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Ace Attorney's forgotten game shows the strange place of fan localisations within fandom

Objection!

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

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 is a bizarre quirk in an already bizarre series. The original Investigations game is a spinoff featuring Miles Edgeworth, a fan favourite from the original trilogy. It puts his emotional arc at its centre, ending up much more character-focused than the mainline games. The sequel, released in 2011, follows suit, rehashing some areas but extending the thematic resonance of others. It is also the only one of the 11 Ace Attorney games that has not been officially localised.

Investigations 2 is playable in English thanks to a fan localisation that was released in 2015, four years after the game first came out. It's a great localisation, and combined with the quality of the game itself, it's very popular among those who have played it. But not many have. Its lack of official release in the West has put it in a strange position. Even as the series keeps growing in popularity and spinoffs like The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles get their deserved success, Investigations 2 remains in the shadows.

Even Capcom itself seems to treat the game like a forgotten child. In December 2021, it released an artwork for the series' 20th anniversary, which was dominated by the classic characters of the original trilogy and the 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 key characters. Every other game, that is, except Investigations 2. A few days later, Capcom apparently recognised its mistake and quietly re-released it, this time including Sebastian Debeste, a key AAI2 character, tucked away in the top left corner.

It's tricky finding a video, but here's one of an Ace Attorney Investigations 2 walkthrough.

When The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was about to come out, I was excited. But I couldn't stop thinking about Investigations 2. The two entries had once been in the same position, available only via fan localisation. But they were suddenly very different. The fan localisers for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles had seen their work superseded by an official release. The fan localisers for Investigations 2, on the other hand, were now an anomaly: the only group of people who had made a game in the series available to non-Japanese speaking fans, and had it stay the only way to play it in English.

I wanted to speak to them about it. But the localisation was released seven years ago, a lifetime on the internet. Everyone seemed to have moved on. They had mostly coordinated themselves on the GBATemp forum and left the final patch with two contact methods for feedback. The first was a link. Broken. The second was an email address. No reply.

I looked through the credited names, which were almost all online pseudonyms, for anyone who might still be active under them. Almost no one was. Most had last logged into the forum months or years before. My one glimmer of hope was the project lead, Auryn, who had been active a few weeks before. I created a forum account, made five posts to unlock direct messaging, and reached out to him on June 30, 2021. "I'm hoping to write a piece on Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and the fan translation that you worked on. Would you be interested in answering some questions?"

Auryn didn't reply. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles came out. I wrote two pieces about it, mentioning Ace Attorney Investigations 2 in both, as something of an inside joke to myself, and in the hope that maybe one or two fans of the series would think to pick up the fan translation and complete the collection. The media cycle moved on. In some ways, so did I. (I wrote about other things; I moved across the country.) In other ways, I did not. (I started an Ace Attorney replay podcast which is, at the time of writing, about to get to the Investigations games, and I've never been so excited in my life.)

A group shot of most of the Ace Attorney characters from over the years, all standing together, looking outward and up slightly at the camera. And pointing. Obviously pointing.
The reissued artwork of all the notable Ace Attorney characters, this time featuring Sebastian Debeste from AAI2, tucked away in the top left corner.

Then, in February 2022, Auryn messaged me back. "Well, it's been a while since the translation but sure...go on."

We slowly chatted back and forth across four months. He was very indulgent of my questions, even though he didn't log into the forum very much and politely declined to speak to me some other way. Almost 50, he says he doesn't remember how he got into working on localisations. "Did I come across a fan translation and [get] curious about how they did it? Or was I trying to look at how games were programmed?"

He does remember, though, the first time he ever managed to get a game to show his own text. "The first time I saw my 'translation' (not more than a few words) on screen was when I changed something on a SNES rom – one of the Mickey Mouse games. [I remember] how surprised I was about how easy it was and how happy I was that it worked."

He quickly learned that not everything is so easy, however. When he discovered the Ace Attorney community, he had played several of the games and enjoyed them enough to be curious when he saw the attempts to localise Investigations 2. But, at least from Auryn's perspective, the project was struggling. These kinds of projects require linguistic and cultural knowledge, certainly, but also a lot of technical expertise, which Auryn thought was lacking at the time. For example, Investigations 2 was compressed, and the fans didn't have a tool that could decompress it in order to change the text, and recompress it when it was complete.

He created some English-language graphics for the project, thinking 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 intrigued by his graphics, he ended up sliding into the position of project manager. "I had a broad knowledge of the different aspects: the NDS graphics, programming, languages in real life," he says. "And maybe I was a bit stubborn."

Eventually, the team that had gathered around the project had solved a lot of the technical issues, wrangling over 9000 files in the uncompressed game, and solving problems like allowing three lines of text in the dialogue boxes to account for English's less efficient use of space compared with Japanese. But they were missing something pretty crucial.

"[There was] nobody to really translate the Japanese text," says Auryn. And not just translate, but localise. All media requires a consideration of context beyond just a literal, word for word translation when languages are changed, but Ace Attorney has a very specific way of doing it, as well as a comedic sense that hinges on puns, all of which would need to be recreated to keep up with the rest of the series.

The project slowed down considerably. "There were many people that promised to help and then never delivered anything," says Auryn. Though he enjoyed being a part of the community, he found the troubles with actually getting the English text frustrating, as well as the demands from outsiders. "The first three years, many people were saying that we are fake, that we are too slow, and we will never finish it. It was saddening to see those comments, especially thinking of how much free time we spent to get where we were. People didn't appreciate it."

Many of the things Auryn and the team were working on during that time were, he says, "experimental." The Ace Attorney series doesn't just have 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 the suggestions of the community, for example by opening polls to choose the names of characters, which had to incorporate a lot of those puns mentioned earlier. See, for instance, the cocky 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 is really the only one that was never released officially, that makes me even more proud."

After three years, the team released a partial patch. This had the dual effect of proving that they really were making progress, and to stir up attention. The latter brought more people on board, particularly those who could punch up 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 big problem appeared.

The final patch was released in February 2015. Auryn could account for about 80,000 downloads, though there will be more from rehosted links. It's a lot, but maybe a fifth of the amount that The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles sold in a year. The marketing, the fact it's official, the buzz; some combination of factors still makes fan localised games only a secondary consideration for most people. Even as a, let's say, "dedicated" Ace Attorney fan, I still never played the fan localisations of The Great Ace Attorney that existed for years before their official release.

It doesn't seem likely that Investigations 2 will ever get an official release outside of Japan. This is not, by itself, a big loss. The care and passion that went into the fan localisation means that it's still playable, and enjoyable, for English speakers. But without that layer of legitimisation, Investigations 2 will probably remain the least played game in the franchise. It will stay in a strange half light, loved by many who have sought it out, but forgotten by most. A community specific cult-classic.

The team that worked on Investigations 2 scattered, leaving almost everyone uncontactable. Auryn doesn't work on localisations anymore. "Messages like yours and messages on YouTube about partial 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 don't have the patience anymore."

Finally, I ask him the question that had sent me down this rabbit hole almost a year ago. What was it like to be a part of the team that had localised the only game in the series that hadn't gotten its own official localisation?

"I will shock you here," he says. Auryn didn't know that was the case. He hadn't kept up with Ace Attorney at all. He never even played Investigations 2 all the way through. "If it is really the only one that was never released officially, that makes me even more proud."

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About the Author
Jay Castello avatar

Jay Castello

Contributor

Jay Castello is a freelance writer. If they're not down a research rabbit hole you'll probably find them taking bad photographs near a riverbank or old tree.

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