It’s not often I get to appreciate just how much a single sound effect in gaming can affect me and tell me a complete story. However, I feel that a certain sound effect and how it’s used in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles deserves a shout-out, because it’s not only used well in the game’s opening mission, but it also tells a story of character growth all by itself.
The Sound (Effect) of Conviction in Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
There’s a sound that Ace Attorney fans will be very familiar with, one that hasn’t changed much, if at all, since the series first started. The desk slam sound effect is a resounding thud sound made during the courtroom scenes when either the defense attorney or the prosecution slams their hands down on the bench (or, in the case of Apollo Justice’s Prosecutor Gavin, the wall behind the bench). It’s a memorable sound effect because it’s meant to denote a well-made point or a firm stance taken by the lawyer.
Unlike other games in this series, you don’t start out playing as an ace attorney. You play as Ryunosuke Naruhodo, a student at a Japanese university who’s been accused of the murder of a British professor. When you start Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Ryunosuke is not an attorney at all — in fact, he has to be manipulated into representing himself at his own murder trial just to keep his best friend, Kazuma Asogi, from getting into trouble should anything go wrong. He’s clearly in distress the whole time: His eyes are bugging out of his head, his hand nervously goes up when he wants to ask a question, and he just generally looks so far out of his depth that he’s about to drown on dry land.
Kazuma, on the other hand, is an attorney and is permitted to practice, hence why he initially agrees to represent Ryunosuke. When the trial first starts, he does a few rounds of questioning himself just to show his friend how it’s supposed to be done, and, at one point, does a desk slam of his own, complete with the sound effect. Ryunosuke jumps at this, clearly not prepared for his friend’s show of confidence.
Several times during his trial, Ryunosuke attempts to imitate what Kazuma does — fake it ‘til you make it, buddy. He even attempts to imitate the desk slam, by throwing his whole body onto the bench. However, this does not have the effect he might have hoped for, as the sound effect that is used whenever he tries this is akin to a piece of paper being smacked onto a desk — weak, in other words. He even glances at his own hands in dismay as he realizes he didn’t make the sound effect.
While The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is essentially holding the player’s hand in this opening case, it’s very easy to feel hopeless under the circumstances. Ryu knows he didn’t commit the murder, but the weight of the evidence is oppressive, as is the fact that the Japanese government will not do anything to disrupt a new peace with the British, even if it means throwing an innocent Japanese student to the wolves. It’s actually a terrifying situation, though it’s in keeping with the fact that the game makes racism against the Japanese a major part of its story, and Ryu doesn’t seem strong enough at first to stop it from happening.
However, there’s a gradual increase in confidence on Ryu’s side as he starts piecing together the evidence of what likely happened, leading up to the moment when he makes a critical discovery (which I won’t spoil, at least not in this column). Once he realizes that he can puncture a hole in the prosecution’s case, he takes a big jump in confidence.
And when Ryunosuke slams his hands down on the desk this time, you unleash the true desk slam sound effect in Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. With just one sound effect that lasts less than a second, the game delivers a whole arc of character development in which Ryu figures out what he’s supposed to do and has the confidence to do it, without relying on Kazuma for support.
In one instant, we see that Ryunosuke is now fully on board with this whole “attorney” thing and, for the first time, believes he can actually prove himself innocent against a mountain of evidence. He goes from ineffectual mimicry of Kazuma to being capable of defending himself. And the game managed to convey that growth with a single sound effect, thanks to its significance to the series and its context in the case. Not bad, Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Not bad at all.