The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles review – an open and shut case of gaming brilliance

一世’ll be the first to admit my bias when it comes to the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games – the legal-themed mystery series that partly inspired me to become a qualified (though not practising) lawyer – so the fact that I like The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is no surprise. The real twist is that what might have been a mere spin-off tale about Phoenix Wright’s ancestor in Victorian London has turned out to be perhaps my favourite game in the series, thanks to series creator Shu Takumi’s return to the writer-director’s seat.

Despite the different setting, the basics of video-game lawyering remain largely unchanged: 调查, gather evidence, scrutinise testimony and present your undeniable proof that witnesses are mistaken, ignorant, or straight up lying. Though there are some additions that make for even livelier trials, including group testimonies with clashing witnesses, or the need to appeal to a surly and arbitrary jury, the core thrill – of presenting that key piece of evidence that reduces a smug, preening culprit to a snivelling mess – remains.

It’s in the presentation that Chronicles most clearly surpasses its predecessors. Ace Attorney has always had brilliant, fastidiously timed animations but this time the advantages of a 3D engine are far better utilised. The act of pointing an accusatory finger to emphasise your well-placed objection is made even more dramatic with a chamber orchestra going absolutely berserk as the camera smoothly swings around with a flourish. And cinematic tricks such as slow pans or sudden zooms are deployed artfully to heighten the tension or for a sudden shock. Characters will swap outfits or brandish weapons (or small dogs) for a gag, or as a vital clue. It’s definitely a major step up from the previous iterations.

Chronicles is, effectively, a single story split across two games, and while that does make the experience almost twice as long as usual (somewhere in the 40-hour range or more) it also helps it break from the series’ usual formula. Once the familiar rhythms of the standard Ace Attorney five-chapter story are cast off, other traditions also begin to seem much less stable, allowing the game to defy assumptions and continually surprise the player. But even with its considerably longer runtime, Chronicles feels like it has less legal filler than prior games, with even seemingly unrelated cases tying in well with the game’s main storyline of international intrigue.

There is the usual cast of eccentric and entertaining witnesses, defendants and other assorted malcontents. And various characters and concepts from Sherlockian fiction – reinterpreted in ways surprising and amusing – also make their appearance. 确实, the Great Detective himself (albeit renamed Herlock Sholmes) is a constant companion, helping and hindering in roughly equal measure. Putting Sholmes straight in the Dance of Deduction minigame, where you correct his brilliant-yet-flawed conclusions, is a wonderfully choreographed spin on the classic “parlour room” deduction sequence that never fails to entertain.

Considering that the writing has to serve at least three different purposes – presenting a series of convoluted but solvable mysteries, realising the series’ trademark wit, humour and emotional power, and placing it all squarely in a faux-Victorian era – writer Takumi and Capcom’s translation team have done a truly sublime job. 实际上, the writing is perhaps a little too overzealous at times on that last bit; playing as a Japanese national in 1900s London, the sheer amount of xenophobia you have to deal with can prove exhausting, even if it’s not nearly as dispiriting as a truly accurate rendition might be.

On a separate but equally irritating note, there are occasions when you, the player, will have already realised what is wrong with a given situation but have no idea which specific piece of evidence you need to present in order to force the game to realise it. Thankfully, compared to earlier games in the series, there’s a lot less of that in Chronicles, which mostly guides you smoothly from deduction to deduction, making you feel like a genius in the process.

All of it comes together in a finale that ties everything neatly together and, even compared to its predecessors, simply astounds in the sheer audacity of who and what exactly you are facing. If asked, therefore, whether The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (as a complete package) is the best game in the franchise, I can really offer no objections. I rest my case.

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