For many gamers, Ace Attorney is the premier name in murder mysteries. The series’ exciting blend of courtroom drama, adventure-style investigations, and visual novel storytelling have produced a wealth of highly regarded games, and the image of Phoenix Wright objecting, hand outstretched and finger pointed, is iconic. Accordingly, the latest entry in the franchise, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, has a lot to live up to. I’m happy to say Great Ace Attorney completely blows even the highest expectations out of the water. It builds on the Ace Attorney formula with engaging new mechanics and more mature, nuanced storytelling without losing sight of what made the series so successful in the first place. Great Ace Attorney is not only the best Ace Attorney game I’ve played but the best murder mystery adventure I’ve played bar none.
The Legend Begins
Great Ace Attorney is actually two separate Japanese releases, referred to in the English version as “Adventure” and “Resolve”, in a single package. They combine to tell the story of Phoenix Wright’s ancestor Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a university student in Meiji era Japan. (Naruhodo is Phoenix’s surname in the Japanese version of the original Ace Attorney games.) Ryunosuke is unexpectedly thrust into the courtroom when a visiting English professor is murdered and he stands accused. Despite having no knowledge or experience, Ryunosuke acts as his own defense. Fortunately, he doesn’t do so alone. His best friend and law student Kazuma Asogi and the knowledgeable judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba have his back. This first trial partly serves as a tutorial, and Kazuma guides Ryunosuke through the game mechanics. However, the mystery itself is still substantial.
Ryunosuke’s courtroom heroics lead to his accompanying Kazuma and Susato on a study tour in London. The trio aspire to learn from British legal tradition and bring new ideas to the courts of Japan. Most of the game takes place in Victorian London and the gang meet some familiar faces along the way. Self-proclaimed “Great Detective” Herlock Sholmes and his cheerful companion Iris Wilson play major supporting roles, often assisting Ryunosuke in his investigations, some of which have callbacks to the Sherlock Holmes novels. Not everyone is eager to welcome him though. In London’s Old Bailey, Ryunosuke faces off against Barok van Zieks, a legendary prosecutor known as “the Reaper”. It’s rumored that regardless of the verdict, none who stand accused before the reaper can escape his curse.
Winning Formula, New Twists
Great Ace Attorney’s core gameplay follows the series formula. Most cases consist of a mix of investigation and courtroom sequences. The investigation sequences function like a point-and-click adventure. Ryunosuke and Susato gather clues related to the case by inspecting the crime scenes and evidence and talking to those involved. This type of gameplay can lead to getting stuck, but Great Ace Attorney preempts this by clearly indicating which locations currently have new information. There’s lots to look at and talk about, but I never felt these segments became tedious. Colorful characters, witty dialogue, and easter eggs make even sifting through the mundane details of the scene a pleasure.
The courtroom sequences, my favorite part of the game, see Ryunosuke face off against tenacious prosecutors and slippery witnesses. The main mechanic here is the cross-examination. After each witness testifies, Ryunosuke has an opportunity to press them for more information, and if they’re lying, expose the deceit by presenting evidence that contradicts the testimony. The witnesses themselves are often wacky characters with punny names and exaggerated mannerisms, and they become increasingly unhinged as you break them down. While most of the contradictions aren’t too hard to find if you’re observant, shutting down the lies and schemes still has that satisfying feeling of playing the hotshot lawyer.
Great Ace Attorney introduces two new mechanics, one for each type of segment. The investigation sequences feature Sholmes’ “Dance of Deduction”, where the great detective puts his deductive prowess to work exposing secrets and lies. While Sholmes’ powers of observation are formidable, he often gets sidetracked by irrelevant details, and it’s up to Ryunosuke (and you) to set things straight. I found Sholmes’ deductions a great addition. They add a more dynamic pacing to parts of the otherwise leisurely investigation segments. Not to mention Sholmes’ pompous manner combined with his outlandish conclusions can be quite the humorous contrast.
While in previous Ace Attorney games trials are adjudicated by the judge, the Old Bailey trials of Great Ace Attorney have a jury. Six members of the public are chosen “randomly” to decide the accused’s guilt, and at times Ryunosuke must appeal directly to the jurors on behalf of his client. While the judge is moved by evidence and logic, the jurors are more erratic, often ruled by their agendas and biases. During Jury Examinations, Ryunosuke can convince them to rethink things by playing on these biases and pitting them against each other. Jury bias is a real phenomenon, and I thought the Jury Examinations were a fitting way for Ace Attorney to incorporate that aspect of trials. It also makes you change up your approach by thinking more about the people themselves than the evidence. And like everything else, Great Ace Attorney has fun with it. Jurors are colorful and outspoken, and you’ll even see some familiar faces in the box.
An Ambitious Adventure
Great Ace Attorney works not just because its mechanics are enjoyable in their own right, but because it deploys them in service of its story and characters. Cases are dramatic, and Great Ace Attorney never lets realism get in the way of fun. You’ll face surprise witnesses and last-minute evidence that send trials in wildly new directions, complete with cutaways to everyone’s shocked faces when that last second “Hold It!” echoes through the courtroom right as the gavel is about to fall. Sure, it’s melodramatic, but it’s certainly a lot more exciting than actual trials, and anyone who’s done jury duty can tell you.
This does mean that you won’t have all the information from the outset. Great Ace Attorney, like the rest of the series, is more about riding through the twists and turns than trying to puzzle things out right away. And unlike many mysteries, Great Ace Attorney doesn’t obsess over shocking you with increasingly convoluted twists, so you might be able to figure out some culprits partway through. However, the cases are intricately crafted, and even if you have a good idea of whodunnit, you’ll still need to put the details into place. Of course, this is how it should be. In a courtroom, solving the mystery is meaningless if you can’t prove your assertions. No case is as it first appears, and I never found myself bored, even when I had a strong theory as to what had happened.
Where earlier games featured mostly “cases of the week”, Great Ace Attorney builds one large, interwoven story. This might not be immediately apparent, and sometimes it feels like you’re left holding loose ends. But Great Ace Attorney handles its ambitious narrative with patience and skill, ultimately leading to a spectacular conclusion that ties everything together and gives deeper meaning to the events of Ryunosuke’s journey.
The Resolve of Ryunosuke Naruhodo
The Ace Attorney series is rightly known for great characters, and this might be the best cast yet. Ryunosuke has a lot in common with Phoenix. For one, he’s determined and tenacious but can be naïve and doubt himself. He shares some of Phoenix’s mannerisms too. However, Great Ace Attorney forces Ryunosuke to grow in a way that the earlier games didn’t with Phoenix. From the outset, Ryunosuke doesn’t get the clean resolutions he might hope for. Both his allies and antagonists can be complex characters, not always easily classified as right or wrong. Sometimes the truth is hidden because it’s incredibly painful. Ryunosuke must contend with all this as he decides what he should stand for.
This ties in with what, to me, makes Great Ace Attorney truly special. The Ace Attorney series has always had a unique ability to address a subject—murder—inextricably linked with betrayal and deceit without itself becoming cynical. As Kazuma tells Ryunosuke and Mia told Phoenix before him, the first requirement for being a defense attorney is the ability to believe: in one’s client, in truth, in justice, and in oneself. Even amidst a web of lies, the heroes choose to believe, along with all the vulnerability that entails.
While this idea could easily devolve into a childishly simple tale of good and evil, in Great Ace Attorney it doesn’t. Ryunosuke pushes forward, but this is not without a cost. He must accept the pain and failures that come with choosing to believe, and that forging ahead means he can never turn back to simpler times. You see him grow from a naïve, insecure fledgling who looks to the rules and those around him to tell him what to do to a mature, confident lawyer who understands that the world isn’t black and white and the responsibility that comes with dredging up the truth. In Ryunosuke’s journey, Great Ace Attorney offers no illusions that believing is simple or easy but suggests it might be worth doing all the same. It’s a heartfelt and moving message delivered through the story of an outstanding protagonist.
A Charming Cast
The supporting cast is full of standouts too. Susato, like Phoenix’s sidekick Maya before her, is bright and playful. However, where Maya was moral support or the victim, Susato has a bigger role. Her expertise and initiative are indispensable to Ryunosuke, and she even gets her own moments in the spotlight. Sholmes and Iris are a fun interpretation of Holmes and Watson. Sholmes combines the manic genius energy with the lack of focus and tact that are en vogue for Sherlock these days. He never becomes unlikable though, and Iris’ sweetness tempers his cutting remarks.
The main prosecutor, the aristocratic Barok van Zieks, is more grounded than his predecessors. He’s intimidating, but not introduced with an over-the-top decade-long undefeated streak. And while van Zieks has his biases and fights fiercely for his side, he’s interested in getting to the bottom of things over padding his record with obviously wrongful convictions. You see this more and more as he and Ryunosuke spend time crossing swords and start to see each other as more than just opposition to be defeated. The nuance in his character makes van Ziek’s arc all the more rewarding as you see it play out. He’s up there with Edgeworth as my favorite prosecutors in the Ace Attorney franchise.
We’d be here all day if I went through every interesting character, but be assured, the other players, like crotchety inspector Tobias Gregson and plucky pickpocket Gina Lestrade are just as endearing and well-realized. Meanwhile, the one-of witness and jurors provide the zany energy they always have and inject a jolt of lighthearted fun even when the proceedings become serious or intense.
Art, Sound, and Extras
Ace Attorney has never looked or sounded better. The 3D models of Great Ace Attorney are more polished than the cartoon art of the earlier games, but they still represent a wide range of styles and retain the loud, colorful style characteristic of the series. Every character has mannerisms and quirks that make them feel lively and distinct, from Ryunosuke’s nervous, darting eyes to Sholmes’ indulgent guffaw. The backgrounds are bursting with details that bring the bustling streets and unsavory backrooms of London to life. The “Adventures” portion of Great Ace Attorney even opens cases with lavish, fully-voiced anime cutscenes. Sadly, “Resolve” replaces these with 3D model cutscenes, but they’re still on par with what you find in big studio JRPGs.
Even though Great Ace Attorney only voices a small portion of its line, great care was taken in casting the VAs. The actors for Ryunosuke and Susato speak both English and Japanese fluently, providing a welcome respite from the usual butchery of Japanese names in English localizations. The courtroom Objections!’s and Hold It!’s are distinct for each character, and voiced for more than just the attorneys.
The OST is outstanding and stuck in my head even after the credits rolled. Each character has their own music to fit their personality. The intrepid lilt of Kazuma’s theme and the metropolitan swagger of Gregson’s theme made those standouts for me. I don’t think I disliked a single track though, and the music always sets the right tone.
In addition to everything else, Great Ace Attorney boasts a huge suite of extra features. You can view character portraits and concept art, complete with extensive director commentary. The same goes for music and cinematics, and you even see material that didn’t make it into the final cut. It’s a superfan’s dream come true. Besides the behind-the-scenes stuff, there are a handful of short “Escapades” to play and the option to display characters with alternate outfits. All the extras are a generous flourish on top.
Sure, if I look closely I can find nits to pick over the course of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles’ 50-hour adventure—Sholmes occasionally hogs the spotlight, the cases could do more to support divergent reasoning, I would have changed a few details of the ending—but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the journey. If you’re a series veteran, Great Ace Attorney builds on everything you know and love with exciting new mechanics and the most ambitious story and characters yet. If you’re new to Ace Attorney, or even adventure games altogether, this is as good a place to start as any. Great Ace Attorney is outstanding in every facet of its design and production, and deftly avoids the problems that can make adventure games inaccessible. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is an experience not to be missed, and if you plan to skip it, I can only say one thing: OBJECTION!
THE GREAT ACE ATTORNEY CHRONICLES IS A MUST BUY
Many thanks to Capcom for a PC review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.