Sometimes the prequels seem redundant – but at best, they feel like a masterstroke. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is the latter.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles quietly slides onto my GOTY contender list
As a fan of the main Ace Attorney series, I had always kind of written off The Great Ace Attorney. A pair of spin-offs that were previously only a Japanese-only affair, I found myself inherently less interested in the concept of games disconnected from the main cast and the stories I had fallen in love with on DS. That’s why I didn’t even scream too loudly when these exits were never located. Now that they have been, and that I have played them, I can raise my hand in an emphatic mea culpa: I was completely wrong.
The Chronicles of the Grand As prosecutor is interesting for all the reasons why it’s different from the rest of the series as much as for all the reasons it’s similar – and in many ways, it’s the differences that make it really exciting.
Deep down, they’re still brave adventure games with one foot in parody and the other in heavy but heartfelt storytelling – but also, they’re games about time in which they take place.
The idea is that Ryunosuke Naruhodo is apparently an ancestor of current lawyer Phoenix Wright – and that tells his story – also in the legal realm – when Japan started opening up to the world. As part of this upheaval, Naruhodo finds himself in Victorian England, with Herlock Sholmes (yes, really) legally separate from Sherlock Holmes helping him on his adventures.
Basically there’s a change in tone and attitude here that makes sense for the setting and the period. Where the main Ace Attorney games take place in a real-world facsimile, the historical setting of this pair of games offers writers the opportunity to be surprisingly introspective on Japan’s relationship to the burgeoning empires and the role of the country in the world both yesterday and today. . It’s also possible to examine and critique British culture in the fun, slightly silly way you only get when it’s Britain via Japan – which is generally lovely.
The appearance of familiar characters is also interesting. Some are pastiches of actual historical figures, while others are versions of literary figures of the time, including several figures from other Holmes stories. Some of them land better than others, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see the patented Ace Attorney charm, including in location, applied to figures we know from elsewhere.
Developers, on the other hand, can use the setting to their advantage as well. The legal systems established in modern games are being replaced by a British style one, and while that doesn’t change the course of trials too much, it’s a refreshing tweak that helps these games stand out.
Likewise, Herlock Sholmes uses all the deductive powers he’s known for in a new system that is an analogue of some of the supernatural elements used to open cases in other games. It works, and again has its own energy and attitude that fits this package perfectly.
In particular, the fact that Sholmes isn’t that good as a consulting detective is more of a stroke of genius: the way you unravel the mysteries is to listen to his generally grossly incorrect hypothesis and then work to correct it, step by step. . . Again, the energy is just very slightly different from the previous games in a way that will be sublime for returning players, but also an improvement over the predecessors that might attract newcomers: you often feel busier and more engaged in the middle of the affair, although the plot isn’t usually as strong as the original trilogy.
Being a spin-off frees the series somewhat from some of its localization weaknesses established in the series’ early titles. In the West, these games have been notoriously incapable of deciding whether to take place in the United States or Japan; the first game was located as if it were in America, while the newer ones had elements that made this illusion impossible to maintain. Here the play is unabashedly Japanese, with the characters from Japan having appropriate names and the like. The clean break is also helpful in this sense.
By far my favorite character in the game is Naruhodo himself. His character is played well, the best of the bunch in an already excellent localization – and it’s hard not to root for him and fall for him the same way you did for Wright. It would be easy to play that ancestor thing cheaply and just have him be Wright in period costume – but he’s not. She’s her own character, and who I really enjoyed spending time with.
Indeed, I have enjoyed all of my time with The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles so far. I haven’t finished it at the time of this writing – I’m down to about a game and a half in the two-game package – but it’s already quietly creeping into my list of my favorite games of 2021. Back to this kind of game is a bit like receiving a nice warm hug. It’s just different enough from regular Ace Attorney games to feel like something new, but also close enough that it ignites a similar blur in me – and I love it.