The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Review: A fantastic reason for picking up a book or a new hobby

Sure, it’s a bit of a provocative headline, but not without merit, I assure you. And we’ll get to all that in good time.

The Ace Attorney series of games by Capcom has quite a rich history encompassing six main games, five spinoffs and two compilations in the two decades of its existence. And yet, it has always remained the one that got away, if you will, for me.

Whether as the result of a budget crunch, vast backlog or more urgent titles that needed to be played, I’d always missed out on getting in on the Ace Attorney action. Until now, that is.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles represented a wonderful way to get my first taste of that universe, since it ostensibly comes with the series’ latest gameplay mechanics and is set in the 19th Century — well before the original Ace Attorney trilogy. This meant the chances of spoilers ruining the other games for me would be minimal. All good, so far.

Getting into the game, I had some idea of what to expect, so carried few misplaced expectations about it being a thrill-a-minute action-adventure rollercoaster or that I wouldn’t be required to read reams and reams of text over looped, recycled and re-recycled animation.

My fondness for visual novels and interactive adventures of all hues — ranging from such high-budget outings by developer Quantic Dreams as Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human to Telltale Games’ take on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Batman and more, and from Dontnod and Deck Nine’s mesmerising Life is Strange games to Chance Agency’s criminally underrated Neo Cab — had me well-prepared for whatever The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles had to offer.

Cheap plug: For a more detailed look at interactive adventures and their history, check out this article.

With that out of the way, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles comprises two parts, Adventures and Resolve — each of which contains five lengthy chapters. Released in Japan back in 2015 and 2017 respectively, these detail the journey of Ryunosuke Naruhodo from almost reluctant law student in Japan to fairly accomplished international lawyer.

The game drops you into the shoes of Ryunosuke at the very outset, but it’s not a jaunty back-and-forth about how he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. Instead, you find yourself in handcuffs and about to stand trial in a Japanese court for the murder of a British professor.

This breathless start to the game after a brief anime sequence laying out the setting and era of the game is a superb way to kick off proceedings. It’s just a shame that things go downhill rather swiftly from this point onwards.

The problems are manifold, so I’ll start with the most obvious one and work my way down the list. Games, by their nature, are supposed to give you, the player (that word is instructive), something to do. Unfortunately, a bunch of folks over at Capcom seem to have missed that brief, because for stretches of time there’s very little to really do, apart from clicking a button to move the conversation along.

It’s no exaggeration that each chapter — which can last up to three-and-a-half or so hours — barely gives you 12 or 13 things to do. And if they’re not telegraphed long before you arrive at them, they’re hidden behind in-game tutorials. I would be remiss not to mention that these tend to be among the most patronising explanations of game mechanics that I’ve seen in quite some time.

What about those 12 or 13 things you do get to do, I hear you ask. Well, these activities range from cross-examining witnesses (picking a statement made by the witness to either seek more information or contradict with the help of evidence) and playing members of the jury against each other to correlating bits of evidence together to set right an incorrect deduction or some of the most basic hidden object minigames this side of free game trials in mobile ads.

These are at best, perfunctory and at worst, infuriating in the way the game feels like it needs to hold you forcibly by the hand and do what’s needed.

Next up are the story and characters. Most chapters begin with a brief animated film sequence that sets the scene for the events to follow. And for the most part, the story is engaging and even entertaining at times, however, it’s the execution that leaves a lot to be desired.

Screen grab from The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.

The problem with the narrative is the same as the one to which I’d alluded a couple of paragraphs ago, and that is that the game seems to be under the impression that you, the player, are incapable of grasping information the first time around. And that you need that information hammered into your head repeatedly. From the game’s way of explaining gameplay mechanics to characters going around in circles to explain the same thing to you, it’s all very tiresome.

Speaking of the characters, it’s very rare to find a game in which there isn’t a single character you dislike. It’s equally rare to find a game in which there isn’t a single character you like. Unfortunately, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles manages to achieve this dubious distinction with its bevy of irritating, smug and asinine characters. The cringe-inducing British detective Herlock Sholmes (a spoonerism that gets less and less funny each time you hear it) and cloying judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba are the worst offenders among this lot. Let’s put it this way: If these characters were real people, I’d either want to cross the road to avoid ever running into them or punch them square in the face.

That the anime sections are more fun and tolerable than the actual game is a testament to the idea that maybe The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles should have been a film instead.

And then there’s the dialogue. Aside from the animated cutscenes, there’s no voice acting, so everything is heavily dependent on the quality of the stringing together of words on your screen. As someone who doesn’t mind reading pages and pages of codices that expand on the lore of a game, I don’t mind text-driven games one little bit. However, I do mind poorly-conceived and clumsily-written lines masquerading as a conversation and my word, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is full of them.

Screen grab from The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.

As of itself, the dialogue is sub-par, but it is rendered even worse by the heavy-handed and extremely tone-deaf use of racist discourse. It’s set in Victorian Britain and Japan’s Meiji era and the game attempts to reflect that time frame — which is fine. After all, plenty of games channel themes of racism, supremacy and so on.

But somehow, and quite in line with the game’s tactic of repetition… and more repetition, dialogue continuously slips into pejorative mentions of the “Nipponese” and “Eastern sorcerers”, a character is referred to as a “Dark Jinx”, and one character even throws out a “You Japanese like to stick together”. And all this is within the first three chapters. Desensitised, I stopped keeping count after that. Yes, I get that it was a racist time and the British were among the worst of the lot, but this song and dance does less to push the story forward than to distract and force it to lumber along at a glacial pace.

Screen grab from The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.

That it’s been going for 20 years now is ample proof that the Ace Attorney franchise has a formidable fan following across the world and maybe The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles will appeal to a lot of people. It’s a distinct possibility. On my part, however, I cannot recommend this cringe-inducing excuse for a game to anyone looking for entertainment.

And I really wanted to like this game. I’d expected a whole lot more from my introduction to a series I’ve wanted to play for so long. Maybe this is how all the games in the Ace Attorney series are, maybe it’s not. I might check out some of the others, but I’m in no tearing hurry to do so. At this point, I’d rather revisit WWE 2K20.

Game reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Review code provided by publisher.

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