‘The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles’ is Fantastic! Faithful! Fun! February 8, 2023 — by Christopher Chen Photo by Christopher Chen “The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles” is an excellent addition to the long-standing “Ace Attorney” series. Ace Attorney is a visual novel series rooted in absurdity, from its ridiculous characters with ridiculous names, like the metalhead Jesus-lookalike priest Pees’lubn Andistan’dhin (peace, love, and understanding), the aptly named Deid Mann (no explanation necessary), or even Inga Karkhuul Haw’kohd Dis’nahm Bi’ahni Lawga Ormo Pohmpus Da’nit Ar’edi Iz Khura’in III. (How could this name be any longer or more pompous than it already is?) In Ace Attorney, you play as a defense lawyer discovering the truth behind overly complicated murders through cross examinations and testimonies, attempting to prove the innocence of your client. Part of the charm is solving each puzzle by figuring out where the contradictions are, but the other part, naturally, is in the dialogue of the characters. The franchise is six series strong, but to the detriment of its plot, also six series long, which shows in the increasing bloat in the cast and plot threads that are never wrapped up — the last few games all focus on “the dark age of the law” without ever addressing any resolutions from the previous games. For instance, “Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney” introduces the jurist system, which is meant to counteract the current legal system based purely on evidence, but the jurist system is dropped immediately afterwards, counteracting all the developments that culminated in it. Ace Attorney was long overdue for a reboot, which “The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles” duology (TGAA) perfectly fulfilled, bringing the series back to its classic formulas while keeping its quintessential quirks. TGAA follows the Japanese university student Ryunosuke Naruhodo and the cases he takes while studying abroad in London, usually facing off against the prosecutor Barok van Zieks, the “Reaper of the Bailey.” Unlike most other prosecutors, Van Zieks’ reputation comes not from his “undefeated record,” but instead the mysterious deaths of defendants that are acquitted in the cases he prosecutes, which is the central mystery of the second game in the duology. The story also tackles 20th century racism against the Japanese characters and the classic theme of corruption in the judicial system. TGAA has interesting mysteries and cases, but where it really excels is its compelling characters and overall polish. It’s in this game where the developers fully mastered the usage of their 3D models: While earlier entries in the series had eerie, plastic-like models with clunky motions, TGAA’s characters have genuinely smooth and endearing animations. Detective Herlock Sholmes’s dances, signature shrug and perhaps the funniest falling animation I’ve ever seen, play up his outward goofiness and obliviousness; Van Zieks’ animations of pouring out a glass of wine just to crush the wine glass hallowed chalice with his bare hands, slamming his leg on the desk, or tossing his hallowed chalice into the gallery, play up his melodrama; judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba’s encyclopedia-flipping apparently lets her discover literally anything in human history. Side characters aren’t neglected either: Each case’s victims, culprits, and witnesses all make a strong impression despite their shorter screen time. Maybe the best example is William Shamspeare, a wannabe actor whose every line includes a Shakespeare reference, or maybe Enoch Drebber, a scientist with mechanical looking animations and the sinister theme, “Rondo of Science and Magic,” an ever-forwardly marching beat complemented with cold tings. (Hell, he literally unfolds himself from a cramped safe in his introduction.) It’s not just in their appearances and songs that these characters excel, though — it’s also in their well-written dialogue. Whether through subtext or through text, even the culprits are somewhat sympathetic and their motivations satisfyingly explored. Additionally, the localization of TGAA is excellent, unlike the admittedly clumsy localizations of previous games in the franchise like the switch from ramen to burgers, because clearly nobody in America would understand what ramen is. The dialogue includes readable accents and character-specific quirks, including the Irish accent of the nouveau riche Magnus McGilded or the alliterative phrases of Soseki Natsume. Name puns are also included, with one-offs like antique store owner Kyurio Korekuta (curio collector), or journalist Raiten Menimemo (written many memos). The game’s soundtrack also complements its story and its characters. “The Defendant’s Antechamber” acts as an introductory and anticipatory theme, the calm before the storm, while “The Heart of the Matter” accompanies the “aha” feeling of finally figuring out a mystery. “Summation Examination,” which plays during last-minute attempts to sway the jurors, carries a steady, thrumming beat and a lively but dramatic trumpet that encapsulates the weight of the juror’s decisions — if you fail here, your client is convicted. Goofier themes also exist, as demonstrated with “Madame Tusspells – Mysteries Encased in Wax”’s classic Halloween-y sounds and with “Raiten Menimemo — One Journo’s Menimemoism”’s larger-than-life intro and whistles. Still, the game knows when to return to seriousness. At its core, it’s still a game about murder mysteries — and it accentuates its returns to seriousness with subdued, heavy tones, as in “Reminiscences — Killer’s Crossroads,” or in “The Truth Revealed,” in which deep organ notes take the center as the horror of the crime’s nature sinks in. Triumphant moments are also appropriately captured in songs like “Pursuit — The Great Turnabout,” which has a melody that single-mindedly moves forward with triumphant crowing trumpet sounds and powerful, deep booms, just as the characters press forwards, finally having gained the upper hand. The differences between the Japanese and British characters and settings are also evident through the instruments used in each song, featuring traditional instruments like the koto or the shamisen versus the heavier accordion, violin, and harpsichord respectively. Visual novels like TGAA have cemented the genre as a strong story-telling medium, and TGAA is one of its best in the genre because of the effort put into its deeply moving plot, endearing cast and masterfully composed soundtrack.