Another Code, Ace Attorney, and Adventure Games 20 Years Later


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Screenshot from Another Code: Recollection (2024)

A new year of game releases has begun, and with it, the first wave of new titles by various developers and publishers. Among these offerings have been several action-heavy titles and role-playing games but, in contrast, Nintendo and CAPCOM have done something rather different to start 2024 by releasing games in a genre that does not typically receive much attention: adventure games. Another Code: Recollection (2024) and Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (2024) are both remakes and compilations of previous titles in the Another Code and Ace Attorney game series, giving both of these titles updated graphics for modern gaming hardware and a fair amount of marketing attention.

To me, a lifelong fan of the genre, this was astonishing to witness. I remember playing the original Another Code, or rather Trace Memory (2005) as it was called in North America, back in my early years of high school, and the Ace Attorney games released for the Nintendo DS and 3DS were among my favorite titles on the systems. I also remember that these games did not receive attention from the mainstream gaming press or advertising in North American territories. Instead, I had to peruse online communities devoted to adventure games and visual novels to reliably seek out new information about future games in the genre. So, to see the newest game releases in these franchises receive the modern marketing push that we so often take for granted as the norm of video games is frankly an astonishing sight to behold.

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Screenshot from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (2024)

With this in mind, I wanted to look back at how the North American video gaming market has gradually transformed in the past twenty years and pinpoint some of the titles and trends that helped adventure games regain and retain devoted fans.

What are Adventure Games?

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Screenshot from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (2024)

Before we examine adventure games properly, I believe it’s important to take a moment to explain and define the genre, as it is a classification that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the term. To put it succinctly, adventure games are video games where the player progresses through the title using a combination of critical thinking, observation, puzzle-solving, exploration, and/or implementing items the player finds. While the extent of options presented to the player varies from game to game, the focus on observing one’s environment and using those observations to progress is the near-universal thread that links so many games in this genre together.

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Screenshot from the Famicom port of The Portopia Serial Murder Case (1983/1985)

Japan’s history with the genre harkens back to the early 1980s, with the most influential title being Yuji Horii‘s The Portopia Serial Murder Case (1983), which can be deemed a progenitor of all modern Japanese adventure games. Thanks to its expansive plot with multiple routes and the shocking plot twist in the true ending, the game soon captured the imaginations of many Japanese developers to create their interpretations of adventure games, some of the most famous being Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy series), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid series), and Gōichi Suda (The Silver Case, No More Heroes). These variations would eventually lead to the development of the subgenre we now know as visual novels, which is what many people assume all Japanese adventure games are, though in truth, the genre is significantly more diverse. Sadly, very few games from these early years have been localized outside Japan due to the extensive amount of text in an individual title. Still, it is important to remember that our modern narrative-focused games would not exist if not for those developers and writers who devoted themselves to this niche genre.

Nintendo and the Changing Face of Adventure Games

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Image from Another Code: Two Memories aka Trace Memory (2005)

Despite the acclaimed and beloved titles released in the 1980s and ’90s, the 2000s were a challenging decade for the adventure game genre, especially in North America. With increasingly waning sales and a cultural shift within gaming markets into action-heavy titles specifically appealing to the coveted demographic of teenaged boys and young men, the biggest adventure game studios within the territory were floundering, leading to titles like Sam & Max: Freelance Police being canceled and beloved studios such Sierra Entertainment closing their doors. With the genre in such dire straights, it seemed as though the end was near, but support came from an unexpected source: the Nintendo DS.

Launching in 2004, the DS, the then-newest handheld console created by Nintendo, was a revolutionary piece of hardware in numerous ways, not just for implementing dual screens and its focus on touch-screen gameplay but for its marketing approach. Unlike most other gaming systems that were appealing exclusively to gamers who had already had multiple years of experience with different hardware and software, Nintendo marketed the DS towards audiences who seldom, if ever, played video games. Alongside their flagship franchises, Nintendo was also developing and publishing titles like the pet simulator Nintendogs (2005) and the educational international phenomenon Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! (2005). This gamble paid off handsomely for the company, as it remains the company’s best-selling hardware, and it is currently the second highest-selling game system in existence.

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Screenshot from Another Code: Two Memories aka Trace Memory (2005)

Perhaps in a way to continue to reach untapped markets, Nintendo also published adventure games for the Nintendo DS to be released in international markets. Though no stranger to the genre as they developed and published a few titles, most notably the Famicom Detective Club series, these games were exclusive to the Japanese market, making them a new venture for the company. The first of these games, Another Code: Two Memories (2005), known as Trace Memory in North America, was developed by Cing and written by veteran adventure game developer Rika Suzuki, with Taisuke Kanasaki serving as director and character designer. The game follows Ashley Mizuki Robbins, a thirteen-year-old Japanese-American girl who receives a mysterious letter from her father, whom she had presumed died when she was three. Following the letter’s instructions, Ashley ventures onto Blood Edward Island to meet her father, but due to complications, she is separated from her aunt and guardian, Jessica Robbins. While searching for Jessica, Ashley encounters a ghost known as “D,” who has lost his memories of who he was and how he died. The two decide to work together to find Jessica, recover D’s memories, and solve the mystery behind why Ashley’s father disappeared a decade ago.

Between its gripping story and creative puzzles, players young and old were intrigued by the title. Speaking personally, Trace Memory is a game I still regard very fondly as one of the titles that helped cement my love for adventure games and interactive fiction. While it was not an explosive success, Another Code/Trace Memory was still crucial in revitalizing the adventure game genre. In an interview with The Official Nintendo Magazine, Suzuki cited the success of Cing’s titles as a key contributor to the return of the “adventure corner” in Japanese gaming stores, a space specifically focusing on showcasing adventure games. The game’s success led Cing to develop its second Nintendo-published game, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2007), which also received love and support from fans in the genre and general gaming audiences alike.

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Screenshot from Another Code: Two Memories aka Trace Memory (2005)

Sadly, despite the successes of Cing’s titles in Japan and European territories, it appears that the spark did not catch fire in North America. The sequels to Another Code and Hotel Dusk were only released in Japan and Europe, with North American fans stuck wishing for a release that would never come or importing the English language version intended for the United Kingdom. Worse still, Cing’s luck would run out, with the company officially declaring bankruptcy on March 1, 2010, less than two months after the release of their final title. The company’s closure was a huge loss for fans of the studio and adventure games, as they provided a hopeful glimpse into what the genre could become.

Ace Attorney and the Adventure Game Turnabout

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Screenshot from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (2012/2019)

Elsewhere, CAPCOM was making video game history with a completely different adventure game title, the beloved and highly influential Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2001/2005) created, written, and directed by Shu Takumi. Originally developed for the Game Boy Advance, the initial entry of the Ace Attorney franchise followed the misadventures of the titular Phoenix Wright, or Naruhodo Ryuichi as he is known in the original Japanese, a defense attorney who tries to prove his client’s innocence. Along the way, Phoenix meets and allies with an eccentric cast of characters, such as the spirit medium Maya Fey, who helps him gather evidence and learn the truth behind each case.

With an eccentric cast of characters, engaging cases, and accessible gameplay, the Nintendo DS port Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney quickly captured the hearts and minds of North American gamers regardless of their previous experience with the adventure game genre. CAPCOM had low expectations for the title, as it was a completely unknown IP outside of Japan from a genre not known for high sales numbers. So it came as a shock when Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney sold out in gaming stores, with the demand for the games still growing. The title would need to have more than three printings to meet consumer demands to play the game selling over 100,000 units by February 2007. Thanks to the game’s monumental success, CAPCOM gave the three sequels and one of the spin-off games North American releases for the Nintendo DS.

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Screenshot from the Nintendo DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)

Ace Attorney‘s impact on the adventure game genre cannot be overstated enough, as it is a title that many consider to be one of the games that saved the genre from extinction. Additionally, the title is considered one of the most important games to foster interest in visual novels, and Japanese adventure games in North American markets. While some attempts had been made in the past to bring visual novels to international audiences, such as JAST USA and the now-defunct Hirameki, their games were marketed towards anime fans and only available for PCs, and as such did not reach mainstream markets the way Ace Attorney did.

A more indirect result of the game’s popularity could be seen in the volume of Japanese-developed adventure games for the Nintendo DS that were localized for the international market. The most famous and successful of these games was the Level-5’s Professor Layton games, which would go on to cross over with Ace Attorney in the next console generation, selling 9.5 million units worldwide by October 2010 surpassing Ace Attorney‘s then-current sales of 3.9 million. Other titles of note included Chunsoft‘s 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (2009), Junko Kawano’s Time Hollow (2008), and BeeWorksTouch Detective series.

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Screenshot from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (2024)

Despite its successes, the Ace Attorney franchise still encountered a great number of hurdles. The Nintendo 3DS titles Dual Destinies (2013) and Spirit of Justice (2016) were only available digitally due to it being “tough to attract long-term retail support for Ace Attorney titles,” according to then-CAPCOM senior vice president Christian Svensson. Meanwhile, The Great Ace Attorney spin-off games remained unreleased outside of Japan, likely to avoid legal trouble with the Conan Doyle Estate. Even so, Ace Attorney had become an internationally beloved franchise, with a dedicated fanbase who wholeheartedly showed their love and support for the series.

The Present and a Hopeful Future

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Screenshot from Another Code: Recollection (2024)

Fast forward to 2024, and the landscape for adventure games couldn’t be more different. Instead of a bleak and dire landscape of desolation, a beacon of hope, possibility, and creativity shines down. Adventure games are being developed and released worldwide for multiple gaming platforms, from small, heartfelt projects that began life in game jams, like A Year of Springs to big, ambitious sequels like Return to Monkey Island and remakes, like the return to the 1975 classic Colossal Cave. Fans of Japanese games have also benefited, as they can access a broader range of newly released titles with quick localization turnarounds, as well as classic titles and visual novels finally becoming available outside of Japan. Nintendo has also returned to the genre by releasing the Famicom Detective Club (2021) remakes and Another Code: Recollection worldwide. CAPCOM‘s Ace Attorney franchise also continues to be a success in its own right, with 10 million units sold as of September 30, 2023.

Such successes would have been considered unbelievable to me twenty years ago, but upon looking back, it does not surprise me, as the adventure game genre has been nothing if not resilient. As the industry continues to embrace narrative-centric and relaxing gameplay experiences, I cannot help but wonder how this genre I love so much will develop and grow moving forward.



Further Reading & Viewing:

The Origins of Visual Novels.” YouTube, uploaded by Bowl of Lentils. 19 February 2019

Hirameki: The Forgotten Company that Defined Visual Novels in the West.” YouTube, uploaded by Bowl of Lentils. 24 April 2020

Why Great Ace Attorney Couldn’t Be Localised Sooner.” YouTube, uploaded by Video Game Story Time. 23 April 2021

Skiles, Doug. “Trace Memory.” Hardcore Gaming 101. 31 Jan. 2011, http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/trace-memory/

“Role Players.” High Score, season 1, episode 3, Great Big Story, 19 Aug. 2020. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/81058577

The Game That [Never] Invented Visual Novels & Denpa (Shizuku).” YouTube, uploaded by Amelie Doree. 9 September 2023



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