Game translation (“localization,” if you’re nasty) is an often unsung profession. No matter how well-received or lauded the writing of a game is, praise is often (deservedly) heaped at the feet of the original author, while those who actually translated it for a different audience are (undeservedly) ignored. The only time localization staff are really considered is typically when people are angry at them (usually for toning down or outright removing the sexualization of some anime girl, let’s be real) and never for when they have meticulously and beautifully translated the intent and context of a work into another language.
In that sense, the Ace Attorney series has long been an outlier. Ask any westerner if they know Gyakuten Saiban (“Turnabout Trial”) starring Ryuichi Naruhodo and they’ll almost certainly stare blankly at you, but the title “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” has become a household name at this point, prompting endless “Objection!” memes, a diehard fanbase, and tons of fan content… all on Western shores. The process by which Ryuichi Naruhodo became Phoenix Wright is more well known than most localizations, thanks in no small part due to the “Japanifornia” setting – early Ace Attorney could be transplanted from a modern Japanese setting to a modern American setting with relative ease, but as the series goes on it becomes all the more apparent and goofy. But ask any fan, and it’s part of the charm.
That charm could only extend so far, however, and in the mid-10’s there appeared a game so steeped in cultural and historical context that “Japanifornia” would never fly: Dai Gyakuten Saiban, translated as “Great Turnabout Trial” and therefore localized as “The Great Ace Attorney,” was set over a 100 years prior to the present day, starring a young Japanese student who studies law abroad in Great Britain, experiencing the clash of cultures between Meiji Era Japan and Victorian England and all the law practices in-between. Between this richness of culturally-specific content (and the presence of a particular Great Detective whose status in the public domain is murky at best), it seemed as if the game and its eventual sequel would never hop overseas. The Western fanbase had even finished a full fan translation for the first game and was making headway on one for the second.
With all that context, it seems miraculous that we ever got an official release for both games in the duology on our Japanifornian shores, packaged together as The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles – and its an apt name, because in a series that has never truly disappointed, the package combines to form one of the greatest sets of lawyering adventures to date, amplified by a grand setting and international stakes that make it perhaps the most dramatic and high-stakes Ace Attorney game(s) of all time.
The Great Ace Attorney in question is one Ryunosuke Naruhodo (ancestor of Ryuichi, though it’s never officially alluded to in-game), who – after being falsely accused of murder (as is series tradition) gets set on a course of legal practice that lands him in the Empire of Great Britain at the turn of the 20th century, as laws and cultural norms both there and at home are in a great state of flux. Joined by judo-practitioning judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba and samurai sword-wielding best friend Kazuma Asogi, Ryunosuke takes on case after case as he develops the resolve to find out the truth of happenings around London, many of which revolve around an enigmatic prosecutor dubbed “the Reaper of the Bailey”…
Characters are the beating heart of any Ace Attorney game, and this might be one of the best overall casts yet. Ryunosuke is a dry, snarky, witty rookie (as always) faced off against an endless supply of quirky witnesses and judiciary members, complimented well by the steely grace of Susato (perhaps the first Ace Attorney assistant in memory who doesn’t feel like Maya Fey with a slight character tweak) and the firm fervor of Kazuma. Add in a whole host of great supporting cast members, from loveable street urchin Gina Lestrade to the vampirically flamboyant Barok van Zieks, and in a series rife with fantastic casts TGAAC might have the best overall one.
Which isn’t to even speak of arguably the best and most memorable of them all – the inimitable and world-renowned Great Detective Sherlo– er, Herlock Sholmes. Yes, in a copyright-dodging move over a century old Capcom has pulled off an elaborate ruse, replacing the classic detached detective Holmes with an eccentric goofball. Sholmes might just be the goofiest and campiest character in the entire Ace Attorney series, and that is not a statement I make lightly. Watching whatever madness he’s getting up to at any given moment is one of the experience’s greatest pleasures, made all the better by top-notch localization writing.
Sholmes also features in one of TGAAC’s additions to the core Ace Attorney experience – Great Deductions. In the course of investigations, Sholmes will occasionally make astounding deductions based on his observations… so astounding that they’ll often be completely off the mark, leaving it to Ryunosuke to carefully observe the surroundings and fix his mistakes. These “dances of deduction” (and yes, they are actual dances) are refreshing changes of pace from typical investigation, allowing you to fully take in the details of an environment and enjoy the trains of logic at play. It feels like the first time the series has taken full advantage of its jump to 3D, and each and every one is a pleasure. A wonderful addition from top to bottom.
Compared to the more standard (some would say dull) investigations, Ace Attorney’s trials are what’s truly engaging and iconic – and there are a couple additions there as well. The first is “pursuing” a separate witness on the stand when they react to someone else’s statement, which is simple and self-explanatory enough that while it’s nice, it doesn’t feel too substantial. The other, Summation Examinations, involve interviewing the members of the jury (yes, Ace Attorney games with a jury!! wild) after they’ve all voted Guilty in a last ditch attempt to reverse the verdict, pitting statements against each other without the ability to show evidence. These, in turn, feel a lot more substantial and fun, especially since even the often-nameless jurors exhibit the same quirky character qualities as anybody else. Combine all of that with the same awesome writing and it’s spectacular.
The visual design of the series has long been another strong suit, and these titles don’t disappoint. Whether it’s in an immediately appealing and standout design like the bone-chilling coroner Dr. Sithe or the funky little magnate Magnus McGilded, you know what a character is like with just one glance. And animations are sharper than ever, whether it’s in Tobias Gregson munching away at his fish and chips or in the utterly robotic and jerky motions of Enoch Drebber. Visually, it’s still A+ all the way through.
I’m surprised to say that I can’t say the same for the music. Now, Ace Attorney has arguably some of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, so the failure is less in being outright Bad and more in simply not matching the series’ insane pedigree. The soundtrack attempts to match the setting by going for period orchestral pieces as opposed to the usual vaguely-dance electronica, but all of the symphonic sounding tracks have a tendency to not stand out – unaided by the clear MIDI of it all (if they had opted for an actual orchestra, I have no doubt it would sound noticeably better). I was disheartened to go through the sound test and discover that what I thought was a normal, banal investigation song was actually a character’s theme – no other Ace Attorney game would have me make such a blunder. It’s not as if it’s a terrible soundtrack, and there are a couple of absolute standouts (especially towards the very end), but this one is maybe a B at best.
There’s also the matter of racism (a sentence I usually hope to not include in any review.) Now, being set in Victorian London, it’s not a huge surprise that many of the game’s Brits refer fairly apprehensive to Naruhodo and co. on account of their race. While hardly extreme, it… does sit differently with me when witnesses are scolding Ryunosuke due to him being Japanese rather than, say, his messy hair (though there are plenty of not-racially-charged jabs at him too, worry not). It’s period-appropriate enough, and honestly I think the localization handles it as delicately as it could while getting the point across, but having it in an Ace Attorney game of all places feels… a bit off. I won’t go into detail (partially because I don’t think it’s my place to cast final judgment on the issue, partially because it’s a long and complicated topic) but it did occasionally leave a questionable taste in my mouth. Not enough to greatly impact my view of the game, just something to keep in mind going into it.
That’s a relative footnote compared to the overall quality of the cases, of course. There are five chapters in each game – ten chapters total (though the last two cases of the second title are pretty much the exact same case, so it’s more like nine total). While overall excellent, the overall structure can feel a little wonky due to the fact that while it was clear that both games were geared towards the same overall story, they were separate games, meaning the first one (dubbed “The Great Ace Attorney Adventures”) has to have a lot of its own conclusions and resolutions even as its setting up plot points for the second title (“The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve”). As such, the concluding case of the first game feels slightly anticlimactic, as the plot elements wrapped up are relatively minor and the overall mystery is still afoot, having not even been clarified yet. Not helping matters is that the “ultimate villain” of the first title doesn’t really feel worthy of the moniker, more akin to a perpetrator in a middle-of-the-game case (which is really the overall issue, it feels like a Case 2 or a Case 3 when it’s the finale).
In turn, however, when you do finally start unravelling the whole truth in the second game, the amount of set-up and grandiosity that’s been put into it gives it a gravitas that no other game in the series has managed to achieve. And by the time you’re wrapping up the final case, you’ve experienced a journey like no other. While it’s not quite enough to become my favorite entry in the series, or my favorite case, it’s definitely in the upper echelons, comparable with the finale cases of any of the games from the original trilogy. It’s one I can’t wait to see friends play through in order to see their reactions to all the twists and turns (and also Herlock Sholmes).
And make no mistake – while the legendary Shu Takumi deserves tons of credit for his script work, equal praise must be laid at the feet of the localizers, who have spun a translation like none other I have seen. Effortlessly weaving classic Ace Attorney wit into the product while also managing cross-language puns and cultural context, giving appropriate accents to British characters, and going the extra mile by subtly establishing when certain characters are speaking Japanese or English via honorifics and other context clues, and it’s simply amazing. Accessible yet authentic, full of life and vigor, establishing once and for all that among all Japanese to English localizations, Ace Attorney is king.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles will likely be as remembered for the journey it took to even be officially released in English as the journey of Ryunosuke Naruhodo himself – and both are worth it. The sheer grandiosity, excellent writing, and overall package make it one for the ages – in spite of some lasting nitpicks. While it wouldn’t necessarily be my recommendation for a starting point in the series, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so if you want to see Ace Attorney at perhaps its most Ace Attorney self. Great indeed.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Categories: Visual Novel, Adventure