The Ace Attorney series is one of gaming’s great pleasures, mashing up courtroom drama with anime sensibilities into something dramatic, heartwarming, and silly in equal measure. But if you’re a new player, it can be tough to know where to start. There’s the original trilogy starring Phoenix Wright, a handful of spinoffs, and more recent titles that further the story of a hapless defense attorney with a heart of gold. It’s like jumping into a long-running soap opera and having to quickly catch up.
But it looks like a solution is almost here: Capcom is set to launch a prequel called The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles that offers the same tone and gameplay without all of the narrative baggage.
Chronicles is actually a compilation of two games that originally launched in Japan a few years back but have finally received a proper English localization. I had the chance to play through the first few chapters — there are 10 altogether — and the game plays out much like the rest of the series. That means most of your time is spent in a courtroom, where you’ll be meticulously going through statements and evidence in search of any contradictions you can find. In practice, this involves a lot of reading; Ace Attorney games play out mostly like a visual novel, with little breaks for investigating crime scenes or evidence.
The twist in Chronicles is that it takes place at the dawn of the Meiji period, when Japan first began opening itself up to Western influence in things like art, science, and, yes, law. At the outset of the game, the whole idea of a judge, lawyers, and jury is still relatively new. This gives the game an interesting aesthetic, and it’s fun to listen to characters marvel at things like photographs or anesthesia. But more importantly, it offers a completely clean slate: you don’t have to know anything about Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, or any other Ace Attorney characters to jump in.
Despite the lack of familiar faces, the game retains the same charm — at least from what I’ve played. The very first case introduces the new protagonist, a law student named Ryunosuke Naruhodo, who has been accused of killing a visiting professor from Great Britain and is forced to defend himself. The trial is both intense and ridiculous. A key piece of evidence involves how a steak was eaten, and one of the key witnesses is a soldier who appears to be controlled by a baby.
As always, slowly breaking these witnesses down by presenting contradictions is extremely satisfying, especially as each character will visibly change in elaborate ways to match their mental state. (The game retains the same 3D visual style as the previous Spirit of Justice, which means these moments are particularly outlandish.) The game even gets serious at times; I was pleasantly surprised to see small moments that touched on the racism and sexism of the time. Much like Phoenix Wright before him, Naruhodo has a real lovable loser vibe that you can’t help but root for. The first time he yells “Objection!” is totally heart-warming.
What’s great about the game, at least so far, is that it translates the things I love about the series — the sense of humor, the melodrama, the over-the-top characters, the thrill of connecting the dots — but in a completely new environment. As a longtime fan, it’s been refreshing. But for new players? It’s the ideal place to start.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles launches July 27th on the PS4, Switch, and Steam.