Friday, April 15, 2022

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles - Thoughts

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles manages to pull off an incredible feat, one which every game in a modern franchise can only dream of: it surpasses its predecessors. What's doubly impressive about this accomplishment is that the original trilogy can stand tall off of its unique premise alone, whereas The Great Ace Attorney doesn't really bring anything "new" to the series. Rather, where The Great Ace Attorney's excels is in its masterful craftsmanship, culminating in the best story Shu Takumi has penned yet. It's a roller coaster of bizarre twists, endearing characters, and mysteries so elaborately tangled up that even the great Sherlock Holmes would be left stupefied.

At first blush, this may all sound like a baseless boast, especially given how The Great Ace Attorney opens. You'll note early on that the narrative moves at a glacial pace, turning its first case—the intended tutorial—into an overwrought and verbose affair. This pervades the entire experience, as events, details, and motives are explained and then re-explained in elaborate detail, heedless of the player's understanding. Characters will belittle and infantilize you in court as you wait to present decisive evidence, drawing out conclusions that you've worked out several lectures ago. While this foible is present to some degree in every Ace Attorney game, it's arguably at its worst here—particularly because Shu Takumi should know better by now. The sole vice of The Great Ace Attorney's is that it's incorrigibly loquacious, like a college professor enamored by the sound of their own voice.

But as long as you don't mind being battered by wordy tidal waves, The Great Ace Attorney offers a fantastic ride from start to finish. Even its plodding first case contains several twists and turns, turning it into a struggle befitting of a penultimate case in an earlier game. The Great Ace Attorney doesn't let up either, repeatedly gobsmacking the player with baffling developments, wild conspiracy theories, and enough red herrings to make you suspect a nine-year-old of murder. So many mysteries underpin The Great Ace Attorney that by the end of the first game in the duology, you'll be left with more questions than answers. Fear not however, as by the end of the second every disparate piece of evidence will link together, like the cogs of a great machine.

And therein lies what makes The Great Ace Attorney so good: it's a competently told, standalone story. No character is invincible because they're a fan favorite, no ally inscrutable because they're on the "good" side, and no villain so deplorable as to commit a crime for the sake of it. The Great Ace Attorney's is an elaborate tale of nationalities and deep-seated hatreds, where conflicting ideologies mix with freak accidents to produce Machiavellian outcomes. At times the yarn it weaves is as fantastical as it is improbable, but glimmers of reality will bleed through, painting the world as a tragic place where good intentions frequently clash with carnal impulses—and often lose.

It's difficult to talk about the game without delving into full-on spoilers, so I'll just say that I was left very satisfied with how The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles resolves. While it's by no means perfect—expect some preposterous motives and incongruous details—the mystery surrounding the Professor case is utterly captivating. Even if you correctly guess the perpetrator lurking at its core, the way the final trial unfolds is spectacular, delivering some dark revelations that took me by surprise. Given how easy it is for a murder mystery to misstep in its final act (see Dual Destinies and Pretty Little Liars Season 7), The Great Ace Attorney deserves to be commended for not only delivering a convincing climax, but doing so with an unexpected, morally-gray gut punch.

Of The Great Ace Attorney's many delights (including its knock-out soundtrack), the way it plays with expectations is my favorite. Despite the franchise formula being well-trodden by this point, there are some genuine surprises to stumble upon in court—especially if you're expecting the game to mirror its predecessors. While I'm impressed most by the final case of the second game, it's the third case of the first game that left me smitten, as I pulled several 180° turns trying to guess its outcome. In fact, I don't think there's a bad case between either game; there are some laboriously long trials, yes, but every case is peppered with reveals both big and small that'll push you onwards. Be prepared for anything, from an innocent-yet-unexpected pet to a curious piece of evidence that can blow the case wide open. If you've grown weary of Phoenix Wright's 20-year-old tricks, I wholeheartedly recommend giving The Great Ace Attorney an try—there's bound to be something here that will impress you.

If you're a new player however, be forewarned that the game is long—very long. Like 80 hours long. The Great Ace Attorney is an exhaustive undertaking akin to Persona 5, where you'll have to chip away at it over the course of several months. I very much enjoyed the time I spent with it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to start another game after the conclusion of every other case. And like Persona 5, it's an absolute marvel of ambition... that you probably won't be touching again until a decade or two has passed. Still, a game's replayability isn't its sole defining factor; The Great Ace Attorney is worth the price of admission for the amount of "wait what?"s it elicits on the first time through.

While I contend that The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles would be improved with a firmer editor (you could probably cull 10% of the script without sacrificing anything of importance), everything else about it is spot on. If you're in the mood to read a tale as charming as it is impactful, and as puzzling as it is goofy, then The Great Ace Attorney will not disappoint. It really can't be overstated what an accomplishment it is for this duology to dethrone the OG trilogy. The Ace Attorney Trilogy might be the better introduction but The Great Ace Attorney is the more provocative package, in theme, style, story, substance—you name it. It is gaming's greatest whodunit, one that will leave you with a single question after its credits: how can Shu Takumi possibly outdo himself next?

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