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Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

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All rise for the debut of Apollo Justice, the newest defense attorney in the Ace Attorney series!

The game has been remade recently for the Nintendo 3DS, but was originally released as a Nintendo DS game and it’s also available on iOS and Android devices. You don’t need to play the previous games to understand the story or characters, but I highly recommend doing so because they’re awesome.

Apollo Justice, the fourth entry, takes place seven years after the seemingly happy conclusion of Phoenix Wright’s story in Trials and Tribulations. Unfortunately, we discover that Phoenix has since lost his badge after being tricked into presenting forged evidence in court. Now he’s been accused of murder, and his only hope lies in newcomer Apollo Justice, who has idolized Phoenix for years.

These events kick off a new story with Apollo as the playable character, assisted by Phoenix’ teenage daughter, Trucy. The duo faces off against Klavier Gavin, a prosecutor who also happens to be a famous rock star. He likes to play air guitar after raising an objection. Because if these lawyers aren’t quirky to a fault, it’s not an Ace Attorney game.

Klavier ended up becoming my favorite character in this game. Granted, I’ve written before that the prosecutors are my favorite aspect of Ace Attorney, so that’s not much of a shock. It’s Klavier’s personality that surprised me. Previous prosecutors have helped Phoenix on certain occasions, but only after going through a good round of character development. Klavier is a nice guy from the get-go. He lets Apollo and Trucy have access to the crime scenes, gives them discount tickets to his concerts, and occasionally helps them out when he sees that Apollo’s on the right track but isn’t presenting the right evidence to the judge.

That’s not to say that he lets Apollo off easy. They’re still rivals in the courtroom. Nonetheless, he presents a change of pace that’s fun and refreshing.

I wish I could say the same for Apollo and Trucy. They’re nice characters and I like them well enough. But they’re basically Phoenix and Maya 2.0: a snarky, intelligent lawyer with a passion for justice and his cheerful, quirky assistant with a mysterious family past.

On the one hand, I do like them because this dynamic worked great in the Phoenix trilogy. If it’s not broken, why fix it? On the other hand, it would have been nice to see a more distinct difference between Phoenix and Apollo. Otherwise, why bother creating a new character? In the first AA game, we learn what inspired Phoenix and Miles Edgeworth to become lawyers. We never get that kind of insight about Apollo.  We get some backstory about him, but it’s revealed through other characters and we don’t get to see how it impacts Apollo.

Additionally, both Phoenix and Apollo lose their mentors early in the game, albeit under different circumstances. We see how the loss of Mia Fey affects Phoenix throughout his entire trilogy. And while Kristoph’s situation is a big deal to Apollo initially, and comes back into play later in the story, Apollo doesn’t reference him much in-between. There’s less of a connection between them. When his mentor does return, there’s more emphasis on how Kristoph impacted Phoenix’ life than Apollo’s.  As the new player character, Apollo deserved better.

Yes, Phoenix Wright returns as well, as an occasional mentor to Apollo. He’s a lot like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the lovable hero who becomes disillusioned after losing everything. I didn’t mind his personality shift. Underneath it all, he still feels like the same character, just at a different stage of his life after suffering from a traumatic situation. (Then again, I felt the same way about Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi…)

So, having discussed the story and characters- which is necessary when it’s such a story-driven title- what about the game itself?

Apollo Justice plays out much like the previous entries in the series. You alternate between investigating a murder and proving your client’s innocence in court. There’s one new trick to the cross-examinations: Apollo can use an ability called “Perceive” on witnesses in court. You pick a statement in the testimony and zero in on the person’s face, hands, etc. to find whatever nervous tic they’re showing. Doing so helps you to see when the witness is lying.

Apollo Justice also has a couple of tweaks that make the game easier to play. For example, if you fail to present the right evidence too many times and lose all of your “health,” the game gives you the option to return to that last moment with a full health bar. That makes the courtroom sections much less frustrating.

Although none of the cases reached the level of “Farewell My Turnabout” or “Bridge to the Turnabout,” I thought they were all solid and fun to solve. They formed more of a cohesive arc this time around, with every case having some relevance to the overall plot.

If you enjoyed the original Phoenix Wright games, I recommend Apollo Justice. It doesn’t exceed expectations, but any time spent in Phoenix’ world is time well spent for me.

Review: Ace Attorney Trilogy

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

If you’re looking for a video game that’s not too difficult to play (at least not in the way that video games usually are), has an engrossing story, and phenomenal character development, you can’t find much better than the original Ace Attorney trilogy.  Originally released in America for the Nintendo DS, all three games can now be purchased as a collection from the Nintendo eStore for the 3DS.

As the title implies, the main character’s a defense attorney, named Phoenix Wright.  He’s driven by a need to defend innocent people, even and especially when nobody else believes in their innocence.

Each game gets broken down into a number of episodes.  The first episode is always a brief one-day trial that acts as the tutorial.  The others switch back and forth between Investigation modes and Trial modes.  Phoenix will learn about a person who’s been accused of murder and all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against said person.  Then you spend the first day gathering clues, questioning other characters, etc.  Once you’ve found everything that you can possibly find, the game moves on to the second day: the actual trial.  You must badger every witness that comes to the stand and use the clues to point out contradictions in their testimony.

But Phoenix will never have enough evidence to determine the real murderer, so that leads to another day of investigating.  Then it’s time for the second and final day of the trial!

The characters are what make these games so much fun.  Phoenix and his plucky assistant, Maya Fey, play off well with one another as you lead them to different areas to search for evidence.  They’ve always got to deal with Detective Gumshoe, who isn’t the smartest man on the police force, but means well.  The same could be said for the judge, who’s willing to swallow the weakest excuses from lying witnesses.  Each of the suspects has a quirk that can range from amusing to annoying.  Phoenix’ exasperated reactions to the antics of the rest of the cast are always funny.

And finally, there are the prosecutors.  They bring so much joy for all of the grief they heap on poor Phoenix.  The first game introduces Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s former best friend who turned into his biggest rival.  I couldn’t stand his ego at first.  He’s the first opponent to really get under the player’s skin with the way he just casually dismantles every argument you present.  However, his character development throughout each game turned out to be so good that he ended up becoming one of my favorite fictional characters ever. 

The second game presents Franziska von Karma, a female prosecuting prodigy who starts whipping anyone and everyone who gets in her way.  I’m not talking figuratively here.  She actually uses a bullwhip on everyone.  That includes Phoenix and the judge.  Somehow she gets away with it every single time.

Last but not least, the third game’s prosecutor, Godot, has a fearless attitude, a great backstory with ties to Phoenix’ past, and likes throwing his coffee mug at Phoenix when he gets annoyed.  Yeah, this game can get wacky.

I loved solving each of the cases.  Sometimes the developers really give your brain a workout as you try to find the lie in a witness’ testimony.  In the first game, you get five chances to make a mistake, and once you use them up, it’s game over.  The sequels replaced this system with a health bar.  It will decrease depending on how many mistakes you make and the gravity of those mistakes.  It’s a toss-up regarding which one I prefer.

Although the games tend to be silly, they do have serious moments- after all; the objective is to catch a murderer.  Each game’s final case is an emotional rollercoaster for Phoenix and his friends, and those last murderers are particularly ruthless.  I won’t say any more to avoid some very good spoilers.  I’ll just say that “Turnabout Goodbyes,” “Farewell, My Turnabout” and “Bridge to the Turnabout” are my favorite cases in the whole series.  The music theme that plays when Phoenix uncovers the killer in “Farewell, My Turnabout” gives me chills.

Finally, the series has some excellent female characters: heroes, villains, and everything in-between.  Besides Franziska von Karma and Maya Fey, there’s her older sister, Mia Fey, a defense attorney who mentored Phoenix and gives him advice on his cases.  They have an adorable little cousin named Pearl who tags along with Phoenix and Maya, and never falls into the “annoying child sidekick” trap.  Wendy Oldbag, Adrian Andrews, Dahlia Hawthorne, and Iris are all memorable suspects for different reasons.   Unfortunately, I can’t go into more detail because I’d have to spoil so much of the story.

Good stories and puzzles, well-written characters, a fun, catchy soundtrack, and constant courtroom shenanigans- what’s not to love?  The evidence clearly indicates that you should give Ace Attorney a try as soon as possible!

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

The Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games celebrate one of the best aspects of the series: the music.  Both rhythm games are available for the Nintendo 3DS.  Although if you’re interested in giving Theatrhythm a try, don’t waste your money purchasing both of them.  The sequel, Curtain Call, has all of the same songs and lots more.

I debated with myself about whether to get the original Theatrhythm when it was first released on the Nintendo 3DS.   Having gotten booed out of levels of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and surviving the infamous Little Mermaid sidequest in Kingdom Hearts 2…my experiences with rhythm games weren’t very good ones.  But someone at GameStop encouraged me to give it a try, and that’s how I ended up losing countless hours of my life to this game.  I have no regrets.

The gameplay’s divided into three types of stages: Field, Battle, and Event.  Field songs consist of tracks like “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, the main theme from VII, and “A Place to Call Home” from IX.  An adorable chibi Final Fantasy character of your choosing strolls along a path to the music, while you try to hit as many notes correctly as possible.  Although the notes can come across the screen quickly, depending on the song and the difficulty level, Field Stages are generally slower in pace than their Battle counterparts.

In Battle, you create a party of four chibi characters who fight different monsters and villains who have appeared throughout the Final Fantasy series.  When you hit the right notes, their attacks are successful.  If you miss a note, they lose health.  (This actually applies to the Field and Event stages too, except you’re not attacking anything. You’re just trying to keep the character’s health bar full.)  The songs you can choose from include the always classic “One-Winged Angel,” as well as “Dancing Mad,” “The Man With the Machine Gun,” and “Battle on the Big Bridge.”

Last, but not least, we have the Event stages.  These stages were more prevalent in the original game, because every entry from the series had one.  In Curtain Call, all of the songs that originally appeared as Event stages got turned into Field or Battle stages instead.  It’s a shame, because even if they’re difficult to play, they’re beautiful to watch.  Instead of battling enemies or walking through a field, you watch a video that highlights the most memorable moments from the featured Final Fantasy game.  The selected songs are popular themes from the game that people tend to think about when they think of that particular entry, i.e. “Sutaki da ne,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV.  The best, by far, appears in Curtain Call.  It’s a gorgeous medley of Final Fantasy themes played over highlights from the entire franchise.  If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy games, I dare you not to cry while watching it.

It’s worth mentioning that the way you progress through the game changed in a few significant ways from the first Theatrhythm to Curtain Call.  In the original game, you could select any of the main musical stages for each of the games featured in Theatrhythm, from the original Final Fantasy to XIII.  However, once you committed yourself to one of the entries, i.e. Final Fantasy IX, you had to play through all three musical stages before being allowed to go back and play whichever one you wanted.

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Games to Get Excited About – December 2016

Hello and welcome to our final installment of Games to Get Excited About for 2016. Of course, its December, so most of the high profile releases for the year have already released and a number of titles that I would have used this feature to talk about have been delayed into 2017. So, since I already wrote about The Last Guardian (no, I can’t believe its finally coming out either), we’ll be taking a look at a release coming early in the new year…

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Gravity Rush 2

Gravity Rush 2 is (surprise!) the sequel to Gravity Rush, or Gravity Daze if you prefer the original Japanese title. You may have heard of the original game but it honestly wouldn’t be too surprising if you hadn’t. It was a flagship release for Sony’s ill-fated PlayStation Vita handheld and it was an ambitious attempt to show what the system could do with an open-world style game. The game put players in the shoes of Kat, an amnesiac who wakes up in a strange city that hangs suspended in the sky from the trunk of a massive tree.

Before long, Kat discovers that she is a “shifter,” a person with the ability to manipulate gravity, and sets about helping the citizens of the city fight monsters, complete tasks, and repair the damage caused by increasingly frequent gravity storms. The game was fairly popular on the Vita, but didn’t make much of a splash in the wider consciousness. Earlier this year the game was remastered and re-released on the Playstation 4, hoping to find a wider audience before the sequel releases.

Why are we excited?

The first Gravity Rush had a fantastic visual style inspired by French nouveau comics and a gameplay loop focuses on using gravity to fling yourself and your enemies around massive floating environments. It was charming and inventive, if a bit rough around the edges. Even when re-released on the Playstation 4 it was obvious that the game had been created for less powerful hardware and some of the maps could seem sparsely populated. The sequel has been created specifically for the Playstation 4 and is taking advantage of the bump in horsepower to create larger, more detailed, more dynamic environments.

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In addition to making the game larger and more detailed, the developers claim they are tuning up the combat, which was a weak point in the original game. Hopefully the sequel will offer more dynamic encounters and more varied enemy designs. As a fan of the first game, I hope that the sequel retains the charm and inventiveness of the first title while refining its formula and smoothing out some of its rough edges such as imprecise combat and a meandering story.

Gravity Rush 2 is currently slated to release in January 2017 on PS4.

Notable December Releases

As noted in the introduction, things are pretty thin on the ground this month. There are a few notable ports but only two new releases are on my radar.

Warhammer 40K Space Hulk: Deathwing

There have been a lot of games released under the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K names over the past few years but this one looks like it might be a standout. It is based on the classic Space Hulk board game and puts an emphasis on gorgeous visuals and frantic action. The game is a first person shooter and will release in December for the PC with console ports to follow next year.

Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero

This is the 4th game in the Shantae series which began back on the Gameboy Color. It was launched as a successful Kickstarter and will be the first game in the series to see simultaneous release across multiple handheld and home platforms. The Shantae games have carved out a niche as solid Metroid-style platformers with a fun art style and cast. Here’s hoping the newest entry lives up to the pedigree of the previous titles.

Review: Flat Kingdom

Developer: Fat Panda Games
Publisher: Games Starter
Release Date: April 7, 2016
Platform(s): PC

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Flat Kingdom is an adventure platform game for the PC that is more adorable than I have words for. It’s also incredibly frustrating, just like almost all platformers.

You are Flat, knight of the Kingdom. The Princess has been captured because of course she has. By a fox-headed person, whom I assume is wearing a mask. They are also taking all of the crystals that are keeping the Kingdom wonderful and peaceful. Your job, as Flat, is to stop the Fox, save the Princess and return the Crystals. Easy, right?

The artwork is elegant. It honestly looks like it was all cut out of paper and beautifully crafted together. All of the enemies are adorable, but the boss monsters terrifying. I adore everything about this game: the music, sound effects, story, level designs. It is all incredibly thought out and masterfully put together to create an amazing experience for the player.

As Flat, you are primarily a circle, but can also turn into a square and triangle. Each shape has their own pros and cons for each situation, including how to defeat enemies. Thankfully, the game allows you to have a Shape Legend in the bottom right corner to remind you what shape beats what. Circle beats Square; Square beats Triangle; Triangle beats Circle. This is a constant throughout the game; however, it is difficult to tell what all the monster shapes are and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the boss fights. Which are hell all on their own.

The levels, of course, increase in difficulty, starting off with the false hope that I could actually get through a platformer once in my life. Each level reminded me that I’m horrible at these games and that this is my own personal hell. Whilst still having fun and loving the game, I am cursing at the screen each time I die because I was just never good at these to begin with. I will finish this game, though, if it’s the last thing I do.

Right now, I’m in the third section of the game, trying valiantly to finish it and not throw my computer out the window at the same time. My Let’s Plays have dwindled down into death montages and glares at the webcam, but I swear I love this game and, for $8, you will love this game, too. I can’t wait to see what the store has laid out for me because I feel there is so much more than meets the eye.

Watch my first let’s play here:

Video Games Will Rot Your Brain, or Will They?

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Would you believe it was once believed that reading books would rot your brain?  Amazingly enough that was the pseudo-science of the day in the 19th century.  Even now we still hear about how watching too much TV is bad for you, though the ‘science’ of that seems to be in flux.  Heavy metal music is bad for you and playing Dungeons and Dragons will rot your soul.  We have been dealing with these grasping studies about how the things we love are bad for us, how they’ll rot our brains or souls, or send us straight to hell.

Having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’m no stranger to more than one of these hysterical attempts to convince us we need to change our lifestyles to something more acceptable.  Then I became a parent, and like any logical human being I kept in mind that moderation is key, but I also had to accept that kids are going to go for the things they like.  You can’t force your kid to like playing sports, or want to go outside all the time, learn to ride a bike, or fall in love with the outdoors.  The best you can hope for is that they grow up loving something, do their best, and gather enough skills to help them as adults.  I read books like they were candy, watched TV, listened to metal, and played DnD (hells I still do those things) and I think I turned out all right.

I’m also a gamer, and over the years that has come with its own set of stigma.  Worse, I’m a male gamer and we already know what they say about those.  Recently I was shown an article that, like the person that showed it to me, got my hackles up.  “Don’t let your kids play video games for more than two hours a week, or it will make them antisocial!”  Funny, my son has been more social playing games than any other time in his young life, but what do I know.  I have been a gamer for about thirty years, and I have to say most of my friends have been met through gaming.  Whether it was my friends coming over to play Golden Eye, or Mario Kart, or getting online to play Battlefield, gaming has always been a social experience.  I don’t know if the people doing the study are gamers themselves, but I’ve personally never found gaming to be a solitary experience.  I’m sure sitting a child in a room alone sure emulates a solitary experience, but that’s just not how gaming works in the real world.

Thankfully, with every study about the things that rot our brains, or give us cancer, there’s always counter arguments and different studies.  We can count on broader views to look at things in realistic application and feel confident that our 30 or so years spent gaming did us just as well as it will do our kids.  When those kids go on to become programmers, software analysts, authors, designers, and artists they can look back at the studies done today like we look back at the hysteria over heavy metal and roleplaying.  Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and our kids are growing up in a world vastly different from our childhood.  We have to adapt as parent, but just like our parents let us eat raw cookie dough and watch too many cartoons, we’ll do just fine.

From Table to Real Life: How RPGs Benefit Players

From Table to Real Life: How RPGs Benefit Players

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Tabletop gaming is definitely fun, especially if you find the types of games you really like.  Whether it be RPGs, card games or board games, there is something out there for just about everyone.  Games are also great for teaching skills, and maintaining those skills throughout a person’s life.  It’s a great way to teach children early, and in a fun way, skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.

Creativity and Imagination
You’d be surprised how much being able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems will help you as an adult.  Creativity is not just a great skill for artists, writers, and designers, but anyone who has a job where problem solving is key will benefit from this.  Being able to come up with unorthodox solutions can often be the difference between just having a job and excelling at a career.

It’s a given that creativity and imagination are necessary for artists, writers, and any other job where someone has to create something from out of their mind’s eye.  Gaming, especially the imagination intensive tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, are a great place to get kids started learning how to tell stories and develop characters with interesting backgrounds and personalities.  Whether it’s creating their own stories as a game master, or acting out the stories of their characters as a player, they’ll get plenty of practice coming up with great tales all on their own.

Art and graphics are another source of inspiration for young people when it comes to tabletop.  There’s few entertainment mediums that have such a plethora of amazing art and graphics design as tabletop games.  Painted, or unpainted miniatures, character sketches, book covers, and playing cards are all great sources of art inspiration.  People literally have an art gallery at their finger-tips whenever they pick up a game, and that can translate to a study and love of art that benefits a lot of creative folks in future years.

Just the Basics
Math and reading, two skills that will serve anyone throughout their lives, are key to almost every game that you’ll come across.  Whether it’s calculating damage and points, or reading rule books to learn a game, tabletop will expand any young person’s skills with both of these.  Often with tabletop games, especially RPGs, people will come across words they’ve never seen, and terminology they won’t come across in school or on their favorite cartoons.  They’ll be exposed to complex ideas and references that may lead them to expand their study into things like history and sociology.

There’s no mistaking the need for even basic math when it comes to gaming.  Even the simplest game mechanic, like keeping score, will often involve addition and subtraction, and while kids are having fun playing a game they won’t even bat an eye that they have to tap into mathematics.  More complicated wargames and RPGs can get into time, distance, area, angles, and the dreaded thac0 formula of Advanced D&D.

Besides math, reading and vocabulary are two basic needs for gaming, and skills that will be vastly improved if this is your hobby.  Even down to the simplest card game, reading is necessary.  Rules, card descriptions, character backgrounds, and stories are all part of gaming.  Even board games have rules and often cards of some sort.  Starting with gaming early is a great way to make reading and learning new words fun.  Get kids involved and you’ll see a marked improvement, as much as you see when you read to, or read with children.  Even in later years gaming helps improve and strengthen vocabulary skills.  I still run into words I don’t often see, and new words I’ve never seen used before.

Socializing
Probably the biggest benefit of tabletop for me has been learning to socialize and break out of my shell.  Often us geeks and nerds, as proud as we are of the things we love, are introverts and quiet individuals.  Young people need socialization, but we tend to think this means sports, playing outside with other kids, or play dates with coworker’s kids.  Not every child is into these things.  Sometimes gaming is what they’re into, and just don’t know it yet.  Learning games with family, or visiting local game shops to learn to play board games might be just what’s needed to crack that shell.

Learning to interact with others in a competitive environment, sportsmanship, losing and winning gracefully isn’t limited to actual sports.  These are important skills to have under our belt when we get out into the real world as well.  Getting and keeping a job, or working in the art fields are competitive.  They don’t have to be negatively so, and teaching kids to compete fairly but also gracefully can mean the difference between success and failure.  Cheating to win can be just as self-destructive as failing and throwing a fit.  With gaming we can find a balance between teaching kids to win and lose, and teach them that having fun is just as important.

Besides the competitive factor, you usually have a group around any game.  Unlike video games, tabletop games are very rarely single-player.  It gets people around tables, talking, laughing, having fun, and most importantly just socializing.  Sometimes finding a way to make a person’s comfort zone also a social affair can bring the extrovert out of the introvert by giving them an environment where they feel at ease.

In the end, gaming may not be for everyone, but I think it’s something a lot of people would enjoy.  I think it’s a great way to help kids develop skills useful in the real world, not just to have fun.  It’s also a fantastic way for adults to hone skills useful in their careers, whether they be in the artistic fields or more run of the mill.  So, get out there, find your niche, and if your kids take an interest in the imaginative hobbies join in the fun.  It makes for some great family time.