When we talk about games gracefully leaping from 2D to 3D, Ace Attorney might not come to mind. Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and perhaps Final Fantasy dominate the conversation with action and spectacle. There isn’t much of either in the courtroom comedy-dramas. Phoenix Wright and later Apollo Justice have always focused more on verbal sparring. Nevertheless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is another great reminder that Capcom also smoothly mastered its artistic changeover.
The two games — included together for the first time in English — are tremendously expressive. Harried gentlemen bite their canes and bend them like rubber, overly fancy English ladies fly into the sky on hats made of swans, and everyone else generally stretches and bounces like Bugs Bunny. They’ve never looked better doing it blown up on modern consoles and PC, either. The various weirdos you interrogate look articulate, fluid, and crisp even on the comparatively less powerful Nintendo Switch.
That’s crucial. Ace Attorney lives and dies by its characters’ expressions and ability to sell the shock of hearing “objection” for the 85th time. There’s a reason that watchword has such staying power as a meme two decades after Phoenix graced the Gameboy Advance. It’s the over-the-top details and climactic showdowns building up to that all-powerful phrase that seal it in our memory. Even with the conflicts dialed back about a hundred years.
The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures takes place around the turn of the 20th century, just before its sequel, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve. Ryunosuke Naruhodo, ancestor to primary protagonist Phoenix Wright, headlines both games (though this preview can only cover the first). And he kicks things off pretty much like his more famous relative. We first meet him as a university student accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Players take control of Ryunosuke while he defends himself in court — aided by his best friend and actual attorney, Kazuma.
If you’ve ever played Ace Attorney before, you know this leads to witness after wacky witness being trotted out for cross-examinations. Each of their statements are compartmentalized. When you press them on one, they typically reveal clues to contradict another in their testimony. A grab bag of evidence — items you can present to prove such a discrepancy at any point — is your primary tool to proceed. That’s where “objections” enter the picture, as Ryunosuke calls out false testimony with increasing confidence in search of the true killers.
In reality, though, it’s more a tug of war. Slippery culprits and unscrupulous prosecutors always have some kind of excuse. Sometimes they just outright cheat. One case in the first game sees a witness brazenly destroy evidence in front of the courtroom. Why doesn’t this immediately turn the judge and jury against them? Because of the strange logic of the Ace Attorney universe.
Adventures skews a bit closer to real-world law than the “modern day” games, which have a strangely Judge Dredd-like approach to guilty until proven innocent. But the odds are still cartoonishly stacked against you. Nobody in these games believes the defense at first. No matter how many turnabout cases they solve. Everyone believes the police are infallible. No matter how many times they turn out to be jerks and buffoons. You need to present hard evidence. Luckily, even ripostes from the prosecution usually add new items to your arsenal, unlocking future discoveries and incongruities.
At the same time, the constant stumbling builds up a sense of satisfaction. It just feels so damn good to wipe the smug, greasy delight off your foes’ faces. Particularly as they explode into full Wile E. Coyote parodies of themselves at the final revelation. They drag you through the mud. They waste your time. They turn your friends and the public against you. Then you get to shove it all back at them by sheer force of will (and a bit of narrative luck).
The Great Ace Attorney doesn’t drop the ball in this regard. The 1900s Japan and later London settings give rise to all kinds of ridiculous caricatures of Dickensian and historical fiction. It does skirt some uncomfortable lines by occasionally referencing the “greatness” of empires: a wholly abhorrent political concept we’re all too familiar with in the modern United States. Though it usually comes via offhand comments by villains and minor antagonists. The setting is more often an excuse to use backdrops that look like they fell out of The Great Mouse Detective. Which… come to think of it… might be what the localized title is directly referencing. There’s even an English, steampunk detective subtly renamed to Herlock Sholmes.
Sholmes is a fun addition: both narratively and mechanically. Though the preview embargo prevents me from going into too much detail. Overall, though, The Great Ace Attorney downplays some of its least-loved elements. Between the courtroom antics, this series usually includes point-and-click puzzle solving. Even this game does occasionally drop you into a room in the first-person and ask you to poke for clues. Adventures weaves a bit more deduction into these segments. Sholmes is a big part of that. Meanwhile, a lot of the investigations are compressed into the bigger cases. You still need to poke around. The game just finds ways to bring the probing to you, rather than force a lot of protracted adventure game sequences without any of the other stuff.
There are a few more quirks to the trials themselves. There always are: whether that’s using a magic ring to break someone’s poker face or repudiating necromancy. The Ace Attorney games get weird. But in this case, like the previously released Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, it really just adds flavor to the meat of the franchise.
All of which adds up to a fantastic starting point for new players. The new hero, setting, lack of cruft, and excellent dramatic energy really can’t be beat. Though veterans might grow a bit impatient with the slow pair of opening chapters. They’re fun yarns, but spend a lot of time reintroducing basic gameplay you’ve likely understood for years. At least you can revel in the attention to tiny detail. Such as how Ryunosuke sheepishly slaps his palms and gestures about the place like his descendant, only to grow increasingly confident throughout the games, until he finally fully resembles the iconic Phoenix Wright. It’s a fun touch for fans that perfectly fits the escalating tone of the each game.
Hopefully The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also means escalating interest in the series. They’re somewhat niche releases these days. Whereas Capcom is recently focused on big hits like Resident Evil and Monster Hunter. If anything, though, this western release proves how smoothly these games can sail into the present.