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The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: July 27, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 29, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Get ready to cross-examine your opponents and reason your way to justice in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, a collection that tells the story of an ancestor of Phoenix Wright, the protagonist of the Ace Attorney series.

Buy The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Ace Attorney has come a long way from being a niche franchise with a Nintendo DS release that was considered an oddity. The combination of engaging gameplay and a strong localization made it a cult favorite, and protagonist Phoenix Wright quickly found himself as one of Capcom's most recognizable stars, even making it into Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Most Ace Attorney titles have seen an English release, except for three: the second Ace Attorney Investigations game and the Dai Gyakuten Saiban or Great Ace Attorney titles. The latter were originally released as 3DS-exclusive titles but were passed over for localization, making The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles the first time that these three games have seen a North American release.

 A big part of this might have to do with the setting. Ace Attorney Chronicles leaves the comfortable vaguely Tokyo-ish America for the end of the 19th century, with a story focused on a Japanese lawyer who travels to England. It's not too complex for the original Japanese release, but the localization made it a little awkward. Chronicles decided that the best thing to do was to fully commit to the Japan setting. Rather than a localized name, the game keeps the original Japanese name for the protagonist and many of the supporting cast members. It still adjusts for proper punning here and there, but rather than forcing an English pun to work, the game keeps the protagonist's last name as Naruhodo. (It's the same as Phoenix's Japanese name, which is a pun on the phrase "I see.") It works well, so it's good that the developers didn't try too hard to stick to the localization decision, even if it limits the wordplay potential.

The story still feels familiar. Players control Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a spikey-haired would-be lawyer who's in way over his head, and he's assisted by a teenage girl and a few young geniuses. His adventures bring him from his homeland of Japan to London, where he navigates a different world to discover the truth about a rash of crimes. He's helped along the way by a collection of amusing characters, ranging from snarky street urchins to the world's greatest detective, Herlock Sholmes.

It should be noted that unlike other Ace Attorney titles, these are not two separate, occasionally connected games. The first Great Ace Attorney effectively ends on a to-be-continued note that would've been far more frustrating if the two games weren't packaged together. The result is that it makes the grand schemes that are front and center of the game feel more epic, but it also takes a lot longer to reach the catharsis of taking down some of the nastiest members of the cast.

Overall, it's a solid adventure that leans more into "realism" than the other games in the franchise — if you can consider steampunk technology more realistic than ghost summoning. It makes good use of its setting and time, so you won't have security camera footage or instant ballistic identification. There are a few outlandish twists, but it wouldn't be an Ace Attorney game without them. The setting gives the franchise a breath of fresh air and introduces new quandaries that wouldn't exist nowadays.

For me, the real star of the show is Herlock Sholmes, who fills a niche in the Ace Attorney franchise that I'd never considered. Sholmes is a complete genius who is also prone to following the wrong track of logic. Rather than being painted as the arrogant always-right type or the doofus who doesn't realize he's wrong, he genuinely accepts when he's wrong and welcomes Ryunosuke's corrections, turning their detective work into a literal dance around the evidence. He can sometimes be annoying and overbearing, but he's a fantastic addition to the franchise, more than any other assistant or ally I can think of in the series to date.

The other characters aren't bad, but they feel too familiar at times, falling into the frequent time travel trope of characters being almost the same character in a funny outfit. Ryunosuke is just his ancestor with a shorter haircut and a katana, but he benefits from the "stranger in a new land" aspect of the game. Instead of Phoenix's occasionally baffling ignorance of the world around him, Ryunosuke is basically dealing with cultural overload, so it's less frustrating when he's blindsided by a seemingly obvious piece of evidence.

One thing that Chronicles deals with more heavily than I expected is the racism and misogyny of that era. It is mostly done with a light touch, but some characters come awfully close to some genuinely awful hate speech. It fits the time period and themes, but it can be shocking when compared to the usual mild insults. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, it might be tougher to get into the game, even knowing that the characters who act that way are set up to be shown the error of their ways.

Overall, the core gameplay is exactly the same as in other Ace Attorney titles. The game swaps between point-and-click investigation segments and puzzle-styled visual novel court segments. You must gather clues, identify witnesses, and figure out the puzzle to defend your client. As always, the gameplay is largely linear and plot-guided but has enough interaction to keep it engaging.

There are a few neat twists. One is the Great Deduction segments, where Ryunosuke and Sholmes team up to solve a mystery. The segments generally start with Sholmes laying out his observations and his deductions, followed by Ryunosuke stepping in to temper Sholmes's eccentricities to guide the mystery to its true conclusion. They function like mini trial segments mixed with the ability to move the camera around and pinpoint certain clues. They're a lot of fun, especially because of the presentation. Sholmes and Ryunosuke dance in and out as they throw rapid-fire observations, and it captures the feel of a mystery novel's parlor scene.

Another neat feature is the jury system. While juries have appeared briefly in other Ace Attorney games, it's never been with as much focus as in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Juries are comprised of multiple characters who can declare someone's innocence or guilt on a whim. The only thing that stops this from ending cases five minutes in is that Ryunosuke can perform a summation examination. This amounts to one last interview with each of the jurists to find out why they voted guilty, during which Ryunosuke can present evidence or pit jurists against each other to inject enough doubt to force the trial to continue. In addition to juries, you frequently have multiple witnesses on the stand and can use one witness's testimony to force a reaction from another.

I am fond of both new features, and I think they're among the best additions to the franchise to date. The Great Deduction segments replace the point-and-click tedium with something quick, engaging, and funny. The larger and more robust courtroom is an absolute boon. One problem with Ace Attorney games is that characters go on for too long or feel very one-note. While The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles doesn't change that, it benefits from the variety of a larger cast of characters. The characters can play off one another, which can be a great way to introduce twists into the cases.

It also helps with the pacing. The trials in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles are among some of the better paced in the franchise, with relatively little downtime or slow periods. It's probably partially due to it being one long game split into two titles instead of one shorter game, so cases don't contain as much information. Again, it's something that would have been disappointing upon an initial release but feels fine in the modern collection. The turnabouts sometimes go on a hair too long, but they usually manage to add enough variety to avoid becoming boring.

The game shows its age in some ways. For example, one case has an absurd amount of focus on the idea of stereoscopic 3D images, up to and including using them to solve puzzles. The issue is that the game was originally released on the 3DS, which had that feature built in, and the best this game can do is ask you to cross your eyes. There are workarounds, but it turns large segments of the trial into weird nonsense because nobody can interact with the content in the originally intended manner. This is a minor quibble, but it comes up from time to time.

There's also the undeniable fact that the title still has many of the old standby problems from the Ace Attorney series. Sometimes, the clue that the game wants you to provide is not the clue that you think you need, or you're stuck slowly inching toward a resolution that should've been obvious. There are more than a few occasions when I got frustrated with having to disprove a theory even though a different piece of evidence would've rendered it moot. This is old hat for Ace Attorney fans, but it can still be frustrating.

There is a nice addition to the game that alleviates some of that: Story mode. You can activate and deactivate Story mode at the touch of a button, and it instantly makes the story continue to its next step. This can either be done to watch the story without the gameplay or to avoid the frustrating part where you're trying to identify the correct piece of evidence (rather than the logical one). Since it can be turned on and off at will, it's a handicap to help players avoid getting frustrated at a leap of logic — all without the need to do a save-and-reset when you earn too many penalties.

In addition to the two main games, there are a lot of nice little bonus features, such as music players, bonus costumes, and a series of fun vignettes that largely exist to give characters a chance to interact. They're not mind-blowing, but since humor is such a big part of the Ace Attorney franchise, it's always welcome to have a little more. There are achievements that you can get, ranging from advancing in the game to finding hidden dialogue trees. Story mode disables some achievements, but it's still a fun encouragement to poke around some more.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is probably the best-looking Ace Attorney game to date. The character models are vividly animated and have plenty of delightful little touches that inject a lot of personality and life. More notable is how the game makes use of its 3D visuals, with the camera frequently flying around or providing views that you normally wouldn't see. Frankly, the choreography is better than the Ace Attorney games that come after it. The music is excellent, with a lot of new energizing themes for when you're cornered or make a turnabout. The voice acting is mostly good, but Ryunosuke's "Objection!" cry lacks the force of other protagonists, which is a shame.

Overall, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is one of the better Ace Attorney games, period. If it had been released in its original form, I'd probably be more negative about it, but getting both parts of Dai Gyakuten Saiban in one nice package emphasizes its strong points and lessens its flaws. If you're a fan of the series, it's absolutely worth picking up, and I can imagine it jumping near the top of many people's favorite Ace Attorney title lists. It has its flaws and foibles, but it's some of the most fun I've had with the franchise to date.

Score: 9.0/10

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