This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.
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I worry I've been doing too much weeb shit lately; tends to draw a certain crowd. Hey, if you like sputtering one out to greasy cartoon tits that jiggle like semi-sentient party balloons, then more power to you; just seems weird to get so evangelical about it. Anime fans are like vegans without the moral superiority, or the-- No, actually; about the same body odor. "Ooh, Yahtzee, if you liked Ys IX so much, you should try Wonderful Party Balloon Romance Panic 4, as well!" Oh god, you're all so fucking greasy! You're turning my front lawn into sauerkraut just by standing on it!
Look, anime is like an ice cream parlor: it's a fun treat now and again, but if you go there every day, you'll end up fat and disgusting and being used as a cautionary example for the benefit of the small children with whom you share a hobby, and its variety of flavors and hair colors all kind of taste the same when buried under a pile of gummy bears and blatant fetishization. And when I go there, I usually stick to the low-fat yogurt option, 'cos it's only ever the exceptions that I seem to like. So don't go filling the comments with visual novel recommendations just 'cos I'm doing a visual novel now; I only like the Ace Attorney games 'cos of the ways they differ from most visual novels, in that there's actual gameplay that it's possible to lose, and puzzles you have to think about, and you're not just hammering the "Skip Dialogue" button with one hand and rubbing your little hairy chapstick with the other. And with that masterful setting of tone, we press on.
Ace Attorney is a long-running series of wholesome courtroom adventures about finding just enough of a hole in the seemingly watertight prosecution to cram in the destructive dildo of defense and blow the case apart. But they've always had the same problem pre-Like a Dragon Yakuza games had in that you only really need to play one of them; little details change, but the broad strokes are always the same. You're a wide-eyed young lawyer who's clumsy and innocent, but with a good heart and faith in humanity, who spends a slightly untoward amount of time around underage girls, and you're up against a higher-status prosecutor who's way overconfident for someone with no clearer idea of how legal systems actually work than anyone else in the plot. And the only strategy the developers have ever had for mixing up the formula is to swap out the main characters for new ones, who are precisely the fucking same.
Hence, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, an only recently officially-translated prequel to Ace Attorney starring Phoenix Wright's Japanese ancestor at the dawn of the 20th century. Now, why would Phoenix Wright have a Japanese ancestor? Cough. Surely, the Phoenix Wright games all take place in America. Cough, cough, droll look to camera. Ryunosuke Naruhodo - no, I will not attempt a Japanese accent - is a wide-eyed, clumsy, innocent, good-hearted law student who is forced to defend himself against a murder charge, and through a contrived series of events, ends up traveling to Victorian London on a cultural exchange, befriending several underaged girls and matching wits with a higher-status prosecutor who's way overconfident for etc.
But lest you think this is just Ace Attorney with top hats and Cockney rhyming slang, they also put Sherlock Holmes in it. Fun fact: "Sherlock Holmes meets my original character and they become best friends and solve mysteries together" is arguably the world's oldest subgenre of fan-fiction; I'm pretty sure Queen Victoria was writing her own version of that whenever she was demurely fingering herself in a Westminster tea room. And that's what this is, only with Dr. Watson replaced with another underaged girl, but that's par for the fucking course, isn't it?
Now, I do like Ace Attorney games, and I fucking hate Ace Attorney games. But I like them, but ooh, how I hate them! I love how expressive they are, and the character design and animation; I like it when you call out a simpering smug-fuck with a face like the un-besmirched top on a new jar of peanut butter and mess it up with your butter knife of justice until they're hopping around, banging their head on things like they just found a lioness creeping through their pubes. And with that, I also love the satisfaction of solving the puzzles; as I believe I've talked about before, my one major ask of a detective puzzle game is that it should make me feel clever, and there are plenty of moments in Ace Attorney that do that, when the accused thief is weirdly okay with our suggestion that we search his pockets for the missing diamond butt plug. And then I remember that he was caught pinching the bums of court officials ten minutes ago, and that we actually need to be searching the bailiff's rectum.
But as for why I also hate Ace Attorney games - OOH, I HATE 'EM! - part of it's the sameyness. I want to say every fucking defendant in every game inexplicably hides information from you until you can crowbar it out of them mid-trial; even when the main character's the defendant, actually. And afterwards, the same conversation always ensues: "I'm so sorry that I lied, protagonist! I expect you want to resign as my lawyer now and leave me to be falsely executed." "No, client! I will not resign as your lawyer!" "GWUH?! But why?!" "Because it's a lawyer's job to have faith in their client, and I don't believe lying should carry the death penalty, 'cos I'm just that bloody great.”
Which brings me to the main reason why I hate Ace Attorney games; it's the same reason I hate most visual novels: that they never use ten words when ninety thousand billion will do. Getting to the point feels like pulling teeth while you and your dental patient are riding different escalators. "I believe we should search the bailiff's rectum!" "WUH?!" "But the bailiff didn't steal the diamond buttplug!" "Hahaha, my learned friend has clearly forgotten who is on trial here, smug-smug!" (Smash hands on desk like a short-tempered DJ who's just seen a cockroach.) "Not at all!" "Huh?!" "I submit that it is perfectly possible for the diamond buttplug to be in the bailiff's rectum without them being the one who stole it!" "WHUH?!" "But how?!" Jesus Christ! If they just let me bend the fucker over the witness stand and yank his trousers down, we could all be at lunch by now.
And this hurts the all-important "making me feel clever" factor, because I did feel clever nine hundred text-boxes ago, but now the game's dropped so many obvious hints, a fucking sea lion with dropsy could've figured it out. Games like this need more than just a "fast text" option (which, incidentally, doesn't even make the text go by that much faster, but that's a different niggle entirely); it needs a fucking "fast brain" option that replaces half the dialogue with meaningful eyebrow wiggles.
Still, I suppose it's all pacing; my favorite parts of these games are when you're nailing a lying witness to the wall and the cool music's playing, and everyone's acting like they're getting slapped with wet trouts again and again, and we're speedily descending the slopes of Mount Justice on our truth toboggan, and that wouldn't be as satisfying without a long and arduous climb to the top of Mount Justice beforehand. And thinking about it, since detective games inherently lack replay value, it's not so bad for the games to be formulaic, as long as there are new mysteries to explore; Columbo's formulaic, and I love Columbo. That's what I want out of Ace Attorney: I want to feel like Anime Columbo. But that'll never work, 'cos the raincoat would cover up his miniskirt.
- Bastion of justice: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Small point, Capcom, but I'm pretty sure "Chevy Chase" wouldn't have been Cockney rhyming slang for "face" in the year 1900
- Please don't bring up that fucking Danganronpa game again