Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

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A Puzzling Objection: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

September 19, 2014

hisui_icon_4040 Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney always seemed like someone’s dream more than something that would get made. More the realm of fan fiction and comical videos than something you would actually play. Super Robot Wars, Project X Zone, Super Smash Bros., and Tekken X Street Fighter are all notable examples that while crossovers are not commonplace they are also hardly unheard of. So when the game was announced there was a good deal of buzz around the title. They are both melodramatic comedic puzzle games with a mystery structure and an anime style. The game play and mechanics  in both series was very different but it was fairly clear to most people with little effort both games could be combined in a way that let both of their strengths shine. All it would take is a smart story and a solid commitment to both sides of the crossover. There were a lot of things that could go wrong but it was equally feasible for the game to succeed big time.

And then we actually got Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I have read a bunch of reviews at this point and no one has hated the game. Overall all the reviews have been positive. But none of them have been glowing. If anything the general feeling has been underwhelming. It was fine but it could have been better. A lot of the complaints seem like nitpicks. They did not have enough cameos from fan favorite characters, mechanics from both main games could have blended more, the puzzles and court cases should have been tougher, hint coins made parts too easy, or the story could have been tighter were all sort of mediocre critics of the game I heard.

It is east to assume that this a the case of haters going to hate or that people have over inflated expectations that no game could live up to. But I don’t think that reaction is unwarranted. I think it is more people wandering through their reviews trying to touch on what made the game not live up to their dream but not being able to touch the core of their discontent. The thing is the sticking point might very well be at the heart of the story but to talk about that means spoiling a good deal of the plot.

So before we go to the rest of the review I’m going to give the game a quick one paragraph review and if you don’t want to be spoiled you can just read that and the decide if you want the game or not. But if you have played the game or don’t care about spoilers you can just continue past the next paragraph. I think that it the fairest way to do this.

I like the game but acknowledge its flaws. The game is decidedly more Professor Layton than Phoenix Wright in both storytelling and game play. Both halves get a chance to shine but Layton gets the first billing on the title for a reason. The puzzles for both halves is a bit more easy mode than what you are used to in the respective main series. If you are new to either half you won’t be over your head but if your and old hat don’t expect to be challenged most of the time. The story is fun but your mileage may vary on the twist during the last third. If you a fan of either series where is something to enjoy. The puzzles parts feel very Layton and I actually thought the Witch Trials were an interesting twist of the Ace Attorney formula. Just temper your expectations. This is more of good combination of two franchises than a golden child that is greater than the sums of its parts.

I might just be really happy that Maya has not been shipped off to the land of random offhanded mentions like she has in the recent games.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #239

May 26, 2014

hisui_icon_4040  A long time ago, we used to be canceled.

It was a fairly well publicized story. On May 22, 2007 the last episode of the Veronica Mars series was played on TV. While there were many dangling plot lines it seemed that the ending of season third would be all they officially wrote about the series. In 2013 a Kickstarter was launched to fund a movie that could finally give some closure to the series. It was wildly successful and the movie caused quite the hubbub. Kate and I loved the movie. You can hear our gushing praise on the Speakeasy. The movie did rather well on tying up all the loose ends from the TV series while showing that Veronica continues on to be her bad self. But the momentum of the Kickstarter seems unstoppable. The first major item from that continued energy is a Veronica Mars novel.

If you went into Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line with a healthy amount of trepidation no one could blame you. Fiction based on TV series can be wildly variable. If you have ever read things like Star Trek or Star Wars novels you will know that reading those books can be like playing Russian Roulette. Since writing novels like this is a work for hire affair you will get all stripes of writers looking for a pay check. Sometimes you get some amazing synergy when a good writer totally gets a series and has a great story for the characters to dig into. Most of the time you get some mediocre work. Maybe the author writes the characters a bit too much like their own characters as opposed to their established portrayal. Other times the characters are on point but the plotting is weak. Sometimes you just get shlock that makes you wonder why you did not just read something from fanfiction.com. Your never sure what you’re going to get.

Thankfully this first novel feels like a good Veronica Mars story. Not the best Veronica Mars story. But it feels like a good episode of the TV series. I think that is exactly what you want for a book like this. A radical examination of the character or an experimental work seems a bit too bold out of the gate. Unless you plan for this to be the only novel something that impactful would make everything after it feel limp. You want something that assures the audience that these novels will be enjoyable and exciting but not that they are GOING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING FOREVER.

At the same time the story feels like more than just a throw away story. Veronica and her father move forward after their somewhat strained relationship in the movie, Mac moves into a more predominant role, and there are one or to other changes that are spoilers I won’t go into. Enough happens that it feels like a real TV episode. If everything is static the novel feels like a filler arc from a shonen show. Too many changes and it feels like silly fan fiction.

Also all these changes are canon. So this won’t be pushed aside by a new movie or series.

The actually case moves quickly. I read the story in two days without even trying that hard to read it. But at the same time it does not feel rushed which is possible the greater crime for a novel to commit. The fast pace does help some of the later twists feel stronger. I read the novel in two days and I was hardly trying very hard. So I did not meditate too hard on the mystery and was more absorbed in it. It let me notice some of the clues so the solutions did not come out of nowhere but did not let me dwell on them too long so I figured out everything before it happened. If the story had moved a bit slower I probably would have meditated on it more.

Apparently the book already has a sequel lined up called Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss & Tell. Jennifer Graham and Rob Thomas are still writing this one so at least the writing will be consistent which means I can look forward to it with a minimum of trepidation. For such genre fiction that is a fairly strong endorsement.

narutaki_icon_4040 Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham was way too good for being a novel based on a media property.

The voice is what is most important in a venture like this. If the voice doesn’t come-off like Veronica then it is just a mystery novel. But Veronica sounds spot on in the way she verbalizes both in dialogue and internal thoughts. Kristen Bell made the character what she is, but from this book you can tell how well written the character has been and how well the writers understand her.

Biggest and best part of the book has to do with Veronica really sinking her teeth into being a for-realz P.I. Not that she doesn’t bust out some of her old tricks, but she is now an adult and professional and it changes the dynamics a a bit.

There is a lot of personal progress made in this book which left me very surprised mostly because if they make another movie I don’t know how they will reconcile it with the book(s?). But I won’t fret over that, instead I’ll look forward to the next story!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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The Speakeasy #052: Death of a Virgin, PAX East 2014

April 23, 2014
Drink #052: Death of a Virgin
PAX East 2014

Our first experience with PAX East was an overwhelmingly positive one. So much so that we hope to add it to our list of regular, staple cons we return to each year. It was a whirlwind weekend with all the trappings of other cons we’ve attended, but this one was all about gaming. We discuss everything from the hotel location, the convention center, PWNMEAL, PA themselves, and lots of other stuff.

(Listen)

And now your helpful bartenders at The Speakeasy present your drink:

Death of a Virgin

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 1 1/2 oz peach schnapps
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • orange juice
  • 7-up soda

Pour vodka, schnapps and lime juice into a glass. Add orange juice until the glass is half-filled, and fill completely with 7-up. Stir well, and serve.

More PAX East 2014 posts:

PAX East 2014: Tweets
PAX East 2014: General Impressions
PAX East 2014: Panels

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #237

March 18, 2014

hisui_icon_4040 If any one remembers a little while back Kate looked at the first volume of Knights of Sidonia. She definitely had mixed feelings on the series but I was still intrigued to see what the series was like. We don’t get that much legitimate mecha manga in English so I figured I should seek it out when I could. I read the first four volumes myself to see if I had a different opinion. After diving pretty deep into the series I agree with Kate’s overall assessment but I found what threw me off about the series was very different from the things that bothered her.

The premise is fairly interesting. After Earth is destroyed during a horrific first contact scenario the remnants of humanity have been forced to live on colony ships. While fighting the relentless creatures bent on wiping out humanity it seems that the survivors have modified themselves to use photosynthesis, cloning, third genders, and other forms of genetic engineering to survive the greatly reduced resources on their ships. Nagate Tanikaze was an unmodified human who was living outside the system in the bowls of one of the ships until he was caught trying to steal food. When he is forced to fly a fighter which puts him in contact with many of the great secrets of the battle with the Gauna.

Kate really did not like the characters. I understand that feeling. They all seem so inhuman. And that makes sense. It is very clear that the crew of the Sidonia have been so heavily modified that while they are still technically human they are so removed from a modern person that they are practically aliens. The problem is the characters don’t feel uniquely alien. They don’t seem like fulled fleshed out others with distinctly aliens mindsets and personalities. They feel less like creatures apart from humanity and more characters without humanity. But even Nagate who is mostly human feels this way.

That was not a deal breaker for me. On the other hand it did not help my main problem with the series. The death blow for me was the narrative structure. Everything read like “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.” It is easy from that description to assume that Knights of Sidonia is extremely exposition heavy with lots of talking heads and walls of text. But overall the series is fairly light on blatant info dumps and long speeches. In fact you can read through any given book of Sidonia fairly quickly. It is more that Nagate just drifts from plot point to plot point. I never felt any weight or tension to his actions. If he is hanging out with his fellow pilots, fighting for his life in battle, adrift and space on the verge of death, or learning dark and terrible secrets it all was has the same feel to it. If I were a bit more well versed in the language and mechanics of manga I might be able to put my finger on what is off about the story. I do know it is deeply mechanical. It is not just the overall narrative. It is something as systemic as the flow from panel to panel.

But that is the manga in a nutshell. It has a lot of strong elements that should make it a series that Kate and I loved. But in the end it is an interesting dance performed by someone who is constantly not in synch with the music. They are off just enough that it does not look wrong but it never feels right. You want to like what they are doing but you can’t ever enjoy yourself even though you feel you should.

I do wonder if this is actually a series that could be saved by the upcoming anime. Theoretically a talented director could take what is good about the series and bring it to the forefront while minimizing or even removing what keeps the series from congealing. Also robot battles always just look better animated. I’m not saying that is guaranteed to happen. But I feel if anything could save the series it would be a well produced anime. Since Netflix picked up the series it will be a while before Kate and I will be able to watch it legitimately. But considering how cool we were on the manga this is hardly the hardest wait for us.

sep-manga

narutaki_icon_4040 Last month I was excited for The Heroic Legend of Arslan manga by Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa to be licensed, imagine my surprise when it was promptly added to Crunchyroll Manga! So I sped through the first volume over the weekend.

Prince Arslan’s strained relationship with his parents is apparent from the start. His father is a warrior king while Arslan isn’t too bad with a sword (no matter what his attendants have him believe), he is more of a thinker. The people surrounding him are going to be of the utmost importance as we watch him grow from boy to ruler.

Ms. Arakawa has done a great job creating the sweeping epic feel of this fantasy series as a major battle embroils the kingdom in the last couple chapters of vol. 1. Her farming experience (manga and otherwise) is sure to be helping her draw all the calvary! The intensity of the battle, or perhaps massacre is a better word, feels horrific so it should come as no surprise that this series has a high body count.

This story has been adapted into anime and manga before but this may prove to be the best incarnation yet.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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