To say Capcom is having a rough time recently would be putting it mildly. Having been subjected to a "customised ransomware attack", we’ve witnessed no end of leaks about upcoming plans for the next few years, but amongst this all, one particular reveal stood out. Keeping in mind that this remains formally unconfirmed by Capcom presently, it showed confirmation of Ace Attorney 7 being in development and two other collections were also spotted. One suggests a sequel trilogy set is on the way, which would comprise of Apollo Justice, Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice.
The other, however, confirms news that fans were starting to think would never come: that the two Great Ace Attorney titles are getting localised for Western release. Said to be bundled as part of a new compilation alongside the original trilogy, fans had long given up hope that we’d ever see this obscure entry. For the unfamiliar, Great Ace Attorney (known in Japan as Dai Gyakuten Saiban) released in 2015 on 3DS, and whilst the main entries were created under different directors, these spin-off games were under the direction of Shu Takumi, the creator of Ace Attorney who’d left the series after Apollo Justice.
Set at the start of the 20th century, Takumi set out to create an original adventure using Phoenix’s distant ancestor, Ryūnosuke Naruhodō, an English student who’s frequently drawn to trouble. After being placed on trial for the murder of Dr. John H Watson, Ryūnosuke ends up travelling to Great Britain with judicial assistant Susato Mikotoba to further his studies, eventually becoming a Defence Attorney and having several run-ins with Prosecutor Barok Von Zieks. Quite notably, it included some crossover with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes, who becomes a major character alongside John’s daughter, the 10-year-old Iris Watson.
Retaining the same basic gameplay from the main entries, you investigate crime scenes to gather evidence and testimonies, followed by courtroom battles against rival prosecutors. Exposing contradictions to defend your client, it introduced several new elements too, including a “Joint Reasoning” system for investigations alongside Sherlock. The jury system we briefly saw at the end of Apollo Justice also returns and players could also cross-examine multiple witnesses at once, taking cues from spin-off entry Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, also directed by Shu Takumi. Planned as a new series, it reviewed well and became successful enough to warrant a further 3DS entry in 2017, Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2: Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Kakugo, a game curiously removed from the Japanese eShop recently.
Despite this, however, neither Great Ace Attorney entry received a western localisation. Capcom has never formally confirmed their reasons as to why, and during a Gamespot interview for Spirit of Justice, series producer Motohide Eshiro only advised that there were a “number of circumstances” stopping this happening, without ever specifying what they were. Despite high demand from fans and some inadvertently raised hopes, it never came, but if Mother 3 is anything to go by, that never deters an eager fanbase. Thanks to Scarlet Study, a fan translation was completed last year and that team have since moved onto translating the sequel.
There are two prominent theories to why Capcom didn't release these two titles in the west, and the first has been attributed to copyright laws regarding Sherlock Holmes. This isn’t the place to deconstruct those laws, but to summarise, whilst he remains public domain in Europe and Japan, it gets a lot murkier within the United States. Doyle’s estate has previously argued that the last short stories Sir Arthur published in the 1920s are protected by copyright and, by extension, Sherlock is too – even though most of these novels are now public domain. Considering how prominently our famous detective features, not to mention other characters like Tobias Gregson and John Garrideb, Capcom may have understandably feared a lawsuit. Still, you can’t help but laugh that their alleged plan to counter this is by renaming him “Herlock Sholmes”. Amazingly, this approach is not unique to Great Ace Attorney either, though it begs the question of why didn’t they do this to start with.
The second reason relates to its niche setting. Unlike the main entries, Great Ace Attorney takes place during the Meiji Period/Victorian era and both games hold a particular focus on British-Japanese relations at that time. There’s quite an interesting historical background here, but due to the high effort needed to accurately localise this, it stands to reason that Capcom didn’t see it being a particularly profitable venture. This particular argument holds historical precedence too, as back in 2011, DS spin-off entry Ace Attorney Investigations 2 was not localised on similar grounds and remains officially untranslated – though that entry also received a fan translation later on.
We'd hesitate to call Ace Attorney a completely neglected series, considering last year’s Switch port for the original trilogy and a recent(ish) anime adaptation, but it hasn’t had strong Western support for years. Dual Destinies, Spirit of Justice and the Trilogy all received timely releases in the US and Europe, sure, but they were digital-only to minimise losses, whilst Japan got the full physical package. Since the DS-era, the only entry to receive a Western physical print was Professor Layton crossover and even that doesn’t really count, considering Nintendo published it. Despite previous successes, Ace Attorney remains a niche franchise and by putting business first, Capcom was clearly hesitant to go that extra mile.
With this recent development, though, it looks like internal attitudes are finally starting to shift. Though it should never have come to light in such circumstances – and our hearts go out to those employees affected by the data leak – the day which many fans never thought would happen might finally be upon us. After five long years, the Great Ace Attorney series looks like it’s heading to the West, and though we’ll wait for any formal announcements before getting our hopes up any further, combined with those other announcements, it’s got a promising future ahead of it.