Unravelling the secrets behind Great Ace Attorney’s inspirations
As the original creator of Ace Attorney, Shu Takumi has been plotting elaborate crimes for the past 20 years. Joined by producer Yasuyuki Makino, he explains the inspirations and appeal of whisking us back to the courtrooms of 19th century London.
You’ve spoken before about how Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown and mystery stories of that period influenced the creation of the Ace Attorney series. Was finally getting to write mysteries in that setting a dream come true? And did that setting alter how you approached the writing or mystery construction? Shu Takumi Around the end of 2012, I was asked by the higher-ups to make a new Ace Attorney game that could run parallel to the existing mainline Phoenix Wright games. Not wanting to make a side-title in the vein of Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney,I thought to make a whole new Ace Attorney, and the most important question I had to answer straight away was, “How would this new game set itself apart from the Phoenix-driven games?” That led me to the simplest and easiest to grasp answer, which was to change the era and the location in which the story would take place.
As to the when and where that would be, the first thing that came to mind was 19th-century London, because that’s the birthplace of the mystery genre to me. I’m a mystery and detective stories maniac, you see, and it all started when I first encountered the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown and other classic British mysteries in my youth. And although I’ve never been to 19th-century London myself, it’s a world so familiar to me that I consider it my ‘second home’. That’s how I just knew I’d found the new setting for my next game when I hit upon it.
The game seems to build on Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright – the jury feels like an evolution of the mob trials, and Victorian London is closer in period to that game’s Labyrinthia. Did writing that game ease you into the new direction of The Great Ace Attorney? ST The parts of Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney that I was in charge of creating were the base concepts behind ‘a world where magic exists’, the Witch Trials gameplay system, and the story and text for the Ace Attorney sections. All of this started from a desire to bring Ace Attorney’s trials to a world where magic exists and modern forensics techniques didn’t. I’m sure when you play it, you can see how this title greatly influenced my next title, The Great Ace Attorney.
The medieval trials I saw in my mind’s eye included a mob of people at the witness stand scrambling over each other to claim, “I saw it!”“There’s your culprit, right there!”“No, it’s that girl!” That sort of frantic vision gave birth to the Mass Inquisition system, elements of which I incorporated into the Cross-Examination and the Summation Examination systems in The Great Ace Attorney where you verbally spar with a number of witnesses or a panel of jurors at the same time.
Keeping with the non-contemporary setting, I played with the concept of ‘a mystery set in a different world’ and changed the setting from ‘a world where magic exists’ into a slightly fantastical version of ‘late 19th-century Britain’. This wasn’t going to be Phoenix Wright’s world any more, but a brand-new Ace Attorney. I was also really pleased that it allowed me to bring my dear great detective into the mix.
As well as Sherlock Holmes, the story involves author Soseki Natsume – the first ‘real’ person to appear in an Ace Attorney game. What were your intentions for the character? And did you have to tackle his writing differently, given that he was a real person?
ST To me, there’s an element of fantasy in everything about the Ace Attorney series – there are real spirit mediums in the mainline games, and I doubt there were giant scales in the courtrooms of Victorian London onto which balls of fire would fly. But that’s what makes the series so fun, isn’t it?
But since I was purposefully moving away from the modern era in The Great Ace Attorney, I wanted to create something that would make players feel as though they’d really journeyed back in time to the turn of the 20th century. So I did some research into the Japan and Great Britain of that era – how regular people lived, the overall atmosphere and mood – and tried to recreate that through the little things using nuggets of trivia I’d gathered from here and there. It was a new type of challenge for me, trying to balance fact with fiction as I created a story steeped in elements such as what people thought and believed back then, and old customs that are different from our own modern ones.
The Victorian London of The Great Ace Attorney is a fictitious one, as imagined by a Japanese man who lives half a world away from the UK. So, I took great care in my world building to make sure that nothing would seem out of place and thereby ruin the magic. It would make me very happy if players came to love the world I’ve created through this process.
Can we expect any more historical Ace Attorney games from you? Another Phoenix Wright ancestor teaming up with Perry Mason or Columbo?
Yasuyuki Makino Never say never – the possibility isn’t zero! However, collaborations are something which can’t happen one-sidedly, so some kind of connection would need to happen between us. It would be a lot of fun!