The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a collection containing two titles never before released in the West, finally receiving official localisations years after their initial Japan-only launches. While this spin-off duology does little to tamper with the series' established formula, it makes up for a lack of innovation by simply being among the best games in the franchise.
Instead of following Phoenix Wright as usual, this collection winds back the clock to the late 19th century, focusing on an all-new cast of characters. We're introduced to Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a Japanese student who just so happens to be a direct ancestor to Mr. Wright. The two titles take you through how and why he comes to practice law, his eventful first few cases, and an overarching narrative that spans both games. If you're new to Ace Attorney, this is a great place to start, as it eschews all the established lore in favour of a fresh story.
The first of the pair takes its sweet time introducing you to this new chronology. Over five chapters, you'll be surprised at how slowly the wider story progresses. The advantage is that you get to know the key players very well, but it can feel like it's dragging its heels for a while. The story begins in Japan with Naruhodo in hot water, but with his best friend Kazuma Asogi by his side, he makes it through his first appearance in court. Events then take him on a quest to Victorian England, where he begins his career as a defence lawyer, but you'll know the ropes well before this happens.
Again, the core experience will be very familiar to those who've played any Ace Attorney before. These are essentially visual novels with some light interactive elements; you'll point and click to investigate crime scenes and other areas, while courtroom battles see you searching for inconsistencies in witness testimonies, using evidence you've gathered to point out holes in what they're saying. By and large, the gameplay here is very similar to older titles. Most of your time is spent reading (largely excellent) dialogue, and the cross-examinations test your observation and knowledge without ever being too obtuse. It's all rather straightforward, but it's an engaging system that works wonderfully.
That said, there are a couple of key new features that attempt to shake things up. During court proceedings in the Old Bailey, you'll be contending with a jury as well as the judge and prosecution. At certain moments, the jury may unanimously decide your client is guilty, and the literal scales of justice will weigh against you. At this point, you'll have to win a majority of the jurors back in a summation examination. This phase has Naruhodo listen to the jury as they explain their reasoning in turn, and it's up to you to point out statements that don't match up. In practice, it's not all that different to the regular cross-examinations, but it's a novel way of changing up the pacing of a case, and gives you some interesting new perspectives on things.
The second of these new features involves a certain Herlock Sholmes. Based upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective, this quirky character is an intelligent inventor and investigator, although his enthusiasm often leads him down the wrong path. He becomes a close friend of Naruhodo's, and the pair will at times partake in a Dance of Deduction. While investigating a scene, Sholmes will assess the situation, getting close to the truth but straying off the mark on key points. It's then down to you to correct things by looking around the area for something that makes more sense. Like the summation examinations, these sequences are a neat new way to convey certain facts about a case, although they don't dramatically alter the gameplay.
However, the truth is this series isn't beloved for its moment-to-moment play experience. It's the story and characters that make these games so compelling, and that's something this collection does very well. Naruhodo is joined throughout the games by several fantastic friends and foes, all with distinct personalities and quirks. Susato, Sholmes, and Iris are great allies, while you'll no doubt love Barok van Zieks, the game's vampiric, theatrical main prosecutor. What's more, there's a lot to unearth between all these characters as the adventures progress. There are some unexpected twists and turns that interweave the cast and some of the cases brilliantly. Despite things feeling slow at times, you'll end each chapter with new questions, answers to old ones, or both, and it keeps you hooked to find out the real truth behind the game's biggest mysteries.
The cases themselves get pretty intricate, and there are some wild revelations to be discovered. A couple of them run a little long, but the wider cast of witnesses and jurors means every chapter is interesting, and there's great variety in the how and why of each. One thing we'd say is that, sometimes, progress can feel a little rigid. For example, you might find yourself at a loss in how to move forward with an investigation phase, but you need to show a specific person a specific item, and if you don't put that together, it's not going to help you. Similarly, if you work something out before the game's ready for it, you might be penalised for showing evidence that should be right too early. Fortunately, the game has Story Mode, which allows you to basically have the game play itself. This nullifies some Trophies, but if you're truly stuck or just want to follow the narrative, turning this feature on will make all the decisions for you.
Alongside the two main games are some great side features, like Escapades, which are additional short stories that take place in between the proper cases. There's also a nice selection of artwork and music to enjoy, accompanied by comments from the dev team, and alternate costumes you can activate for use in the second game. As a collective, this package has a lot for die-hard fans to sink their teeth into.
Finally, we should touch on the presentation. The game's art style is lovely, with some fantastic backdrops portraying Victorian London. The 3DS origins are clear, with three-dimensional environments and character models, as well as lots of animations that add buckets of personality. It looks good at 4K on the whole, although there are one or two blurry textures here and there. Still, this is a big leap if you're coming from the original Ace Attorney Trilogy.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is, well, great Ace Attorney. The typical gameplay is embellished with some interesting new wrinkles, but it's the cast of characters and compelling narrative that make this a worthy spin-off. The story told across the pair of games is intriguing, you'll grow to love most of the characters, and there are some cracking, memorable cases to solve. This duo of games isn't doing much to push the franchise forward, but it's a very worthwhile adventure nonetheless. A great place to start for newcomers and a fascinating alternate story for fans, should you give this a shot? The answer is elementary.