‘The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles’ review: Courtroom drama of the highest calibre

The game is afoot.

The Ace Attorney series holds a special place in my heart. The original trilogy in particular are games I’ll replay once a year given that they’re available on mobile and Switch. They’re comfort games for me, and I’ve been awaiting another chance to dive right back in. When I saw The Great Ace Attorney, I was given pause. Could Shu Takumi recreate the magic of those GBA classics in the modern-day? Without fan favourite characters like Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, and Maya Fey – without that beloved minimalist sprite art – would it still feel the same?

Set long before the original trilogy in the Japanese Meiji and British Victorian era, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is two games in one: The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve. Released in Japan in 2015 and 2017, the games have finally been brought to worldwide markets. In short: it was worth the wait.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Credit: Capcom

The characters are a treat, including player character Ryunosuke Naruhodo and assistant Susato Mikotoba. This is best exemplified by your rival prosecutor, who solves a problem I’ve always had with the likes of Edgeworth and Godot in previous Ace Attorney games. There, your opponent is presented as an ‘invincible’ prosecutor who has never lost a case, but then Phoenix goes and wins five in a row against them. Barok van Zieks is a much more consistently imposing presence. Put simply, van Zieks is ‘cursed’. No matter what happens in the trial, the defendant is apparently powerless to stop a grisly fate from befalling them. This gives him a genuinely sinister presence. Regardless of what happened in the previous case, he’s a fearsome opponent who always presents a formidable challenge.

The writing is a delight too, and props to Janet Hsu and the localisation team. From the Japanese novelist with a quirk for alliteration to the fun bits of wordplay scattered around the game’s dialogue, it’s done seamlessly. You can even tell when characters are speaking Japanese or English based on their use of honorifics. For more, I highly recommend checking out a really cool piece written by Hsu about the localisation process.

Fans of the Ace Attorney games will be delighted to hear about quality-of-life changes, including a history log so you can check what’s been said in the courtroom after the fact, as well as an autoplay function for when you don’t fancy pressing ‘continue’ for every single text box. There’s even a ‘story mode’ option, which fully removes the decision making process from your hands if you just want to watch the drama play out.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Credit: Capcom

When it comes to actual gameplay though, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles has surprising depth. There are two game states: the courtroom and investigations. In the courtroom, you examine witness statements and find contradictions and inconsistencies like in previous games in the series, but there are a good few extra bits and pieces to keep things from getting too monotonous. You can cross-examine multiple witnesses at once, like in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, catching them out when one witness reacts to another’s statements. There’s also the jury system, wherein you have to both convince the judge and jury of your client’s innocence. It’s here where my favourite courtroom tidbit is implemented. When the whole jury is against you, you’re offered one last-ditch ‘jury examination’ in which you can pit their arguments against each other to force them to change their minds. Suddenly, Ryunosuke looks like a courtroom drama lead, pacing up and down the stand as he picks apart statements from the members of the jury.

This keeps the drama and tension at the highest level at all times. You’re constantly holding on by a thread, desperately attempting to grasp that one last hope to save the defendant. Given how ‘guilty until proven innocent’ the courtroom system feels in these games, I felt like a judicial version of Muhammad Ali, on the ropes for entire trials, soaking up blow after blow until finally getting to grips with the facts of the case and delivering a devastating knockout to win out once and for all.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Credit: Capcom

The other area of the game is the investigation phase. Like previous Ace Attorney titles, you travel around finding evidence, interviewing people and learning facts about the case. However, this isn’t particularly interactive in all honesty, so the writers needed a new mechanic to draw you into the investigations. Enter Herlock Sholmes. This absolutely wild boy with his adorable smile and slick trenchcoat is a master at deductive reasoning, just like Holmes from the classic novels. However, this version of the character, despite reaching the right conclusions, needs Ryunosuke to team up with him and issue corrections. It’s not a huge challenge, but the over-the-top way it’s presented along with how entertaining the back-and-forth between the detective and the lawyer is make this a fantastic way to break up lengthy investigation scenes.

Of course, it’s always going to be tough to stick the landing completely when telling a detective-story in video game form. In a game, it’s a lot harder to replicate the feeling of watching a great detective solve a case. Often it’s clear how to continue in the story when you’re paying attention and understanding what’s required to uncover the next piece of information, the reality is that you’re always doing so through the language of the game.

You can press certain statements and present evidence, but sometimes the statement I felt most warranted evidence presented wouldn’t be available. I’ll know what the contradiction is, but the game is occasionally somewhat obtuse as to what exactly needs to be done, grinding the game to a halt. It just doesn’t feel good to have that ‘eureka’ moment snatched away because you didn’t realise you had to press that statement and then present the evidence you already knew was necessary.

This is such a minor issue in the grand scheme of things though. In The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, the drama is constant and thrilling. I’m not exaggerating when I say my heart rate races and goosebumps form when I’m closing in on a crime’s true culprit. The further you get into the game, the higher the stakes get, and excitement won’t stop building as the various storylines merge together and everything starts to make more sense. It’s a fantastic adventure that’ll have series veterans and newcomers hooked right from the start, and I couldn’t have wished for a more triumphant return for the Ace Attorney series.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Windows. The review is for the Switch version.

The Verdict

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a brilliant pair of enthralling adventures. Whether you’re getting back into Ace Attorney or are a first-timer looking for a brilliant courtroom drama with twists and suspense, this game is a great shout. With pleasantly surprising depth and characters that’ll stick in your mind after you’re all done, this is a game that drives you through an adventure with a consistent level of action and dialogue that’ll make you smile almost constantly, and loudly chuckle with great regularity.

Pros

  • Jury Examinations and Herlock Sholmes deductions add great gameplay depth
  • Thrilling drama sprinkled with excellently-localised dialogue
  • Wonderful characters with secrets to uncover
  • Gorgeous cutscenes and art throughout

Cons

  • Occasionally requires unintuitive specifics during cases, halting momentum
  • A linear story without branching options, which will turn off some
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