The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles – Objection, My Dear Watson
I’ve loved the Ace Attorney series since I first discovered it at 12 years old. It has always brought with it a special brand of chaotic reasoning that has appealed to my nerd brain. A lawyer who cares for justice but spends most of his life flying by the seat of his pants because he’s constantly thrust into absurd and unexpected circumstances? Sure, I’m obviously not a lawyer, but that’s relatable content. The situations these games present are always at least a little unrealistic, but they always somehow find a way to shape them into something that can be explained with just a few (sometimes very, very long) logical leaps. As a person who loves logic puzzles and deductive reasoning, this series has always been right up my alley, no matter what weird new mechanics they introduce or weird new hoops they give me to jump through to prove my reasoning process. So obviously, I was excited that the Great Ace Attorney series was getting an official translation and release and I’d no longer have to live knowing they were out there but I couldn’t play them (officially, anyway). The series has done big crossovers before, and while I know many people had mixed feelings about Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, for example, I loved it. I was excited to see what they could do with a crossover that seemed even more logical – a mixture of the bumbling yet effective problem-solving of Ace Attorney and the often methodical (if far-fetched) deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes. Now, having played both games in the series, I feel… torn. There’s a lot of the Ace Attorney heart that I love in this game, but there are also some things that just feel different. And I’m genuinely not sure whether they’re good differences or not.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles centres around a new protagonist – Ryunosuke Naruhodo, an ancestor of original protagonist Phoenix Wright. This new Naruhodo is instantly likeable, and also instantly falls victim to a classic Ace Attorney curse – a false murder accusation that he must fight past to avoid being immediately imprisoned (and/or put to death). When the series starts, Ryunosuke isn’t a lawyer, so it’s a little harder for him than it has been in the past for dear Phoenix, but as this series’ characters often do, he is lucky to have several knowledgeable friends who are there to help him. He also has a big case of absolute panic eyes, which honestly only made me love him more. But he learns quickly, and it doesn’t take long for him to work out that he has a passion for the truth and the ability to have unwavering faith in people that probably don’t deserve it, which is all you need to be a successful Ace Attorney lawyer.
It’s also immediately apparent, however, that this series follows a slightly different format to previous games in the series. In previous titles (in the main series at least), cases would usually be comprised of an investigation segment, during which you’d find out the details of the crime, meet some key players and compile evidence, and a trial segment, which would have you pulling apart witness testimonies, finding contradictions and presenting evidence to disprove their statements in order to build your case. In both titles of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, though many of the cases still require you to go through an investigation of some kind along with some kind of defence of your client’s innocence, there are also several cases that only employ one of these mechanics. You will either go to trial and collect evidence as it goes on (as it’s presented by the prosecution, so you’re usually on the back foot) or you might spend an entire case in the general area of the crime, speaking to witnesses and compiling evidence without ever setting foot in the courtroom. It’s an interesting mix-up of dynamics and it does serve to keep things interesting, but it also gives the games a different rhythm to its predecessors. Newcomers to the series might enjoy this – and I didn’t exactly hate it – but it was a little jarring.
This spin-off series also has another big new element – the inclusion of the famed, fabled, great detective himself – Herlock Sholmes. This game has forever ruined my ability to confidently get Sherlock Holmes’ name right in any conversation because now I’m used to this (to be fair, classic Ace Attorney-style) naming abomination. Herlock Sholmes, like the man that inspired him, is a London detective who garnered favour from the public as the main character in a fictional series. The stories written about him seem to paint him as a very capable man who solves mysteries left right and centre, but in reality, he’s… a little less than that. His ‘Great Deductions’ tend to lead him to the vague area of the truth, but he relies on Ryunosuke to ‘Course Correct’, which tends to mean looking at a piece of evidence and finding the logical truth it reveals – which is usually conveniently ignored by Sholmes. He’s egotistical, smug, narrow-minded – all the things I’d associate with the regular Sherlock Holmes, so they’ve nailed the characterisation. He helps, he hinders, he shows up at the last minute to save your butt with his weird inventions. His inclusion in the game, and the mechanics that go with him, are definitely interesting, but it never felt like much of a challenge. He’s usually wrong in pretty obvious ways, and it isn’t that hard to correct him.
The other new mechanic takes inspiration from Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney before it, allowing for the questioning of multiple witnesses at once. If a witness reacts strangely, you can call them out on it and pursue the line of questioning with them instead. Also making their debut in the courtroom is the jury – a panel of citizens that will need to be convinced of your client’s innocence in order for the trial to continue. Before you can even formulate a defence, you need to make them believe that it isn’t a done deal by finding contradictions within their own reasoning. There are definitely layers to these trials, which keeps things interesting. Especially given, as is usually the case, the prosecutor you’re up against is a fierce opponent with a squeaky clean record. This time around it’s a man fondly known as the ‘Reaper of the Bailey’ because nobody ever survives a trial against him. Good times, when you’re a baby faced defence attorney.
The Ace Attorney series has a history of being a little vague on its location, but in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles that all goes out the window. While your journey begins in Japan, the home country of the protagonist and most of his companions, the whole gang is quickly moved to Great Britain, which seems to be in the middle of an industrial boom. I could never quite put my finger on what time period they were going for, but it was definitely ‘late enough for photographs but not early enough for widespread electricity’, so… someone who actually knows anything about the world can probably figure it out. It’s mostly weird to see the game being so explicit in its location, and also in its racial profiling. There’s a lot of racial stereotyping going on here, and I’m not convinced the game doesn’t venture into straight-up racist territory. It was certainly uncomfortable at points, that’s for sure. And the treatment of women? Yeah, it’s ‘because of the time period’ but it also isn’t great. Most of the characters that you’re supposed to like have less shit views on women, so that’s nice, and there was a case in the second game that gave me a glimmer of hope (basically, the women are just generally more competent than their male counterparts), but overall… there were some unpleasant vibes. Good thing Herlock Sholmes is there to set the competency bar really low so that all the other characters can basically just vault over it.
One of the greatest criticisms of the series to date is the way the game forces you to conform to its logic, with the challenge often coming from the fact that you not only have to find the right evidence, but you need to find the right time to present it too. That can make the game difficult in a way it doesn’t need to be because while you might know the solution to the crime early on in the piece, you need to wait for the game to catch up with you. There’s less of that here, but if anything, I found it steering too far in the other direction. These games felt easier than the others, and it often felt like it was holding my hand a little more than I needed. If I didn’t have the answer to something, it was because I hadn’t investigated a particular part of the screen, not because I hadn’t thought about the logic hard enough. I’m sure there’s a middle ground between too much challenge and too little, but they won’t quite be found here. For those that do find it a little challenging, however, or who are simply there to watch the story unfold without having to think too hard, there is now a ‘story mode’, which can be toggled on or off that will basically play the game for you. It’s a good way to keep things moving if you feel like you’re stuck. If you can’t be bothered clicking through the dialogue, but still want to present the evidence yourself, there’s also an ‘autoplay’ setting that can be activated that lets you watch the conversations unfold but pauses when it’s time to present. I definitely used this a couple of times to play while I was eating lunch, or during particularly long scenes.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a strange mix of things. It’s certainly a spin-off from the main Ace Attorney series rather than a core title, and it does have a lot of the elements that fans of the series have grown to love. You’ll still take on the role of a lawyer to gather evidence and defend your clients in a courtroom where the odds are stacked against you. You have a lovable assistant who is there to guide you, a cast of wacky characters with increasingly ridiculous names, and a protagonist who has unwavering faith in his clients no matter how guilty they may seem. The addition of the Sherlock Holmes feel is exactly as you might expect it to be, with some extra elements of logic and deduction thrown in there to really merge the titles together. All the ingredients for it to work are there, it just… feels a little off. For fans of the series, it’s great to finally have access to these side titles, and they will definitely tide you over until the next big series entry – but I’m not quite convinced they reach the peaks of the main series games before them.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by Capcom