Review – Great Ace Attorney

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While Pheonix Wright spends a well-earned vacation, the Ace Attorney series knows no pause and jumps more than 100 years in the past. This time, you will bring justice in Meiji era Japan and Victorian Britain.

Whereas Ace Attorney Dual Destines symbolized the twilight of the judiciary system, Great Ace Attorney describes its early days. Indeed in the early Meiji era, the job of lawyer itself just had been created and there’s much to do to ensure fair trials. In this context, Asôgi Kazuma is sent to learn as much as possible about modern law in the most advanced country in the field : Great Britain. That’s the first problem of this new episode : Naruhodo Ryunosuke, the main character, is not a lawyer and doesn’t even wish to become one before being forced by the circumstances. So from the very start, he looks rather shallow compared to our usual hero in blue suit.

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The transition is very awkward and weights on the narrative in a whole, which ends up uneven. The first trial taking place in the Japanese capital is very exciting, with a number of crazy plot twists and an historical context amazingly illustrated. The Westernization of Japan is described here like it is in Natsume Sôseki’s I am a Cat. It is pretty fun to witness the cultural and economic differences between Japan and the West at that time, as it triggers a lot of hilarious anecdotes. In brief, everything from the costumes to the politics is brilliant of authenticity and history-lovers should love it. Follows a second chapter rather dull, without any trial, and its conclusion is so stupid that the player is left with mixed feelings.

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The (very large) part taking place in the UK immediately revives the interest. Once again, the general design is absolutely fantastic. First of all, the mischievous Sherlock Holmes takes the scene in a very surprising manner, but efficient nonetheless. Every chapter of Great Ace Attorney is introduced like a Sherlock Holmes novel, the second one being no less than an extremely clever parody of The Speckled Band! The great detective is like you’d imagine, very confident in himself and a bit mocking, but there’s a small difference : his conclusion are all far-fetched! This brings us to one of the new feaures. When investigating a location, Sherlock Holmes will make some unrealistic hypothesis : it will be up to you to “correct” it and find out the truth by pointing out the right detail. That said, there are not a lot of those phases, nor are they very complex. In spite of this, Great Ace Attorney full of delicious easter eggs for the readers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series.

Barlock

It’s still a pleasure to wander in past London, where we appreciate once more the genius character design that made the series famous. The secondary characters have been designed in great detail : from the old officer of the British army proud of its service to Scotland Yard, the various situations and conversations of this episode are as good as ever. Cherry on cake, one of your client will be Natsume Sôseki himself! The famous Japanese novelist is totally eccentric, speaking time to time in yojijukugo, those idioms in four kanjis. All that is greatly enhanced by the soundtrack, which contains delightful melodies in investigation, and exhilarating themes in the key moments. Confess the Truth 2015 in particular is sumptuous composing, ideal for the turning points of the trials. On the other, I lament the fact that some characters haven’t been shown in more depth : Susato ends up being a rather classic sidekick without any big role (although Athena had her own chapter in Ace Attorney Dual Destinies) and prosecutor Barok Von Zieks never appears outside the courtroom. That’s the first time the main antagonist haven’t got a proper background, quite a shame…

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The trials of Great Ace Attorney don’t differ much from the traditional gameplay of the series, that is to say showing the right piece of evidence at the right moment. Even though the game rises the challenge a bit by avoiding unnecessary hints like Ace Attorney Dual Destinies had, the evidence list is often not that big and the cases didn’t feel as complex or surprising as in the previous games. That still leaves the fun of solving cases without modern scientific investigations, with weird means like the music box or the botanic book. The game system introduces the jury in the decision process, but doesn’t really change things much as it’s heavily scripted. It’s very much like the multi-witness system seen in Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (which also comes back in this game) for you simply have to find the contradictions between the jury members.

The 3rd chapter is quite exciting as it’s very tense, and delivers some deep thinking about the lawyer’s role (a it like in the end of Justice for All) : should Naruhodo believe his client at all costs? Should he win by any means? His carrier or the truth? The stakes are high and our young jurist faces a tough choice, and so is the player. The 4th chapter is way less interesting (common crime, unsurprising solving) but fortunately the last one comes to a deeper and more emotional conclusion. The broader story appears more complex by adding a lot of political or technological elements connected to each other. Generally, this latest Ace Attorney comes further close to a visual novel rather than being a puzzle game.

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The last issue with this game is that there are some mysteries left unexplained. The culprit of the first trial flees and you don’t know anything about his motive. The question regarding The Hound of the Baskervilles doesn’t find an answer. Worse, those two characters are shown 15 seconds to never be seen again in the narrative! Is that a sign of a chaotic development or of an upcoming sequel? I would wish for the latter. Another serious letdown : dubbing. Altough the trailers shown before the game came out were all fully voiced, everything has vanished in the final version! It’s as mute as the other entries. When you think that even modest Vita visual novels include full dubbing, some complaining is in order. All the more annoying that Capcom also forbids us from taking screenshots via the Miiverse. Tight budget? Last minute hesitations? Great Ace Attorney looks unfinished…

Uneven, questionable on some parts, Great Ace Attorney is nonetheless fascinating in the fun provided by the characters, the beauty of its design and the outstanding historical rendering. A game definitely enjoyable and moving towards the end, even though the gameplay doesn’t shine like in previous episodes.

Review – Ace Attorney Dual Destinies

Five years. Five long years that Phoenix Wright hadn’t be in court for the hilarious trials of the Ace Attorney series. True, his best friend and rival Miles Edgeworth did come to our DS, but only once out of two, the second game sadly having never been localized. In this particular context, Ace Attorney 5 coming at us is rather crucial and we shouldn’t leave this gesture by Capcom unanswered.

First of all, this game is BEAUTIFUL. It looks as good as no game on 3DS ever and puts Nintendo’s games for its own system to shame. The characters are so well detailed and animated that it reminded me of Fire Emblem cut-scenes. All this including the legendary talent of the devs to offer us eccentric characters with extreme personalities, weird but extremely fun behavior. In short, AA5 is the best-looking I’ve seen on 3DS by leagues.

Adding to its fantastic humor, the game is no less relevant in judiciary themes, as it has always been in the series. All scenarios (i.e. the cases at hand) revolves around something called «the dark age of Justice». A period plagued with fabricated evidence, false accusations and a growing defiance towards the judiciary system. Even though the chapters are different from each other, for most part they keep being linked to this topic, highlighted by a mysterious bombing inside the court. This particular narrative gives a great significance to the game in a whole. Like in a good TV thriller, the player feels deeply involved in the story. 

Storytelling has been thought with great care. The second case might seem a bit weak in this department, you will be stuck at on your 3DS for everything else. A example of the effort made by Capcom on this : the beginning of the game is very different from the demo to ensure maximum pleasure of discovery. The scenario has some awesome twists, music is as classy as ever and the very end is near perfect.

The gameplay doesn’t vary much from the past episodes, you still have to show the right evidence at the right time to win trials, and discuss with witnesses in investigation parts. The big thing in AA5 is Athena’s capacity to analyze the emotions of people : those sequences are fairly numerous and offer diverse approach. It’s really a great add to series, much more interesting than the «Logic» in Ace Attorney Investigations. In theory, it’s about finding emotions that contradicts the current statement, but in practice it’s far richer. Past features like psy-locks and Apollo’s ring of truth are present too, but don’t occur very often. Investigation has lost any interest as you can investigate only 2 locations per case, and the game indicates everything.

As for characters, AA5 makes a balance between the three main protagonists, each of them having his own trial to win. I really appreciate this willingness to get rid of the «sidekick» role and allowing less important characters take the spotlight, even if it means less Phoenix (and believe me, you never have enough Phoenix). Your opponent, Simon Blackquill, is a truly great character that will instantly wipe out Klavier, who I thought didn’t really fit to the job. Talking about this, Klavier and many other make a comeback, but it’s always very short and they doesn’t make much sense in the story. But yeah, it’s always nice to see them.

The only thing I’m disappointed of is the level of difficulty. Like I said, investigation has been reduced to a check-list, so you no longer have to search for this little thingy in the flower pot but it does save time). The green life bar doesn’t have any more importance, because when you lose you get back exactly where you were with a full one. It really damages the thrill of the game during trials. Not only this, but as in Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, the hints given here and there are far too direct and it skips the reasoning. Worse, when you do lose, the game has like a special help window for you to get closer to the solution (but you’re free to use it or not). I understand that nowadays publishers want to avoid that players feel frustrated, but it does hurt the challenge. Of course there still are many parts that will melt your brain, but it’s just not as great as before.

Despite this, Ace Attorney 5 is a super great game, long (more than 30 hours) and hooking. You English-speaker won’t have any problem with language (us French sometimes do), but some may need to get over their fear of digital games. Indeed, AA5 will be available only on the 3DS e-shop. It is more than worth it, and will surely determine the future of Ace Attorney in the West.

Most anticipated games in 2013

Lightning Returns (PS3)

Lightning Returns (PS3)

I’ve been soooooo excited since the reveal trailer of the last adventures of Lightning, whom I revere. Yet the trailer is lame overall, because it doesn’t show one bit of what is gonna change for the better in Lightning Returns : constant and changing world, various interactions depending on the moment of the day, deeper customization… Those who had already buried the FFXIII saga could well be surprised.

Atelier Ayesha (PS3)

It’s going to be hard for Ayesha to dethrone princess Meruru. But if those newest Alchemy centric adventures are even remotely close to its predecessor, we no doubt have another fantastic and addictive title incoming.

Shining Ark (PSP)

Shining Blade was one of those games that look disappointing when you play, but that let you precious memories. Ace illustrator Tony Taka’s art is one of the main reasons for that and has decided me to put on call option on this series again. Coming with again great music and enriched with a new crafting/agricultural system, Shining Ark now just needs to be a little more difficult than its predecessor to enter the legend, given it features no less than Sephiroth’s long lost daughter.

God Eater 2 (PSVita)

Supposed to have been released last spring, God Eater 2 is one year late! But for greater good, since it comes in a full-fledged PSVita version! This is excellent for PSVita in Japan, and for our eyes, perfect occasion to hunt invaders in this post apocalyptic action/RPG.

Senran Kagura – Shinobi Versus (PSVita)

Excellent surprise of this beginning of portable generation, Senran Kagura leaves the hostile and region-locked environment of the 3DS to come to the Japanese PSVitas and therefore… yours! It will be interesting to see to what extend the popularity of the series can expand around the blog once it is freed form these shackles. This newest episode welcomes back all the previous characters and adds equally more. The leap in graphics is astonishing, the stages are open and the physics of the outfits is more… precise than ever.

Sim City (PC)

My brand-new PC is now running and eagerly awaits March. Never management in video games will have been so meticulous, and online possibilities should introduce competition and live markets. All my appointments for March are canceled.

Ace Attorney 5 (3DS)

Phoenix Wright must have been tired of his retirement, and so were we. After his medieval return along with Professor Layton, he’s again ready to barge in Japanese courts for hilarious new trials with graphics never seen on 3DS.

Legend of Heroes – Trails of the Flash (PSVita)

I know this series by reputation only, but I’ve got a hunch I shouldn’t overlook this newest episode inserting itself in an increasingly busy Vita schedule in Japan. Curiosity makes me explore new frontiers. The attractive design of Legend of Heroes, along with top-notch tech, could make this a real gem.

My favorites games of 2012 (GoTY 2012)

Rules reminder : I’m picking from the games I’ve played in 2012, even if they were released in 2011 or if they’re yet to be announced in the West.

Best action game

Liberation Maiden (3DS)

I’ve always wanted to experience the action scenes from Evangelion in video game. With Liberation Maiden, no need to search further. This shoot’em up is a nearly exact transcript of the legendary anime. True, not the same scenario, not the same characters, a rather short story, but the spirit of Evangelion is here : the ferocious aliens, the awesome sound, the non-stop action. All those priceless things you can get for only 8 euros.

Runner-up : Senran Kagura Burst (3DS)

Best shooter

Call of Duty – Black Ops II (PS3)

Although Call of Duty did poorly with Modern Warfare 3, Treyarch made the wise choices to turn the situation over. An innovating campaign and a reborn quality multiplayer make Black Ops II the king this year.

Runner-up : Call of Duty – Black Ops Declassified (PSVita)

Best fighting game

Kasumi Ayane

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3)

Dead or Alive 5 deals a powerful blow to a competition mostly asleep at the wheel. At last effort is rewarded and improvisation useless. The gameplay is complex, even too complex, but the competition is sane and the noobs have been driven away. Graphically outsanting, with high value and a flurry of adorable characters, DOA5 takes the crown, and for a long time.

Runner-up : none

Best strategy game

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Like every time, it’s hard to resist to Fire Emblem once you have it whithin your reach. The clever gameplay is further enhanced by the support system and the unit management has some amazing surprises. CG scenes are beautiful and the art direction the best to date.

Runner-up : none

Best puzzle game

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

True, PlvsAA won’t melt your brain like past episodes did. But its breathtaking story and lovable characters make up for the lesser difficulty settings.

Runner-up : If I were in a sealed room with a girl I would… (3DS)

Best RPG

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Totori made history imho, and only logical that its sequel would take the title if it lives up to it. Actually, Atelier Meruru does even better in music, gameplay, management, battles, character design… Seldom did I feel such self-fulfillment with one game.

Runner-up : Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Best Music

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Let’s get this straight : it’s gonna be hard for any game to compete here as long as Hatsune Miku is in the place. Not when brilliant composers like the vocaloid god Wowaka delivers such goodness as Unhappy Refrain.

Runner-up : Project Diva Extend (PSP)

Best game no one bought

たっち,しょー Love Application (PS3)

Love Application literally crashed in Japanese charts. The audience for dating sim has never been that high so it might have been OK. Anyway, the amount value and fun crammed is this game is more than worth the few thousands yens.

Runner-up : Hyperdimension Neptune Victory

Best game you might never play

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (DS)

The title I chose last year in this category, Final Fantasy Type-0, still hasn’t made it west. Released in Japan last year, Ace Attorney Investigations 2 probably won’t be luckier and might well end up being the only title in the series to skip the west too. A real shame when you think it’s the most brilliant Ace Attorney so far.

Runner-up : Shining Blade (PSP)

Most disappointing

SoulCalibur V (PS3)

An abysmal campaign and a dismal multiplayer. That’s all I could think of this 5th iteration of a series had enjoyed so much. Everything that made the glory of the past ones, including characters and gameplay, has been reshuffled for the worst as armies of noobs increasingly took the power.

Runner-up : Ciel no Sourge (PSVita)

Most innovating

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Mastering gravity. That’s what Gravity Daze is about. This game achieve the outstanding performance of having a unique, exhilarating and yet simple gameplay. Add to that an art direction that is one of the best this year, and you have the ultimate must-have on PSVita.

Runner-up : The Unfinished Swann (PS3)

Best graphics

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

A small step for the PS3, but a giant leap for the Tales of series. Tales of Graces F, which wasn’t exactly ugly, is merely a sketch of what awaits you in Tales of Xillia. Never had the anime style been so detailed, seldom could you enjoy such a flurry of colors and light.

Runner-up : Gravity Daze (PSVita)

 Game of the year

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Can the Atelier series win for the second year in a row? YES! You do have one of the finest management-strategy-RPG ever. Characters, battles, music, side-quests, everything is as good as it can get. With games like these, there are no such things as eating or sleeping : Atelier Meruru nurtures your soul to delight.

 Project Diva f (PSVita)

 Tales of Xillia (PS3)

 Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Review – Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney

Two long years after the fateful TGS 2010 trailer, the cross-over of the two most brilliant minds of the DS is a last in my 3DS.

Graphically speaking, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (PlvsAA) is impressive. That said, it doesn’t seem to apply to the most important characters because Layton & Luke look odd, and Phoenix seem rather inexpressive at times. On the other hand, NPCs are astonishingly detailed and Mahone looks like she comes from a Ghibli movie. The excellent CG scenes further add to the overall quality. In fact, I just had the impression that 3DS had finally entered the portable next-gen, proof that it can make technical wonders when developers don’t go into useless thrift. PlvsAA is also an outstanding achievement in level design, story and characters.

PlvsAA takes the best of both franchise to deliver high-class, fun and cuteness at the same time. The more you progress in the story, the more you will admire Level-5 genius narrative. The story is fascinating and each end of chapter has such a big suspense that you can’t stop playing. The four characters end up in a medieval city haunted by witchcraft. In this world, reality is fiction, and fiction always become reality. The scenario is so full of mysteries that the very end of the game actually has some trouble explaining all of it. The last trial end up being a tiring series of explanations, rather than the climax we are accustomed to in Ace Attorney. The end of the game can also seem a bit naive, even though I was pleased this way. The story in whole was nonetheless coherent.

As for the gameplay, fans will clearly lament the low difficulty settings. The puzzles are middle-school level and will disappoint those who fancy scratching their heads and keep their hint coins in their purse. The trials are a bit more demanding but the game keeps guiding you way too often. At some point you can’t even think by yourself. Your evidence list is short (5 to 10 items) and hint coins are available. PlvsAA introduces a new feature : you now cross-examine multiple witnesses at the same time. They often contradict or argue with each other, thing that you’ll have to learn to dig out the truth. They won’t hesitate to jump from the terraces if they have something to add. Sorting all this confusion can be tricky at times and makes the judiciary part particularly entertaining. As for the «VS» part, there is a short scene that feels like it without ever being convincing. It almost feels as if Level-5 had re-wrote the game entirely, because many sequences from the first trailer never appear in the full game.

Those drawbacks do make the experience far less good than it should have been, but this unique cross-over remains solid entertainment for 30 hours, thing you seldom have on 3DS. Also, it should be noted that more difficult puzzles will come as free DLCs during the following weeks.

Some really interesting games from Tokyo Game Show 2012

Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)

No need to introduce ToX2, sequel to the best Tales of to date. This video shows that all the former characters return in this explosive sequel. It seem to re-use many elements though (such as enemies) but it you be mean to be pricky. Tales of Xillia 2 will hit the West if you buy Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia.  

Toki to Wa (PS3)

First 100% anime-style RPG, Toki to Wa readies its launch with a spooky voice that reminds me of something… But whatever, it’s only 20 days before the game gets released in Japan. It has been recently confirmed for the West as well.

God Eater 2 (PSVita)

You can throw your old PSP to the bin, because God Eater 2 will get an ehanced PSVita version. The bad news is that both versions are now delayed to 2013, but it will surely be worth the wait.

Professeur Layton and the ruins of Asland (3DS)

The 6th episode of Professor Layton is on track to the delight of puzzle-game, paper-sketching addicts. It seems to be a direct sequel to the 4th one, but I can’t say for sure since I don’t have the 5th. The West should get it in 2014, if the world still holds until then. 

Ace Attorney 5 (3DS)

Exit Apollo Justice. The young attorney leaves the court because his mentor Phoenix Whright is back for this 3DS iteration. The game benefits from an astonishingly good cell-shading and is rumored to be localized around 2014 for the West.

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

AT LAST! The dream-like crossover will release on November 29th in Japan and on my 3DS. This latest video shows how puzzles, trials and character design get along in this Level-5 game that may be published by Nintendo around next autumn. You know what? I really pity you guys…