After more or less sitting on the franchise for several years, it’s been nice to see Capcom resurrect the Ace Attorney series. The release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy in 2019 was a perfect way to reintroduce the public to the series’ unique take on legal drama. From there, it would have made sense if the publisher either re-released the Apollo Justice or Ace Attorney Investigations spin-offs for modern consoles. However, they instead decided to do some extra legwork with the creation of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. The compilation brings a pair of prequels previously exclusive to Japan over to Western shores for the first time.
Comprised of two sets of cases, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles takes us way back in time. Way back to the Meiji Period to be specific. In the first title of the compilation, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, we are introduced to Ryunosuke Naruhodo. A student at the Imperial Yumei University, Ryunosuke is an ancestor of our dear friend, Phoenix Wright. Like his future relative, the young man has a strong sense of ethics, but is still wet behind the ears when it comes to his profession. Across his adventures, he comes across a variety of unique faces, some from his native country and others from Victorian-era Great Britain. Most importantly, though, there is Kazuma Asogi, his best friend/legal inspiration, Susato Mikotoba, the daughter of a professor at the university who serves as an assistant of sorts, and Herlock Sholmes, a crafty detective who is prone to going off the deep end with theories.
If you’re familiar with the Phoenix Wright series, you should have a good idea of the tone both Great Ace Attorney games strive for. Deathly serious cases combined with outlandish characters and reactions. It’s a formula that worked for the franchise in the past, and one that works for both titles here as well. Amping up the comic sensibility of both games is the presence of Herlock Sholmes. The detective is a smart individual, but his large leaps of logic will often leave you scratching your head. As such, you’ll often spend a good amount of time sifting through his thoughts to find a more logical way forward. Even considering the over-the-top humor of the franchise, the Herlock Sholmes stuff can be a lot at times. The dialogue is still incredibly well written, but the jokes can be a bit too silly, at least for me.
An interesting wrinkle to the cases found across both games is the fact that they are set in an era of great change for Japan. At the dawn of the 20th century, the country was beginning to open its doors to aspects of Western culture. It’s something immediately brought up during the first case in The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures. Unfortunately, this is also a time where xenophobia and racism were the norm, and the titles do not shy away from showcasing that. Ryunosuke and company are frequently looked down upon by their European counterparts, and the casual way these insults are thrown out can be staggering. With how things are going in this country currently, though, it’s important that Capcom didn’t censor or soften these moments.
As for the cases themselves, I will say that they are mostly well-written across the two titles. Obviously, I won’t dive into them in detail, as I don’t want to spoil anything. Most of the enjoyment from the series comes from working by yourself to break down these cases, though. If anything, I’m doing a favor for you, the reader. If there’s one concern I have, is that some of the cases can be bogged down by superfluous bits of a dialogue. There was more than one time I thought that a lengthy conversation could have been chopped down without affecting the story. A less is more approach would have been beneficial in certain instances.
As with the tone, if you are familiar with the gameplay of past Ace Attorney entries, you’ll feel at home and know what to expect for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. For the uninitiated, the two core components of every case are investigations and court room battles. During investigations, Ryunosuke will survey the scene of the crime in search of evidence and other details to help bolster his case. There are typically a handful of items that can be searched, with some of them either providing physical evidence or fresh backing detail. Ryunosuke can also converse with witnesses hanging around the crime scene to gain even more insight into the events that transpired. If Herlock Sholmes is working with you, this is where you’ll also enter a Dance of Deduction with him. Basically you’ll be working off the absurd theory he comes up with in order to come to a more logical conclusion.
Once you have gathered up the necessary evidence, then you’ll engage in a court room battle. Witnesses will take the stand, and using the details you previously acquired, you’ll poke holes in their statements. This can be done through presenting evidence, or pointing out details in their statements that don’t add up. He may still be a young defense attorney, but Ryu has refined senses. He can suss out when something seems amiss with the subject on the stand. A tell from a witness, or a slip of the tongue during a statement could lead to an important breakthrough, so you always need to be on your toes.
There are two new court room mechanics introduced in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. You can now interrogate multiple witnesses on the stand at once. Instead of just focusing on the tells of one subject, you’ll sometimes need to pay close attention to how one witness reacts to the statement made by another. Deciphering that can sometimes lead you down a path you might not have expected to go down. And while this undoubtedly leads to more complications, you can’t be too mad at the game for bringing in even more characters. If nothing else, you can now see even more humorous mental breakdowns on the stand.
The other new feature is the Summation Examination. As explained in-game, the court systems of the United Kingdom use juries, which is new to the Japanese legal team. If the six person jury feels that the defendant is guilty, they can deliver that verdict rather quickly. If this happens, Ryu is not completely screwed. Rather, he can work to convince the jury that the case must continue. As with confronting witnesses, this can be done by poking holes in the logic of the jurors. Convince enough of them to change their minds, and the trial can resume once again.
With the addition of these two new features, the court case battles of the franchise have never been more enjoyable. The legal dramatics are thrilling, and working to expose the true events of the crime is a rush. Even if it may not always seem like it, the franchise is basically a puzzler wrapped in the body of a visual novel. The cases require you to think about everything that has been presented to you in ways you might not have originally thought to. Of course, this leads to plenty of moments where you want to smack your head over missing something, but it also leads to the triumphant feeling that comes from finding the true guilty party.
Eschewing the 2D artwork Ace Attorney was previously known for, both Ace Attorney Adventures makes use of 3D models for the assorted characters you come across. Thankfully, all of them are still bursting with personality. Their triumphs and tragedies are matched by often hilarious animations. It’s part of the charm of the series, and I’m glad that it carried over to these entries. The orchestral score that accompanies the action is a highlight as well. It really adds to the dramatic tension that comes during the latter portions of each case.
In addition to the two full titles that make up the compilation, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles includes a handful of new bonus features. Most important to me was the Autoplay Mode that automatically advances the text for you. As mentioned, sometimes the games can get a bit too wordy for their own good, so it’s nice to have the option to scroll through them without using the controller. If you don’t feel like actually playing the games, there’s also the Story Mode, which completely takes control away from you. For the fan of watching mysteries, but not solving them.
For those who may have played through fan translations, there’s an option to jump right into any case found in both games. If you would like to spend some additional time with the cast after wrapping up the cases, there are bonus videos included in the package as well. Escapades are short tales that take place alongside the events of the games, while Special Videos are clips that come from a different timeline. If you enjoy the story of the main titles, these videos are well worth watching.
Despite including the two most recent entries in the franchise, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is the perfect gateway into the Ace Attorney series. The logic-heavy gameplay the franchise is known for returns here, but the additional mechanics thrown on top of it make it even more enjoyable. And watching Ryunosuke rise from average student to gifted defendant makes for one satisfying arc. Hopefully the compilation receives the warm reception it deserves, and Capcom can resurrect this cult franchise for good.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
As Yakuza 0 did for that beloved franchise, so does The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles for its own. This pair of relatively new entries serve as the perfect entry point into the world of intense legal battles and even more intense reactions the Ace Attorney series is known for.