Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was one of the first games I owned on my Nintendo DS. Since that game’s release in 2005, I have played every single game in the Ace Attorney series including the Professor Layton crossover and the Ace Attorney: Investigations spin-off. On my pie-in-the-sky video game wishlist, an English release of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 is at the very top. To put it bluntly, I’m obsessed.
To the dismay of Ace Attorney fans in the West, the series’ two prequel games—The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve—had long been kept Japan-only. But earlier this year, Capcom announced it planned to bundle the two games together for release in North America and Europe. That day has come, and friends—prosecutors and defense attorneys alike—it has been well worth the wait.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, out now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Steam, elevates the Ace Attorney series to new heights. It retains some of the familiarity of Ace Attorney games while dramatically altering its tried-and-true formula to make an exciting new entry to the series. Since the game is actually a bundle of two, this review will concentrate on the first game—The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, with a discussion of Resolve to come later.
The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures is the prequel to the Ace Attorney series. Taking place in the late 1800s, the game follows the lawyerly exploits of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, the Japanese ancestor of the series’ eponymous Phoenix Wright—or Ryuichi Naruhodo as he’s known in Japan. Ryunosuke is a law student from Japan travelling to Great Britain to study the country’s legal system. During his studies he’s tasked with defending accused murderers in court. You know, tourist stuff.
While Adventures has some of the trappings of a typical Ace Attorney game—a colorful cast of characters, crime scene investigations, and courtroom sections—the game dispenses with the familiar pattern endemic to Ace Attorney games in favor of a fresh, if at times drawn out, structure.
A typical Ace Attorney game follows a very specific structure: You arrive at a new location for some story-driven reason, a murder occurs, then you and your plucky assistant investigate the crime scene for clues you’ll later use to defend your client’s innocence in court. While each entry to the series introduced new modifiers—the secret-sniffing magatama, Apollo Justice’s bracelet of truth, or the Divination Seance of Spirit of Justice, for example—that familiar pattern of investigation, trial, second investigation, trial’s conclusion remained largely unchanged.
During Ryunosuke’s studies of British law, he encounters Herlock Sholmes—a famous detective who is apparently the tether of some rando fictional character—who pops up every now and again to offer totally unasked-for and completely incorrect solutions to Ryunosuke’s problems. It then falls to you to un-fuck all his erroneous assumptions in what’s called the Dance of Deduction.
Ever watch House? Dances of Deduction are like the climax of an episode of House in which the doctor takes all the presented clues and pieces them together, sometimes logically, sometimes not, to correctly diagnose the patient and administer the life-saving treatment. In a Dance of Deduction, using Ryunosuke’s common sense and a 360-degree view of the scene you can control, you’re able to find the real clues that refute Sholmes’ outlandish assertions one-by-one to arrive at the correct conclusion. Was that poor veteren living in a cramped boarding house really keeping a ferocious lion as a pet or is there some other, more logical explanation for the fire that broke out in his sitting room?
These Dances have basically replaced the typical investigation sections of an Ace Attorney game. Instead of scouring a crime scene for clues to use in your next courtroom battle, Dances of Deduction are how you spend your time in between court appearances.
I appreciate these changes in Adventures because they ask for a bit more thought from the player. I love how Ace Attorney games, at their heart, are essentially elaborate adventure games à la Monkey Island. Usually there’s a piece of evidence at the crime scene that clashes with whatever argument the defense puts forth. Each murder trial builds on the last working toward a final, climatic legal showdown. But that formula has gotten stale over the years.
In Adventures, instead of discovering a magic-bullet piece of evidence, you must pay closer attention to what’s being said on the stand. Adventures introduces juries, summation examinations, and witness panels. Instead of a judge deciding your defendant’s guilt or innocence, you now have to convince a panel of jurors to unanimously declare your client’s innocence.
When the jury is close to declaring your client “guilty,” a summation examination triggers. Summation examinations work the same way cross-examinations do, but instead of poking holes in a witness’ statement with conflicting evidence, Ryunosuke listens to the juries and pits one juror’s conflicting statements against another. Introduce enough reasonable doubt in the jury and you’re able to extend the trial long enough to call forth new witnesses that introduce new information or evidence you can then use to win.
As a result of these new features, most of your gameplay is spent in the courtroom. You listen to several witnesses at a time—another first for the series—watching out for dramatic outbursts you interrupt with the Naruhodo family’s trademark interjection of “Hold it!” to tease out yet more information that’ll lead you to victory. This pattern of listen, press, listen, press again leads me to my first real issue with the game—it’s too damn long.
While finishing the first Adventures will take around 35 hours, it feels like a 50-hour game. (For reference, it took me around 15 to beat Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.) I love the new gameplay features, but the intricacies of questioning multiple witnesses at the same time, questioning a panel of jurors, and crawling through each individual statement to tease forth even more statements to examine and present evidence against slowed the game’s pace to a crawl. There is also so much talking between Dances of Deduction and courtroom sections, and while some of it’s valuable exposition, most of it is just fluff.
Some of that fluff is really good. The Ace Attorney series has always had excellent characters, and the ones introduced in Adventures are a joy to get to know—especially the women. Susato Mikotoba is Ryunosuke’s brilliant legal assistant with a calm and cheerful demeanor that conceals a “fuck around and find out” attitude that I simply adore. Iris Wilson is the 10-year-old genius who publishes the Herlock Sholmes stories that have enraptured the world. She’s also the brain behind some of Sholmes’ many crime-solving contraptions.
If I had to summarize the plot of the entire Ace Attorney series it’d be: “Behind every great man is a better woman doing all his work.” Susato and Iris are the two best characters in the game and should be its main characters. Neither of the two men would have their reputation or renown without their partners’ help. You could eliminate Ryunosuke and Sholmes entirely, replace them with Susato and Iris, and the game would improve dramatically.
I do like Ryunosuke, however, so he can stay. It’s interesting to see his struggles as a defense attorney lay the foundation that later becomes the core lawyering philosophy his great-grand descendent Phoenix (Ryuichi if you’re nasty) inherits and eventually passes on to Apollo Justice and Athena Cykes. In every Ace Attorney game you’ll hear something like, “a defense attorney always has faith in their client.” It’s really rewarding seeing that philosophy born in Ryunosuke’s work in Adventures.
In Sholmes’ case, I’d welcome his complete removal from the game because I find him particularly annoying. How are you gonna be “The Great Detective” if a Japanese law student has to step in and fix your every mistake?
Which brings me to my next big gripe: There is a startling amount of racism in this game. If you disregard the fact the series’ main concept is solving brutal murders, Ace Attorney games are pretty wholesome. It was truly shocking, to the point of distraction, to see all the anti-Asian racism casually bandied about.
Almost every interaction you have with witnesses and your rival prosecutor, Barok van Zieks, is littered with racist remarks about the inferiority of Japan and the Japanese people. There’s a point when Van Zieks literally calls every Japanese person a dishonest trickster.
What’s worse is that Ryunosuke and Susato make no attempts to defend themselves, ignoring every statement with little more than a comically exaggerated flop sweat as acknowledgement. I didn’t expect Ryunosuke to draw the katana at his hip at every insult but at least a, “Hey, maybe you shouldn’t say those things,” would have been nice.
I understand that this game is set in 19th-century Great Britain and all the racist language the game employs is just a representation of a country rife with racism and xenophobia. I also understand that Adventures was made by Japanese people in Japan. I’m not claiming the game is racist, only that the amount of racism the game uses in order to be “historically accurate” is a little over the top considering nothing else in this game has any claims to accuracy. The things these lawyers get up to—prosecution and defense—would have them disbarred faster than you can say “Objection!” This weird dedication to a thin spectrum of historical accuracy is doubly concerning if you also consider America is still dealing with a spike in anti-Asian racism that’s lead to a deadly rash of hate-fueled attacks.
The game’s saving grace is that neither Sholmes nor Iris engage in this kind of behavior. If they did, I’d have had to put the game down.
I liked The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, but it’s clear that in Capcom’s zeal to give the series a fresh new start it focused way too much on exposition at the expense of the story. Adventures seems to want you to enjoy the new systems—and they’re really good, pitting jurors against one another in summation examinations is my favorite part—but the story connecting these systems is kinda thin. The story did perk up a bit for the final case, but the game ended just as I was finally getting invested in the fifty ‘leven million words the characters were saying. I’m hoping for Resolve to pick up Adventures’ threads and weave a tighter, less talkystory out of them.
If The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures is your first Ace Attorney game, welcome! This is a wonderful place to start your Ace Attorney journey. If it’s not, you may get frustrated by the hours of exposition as you eagerly button-mash your way to your next courtroom appearance.