Until last year, I had never played a video game where within the first few minutes of playing, I said out loud, “Wow, this music is banging.” Then, I played The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles.
The compositions for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles make up one of the most fully realized game soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s a beautiful compliment to a rich duology with colorful characters, gorgeous design, and enjoyable gameplay.
While the Chronicles games are the latest in the famed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, their settings take players to the past.
A New Setting for a Beloved Franchise
In Ace Attorney Chronicles, the protagonists solve mysteries to protect clients in late 19th century Japan and Great Britain. Both regions are in the midst of monumental changes. The former sees Western influences for the first time in food, style, and politics; the latter is overwhelmed by the Industrial Revolution. These characters are aided by the delightfully irreverent Herlock Sholmes (the game’s clever way of getting around copyright infringement for Sherlock Holmes).
Composers Yasuma Kitagawa and Hiromitsu Maeba do a fabulous job of celebrating the original Ace Attorney games. They pay homage to the original games’ plunking tunes for examining crime scenes, sorting through evidence, and analyzing testimony, while creating something new and exciting. The songs are aptly named after their use cases in the game with titles like “Objection!,” “Great Cross-Examination,” and “The Defendants’ Antechamber.”
Kitagawa and Maeba embrace the setting, working closely with game director Shu Takumi. They create rich instrumentals influenced by both Japanese and English music. On a Capcom development blog for the game, Kitagawa, lead musical director and composer for the game, wrote about how he spent time researching the Meiji era, focused on using only period instruments, and avoided overly synthesized sounds, especially as compared to the mainline Ace Attorney games.
Not Just a Song, But a Story
My personal favorite of the soundtrack is the theme for the main character Ryunosuke’s best friend, Kazuma, “Samurai on a Mission.” When I first heard it in the game, I was so overcome by the music that I had to pause playing just to listen to it. Looking at the Spotify album it looks like I’m not the only one; Kazuma’s theme has the most plays with 359,362 listens at time of writing.
Kazuma is everything Ryunosuke hopes to be. Kazuma is brave, articulate, well-spoken. He holds himself tall. He is true to his convictions. He’s a leading man. Along with Ryunosuke, the player finds themselves turning to him for guidance. So when Kazuma turns the tables and cagily asks Ryunosuke to help him with a mysterious mission, it’s clear the game is afoot.
“Kazuma Asogi – Samurai on a Mission” by Hiromitsu Maeba will likely be one of my most-played songs on Spotify this year. There is a strength to its major chords, its pacing propelling the player ever forward. The listener is treated to a sound that is bridging the east and west, just as this character will be.
And, just when we think we know this character, he surprises us. From around 1:40 to 2:05 in Kazuma’s theme, the song changes: A sweeping, wistful violin creates a romantic tension, a dream yet unfulfilled. It’s those 25 seconds that make this composition not just a game soundtrack, but a story.
Behind the Scenes of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is really two games, and the Western port released in 2021 is an absolute treat for fans of the series, or anyone interested in game design: It comes with a full suite of behind-the-scenes special features. Artists walk through character designs, and composers walk through their music, showcasing alternate options and ideas for character themes.
It’s a delicious opportunity as a player to get to listen to accepted and unused tracks with commentary from the creators. Here are a few screenshots from the special features about the composition that I thought were especially interesting:
On the blog, Kitagawa explained how critical the pacing is when designing a game soundtrack, “[for example,] the Pursuit piece must instill the thrill of the chase within the player.” For character themes, he shared, “the real challenge is in how well I can capture the full breadth and depth of each character’s zany personality – something I can’t do through the overall mood of the pieces alone. So, to accomplish what I must, I highlighted the many facets of each character’s personality by distilling them into their own signature sounds [such as] the tap, tap, tap of Sholmes’s shoes.”
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Is Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Steam
Do yourself a favor and play The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, one of my top games of 2021, and not just because the soundtrack is banging.