Ace Attorney’s forgotten game shows the curious place of fandoms within fandom

After six years, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles received an official localization in 2021. It was well received – Eurogamer recommended it – and went on to sell half a million copies. By all accounts it was a success and finally aligned the versions of the Ace Attorney franchise inside and outside of Japan. Except for a game.

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 is a strange quirk in an already strange series. The original Investigations game is a spinoff featuring Miles Edgeworth, a fan favorite from the original trilogy. It puts its emotional arc at the center of it, ending up much more character-focused than the main games. The sequel, released in 2011, follows suit, mixing up some areas but expanding the thematic appeal in others. It is also the only one of the 11 Ace Attorney games that has not been officially localized.

Investigations 2 is playable in English thanks to a fan localization released in 2015, four years after the game was first released. It’s a great localization and combined with the quality of the game itself, it’s very popular with those who have played it. But not many have. Its lack of official release in the West has put it in an odd position. Although the series continues to grow in popularity and spinoffs like The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles have their deserved success, Investigations 2 remains in the shadows.

Even Capcom itself seems to be treating the game like a forgotten child. In December 2021, an artwork was released for the 20th anniversary of the series, which was dominated by classic characters from the original trilogy and new (to Western audiences) characters from the Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. But every other game made its own appearance with at least one or two main characters. Every other game, that is, except for Investigations 2. A few days later, Capcom apparently realized its mistake and quietly released it, this time including Sebastian Debeste, an AAI2 main character, hidden in the upper left corner.

It’s hard to find a video, but here’s one of the Ace Attorney Investigations 2 breakdowns.

When The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was coming out, I was excited. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Investigations 2. The two entries were once in the same place, only available through fan tracking. But suddenly they were very different. Local fans of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles had seen their work superseded by an official release. Local fans for Investigations 2, on the other hand, were now an anomaly: the only group of people to have made a game in the series available to non-Japanese fans, and they had it remain the only way to play it in English.

I wanted to talk to them about it. But the localization came out seven years ago, an internet lifetime ago. Everyone seemed to have moved on. They were mostly coordinated on the GBATemp forum and left the final patch with two methods of communication for feedback. The first was a link. Broken. The second was an email address. No reply.

I looked up the names they went by, which were almost all online aliases, for anyone who might still be active with them. Almost no one was. Most had last logged into the forum months or years ago. My one hope was the project lead, Auryn, who was active a few weeks ago. I created a forum account, made five posts to unlock direct messages, and contacted him on June 30, 2021. “I’m hoping to write a piece about Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and the fan translation you worked on. Would you be interested in responding to some questions;”

Orin didn’t answer. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is out. I wrote two pieces about it, mentioning Ace Attorney Investigations 2 in both, as a joke to myself, and in the hope that maybe a fan or two of the series would consider picking up the fan translation and completing the collection . The media cycle moved on. In a way, so did I. (I wrote about other things; I moved across the country.) In other ways, I didn’t. (I started an Ace Attorney recap podcast which, as of this writing, is about to hit the Investigations games, and I’ve never been more excited in my life.)

A group shot of most of the Ace Attorney characters over the years, all standing together, looking out and slightly up at the camera.  And pointing.  Obviously pointing.

The reissued artwork of all the notable Ace Attorney characters, this time with Sebastian Debeste from AAI2, tucked away in the upper left corner.

Then in February 2022, Auryn texted me. “Well, it’s been a while since the translation, but sure… keep it up.”

We chatted slowly back and forth for four months. She was very accommodating with my questions even though she didn’t get into the forum much and politely refused to talk to me otherwise. Nearly 50, he says he doesn’t remember how he got started working on localizations. “I came across a fan translation and [get] curious about how they did it? Or was I trying to see how the games were planned?’

He remembers, however, the first time he managed to find a game to show his own text. “The first time I saw my ‘translation’ (no more than a few words) on the screen was when I changed something in a SNES rom – one of the Mickey Mouse games. [I remember] how surprised I was at how easy it was and how happy I was that it worked.”

But he quickly learned that not everything is so easy. When he discovered the Ace Attorney community, he had played enough of the games and enjoyed them enough to be curious when he saw the attempts to locate Investigations 2. But, at least from Auryn’s perspective, the project was struggling. These kinds of projects require language and cultural knowledge, sure, but also a lot of technical expertise, which Auryn believed was lacking at the time. For example, Investigations 2 was compressed and fans didn’t have a tool that could decompress it to change the text and re-compress it when it was done.

He created some English-language graphics for the project, believing it would motivate the community as they continued their work. But as he explained the problems he saw from his technical perspective and new people came on board excited by his graphics, he ended up in the position of project manager. “I had a broad knowledge of the various aspects: NDS graphics, programming, languages ​​in real life,” he says. “And maybe I was a little stubborn.”

Ultimately, the team assembled around the project had ironed out many of the technical issues, wrangling over 9,000 files into the uncompressed game and fixing issues like allowing three lines of text in dialog boxes to explain the less efficient use of space than English compared to Japanese. But they were missing something very important.

“[There was] no one actually translates the Japanese text,” says Auryn. And don’t just translate, but localize. All media require a consideration of context beyond a literal, word-for-word translation when languages ​​change, but Ace Attorney has a very specific way of doing it, as well as a comedic sense based on puns, which will have to be recreated to keep up with the rest of the series.

The project slowed down significantly. “There were a lot of people who promised to help and then didn’t deliver,” says Auryn. Although he enjoyed being part of the community, he found the problems of getting the English text frustrating, as well as the demands on foreigners. “For the first three years, a lot of people were saying that we’re fake, that we’re too slow and we’ll never finish it. It was sad to see those comments, especially when you think about how much free time we spent to get where we were. People didn’t appreciated”.

A lot of the things Auryn and the team were working on during that time were, she says, “experimental.” The Ace Attorney series not only has Japanese words in the text boxes, but also in animations, which Auryn had to realign by hand, frame by frame. They were also trying to incorporate community suggestions, for example opening polls to choose character names, which had to incorporate many of those puns mentioned earlier. Take, for example, the cheeky Sebastian Debeste, whose Japanese name is Yumihiko Ichiyanagi. The kanji for Ichiyanagi can also be read as “first class”, a nickname he uses in the game, which in English becomes “the best”.

“If it really is the only thing that was never officially released, that makes me even more proud.”

After three years, the team released a partial patch. This had the dual effect of proving that they were indeed making progress and of attracting attention. The latter brought more people, especially those who could write the text. For most of that time, Auryn worked in a background role, releasing news to the community, but not working on the game itself, unless a major problem arose.

The final patch was released in February 2015. Auryn could account for around 80,000 downloads, although there will be more than rehosted links. That’s a lot, but maybe a fifth of what The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles sold in one year. The marketing, the fact that it’s official, the buzz; Some combination of factors still makes local fan games of only secondary importance to most people. Even as a, shall we say, “dedicated” Ace Attorney fan, I never played the fan localizations of The Great Ace Attorney that existed years before their official release.

It doesn’t seem likely that Investigations 2 will ever get an official release outside of Japan. This in itself is not a great loss. The care and passion that went into locating the fans means it’s still playable and enjoyable for English speakers. But without this level of legitimacy, Investigations 2 will probably remain the least played game in the franchise. It will remain in a strange twilight, loved by many who have sought it out, but forgotten by most. A certain cult-classic community.

The team that worked on Investigations 2 scattered, leaving almost everyone intact. Auryn no longer works on localizations. “Messages like yours and messages on YouTube about some translations I have there asking where they can find the translated game make me think at least once a week that I want to translate something else,” he says. “But I have no more patience.”

Finally, I ask him the question that had sent me down this rabbit hole nearly a year ago. What was it like being part of the team that localized the only game in the series that didn’t get its own official localization?

“I’m going to shock you here,” he says. Auryn didn’t know that was the case. He hadn’t kept up with Ace Attorney at all. Never played Investigations 2 all the way through. “If it really is the only thing that was never officially released, that makes me even more proud.”

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