The Ace Attorney games are pretty much legendary at this point. An innovative take on the visual novel style of video game, these games have spent actual decades at this point inviting us into the courtroom drama of characters like Phoenix Wright and the investigations they go on to prove their clients’ innocence. The next era of these games, The Great Ace Attorney, has been around in limited capacity for a moment with two games coming out in Japan in 2017 and 2018. Now, Capcom is finally making these games available worldwide on Nintendo Switch this coming July 2021 in a bundle known as The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. I got to play a few cases to see what’s in store for us, and while it might be a step to the far past, the drama is just as riveting as ever.
Old times, same crimes
The premise of The Great Ace Attorney games is far flung from anything we’ve seen in the series. Rather than continue forward with Phoenix Wright or Apollo Justice, the game instead takes us to the past around the turn of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th as, historically, the Meiji Era in Japan saw it open its borders to Western influence and began to adopt altogether radically different ideologies of industrialization, science, technology, and culture.
This particular saga has us take on the role of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a university student and ancestor of Phoenix Wright. While he is initially an English student, he is also joined by exemplary law student Kazuma Asogi, with whom he shares a strong sense of justice, deduction, and rationalization. With Asogi and other events spurring him forward, Naruhodo eventually takes his own path into defense law… a path that leads him on a journey to England to study and engage in the intricacies of modern courtroom practices. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles contains both The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, but for my early time with the game, I got to play with a few chapters in the first game, Adventures.
It’s pretty much exactly what I would expect an Ace Attorney game to be despite the step back in time. These chapters play out in narrative and dialogue-thick stories that eventually move Naruhodo into a courtroom in which he must outwit untruths and root out the facts of cases to prove a defendant Not Guilty. Generally, this involves long bouts of story with the occasional chance to examine an area, talk to characters, learn crucial information, and gather your deductive ammo to get to the truth of any given case.
For instance, in the first case, Naruhodo finds himself caught up as the suspect of a murder. While he remembers the events a certain way, he ends up in court having to convince the judge and prosecution that the case, evidence, and witness testimony against him is false. That includes listening to witness testimonies, cross-examining them, studying evidence, presenting how it pokes holes in their statements, and deducing the true nature of events that led to the murder. If the wrong evidence or incorrect deduction is chosen, it will result in penalization and too many penalizations will result in a Guilty verdict. For any Ace Attorney fan, it should be a familiar narrative-rich and deductive process, but The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also didn’t take long to change it up in interesting ways in the brief sample I played.
Neat tricks in a bygone era
I think one of the most interesting parts of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles cases that I played was the Jury system. Juries were also toyed with in Apollo Justice, but they take on a very unique form here. At any point in the trial as information and conjecture mounts, a juror may interrupt with their opinion and select guilty or innocent. If all jurors choose a guilty verdict, it will trigger a mechanic in which players take part in a special cross-examination of the jury.
Different from normal cross-examination, players will hear the logic by which each juror made their decision. It’s here that they must find contradicting beliefs between them and pin two juror’s contradicting statements together to point out flaws in their logic and bring them back from a guilty decision. It’s a really interesting new way of approaching the usual cross-examination antics of Ace Attorney games and provides some tense moments throughout as you try to keep the jury from hanging Naruhodo’s clients out to dry before all facts are presented.
Another fun addition to this game comes from hilariously unfortunate named Herlock Sholmes, who befriends Naruhodo and occasionally takes part in his investigations. When out on investigations and running into witnesses, Sholmes and Naruhodo will sometimes find themselves questioning a person or subject of interest, triggering Joint Reasoning. During these points, Sholmes will make quick and sometimes comedically poor deductions about a subject. It is on Naruhodo to carefully examine the subject from various angles, find the flaws in Sholmes’ logic, and discern the truth about the subject and their part in the case.
Capcom showed off actual gameplay of this mechanic fairly recently at E3 2021 when we got to see an example of how logic and examination leads to determining that a shady-looking man is actually a woman, and a particularly notable one at that. There were other cases of this Joint Reasoning system in my playtime with The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles as well and it was a fun aside in the investigative elements of the game, particularly because Herlock Sholmes is such a quirky character to begin with and the dialogue and pageantry between he and Naruhodo is a treat during these segments.
The starting journey of a Great Attorney
My time with this slice of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was short, but sweet. These games are as story-rich as ever and you should really be in for a lot of reading and dialogue for them, but their clever use of logic and rationalization puzzles is looking as top notch as ever. Plus, it’s shaping up to be such an interesting setting for the franchise. At the turn of the 19th Century, Japan was still only just beginning to integrate into an expanded and vastly different world. There are hefty themes of foreign distrust, isolationism, primitivity, advancement, old traditions, and progressivism at play here and the game doesn’t seem to handle them lightly, even if the courtroom antics can sometimes get as ridiculous as ever. I’m excited to see these games come stateside, and based on what I played, I’m more than ready to pursue another round of turnabouts when The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles launches in full.
This hands-on preview is based on a limited version of the game played on Nintendo Switch. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is slated for release on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC via Steam on July 27, 2021.