The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Victorian England age-appropriate racism against Japan and Japanese

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is the long-awaited localization of a game that originally launched in Japan. It’s a prequel to the rest of the Ace Attorney series and tells the story of Phoenix Wright’s distant ancestor, Japanese student Ryunosuke Naruhodo. Thanks to a series of events, Ryunosuke finds himself behind the bench of England’s courtroom, defending clients in strange murder cases — so far, so Ace Attorney. But he eventually uncovers a conspiracy that has been at the backbone of most of his cases and is the reason he’s even in England. The big twist? That Victorian England was really, really racist.

Spoiling The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

While I can spoil the finale of the game, it’d take more room than I have here to explain the entirety of the conspiracy that leads up to the finale of the second part. There are likewise a lot of story elements that would explain the bigger picture but that would keep you here on this column for the better part of a year, so I’ll keep this as brief as possible.

Ryu originally arrives in England because he was invited by his best friend, Kazuma Asogi, a brilliant law student who was offered the chance to study abroad and brought him along for the company. What he doesn’t know is that Kazuma wanted to go to England to discover what happened to his father, Genshin Asogi. The elder Asogi was accused of being a serial killer called the Professor, who killed several British aristocrats.

Kazuma Asogi The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Victorian England age-appropriate racism against Japan and Japanese

The big secret that the big bad of this case — Lord Chief Justice Mael Stronghart — is concealing is that he knows Genshin was not the Professor. The Professor’s true identity was a British nobleman, whom Stronghart was blackmailing into dispatching his enemies in a bid to take control of the British legal system. After the true Professor dies, Stronghart frames Genshin because he felt it would be easier to buy a foreigner as a ruthless killer than a British nobleman.

Like I said, there’s a lot here that I’m leaving out because… well, this is an Ace Attorney game and the plots tend to get very complicated indeed. But that’s the gist of it, if it’s possible to reduce an Ace Attorney story to a gist.

A Japanese Student in King Arthur’s Court

This Great Ace Attorney big twist is foreshadowed, sort of, not just by the in-game clues but by the attitudes and racism that Ryunosuke faces from the English people. Probably the most uncomfortable part of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is just how much racism everyone displays around Ryunosuke and his assistant, Susato Mikotoba. It’s most obvious in the character of Ryu’s prosecutor rival, Barok van Zieks, who refers to Ryunosuke repeatedly in derogatory terms and who has a voiced line calling “the Nipponese” a “truly fascinating breed.”

But he’s far from the only one. Ryu’s friend, Kazuma, is referred to just hours after his death as a “lowly student from insignificant Far East islands,” albeit by someone with something to hide. Several British people refer to Ryu as “Eastern,” talk about him as if he’s not there, and just generally are all uncomfortably racist towards him. Even in the first case, a British woman spends the entire case decrying Japan and the Japanese language in a Japanese court while testifying before a Japanese judge.

van Zieks The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Victorian England age-appropriate racism against Japan and Japanese

I don’t mind The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles making me a bit uncomfortable, even if it does bug me a little bit that they almost imply that van Zieks’s racism is understandable because he believed Genshin Asogi killed his older brother. But if this is about period-appropriate feelings, I don’t think it could have conveyed them more thoroughly if Capcom had tried.

And that’s not a diss — if anything, I admire the developers for their blunt portrayal about how a Japanese student would have been treated if he suddenly arrived in Victorian England and started trying legal cases. It’s not pretty, but I’ll bet money the reality wasn’t either.

But what I appreciate most about this is that it’s not just for period-appropriate flavor. It’s setting up a major plot point about a conspiracy to take control of the English court system and how they intend to make a foreign student the fall guy, how they’ve already done it in the past, and why that would never, ever be questioned. It’s not something I expected to encounter when playing an Ace Attorney game, but it was well done nonetheless.

Rachel Kaser
I'm Rachel, a former assistant horse trainer who somehow wound up talking about video games for a living. In the three or four minutes of my day not spent playing games or writing about them, I'm either writing a mystery novel or tweeting about Netflix and Disney+ shows @rachelkaser.

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