Earlier this month, Japan saw the release of Dai Gyakuten Saiban: Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Bōken (Great Turnabout Trial: The Adventure of Ryūnosuke Naruhodō), Capcom's prequel to the long-running Ace Attorney series. If you're an American fan of Phoenix Wright, your days have probably been filled with plenty of hand-wringing.
And with good reason: The fate of Ace Attorney in the States has never been a sure thing. Capcom waited for the DS remakes before exposing America to the first Game Boy Advance trilogy, and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright languished in localization limbo for two years before finally hitting our continent last fall. And then there's the case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2, which never saw an official American release due to its development team disbanding shortly after production ended. That situation doesn't indicate a lack of faith in the market, but it may hint at how the producers of Ace Attorney view the importance of selling their games in other territories.
So, will this latest Ace Attorney game ever make it westward? Read on to digest the reasons why this newest entry may or may not make the transition to English.
PRO: Great Presentation
The original Ace Attorney trilogy got a lot of mileage out of the same handful of canned animations. A lot. It's a testament to the games' great writing that fans were able to stay engaged despite looking at the same pieces of art flaps their lips for dozens of hours on end. 2013's Dual Destinies upped the visual quality by magnitudes, giving the familiar cast of characters fantastic 3D models featuring great, traditional animation—seriously, the "finishing move" of any trial puts standard mo-cap acting to shame. That said, Dai Gyakuten Saiban is definitely the best-looking game in the series to date, with a sense of visual fidelity on par with the work Level-5 did on Layton vs. Wright. Sure, it's somewhat superficial, but a great-looking prequel like this could get plenty of new people on board.
CON: Voice Acting and a Hefty Localization
Text may be a seemingly cheap asset compared to fancy graphics and anime cut scenes, but still, translation and localization isn't free. And with the Ace Attorney series, you're typically looking at 25 hours' worth of words per game, which stands as quite an investment in terms of making an English-language version. And, like Dual Destinies, the game features voice acting, which requires hiring more people. It may not sound like that big of a deal, but for every dub actor they hire, Capcom will have to make up for their paychecks by selling even more copies of the game. I've seen series drop an English dub with later sequels (Like Yakuza and Deception), and I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen to Ace Attorney.
PRO: The Presence of Sherlock Holmes
Over the passing decades, Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character aged into a slightly corny figure, but, in recent years, Sherlock Holmes suddenly became cool again, with new movies, a BBC series, and even a modern-day TV reboot with Elementary. Even if someone out there doesn't necessarily care about Phoenix Wright's ancestor, the very idea of Sherlock co-starring in a 3DS detective/courtroom game could help the series' American fanbase grow. Of course, there's the fact that the Doyle estate has been litigious as of late, because obviously the great-great-grandchildren of an author should get a cut of something their famous ancestor did close to a century ago, right?
CON: The Very Japanese Setting
The Ace Attorney games are made for a Japanese audience first and foremost, and while I'm a huge fan of Shu Takumi's work, I wish he'd go to greater lengths to make his games more viable outside of his home country. Dai Gyakuten Saiban largely involves itself with the Meiji era of Japan and that country's relationship with the British Empire, which doesn't really carry the same appeal as the broader historical settings of the Assassin's Creed games. Then there's the fact that the American Ace Attorney games go to great lengths to remove ties to their Japanese settings, which makes for an awkward situation, seeing as Dai Gyakuten Saiban focuses on Wright's Japanese ancestor. I'm sure Capcom's localization team could find some creative ways to present this content, but removing the Japanese-ness seems nigh impossible.
PRO: Visual Novels and Japanese Adventure Games Are No Longer SUPER-Niche
When Phoenix Wright released in America in 2005, we hadn't seen anything like it before—Snatcher might be the only thing that comes close. But, as the years stretch on, the whole "visual novel with light adventure elements" genre has really caught on, with series like Danganronpa receiving plenty of due attention from critics and fans alike. Hell, searching for "visual novel" on Steam yields pages upon pages of results, so there's definitely a market out there for Ace Attorney-style experiences. If marketed properly, Dai Gyakuten Saiban could end up with something larger than a cult following.
CON: Dai Gyakuten Saiban's Single-Platform Status
Don't get me wrong: I love the 3DS, and it's a fantastic platform for the Ace Attorney series. At the same time, though, an experience with fairly limited appeal really needs to reach as many people as possible, so Dai Gyakuten Saiban's 3DS-only status isn't doing it any favors. I also feel the same way about Danganronpa, especially because it's on the Vita: A Steam or iOS/Android port could potentially expose the series to thousands of new people, even if I'd rather stick with the dedicated handheld version. Capcom managed to cut costs by making Dual Destinies digital-only, and I suspect they'll do the same if they decide to release Dai Gyakuten Saiban over here. But I can only imagine how many more people could play this latest Ace Attorney if it wasn't tethered to a single system.