In The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, players travel back to the foundations of the series… and the foundations of the modern Japanese legal system.
This game is actually two games: The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, released for Nintendo 3DS in Japan in 2015, and The Great Ace Attorney: Resolve, released in Japan in 2017. Now, both games have been collected in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, which has been released worldwide for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows.
Thanks to the Fin de Siècle setting of the game, this story takes place during Japan’s Meiji Period and England’s Victorian era, a fact that The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles thematically exploits for all its worth. A central concern throughout the game is the relationship between Japan and England, and how that relationship has an effect on the development of Japan’s legal system.
This conceit provides the connection to previous games in the Ace Attorney series, which have largely been set in the present day. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles digs into the foundations that make the present day legal battles possible by having the player experience some of Japan’s earliest court cases.
Not only does this highlight why certain aspects of jurisprudence play out the way they do in the modern era, it also provides a perspective that illuminates some of this system’s shortcomings.
In part, this is accomplished thanks to the fact that the game allows many of its characters to display bigoted and racist opinions. Many of the British characters are scornful of Japanese culture, and they aren’t afraid to say it (often on the court record). However, this is never a frivolous addition: the limited Occidental opinions are directly connected to flaws in the legal system – including the law’s propensity to assign guilt based on assumptions and ask questions later, if at all.
This conflict is dramatized through the perspective character, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, an innocent young man with a strong sense of justice and a propensity to be accused of horrible crimes. Naruhodo is repeatedly thrown down the legal well and must rely on his own sense of observation and alacrity for arguments in order to claw his way out of it.
It isn’t just the (sometimes very rough) integration of multiple cultures that affects the Ace Attorney narrative at this point in history. There’s also an emphasis on how new developments in technology affect the legal system, as well, with Naruhodo taking the time to marvel over the details visible in a photograph when compared with a sketch or drawing before the photo is used for evidentiary purposes.
Ace Attorney Gameplay
If you’ve played an Ace Attorney game before, there will be no surprises in the gameplay here: the majority of the game plays out through conversations between the various characters as they attempt to solve various mysteries and logic puzzles in order to get to the bottom of the various cases they face.
This involves interrogating witnesses by selecting questions and identifying where there are errors in the statements they make, presenting the correct piece of evidence in order to back up your arguments, and searching photographs and crime scenes for clues.
When new styles of gameplay are introduced, they are painlessly explained by supporting characters, and are always delivered in a way that maintains the concept of the game.
Plus, the game’s stellar character animations must be mentioned. Regardless of whether the character is a protagonist or an antagonist, this game is filled with amusing and memorable animation… especially when you manage to present a particularly compelling piece of evidence and overturn your opponents expectations.
Ace Attorney vs. Herlock Sholmes
But perhaps one of the most entertaining aspects of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is the character of Herlock Sholmes. Naturally, this character is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and he bears many similarities to the seminal detective, even having his adventures chronicled through short stories in a magazine that’s title is an anagram for “The Strand.”
Fans of Doyle’s stories will find plenty of references to the Holmes canon in the game, with allusions to stories from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze.”
However, while this version of Holmes is certainly not the unimpeachable archetypical detective with whom most people associate the name, neither is he a complete wastrel. Through a method of gameplay called the “Dance of Deduction,” players must guide Naruhodo as he “corrects” the errors in the deductions made by Sholmes.
Sholmes is capable of sniffing out the right path, it seems… but not so great at nailing down all the pesky details. This not only affords a more nuanced adaptation of Holmes than one sees in many incarnations of the detective, it also offers an engaging method of gameplay.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
In addition to incorporating fictional characters like Sholmes, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also integrates real historical figures, like Japanese novelist Natsume Sōseki. The result is an engaging narrative that delves more deeply into its thematic concerns than one might expect at first glance.
With ten interconnected cases that will send the player on an adventure that travels across the globe, a sensibility that can combine silly humor with serious logical analysis, and a willingness to liberally pull from nonfiction and literary history alike, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a smart game with impressive depth and breadth.
Fans of the previous Ace Attorney games will be interested to see the origins of the series, and newcomers can effortlessly step into this epic narrative on the ground floor. Who is going to object to that?
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows. Review code provided to The Beat by Nintendo.