After years of waiting, almost to the point that we honestly gave up on the idea of playing them, the Japan-only The Great Ace Attorney series is coming to the West. Bundled together as The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, these two games will finally allow players to step into the shoes of rookie defence attorney and ancestor of professional pointing aficionado Phoenix Wright, Ryunosuke Naruhodo.
The game opens, as most in this series do, with a simple murder trial. However, this time it’s set against the backdrop of a tense political climate between Great Britain and Japan. Oh, and you are the accused in the case, because of course you are. This first case sets the tone of the game going forward and acts as a kind of tutorial for how the game works. Also, you have to defend yourself against the case brought forward by Prosecutor Auchi (who fans of the series might recognise).
This first case plays out much the same as previous games in the series, with witnesses being brought to the stand and you needing to expose inconsistencies between the statements and the facts of the case using evidence from the Court Record. Sometimes you will need to press the statements being made to find the contradictions, but mostly the nature of what you need to do is quite simple in this early portion. So far, so comforting, cosy, and familiar.
Even in this first case, though, you have a few curveballs thrown your way in terms of mechanics. The first, and main one, is that multiple witnesses can take the stand at once. Although this doesn’t strictly change the way that the witness testimony unfolds in practice, it does mean that Ryunosuke can “perceive” the others on the stand and how they might react to what the speaking witness is saying. Then you can question them to perhaps find new clues to progress the case.
The ability to investigate evidence returns from the latter Phoenix Wright games, allowing you to look all around new additions to the Court Record to glean new clues and even occasionally find entire pieces of evidence hidden within them. The game is essentially a series of interconnected puzzles to solve, with the next puzzles becoming apparent with each one solved as you slowly scratch away at the underpinning mystery in the case.
It’s only after the first case that things really take a deviation from the comfort of the early games, introducing several new mechanics that really shake up the gameplay. The first being collaborative puzzles with Herlock Sholmes, where the detective has formed a series of deductions that miss the truth of the situation, and you have to examine witnesses and evidence from all angles to lead him to the correct conclusion.
The second is that, as you’ve travelled to Great Britain, you have an entirely different court system to deal with and must convince not only the Judge of your client’s innocence but also a Jury. This panel will continually affect the balance of justice in the courtroom throughout the proceedings and all need to be convinced for that “Not Guilty” verdict leading to an interesting back and forth between you and them.
Both of these new key mechanics are incredibly satisfying when you get them right and add a certain level of theatricality to the proceedings that we didn’t know we needed, especially the Herlock Sholmes sequences. In fact, we could quite happily play a game where we just travel around with this version of the ‘Great Detective’ and correct all of his deductions.
As these games have been given the HD treatment, much like in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, everything looks as clean and crisp as you would expect. The character designs are as bafflingly dumb as the series is known for, especially with the witnesses in court, and the animations still play out in the pseudo-visual novel style. Essentially, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a prettier version of the older games and doesn’t suffer at all for this fact.
One large deviation from the earlier games in the series is the music, which has taken on a more period-appropriate guise in these instalments. You can expect lots of violins and other instruments popular in Victorian era classical music. In fact, here is where our only gripe so far comes in, the sound effects have not changed. This isn’t too much of a problem as it lends an element of familiarity to the sound design, but the harsh sound effects are a little jarring next to the score.
With the changes in setting, character, and gameplay, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is already a refreshing new instalment in the Ace Attorney series. Even in the early stages we have played, Ryunosuke’s adventures are thrilling and the interesting mysteries you have to unravel continue the series tradition of upending everything you know about each case is it progresses. Furthermore, the new mechanics lend themselves to enhancing the experience, resulting far more dynamic gameplay than earlier games in the series. We can’t wait to get back into court to solve the rest of the cases for our review.