While Pheonix Wright spends a well-earned vacation, the Ace Attorney series knows no pause and jumps more than 100 years in the past. This time, you will bring justice in Meiji era Japan and Victorian Britain.
Whereas Ace Attorney Dual Destines symbolized the twilight of the judiciary system, Great Ace Attorney describes its early days. Indeed in the early Meiji era, the job of lawyer itself just had been created and there’s much to do to ensure fair trials. In this context, Asôgi Kazuma is sent to learn as much as possible about modern law in the most advanced country in the field : Great Britain. That’s the first problem of this new episode : Naruhodo Ryunosuke, the main character, is not a lawyer and doesn’t even wish to become one before being forced by the circumstances. So from the very start, he looks rather shallow compared to our usual hero in blue suit.
The transition is very awkward and weights on the narrative in a whole, which ends up uneven. The first trial taking place in the Japanese capital is very exciting, with a number of crazy plot twists and an historical context amazingly illustrated. The Westernization of Japan is described here like it is in Natsume Sôseki’s I am a Cat. It is pretty fun to witness the cultural and economic differences between Japan and the West at that time, as it triggers a lot of hilarious anecdotes. In brief, everything from the costumes to the politics is brilliant of authenticity and history-lovers should love it. Follows a second chapter rather dull, without any trial, and its conclusion is so stupid that the player is left with mixed feelings.
The (very large) part taking place in the UK immediately revives the interest. Once again, the general design is absolutely fantastic. First of all, the mischievous Sherlock Holmes takes the scene in a very surprising manner, but efficient nonetheless. Every chapter of Great Ace Attorney is introduced like a Sherlock Holmes novel, the second one being no less than an extremely clever parody of The Speckled Band! The great detective is like you’d imagine, very confident in himself and a bit mocking, but there’s a small difference : his conclusion are all far-fetched! This brings us to one of the new feaures. When investigating a location, Sherlock Holmes will make some unrealistic hypothesis : it will be up to you to “correct” it and find out the truth by pointing out the right detail. That said, there are not a lot of those phases, nor are they very complex. In spite of this, Great Ace Attorney full of delicious easter eggs for the readers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series.
It’s still a pleasure to wander in past London, where we appreciate once more the genius character design that made the series famous. The secondary characters have been designed in great detail : from the old officer of the British army proud of its service to Scotland Yard, the various situations and conversations of this episode are as good as ever. Cherry on cake, one of your client will be Natsume Sôseki himself! The famous Japanese novelist is totally eccentric, speaking time to time in yojijukugo, those idioms in four kanjis. All that is greatly enhanced by the soundtrack, which contains delightful melodies in investigation, and exhilarating themes in the key moments. Confess the Truth 2015 in particular is sumptuous composing, ideal for the turning points of the trials. On the other, I lament the fact that some characters haven’t been shown in more depth : Susato ends up being a rather classic sidekick without any big role (although Athena had her own chapter in Ace Attorney Dual Destinies) and prosecutor Barok Von Zieks never appears outside the courtroom. That’s the first time the main antagonist haven’t got a proper background, quite a shame…
The trials of Great Ace Attorney don’t differ much from the traditional gameplay of the series, that is to say showing the right piece of evidence at the right moment. Even though the game rises the challenge a bit by avoiding unnecessary hints like Ace Attorney Dual Destinies had, the evidence list is often not that big and the cases didn’t feel as complex or surprising as in the previous games. That still leaves the fun of solving cases without modern scientific investigations, with weird means like the music box or the botanic book. The game system introduces the jury in the decision process, but doesn’t really change things much as it’s heavily scripted. It’s very much like the multi-witness system seen in Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (which also comes back in this game) for you simply have to find the contradictions between the jury members.
The 3rd chapter is quite exciting as it’s very tense, and delivers some deep thinking about the lawyer’s role (a it like in the end of Justice for All) : should Naruhodo believe his client at all costs? Should he win by any means? His carrier or the truth? The stakes are high and our young jurist faces a tough choice, and so is the player. The 4th chapter is way less interesting (common crime, unsurprising solving) but fortunately the last one comes to a deeper and more emotional conclusion. The broader story appears more complex by adding a lot of political or technological elements connected to each other. Generally, this latest Ace Attorney comes further close to a visual novel rather than being a puzzle game.
The last issue with this game is that there are some mysteries left unexplained. The culprit of the first trial flees and you don’t know anything about his motive. The question regarding The Hound of the Baskervilles doesn’t find an answer. Worse, those two characters are shown 15 seconds to never be seen again in the narrative! Is that a sign of a chaotic development or of an upcoming sequel? I would wish for the latter. Another serious letdown : dubbing. Altough the trailers shown before the game came out were all fully voiced, everything has vanished in the final version! It’s as mute as the other entries. When you think that even modest Vita visual novels include full dubbing, some complaining is in order. All the more annoying that Capcom also forbids us from taking screenshots via the Miiverse. Tight budget? Last minute hesitations? Great Ace Attorney looks unfinished…
Uneven, questionable on some parts, Great Ace Attorney is nonetheless fascinating in the fun provided by the characters, the beauty of its design and the outstanding historical rendering. A game definitely enjoyable and moving towards the end, even though the gameplay doesn’t shine like in previous episodes.