|Genre||Visual Novel, Adventure, Crime|
|Platforms||Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Playstation 4, PC|
|Release Date||July 27, 2021|
It’s been twenty years since Capcom released their first game in the Ace Attorney series, quickly becoming a staple gaming franchise for Nintendo handheld systems. Specializing in murder mysteries and courtroom dramas, unlike many other long-running franchises, it’s a series that has persistently managed to maintain the quality and allure of the original game which made it a household name in the first place. 2013’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies succeeded in masterfully interweaving the histories of several major spin-off characters. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice in 2016 managed to find new ways to narratively raise the stakes. Then there was the brilliant crossover of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney which perfectly highlighted the best aspects of the two titular franchises.
Capcom has already achieved so much with this series that it makes fans wonder: where exactly can these stories go next? After twenty years, will this franchise turn stale much in the same way as some other older gaming franchises?
Violence/Scary Images: Most cases covered in the series are murder mysteries (death by physical injury, fire, gunshot, poisoning, stabbing). Due to the investigative manner of the game, these murders are discussed in detail in a courtroom setting where images of the crime scene and study of the murder weapon are frequently required. While pools of blood, comments about splatter/gunshot wounds, and readings of the coroner’s report are common, its depiction is very tame and never gory. In The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, the game never divulges the gruesome details and instead remains rather light and clinical in its approach to such a serious subject manner. However, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve adopts a more macabre tone, detailing sinister criminal organizations and the life of a serial killer, and featuring coroners that enjoy talking about the intricacies of their job a little too much. Some moments of the game can be tense due to the high stakes, as a failure to convince the jury/court will result in capital punishment for the defendant (not seen).
Language/Crude Humor: Characters insult each other but do so without resorting to foul language, instead relying on derision and taunts. This game is set during the Victorian era when countries were only just starting to open themselves up to the wider world in terms of trade and cultural exchange. As such, characters will frequently reveal racial biases and derogatorily refer to cultural stereotypes. Some racist remarks are delivered as a result of the character’s ignorance, but other times these comments can be rather harsh, although no modern racial slurs are used. While the level of casual racism is a reflection of the time period portrayed in the game, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve does offer a decent explanation as to why some characters might hold such biases.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters smoke pipes and drink alcohol socially. One character is frequently pouring and tasting glasses of wine and appreciating its vintage, although drunkenness is never portrayed or condoned. There are a few instances where characters are drugged against their will.
Sexual Content: No nudity or sexual references. One newly married couple are smitten and frequently embrace and give each other a kiss. There’s a letter that infers an affair.
Spiritual Content: Characters mention God and Christian beliefs in passing conversation, mostly through platitudes. There is some talk regarding curses: a room is thought to be cursed, or the presence of the character is associated with bad news for their opposition. Buddhist beliefs are mentioned in passing. Since a number of characters are Japanese, items and customs of cultural significance are sometimes explained.
Other Negative Content: The game depicts a physically abusive couple in a light-hearted manner; a woman is frequently seen intentionally burning a man with hot tea, and tantrums involve placing another in a dangerous position. One character is a pickpocket, though while the game is somewhat light-hearted in its depiction of this “career”, it does repeatedly and directly state that it does not condone this behavior. Other more minor crimes, such as perjury, treason, impersonation, and the tampering of evidence, are present, though are treated seriously by the relevant characters.
Positive Content: The game frequently sends the message that uncovering the truth is the most important of all, as it leads to justice and opens the pathway to trust. It abhors the idea of the miscarriage of justice and the concept that the end justifies the means; doing something evil to obtain a good outcome is greatly admonished in the game.
Disclaimer: Geeks Under Grace was provided with a review copy of this game.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles isn’t exactly a new game. It’s not exactly one game either, but rather two separate titles offered as a dual package. Made originally for the Nintendo 3DS, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve were released solely in Japan in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now, for the first time, both titles are officially available outside of Japan as a compilation—The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles— having been adapted for the Nintendo Switch.
For newcomers to the series, it would be remiss to describe the Ace Attorney series as a lawyer simulation game, even though it may give that impression from the outset. It’s certainly a more comical and fanciful representation of the judicial system than what occurs in real life. For starters, it’s a somewhat dystopian system based on the presumption of guilt, not innocence, where lawyers are somehow permitted to investigate crime scenes for themselves as though their job description includes the work of a detective as well. Yet in a nutshell, these games are predominantly about finding contradictions in witness testimonies by comparing their words against submitted evidence.
It would be more apt to describe the Ace Attorney games as Harvey Birdman meets Agatha Christie, where a colorful cast of archetypical characters are paraded through the legal system whilst a nefarious, twisted murder mystery plot is slowly uncovered (although as a side note, Capcom also made the Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law game adaptation and based it off the Ace Attorney series). As such, Ace Attorney is less about the actual gameplay and more about delivering players an interactive, highly engrossing narrative requiring solid reasoning, comprehension, and problem-solving skills to complete.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles took a major risk in terms of its story considering it’s the first spin-off to not include any characters from the previous games in the franchise. It’s all set in the past during England’s Victorian era and Japan’s Meiji Period. The fandom has frequently joked about the Ace Attorney franchise’s odd worldly setting; being a Japanese-made game, it was originally set in Japan, though for its first international release it was swapped to Los Angeles despite the fact the narrative was heavily entrenched in Japanese culture. Since that very first game, it’s been a weird conglomeration of different nationalities and customs, so it’s a notable change for Chronicles to be so defined in terms of the narrative’s setting.
We predominantly follow Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a young Japanese legal student who travels to England as part of a cultural exchange program. His personality is similar to Phoenix Wright, though being a rookie he does tend to embarrassingly freeze up a bit more in the courtroom. He is joined by judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba, a studious and kind woman who is certainly a welcome help when the court cases take a tricky turn for the worse. Of course, there’s also a glowering prosecutor with a dark past, and this time it comes in the form of Barok van Zieks; an almost vampiric-type fellow that enjoys swilling wine while he endlessly picks holes in your logic. It is a risk for the franchise to present a game with a completely new cast, especially since the existing one is so developed and are already beloved by fans, but this new lineup of characters certainly grow on you as the game progresses. There are some Back to the Future Part III moments where you can cheekily tell the lineage of some of the characters due to their designs, yet for the most part the story is relatively unattached to the other games in the series. So if you’ve always wanted to play a game within this franchise, then Chronicles offers a great jumping in point for newcomers since it provides a completely fresh start and doesn’t unintentionally spoil any of the previous games.
Every entry in this franchise offers a new gameplay gimmick, and Chronicles is no different. Since it is set generations ago, gone are modern-day advancements in fingerprinting, blood, and ballistic analysis. Therefore the gameplay pays closer attention to the strengths of logic and reasoning. Chronicles has also done away with its more spiritual elements, such as psyche locks and channeling, given that none of the characters express an interest in this field and because most of the action is set in England, thus following more Western than Eastern traditions.
This time around we have to contend with a jury, a wild assortment of six characters that need to have their opinions swayed from time to time. Some will have their minds made up based on the facts, whilst others are hilariously biased. The player will need to find divisions amongst their unanimous verdict in order to overturn their judgements one by one. These moments always provide an opportunity for the game’s comedy to shine through—my favorite jury member was a surgeon that didn’t want to get his gloves dirty, so he’d thump his head on the bench instead of using his fists. It’s those little details that bring that extra element of joy whilst playing through the narrative. Sadly, the threat of the jury peaks too early in the game from a story perspective, so the mechanic starts to feel overused and slightly tiresome in the later cases, though the game wisely decides to give it a rest after a while.
In Chronicles, witnesses will also tend to provide their testimonies in pairs, so players will need to keep an eye out for moments when one person might snitch or otherwise disagree with another. It’s a decent gameplay mechanic, although while the popularity of this franchise has never really been about the gameplay and instead is more in line with being an interactive novel, knowing when to pursue the other party is ridiculously easy to discern even by Ace Attorney standards. The challenge doesn’t grow as the story progresses, unlike some of the other gameplay gimmicks we’ve seen in previous titles.
Fans of the series will already be aware of where the weaknesses of the game will lie. There is a tediousness to the game at times, which is even more prevalent in Chronicles given that the new courtroom-based gameplay mechanics are all rooted in text analysis tasks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single witness, or two or three, or even members of the jury; there’s only so many times you can pick someone’s statement apart before the act starts to get a little old, particularly when courtroom scenes can last upwards of three hours in length. For this reason, I’ve always held the personal opinion that the Ace Attorney games lend themselves better to being played in shorter bouts, as once you get past an hour’s worth of game time, the repetitiveness of the gameplay style begins to rear its head. It was great on the earlier handheld consoles as Ace Attorney games were perfect to play on public transport when commuting to and from work, much like bringing a book on the train to read. Players are free to save almost at any point in the game, so it was easy to switch on and off at any point in the story. However, the Nintendo Switch doesn’t have the same level of portability. The graphics are the best they’ve ever been, but I did miss the ease of using a stylus to explore crime scenes, as I found the Switch’s controls to prove a little clunkier.
Yet Chronicles features a number of little additions that are very welcome. It offers a whoppingly generous twenty save slots, so now players have the option to strategically save at differing points during the case, which would prove extremely helpful for those that wish to obtain all of the game’s hidden achievement trophies. There’s a history button, so if you haven’t played in a while or missed a statement or two, players can quickly read over the past few interactions to refamiliarize themselves with the current conversation. A check mark will also appear beside areas or pieces of evidence that have already been explored, and will refresh if a second look is required, which is always a helpful feature.
The game is also rather intuitive towards the player’s line of thought. Sometimes there’s a toss-up between two pieces of evidence to present to the court as both can logically be tied to a given argument, and the game will refreshingly accept either option. Without a doubt, the best part about playing an Ace Attorney game is that feeling you get when you’re completely in tune to the ebbs and flows of the story, slamming down evidence that shatters a witness’ lies that makes them recoil in a humiliating defeat. Sometimes you end up feeling like Naruhodo where you’re living moment to moment, flying by the seat of your pants, having no clue where this line of reasoning will lead, where a revelation will hit you at the same time as the character.
And then there are the times when you have no idea where the story is going, and those moments are the absolute pits. Ace Attorney games are about sharing a story, and not necessarily about winning or losing, so the penalties for hitting a game over screen aren’t that hefty; it will simply bounce you back to the last important decision you had to make. The game tries its best to walk the fine balance of challenging the player whilst also not completely stalling the narrative for too long. It wants the player to succeed and drops hints along the way, because when you do get stuck, it’s the most painful experience of the game. It’s difficult to become truly lost as the options of what can be done are limited, and players can essentially force their way through, methodically going through the evidence using a process of elimination, but boy, that is a soul-sucking, time-dragging procedure that completely rips the suspension of disbelief that thankfully shouldn’t occur all too often. For the most part, even if you have no idea where the story is heading, you can make educated guesses from the game’s mechanics as to what to do next.
Chronicles features a whimsical aesthetic. It ties together iconic pieces of British history with fanciful concepts surrounding the Industrial Age. Players are treated to renditions of Jack the Ripper, Madame Tussauds and Sherlock Holmes, all with a steam punk vibe. The game’s Herlock Sholmes (see what they did there?) is an endearing character that frequently pops into the story (sometimes literally). He’s an eccentric man that is both outlandishly assuming and a humble savant. During the game’s investigative portions, Sholmes will make wild leaps in logic which the player must bring back to some semblance of reality. Sholmes’ deductions are the flashiest gameplay gimmick Chronicles has to offer, where the famous detective announces his absurdly incorrect findings with spectacular flair, complete with smooth animations, changes in lighting, and a ripping soundtrack. Once players get the hang of course correcting Sholmes’ reasoning, once again it becomes all too easy, as it doesn’t develop in complexity as the game progresses, but it’s always an amusing process nonetheless.
The character also introduces the possibility of toying around with technological advancements. Sholmes and his assistant are frequently concocting new inventions, some of which assist in piecing together parts of the mystery, functioning in a similar role to Ema Skye in past games. Those moments are brief, though the novelty never gets old as a result. It all adds to the story’s atmosphere where London is considered a place of great development, where signatories from around world are keen to learn and share ideas.
Most murder mystery cases in Ace Attorney games are broken down into two major sections: investigations and the courtroom trials. Typically each case is structured where players must first find evidence around the crime scene which is then used during the trial the next day, and normally there’s another period of investigation before a final showdown in court. Chronicles once again deviates from the norm in that it rarely follows this format. Particularly in The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, some cases are entirely investigatory in manner or spend the whole time in the courtroom. It’s good to see the game mix it up as the standard case format was getting unnecessarily laborious over the course of the franchise. It both streamlines the narrative while also keeping long-time players slightly on edge, as one can never predict where the game’s heading next.
Yet as mentioned before, these games are judged predominantly on the quality of the story. Finding clues and picking out flaws of logic become tedious if the act isn’t driven by a compelling narrative. While the cases are slightly shorter in length compared to past games, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures still manages to deliver cases that are emotionally impactful and thought-provoking with their moral dilemmas. It successfully familiarizes players with the new cast of characters, alludes to the origins of the great step ladder or ladder debate, and introduces the quandaries as to the difference between shovels and spades, while also setting up some larger over-arching mysteries (ones that don’t revolve around everyday items). Though to be brutally honest, the game lacks the stunning complexity that fans have grown to expect from this series, leaving one too many questions unanswered and resulting in a rather lackluster entry to the franchise.
Thankfully, Capcom had enough wisdom and foresight to release these two games as a dual pack in Chronicles, because The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve follows on directly where the first game ends. The cases in Adventures that were first thought to be shallow or filler episodes are revisited in Resolve, impressively layering extra depth and complexity to all aspects of the initial narrative, recontextualizing everything the player knew about these characters. It’s an amazing sequel that not only develops some of its own mysteries, but wonderfully resolves all of the questions raised in the first. The conclusion in particular is an impressive interweaving of various plots and presents a twist that I’ve personally wanted to see play out in an Ace Attorney game ever since the beginning of the franchise. It’s a phenomenal game that is deeply satisfying. All the cases contribute significantly to the plot and are substantially lengthy by default, averaging over eight hours in length for most.
There’s no question that The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles offers great value money. With over fifty hours of gameplay, it will keep players busy for quite a while. But wait! There’s more! Chronicles contains a number of extras: a gallery that goes nicely in-depth regarding character design, mini game clips that feature amusing interactions between the various characters seen in the game, sound and music files, and steampunk-inspired costumes which characters can wear in Resolve. Chronicles is extremely generous in what it has to offer, making this game a fine addition to any Ace Attorney fan’s collection.
The Bottom Line
Offering two games in one, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles will not only satisfy fans, it also opens the opportunity for newcomers to join in on the fun.