The Great Ace Attorney games were originally released in Japan for the 3DS, and have only just made their way to the Switch in English-speaking territories this year. Set in the Meiji Era, these games are extremely far removed from the mainline Ace Attorney games, featuring a whole new cast of characters, all decked out in new, flashy clothing.
We got to chat with Kazuya Nuri, the Art Director and Character Designer for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, and he provided some insight into how these designs were born, and the thought process behind the way the team chose to dress up and present the characters in the game.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Twinfinite: With the majority of the games being set in Britain, Susato and Ryunosuke are dressed to look distinctly different from the western characters, which definitely feels like a deliberate decision considering how the games make a point to distinguish between eastern and western sensibilities. Could you tell me more about the thought process behind their designs and how you wanted to make them stand out from the British characters?
Kazuya Nuri: In order to clearly express the era in which the game is set, I gave Ryunosuke and Susato looks that were typical of Japanese students from the Meiji era. However, the base design of the typical male school uniform from that time is actually similar to modern-day Japanese school uniforms, so I gave Ryunosuke a katana to ensure his design wouldn’t look too modern.
From a Western perspective, Ryunosuke’s and Susato’s clothes are uniquely Japanese, so players and British characters in-game can tell at a glance that they are visitors from a foreign country with a distinctly different culture.
I also paid special attention to the characters’ hair colors, especially for the main characters. I wanted black hair to be reserved for the Japanese characters only, and I was always mindful of the differences in the average body shapes and builds of the citizens of Great Britain and Japan.
In addition, I also based Ryunosuke’s and Susato’s hair styles on real late-Meiji era styles. However, I was careful to balance the flashy characteristic flares I gave to them in order to preserve that more grounded feeling I was going for.
Twinfinite: Were there any challenges that came with trying to distinguish them from everyone else?
Kazuya Nuri: Ryunosuke and Susato have simpler and more stoic designs than most of the other characters. They are easily recognizable by their silhouettes alone, which strengthens their designs.
The base design of both Ryunosuke’s school uniform and Susato’s kimono and hakama style are very simple, so if you add design elements to them willy-nilly to give them unique characteristics or to make them stand out, it’s easy for these additions to become obtrusive.
That’s why I don’t like to add things to my designs that are not necessary to the game or the story in some way. For Ryunosuke, I asked that we make the armband he wears an “attorney’s badge” of sorts (since such badges didn’t exist in the real world at the time), and I made several suggestions, like having Ryunosuke’s katana hold some significance to the overall story. It was a lot of hard work to make each item I added to their designs meaningful and necessary in some way.
Twinfinite: On the contrary, Natsume Soseki’s dressing actually allows him to blend a little more with the British characters, which seems a bit ironic considering how miserable he was in London (both in-game and in real life!). Did the team have any thoughts or considerations about adding some flair to his costume or design to make him look a bit more distinctly Japanese as well?
Kazuya Nuri: I’d initially given him a comfortingly thick Japanese kimono called a “dotera” (a more traditionally folksy short coat) to wear on top of his Western suit as a way to show his unfamiliarity and anguish towards his life in Great Britain. This idea fell through for various reasons, but you can still see a remnant of it in Soseki’s room, where a dotera lies in a crumpled pile on the floor by his tea pot.
Soseki’s calico cat named “Wagahai” is another avenue in which we gave him a more distinctly Japanese feel.
Twinfinite: Overall, how important was it to distinguish the Japanese and British characters in the games? Was this something the team had to consider throughout the entire development process?
Kazuya Nuri: The world of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is different from our modern one and features a story in which the cultural values and social climate of Meiji Japan and Victorian Great Britain are key. Therefore, I approached each character’s design and fashion aiming to visually express this indispensable element to the totality of the story – the idiosyncrasies inherent in the two countries’ cultural differences.
Twinfinite: Herlock Sholmes and Iris Wilson are presented as a very eccentric pair of characters that like tinkering around with various inventions and other intriguing objects. We get a hint of their eccentricity through the mechanical goggles they wear and the various gadgets they carry around. Can you tell us more about their earlier iterations and designs, and any other ideas you might have had for how to make their uniqueness come through in their character designs?
Kazuya Nuri: Out of all the characters in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Sholmes is Mr. Takumi’s favorite. I started out by asking Mr. Takumi what direction I should take with Sholmes’s design and basically he responded, “I don’t want him to be run-of-the-mill; I want to make him a bit strange.” However, we didn’t exactly settle on how his “strangeness” would manifest.
Over the course of making several preliminary designs, I began to question, “What sort of first impression for Sholmes do we want to impart on players?” As Mr. Takumi and I discussed it, he said, “I think it’d be best if Sholmes was simply cool-looking.” This request thoroughly derailed my initial design ideas and I decided to put all of Sholmes’s unique quirks into his expressions and gestures rather than his visual design. This helped to create a gap between his perceived coolness and his actual personality.
I also wanted to distinguish Sholmes from the Japanese characters he’d be interacting with, so I gave him a distinctive trait of his own: his gorgeous platinum blond hair. On top of that, I wanted to add some steampunk flavor to Sholmes and all things related to him. I gave him an outfit that is, at once, anachronistic, and a benchmark for the fantastical elements of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (it’s only one of the many fanciful things about the world in this game).
From a gameplay perspective, we had also wanted to use him to conduct some “super scientific investigations,” similar to Ema Skye and her fingerprint analysis gameplay from “Rise from the Ashes” in the first Ace Attorney game, so I merged that gameplay element into Sholmes’s design.
Sholmes’s glowing goggles and pouch full of colorful test tubes serve as accents to the percussion revolver he wears at his side that he uses in his Great Deductions. Whilst it can also be used as a normal pistol, Sholmes’s gun is the counterpart to Ryunosuke’s katana, and provides a contrast between the cultures of Europe and Japan.
The gear motif in Sholmes’s personal crest also has a particular significance in its placement around Iris’s flower crest. It represents not only the Industrial Revolution taking place in Britain at the time, but also Sholmes and Iris’s relationship as he is the “gear” protecting his precious “flower.”
Twinfinite: Finally! Which are your favorite character designs and why?
Kazuya Nuri: Each character in the game holds a special place in my heart so it is difficult for me to choose just one favorite. The development team put a lot of work into making each character shine so we hope players enjoy experiencing everything The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles has to offer.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is now available on PS4, Switch, and PC. You can check out our official review of the game here.
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