The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is the kind of engrossing murder mystery that’s perfect for a long vacation — it just happens to be a video game. As a prequel of sorts, Chronicles takes place long before the original Ace Attorney trilogy, with new characters and a much more grounded tone, but with the same absorbing investigative gameplay and shock story twists that make it hard to put down. It’s the best of the franchise in one lengthy package.
The game — which is actually a collection of two titles that previously launched in Japan — follows a budding defense attorney named Ryunosuke Naruhodo during the late 19th century in Japan. Things immediately get off to a rough start. In the first case, Naruhodo is forced to defend himself in court after being accused of murder. The second case features a shockingly unexpected death... which Naruhodo is also accused of committing. Things don’t slow down from there. The story jumps from Meiji-era Japan to Victorian London, with lots of delightful twists along the way.
If you’ve never played an Ace Attorney game, they play out a bit like a visual novel crossed with a detective game. Scenes generally revolve around either a court appearance or the investigation of a crime, so you’ll spend most of your time searching for clues, interrogating witnesses, and reading over lots and lots of dialogue. It works because of the incredible writing — buoyed by a great localization — that seamlessly jumps from goofy to serious to heart-wrenching. Most importantly, there’s the incredible feeling that comes from finding the right piece of evidence or contradictory testimony that will blow a case wide open.
That was all true of past games, and Chronicles improves the formula in a few ways. For starters, the cases feel more grounded in reality, with less bizarre coincidences that make it impossible to predict what’s really going on. Later entries in the series went a little extreme in this regard, but Chronicles reels things back without getting rid of the exaggerated characters and silly puns. Perhaps my favorite addition, though, is Herlock Sholmes, a detective who joins forces with Naruhodo. Like the real Sherlock, he’s gifted in the art of deduction, but he’s also a bit of a goof, constantly making mistakes that Naruhodo has to correct. Just like in court, it’s really satisfying finding the correct answers based on his flawed observations, particularly since he’s always so sure of himself.
Chronicles also introduces a few other new features that make it a bit more accessible than past entries. For one, you can play the 10 cases in any order, as if you were picking episodes to play on Netflix. But there’s also a new “story” mode that essentially plays the game for you. It’ll run through dialogue automatically and even choose the right piece of evidence, without you having to touch a single button. Given how long Chronicles is — it’ll probably take you at least 40 hours to play through the whole thing — I found it nice to just sit back and watch at times. It’s also handy for those moments when you’re not quite sure how to proceed, as getting stuck can really ruin the flow of the game.
As a largely standalone prequel, Chronicles is a great starting point for new players, but it also might just be the best that Ace Attorney has to offer. It has shocking twists, lovable characters, and the unmatched joy that comes from solving a complex crime. And with 10 meaty chapters to play through, it’ll keep you busy at least until the end of summer.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is available now on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Steam.