’s sure to be exciting to series fans that these games are now officially translated, and it’s great to be able to report that (so far) the writing on show in the Western script is excellent. The situations here are consistently ridiculous, as are the characters, and yet the fairly dark subject matter tackled doesn’t lose its edge.
I’m sure Ace Attorney fans are already very aware of what to expect from the two games in this collection, but for newcomers it might take some adjusting to how little happens at any moment. The slow pace, mountains of text, lack of voice acting and basic visuals might put some off at first, but not long in it becomes clear that a lot of entertainment is squeezed from these otherwise-limiting factors. There may not be many of them, but the environments are all lavishingly-rendered and the characters within sport both fantastic designs and a host of entertaining animations. I definitely laughed out loud at the menagerie of witnesses at the stands just as much as I gasped at the horrible actions of the criminals they were testifying against.
Having run through a huge chunk of the first half of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles I feel I’m fairly sure of what to expect from the rest, but I’m still excited to see it all through. It’s been a while since I’ve played a game with such a muted tempo but I’m absolutely on board. I’m really keen to get more involved in future cases as far as flexing my own powers of deduction as opposed to having my hand guided most of the way, so hopefully that’s something that happens later on. As it stands I can’t wait to find out come July 27, 2021 when it hits PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.