Full game spoilers for The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures
Having finished “The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures” I can safely conclude that it’s all of the best parts of the Ace Attorney series but in an early 20th century setting. The new protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo is great, a hapless and inexperienced student who’s suddenly thrust into a legal career path. Susato is a fun sidekick too, a much smarter and less naive version of women characters in the series past. She’s so much more put together than Ryunosuke and the only reason she’s an assistant and not a lawyer is because of her gender. Herlock Sholmes, whose name is only switched because of copyright law in the US and is in fact very much the famous character, walks a fine line between savant and buffoon as his close reading of evidence often leads him down incorrect paths. The entire cast is stacked top to bottom with interesting characters and it’s exciting to see the rotating cast grow. The move to 3D models works wonders in courtroom scenes too; the characters are much more expressive with their movements and faces than they were capable of in 2D. The comedy is top notch and is matched across line reads, facial expressions, and movements. I loved everytime Baron von Zieks dramatically threw a glass or when the Skulkin brothers did their synchronized dance. The whole game seems like a major refresh for the series and like a new chance to try new modes of play and stories. In a big departure for the series chapter 2 doesn’t even include a trial and the new “Great Deduction” challenges are a fun way to piece together clues. The story even tries its hand at some pointed political topics, looking at how wealth and inequality affect the legal system. Chapter 3 especially embroils Ryunosuke in a compromised legal battle that stands against the usual “good” vs “bad” sides the courtroom drama usually takes. The ending of the game pulls some of its punches (it isn’t truly radical in its final message) but the game as a whole takes a more pointed approach than Ace Attorney games in the past.
Chapter 3 sees Ryunosuke and Susato finally arrive in London after a treacherous boat journey. Ryunosuke has committed to becoming a lawyer and fulfilling the purpose of his friend Kazuma (RIP, big time surprise that’s close in impact to Mia’s demise). He meets with the cold Lord Stronghart, the leader of the court system in London. He’s an intense man who runs on a schedule that’s planned down to the minute. Despite his sharpness he somehow acquiesces to Ryunosuke replacing Kazuma and gives him his first case. This is immediately suspicious but Lord Stronghart’s intentions remain ambiguous throughout the game. We see law enforcement implicated during the game but Lord Stronghart is untouched. He’s untrustworthy and I’m curious if this open thread is followed up in the sequel. Nevertheless Ryunosuke just received his first client and the case begins in 15 minutes. He and Susato rush to the court and briefly meet the defendant; Mr. McGilded a well to do man in London. He’s on trial for the murder of a brick maker and was found in the carriage with the body. The story behind this isn’t entirely clear from the outset as the trial almost immediately begins upon the protagonist’s arrival. McGilded leaves relaxed and claims that they can’t lose the case.
Fast forward the trial a little and Ryunosuke’s back is against the wall. This is keeping with the Ace Attorney games. Trials typically start with your client’s guilt already presumed and late reveals eventually lead to the truth and a not guilty verdict. McGilded’s trial is no different with the new exception of the jury system. Trials in this game are decided by a group of a half dozen London citizens from various walks of life (the characters are all really great). The case almost immediately goes to a guilty verdict as von Zieks presents decisive evidence. Susato reveals that the defense has the opportunity to try and persuade the jury to overturn their verdict before the trial ends. This new system is great as you expand your analysis for finding contradictions to 6 people. Once you find it you then have to play the jury off each other. You’re able to sow doubt amongst the jury and get the decision reversed. The case continues to wind until McGilded takes the stand. He explains there was another witness when suddenly a smoke bomb goes off and everyone is forced outside.
This is where things start getting strange. The person who fired the smoke bomb was an orphan girl named Gina Lestrade. She’s a pickpocket who also happened to be the major witness. Her testimony matches McGilded’s and seemingly proves his innocence. Even stranger, when you go back to look at the murder scene (the carriage) there’s a new blood stain on the floor. Everything falls into place as you intuitively pounce on the new evidence. Van Zieks is shocked and angry, claiming the evidence is forged. It’s too late though, the momentum is firmly favoring McGilded. Ryunosuke tries to support van Zieks as he clearly sees that something is wrong. McGilded becomes enraged at Ryunosuke and changes character but he calms down once it’s revealed that there is no evidence that the carriage was tampered with. McGilded receives his not guilty verdict and you helped him get it. He cackles as the trial draws to a close.
It’s a dark turn for a game and series that has players trust that they are representing innocent people. The Ace Attorney games are never about having player choice and you’re funneled down a set path in your trials and investigations. Chapter 3 flips the usual script and forces players into a rigged trial. You are in fact representing the guilty party and you will help him avoid any ramifications. Mr. McGilded is a rich man who has power and influence and also positive goodwill with London citizens for his charitable donations. You also slowly learn that he’s a corrupt man who has manufactured the proceedings you’re participating in. The game then is reinforcing the hollowness of this trial by requiring your actions to be motivated by proving his innocence. The player is in a compromised position from the jump but you aren’t aware until it’s too late. You were never in charge of the trial and all the victories you accumulate (finding contradictions in evidence) were in service of evil ends. You’re in the same view as Ryunosuke, thrust into a bad situation without knowing it.
The twisting of the usual Ace Attorney formula is reinforcing the game’s message on how the rich avoid repercussions and the people and systems that enable it. Ryunosuke is literally doing his job and defending his client. The game is able to keep him respectable by placing him there blindly as his first case in London and he realizes too late what is actually occurring in the courtroom. His job as a lawyer is not to find justice but rather believe and defend his client. Ace Attorney games usually make defending and justice one in the same; your client is usually innocent. You jump on every contradiction trying to slowly illuminate what actually happened that night. This is all from the perspective that your client is truthful and your job is to make everyone else believe that point of view. The McGilded trial twists this as you twist the narrative to suit him even though by the end he’s clearly guilty. Your actions, and the actions the game lays in front of you, make you complicit in his legal maneuvering. Every accomplishment or “a ha” moment the game feeds you is actually wrong. This is employed not to reflect on you the player but to have you question who benefits from the supposed “most advanced” legal system in the world. What is your role as a lawyer if the guilty can go free as long as they have the money to pay for it? It’s an interesting question that the Ace Attorney series has never really reckoned with before.
While chapter 3 takes some swings, the chapter ending and the rest of the game sidesteps some of those questions in favor of the more traditional approach (representing the more wacky and lower class members of society). McGilded is killed in a mysterious cutscene removing him and all the evil he represents to mostly wash away. It’s a bit of a let down, even if the final case is really fun and funny to play through. The game also guesstures at some of those questions around justice but merely drip feeds them as potential mysteries in the next game. The final case does implicate members of the legal system in crooked dealings, but the game is content to not really follow through on what those actions mean. They are there to add flavor to the case and it largely leaves it as that. The final moments with McGilded in the courtroom though are still very effective. The way he allows his mask to slip in his moment of victory works in making you feel gross and powerless. Both Ryunosuke and the player’s conception on how to interact in the courtroom are completely reversed to great effect.