It’s easy to forget that the Ace Attorney franchise is twenty years old. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney released for the first time in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance in Japan, although it wasn’t until 2005 the series came to North America.
The Great Ace Attorney is the latest game in the franchise, combining two games which came only in Japan in 2015 and 2017. However the new Great Ace Attorney series ironically brings things back to Japan, or at least provides a stronger Japanese influence. Players take on the role of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a university student thrust into the world of politics and court battles, and ancestor to Phoenix Wright.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 26th, 2021
Price: $39.99 USD
For those unfamiliar with the series, players take on the role of a defense attorney in court. It’s up to the players to ask the right questions, press the witnesses, and ultimately solve the puzzle behind what ultimately happened during a crime.
More often than not this results in a “turnabout;” where the player’s client is ultimately exonerated and one of the witnesses or a third party was the criminal the whole time.
Through the course of a trial, players need to investigate evidence, and memorize facts and details they uncover during the trial in order to find contradictions in the statements from witnesses. It can be fun to watch a court case unfold, and see what little details ultimately end up unraveling the criminal’s fake statements.
To that end, the game does have an issue with making the player jump through asinine steps of logic just to justify a simple observation. I’ll keep details restricted to the first trial of the first game, and vague in order to be as spoiler free as possible.
For example, one witness claims they have two pieces of evidence. They present one of these pieces that completely ruins your argument as a defense attorney; however the second piece would likely prove you correct.
Rather than having the option to simply ask the witness to present the second piece, you have to spend about fifteen minutes proving why this piece of evidence isn’t the correct one.
Which segues into another quirk of the game; the pacing of the text in order to keep the comedic timing of the text in line with the game’s animations. As such, there’s no real way to skip through the dialogue quickly.
There is however an auto mode, and a story mode. The story mode basically plays the game for you, making key decisions and disabling achievements. In contrast, auto mode is a life saver.
Auto mode allows you to let go of the mouse and keyboard and just… Enjoy the game. Preferably with a sandwich in hand. It’s a visual novel fused with a point and click game, so it’s OK for it to not be intense or require your full hand attention- barring important decisions. So just enjoy it for what it is.
I mean this in the nicest way possible, but the best thing you can do with The Great Ace Attorney is to let go of your expectations and relax. Take the game at the pace it sets, and enjoy the story for what it is; because it’s not as serious as the advertising would have you think.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles brings the drama and puzzle-solving of the Ace Attorney franchise to the 19th century, after Japan has opened its borders and city to western influence and trade. While at first taking place in Japan, the scene quickly changes to Victorian England, keeping in pace with the historical themes the change in scenery offers.
Like all games in the franchise, the story mixes drama and comedy in an unorthodox way; murder mysteries are combined with eccentric defendants, cartoonish witnesses, and the most ridiculous evidence. It’s a tried and true formula for the franchise for the past twenty years; but to be frank it’s almost a disservice in this latest entry.
The Great Ace Attorney has a crisis of identity. On one hand it wants to tell a historical drama with Japan on the cusp of westernization and industrialization; all the while experiencing an inferiority complex in the face of the west’s technological and political advancements.
On the other, it’s silly and over the top. At the start it’s appropriate, after all it’s Ace Attorney. But the gravitas of the game’s historical setting is quickly undermined and irrevocably lost. There is no commentary or narrative that makes use of the game’s historical setting.
It’s true that there’s an overarching plot of course, but it becomes a plot that could just as easily could have been done in a modern era with more recognizable characters. The introduction of Herlock Sholmes and Iris Wilson (Iris Watson in Japan, no idea why they changed it) changes things for the worse.
Instead of a historical drama with the kind of humor expected of Ace Attorney, things go off the rails with steampunk gadgets and sci-fi inventions. Any immersion of being an up and coming attorney in the 19th century is shattered, and the game becomes its own bubble.
This doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to see the opportunity of telling a historical story basically dashed. The trappings of the era remain, and the political tensions remain. But functionally it no longer feels like Earth, just a generic fantasy steampunk setting using familiar countries and history.
If you can let go of that expectation, you’re golden. There’s a lot to enjoy if you just turn your brain off, an ironic request given it’s a game about logic puzzles. But expecting anything from the game’s historical setting is a recipe for failure.
The characters, setting, and story make full effect of this loose telling of history. The drama takes turns with the comedy, but it ultimately takes a back seat. Those familiar with the Ace Attorney series oughtn’t be surprised about that though.
Ultimately The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a perfectly fine entry to the franchise. Ryunosuke is a great character who perfectly resembles the affable incompetence but persistence we expect from the series mainstay Phoenix Wright.
Fans of the earlier entries in the series will have little to complain about, and it’s a great new story for beginners to the franchise as well who find the older games inaccessible. But all this comes with one caveat: Please do not come into this expecting a realistic historical story. You’ll only end up disappointed.