Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Review

This combination of two distinctly different, beloved franchises takes an archeology professor, a lawyer, witches, and shakes liberally until thoroughly mixed.

 

Wait… witches?! O_o

 

…ok sure why not. It’s not like a fantasy setting can really make Phoenix Wright’s adventures much stranger. ūüėČ

 

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The prologues set up things well, with related events separately running afoul of Professor Hershel Layton and Phoenix Wright. These segments serve to establish the gist of each character’s gameplay elements as well as¬†the central characters.

In an interesting choice the art style from each separate game is kept for its characters. The mix is a little weird at first, but I got used to it quickly and it was probably a better approach than trying to force one set of iconic characters into the other world’s style. Also, the backgrounds tie it all together pretty well.

Similar to the mixing of art styles is the mix of going back and forth between the disparate gameplay mechanics.  I found it jarring at first and a bit forced as during the first half of the game it was basically switching each chapter. But it ended up melding together much more naturally and seamlessly by the end.

While I’ve played and enjoyed both series, I’m traditionally more of a fan of the Phoenix Wright games. Yet here the Professor Layton elements were perhaps just a touch better, likely¬†due to fitting the story more naturally. The trials were a bit contrived, and some of the constructions and limitations implemented to extend them (and thus the gameplay) were ridiculous.

However they were still enjoyable, and the new mechanics¬†introduced¬†(group testimony and related elements) were fun and well done. Also, the “railroading” feeling and unreasonable burden of proof being foisted on the defense fit the themes¬†and historical events¬†obviously being alluded to.

On the opposite side the puzzle elements were pretty much classic Layton. Sometimes appropriate and interwoven into the narrative well, sometimes shoehorned in, yet nearly all reasonably fun and varied in difficulty.

Once everything starts to come together, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright uses a couple of strong, nuanced characters to anchor the plot amidst a silly supporting cast that keeps the tone from getting too dark. Parts were¬†overly melodramatic, but that’s par for the course with both these series and it never derailed the tension.

Things just kept escalating and provided an¬†excellent story with compelling¬†mysteries, strong foreshadowing that simultaneously avoided spoiling things, and some phenomenally clever twists and red herrings. The story’s¬†climax was fantastic, and overall I left Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright extremely satisfied with the journey I’d been taken on.

Highly recommended to fans of either series, just make sure to stick past the somewhat uneven start.

 

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma Review

The Zero Escape trilogy comes to a close with a departure from the Nonary Game. Life and death are on the line again, but this time in a deadly Decision Game…

Zero Time Escape is a direct continuation of VLR, features numerous characters from first two games, and ties up plot threads running through all three games. While ZTE does a good job of summarizing important points from previous games I feel a ridiculous amount of important context would be lost without having played the others first, so I highly recommend not starting with this one.

In an effort to remain as spoiler free as I can while still getting into detail about what I liked and didn’t about the game, I will avoid using character names as I discuss things to prevent spoiling elements of¬†999 and VLR.

 

 

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9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors remains one of my favorite games of all time, and I was pleasantly surprised that while not quite up to 999 its sequel¬†Virtue’s Last Reward¬†was still an excellent game that continued in the vein of the first in fine fashion.

 

I mentioned in my review of VLR that I wasn’t sure I liked where everything was going storywise, and while I couldn’t possibly predict what I was in store for here I was in some respects both right and wrong to be trepidatious. In classic form ZTE’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness: its ambition. In attempting to be more mysterious and mind bending than 999 and VLR, tie up three games worth of reality twisting¬†plot, ¬†AND introduce no less than FOUR major shake ups to the gameplay formula it was bound to collapse under its own weight at points.

Let’s start with the changes to gameplay. Changing the nature of the game our protagonists play is expected and needed, and the specifics of the Decision Game are¬†reasonable enough (if contrived at times).

Two of the other big changes go hand in hand. The group of nine this time is divided into subgroups of three people. These divisions are preset, so the player has no control over who gets paired with whom. The player will jump from one group leader to another throughout the game, temporarily controlling that character for the duration of the chosen “segment.”

The concept of segments is the other big change that ties into this structure. The Zero in control of this game gasses the characters after each game and erases their memories. So things do not unfold chronologically. The player chooses one of the segments available for the team they feel like playing and get a chunk of the story (with appropriate decisions and puzzles) which could be anywhere in the timeline flowchart. The flowchart is filled in as these are completed so long term you can see how things are coming together, but between playing things out of order and jumping between different point of view characters constantly the flow and immersion of the game is severely hampered.

Another drawback of having three isolated teams is the timelines being traversed¬†are no longer a full exploration of the various combinations of choices made. The first two games used¬†choices made by a single character as branching points, and as such were able to fully consider the consequences of those choices. Here it simply can’t be done due to the unwieldy number of combinations. So as the chart gets filled in there are particular combinations that are simply not represented. Now the story is certainly big and complicated enough as it is, but having “gaps”¬†surprisingly makes the game feel more “linear” and out of the player’s control¬†in a way despite the looser structure of choosing fragments.

With all that said, everything from the amnesia approach to the point of view jumping has an in-game, story based explanation and reason. That makes it all more understandable looking back once finished with the game, but it doesn’t necessarily make these aspects¬†more enjoyable while playing.

 

Which brings us to the last major shakeup in gameplay. Progression from certain branch points are determined by chance. That’s right, there are points in the game that have to be played over and over until the game chooses to give you the result you need to get on the other branch and proceed. This is beyond ridiculous and annoying. Again, there is a important story related reason they needed to be there, but there had to be a better way to address and implement them.

Having to explain these complicated points in such detail to properly convey my issues with them likely gives the impression that I didn’t like¬†the game (and that impression will no doubt grow when I start dissecting the story). But that’s not the case. The mysteries are compelling, the atmosphere appropriately tense and harrowing, and the puzzles and gameplay decisions¬†interesting.

As for the story, it’s insane in scope and yet still manages to come together nicely and ties up the trilogy rather neatly in the end. The¬†philosophical aspects get more and more captivating¬†as things go along, and the numerous different threads intersect in jaw dropping ways.

The biggest problem with the scope is some important things invariably end up being underexplained. I have particular problems with the characterization of one person from the previous games whose actions and reasoning are inconsistent and inadequately justified. Things with this character happen for the sake of the plot of VLR, and result in erratic, unlikeable behavior. The writers also try way too hard to be clever, and at least one of the many shocking reveals is more groan inducing than interesting.

Yet everything is internally consistent (both within ZTE and with what has come before), most of the characters have good depth and are suitably intriguing, and some of the reveals are legitimately brilliant and engrossing. It’s harder to talk about what I liked in the story without spoilers, but there was more than enough here to keep me engaged until the end.

 

So I have major mixed feelings about Zero Time Escape. It’s easily the weakest in the series, most of the changes attempted fell flat for me, and I wasn’t happy with some of the story choices. On the other hand it juggled an insanely complicated plot¬†reasonably well, felt like a Zero Escape game with all the puzzles and mind bending mysteries that go along with it, and had some legitimately compelling characters and twists.

Definitely worth playing to close out the series, but it wears its flaws on its sleeve much more apparently than 999 and VLR.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1 Review

I’m a lifelong fan of Batman and the mythos surrounding him in various incarnations. I also have enjoyed previous episodic adventure games from Telltale such as The Wolf Among Us and Life is Strange. ¬†As such I’ve been quite excited to check out Telltale’s foray into Gotham City and their exploration of its iconic hero.

 

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Adventure games of this type are primarily about the story, and Telltale had the proper insight to realize any strong Batman story is at least as much about Bruce Wayne as it is his alter ego. The core plot arises from the Wayne persona, while Batman provides the action. The balance is quite good so far. The themes and certain events are quite dark, but of course a serious take on Batman lends itself to such treatment.

This is set early on in Batman’s career, and the worldbuilding and introduction of their version of¬†familiar¬†characters is well handled. There are several nice cameos and Easter eggs, and the combination of characters used at this point is excellent. I really like one reimagining of classic villain in particular, and there’s a great twist involving another.

The actions sequences seemed a bit different from what I’m used to from Telltale, as the commands I missed didn’t seem to impact the scene at all. Batman still appeared to dodge in the indicated direction even if I missed the input. I could be wrong, or the inputs in this game might just determine a failure of scene if enough are failed. Can’t say at this point.

The conversation parts were the expected solid stuff from Telltale. The choices have small effects so far, but they are there and appreciated. The staying silent option continues to add nice layer to conversation choices. It’s simple but important.

A third part of this game involves investigation of a crime scene. These aspects are interesting and have a lot of potential.

Overall I found this to be a¬†strong start to what will hopefully be a captivating ride. There’s a¬†nice mystery at the center and this episode ended with a big hook for future episodes.

The environment is fantastic. It captures the feel of the locales perfectly, including a¬†boarding¬†school, associated dorms, a run down house, etc. I found myself stopping to look at all the posters and flyers as much out of curiosity as to find clues. There’s a significant amount of little things to poke around.

Some players will find it on the short side, but it had good progression and found a decent stopping point, and is after all just episode 1. I thought Life is Strange was great and will definitely be checking out further chapters.

Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories Review

Idealistic Koto Amekura works in the cold case unit, and is less than pleased with her boss Shounosuke Nanase’s lack of motivation. But when a mysterious tip implies a five year old death wasn’t an accident, they’ll both poke at what ever obscured leads they can find.

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I loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and its sequel Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, so when I heard their director had a new detective game coming out I simply marked it for purchase and did no further research. So when it came out I was surprised and perhaps a touch disappointed to find out it’s an episodic series rather than a “full” game. Still, it’s priced appropriately for the content and harkens back to the atmosphere of those previous games while being something new and different.

One of the most interesting things about Distant Memories is the limited setting. It takes place solely¬†in a police interrogation room and relates the story through almost entirely¬†through conversation and interrogations. Some flashback images help flesh things out. It’s a hard structure to pull off but works well here.

This is almost a visual novel in concept, with the only gameplay elements being selecting which questions to ask people (which are often extremely obvious), occasional memory quiz summaries, and a couple of “deduction” moments where the player has to identify something suspicious in a photograph. So the gameplay is light, but it’s integrated well and fit the narrative.

The background mystery was decent and fairly intriguing, but also a little too transparent and while this episode stood alone reasonably well it definitely felt more like a prologue than a complete adventure in its own right. There was a lot of foreshadowing and dropped hints providing setup for the next chapter/game.

So while I admittedly wanted a bit more from Distant Memories, it was still a decent couple hours of police procedural style mystery and definitely did an effective job of making me want to play the next in the series.

Last Window Review

It’s 1980, and Kyle Hyde is four¬†years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective, and a year removed from the events of Hotel Dusk.

Last Window sees Hyde in a state of unmotivated limbo after the revelations of his visit to Hotel Dusk, and he’s pushing the patience of his boss perhaps one time too many. Yet the job might not be done with Hyde yet, as he receives a mysterious request unusually delivered straight to him at home.

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I adored¬†Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and a long while back I picked up the sequel, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. Last Window was never released in the US, but was translated into English and released in the UK. While 3DS is region locked for 3DS games, it is NOT for DS games, and as such the European release of Last Window will play on my US 3DS. So I got¬†it when it came out, and have finally gotten around to experiencing Kyle Hyde’s second (and by all appearances final) adventure.

Last Window has the same purposeful, noir sensibilities that were present in Hotel Dusk, and I love them just as much here. As I said about Hotel Dusk, Last Window knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to that vision from start to finish. All the little immersive touches are back, including holding the DS like a book, an almost sketchy art style with varying degrees of limited color use depending on the situation, and a deliberate, tense atmosphere that surrounds the central mystery.

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The basics of story and gameplay are introduced with a strong, short prologue tutorial, which is followed with excellently paced first chapter to get things moving. A good portion of the cast is introduced pretty naturally in first chapter yet with surprising speed. Four minutes in I had met seven new characters and been reintroduced to three from Hotel Dusk, yet nothing felt rushed or overwhelming.

Kyle Hyde is a classic hard boiled detective protagonist: surly and blunt, but capable of compassion. He’s living in a soon-to-be-sold building called Cape West, formerly a hotel and rumored to be the site of mysterious crimes many years prior.

Like the titular Hotel Dusk from the first game, Cape West provides the entirety of the locales for gameplay. Unlike the hotel however, Kyle will occasionally leave his apartment building for story related reasons during cutscenes. Last Window also takes place over the course of days, not hours, which allows for much more natural story pacing and room for developments to breathe a bit. A couple of small but nice refinements to gameplay mechanics and a clever nod to Hotel Dusk in the extras that allows some fleshing out of story points do a good job of moving things forward as a series without losing what made Hotel Dusk great.

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I feel Last Window is tighter than Hotel Dusk overall. Outside of one rather HUGE one¬†in the premise, there are fewer coincidences here in terms of timing and motivations. I understand that the tighter plot might leave some feeling things tie together too neatly in some respects, but I thought it was all within the realm of believability for the story being told and really liked the way things came together for the most part. The events of Hotel Dusk were referred to and important to Last Window in certain respects so I do highly recommend playing that first, but Last Window has its own story that’s fairly distinct and removed from Hyde’s quest in Hotel Dusk involving his past as a detective.

The self given “interactive mystery novel” is once again a perfect description for this series. There are puzzles, and they are integrated well, but everything is geared towards satisfying the mental itch that gets ahold of Hyde when things don’t quite make sense and piecing together connections and explanations for the mysterious happening surrounding him. Both the characters and plot are very well built and developed by the end, and I might have ended up liking this a touch better than Hotel Dusk overall.

The events in Last Window are appropriately tied up, but room was left for more adventures with Kyle Hyde. From the general direction of the story I was afraid things would feel forced, but I was pleasantly surprised that I found it fit together and unfolded well instead. Easter eggs are also plentiful for fans who’ve played the first game.

I’m as thrilled that Last Window turned out to be a more than worthy successor to Hotel Dusk as I am disappointed that it was never released in the US and that it was the end of Kyle Hyde’s stories. Mystery fans and retro-gamers should definitely seek this (as well as Hotel Dusk) out.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Review

It’s 1979, ¬†and Kyle Hyde is three years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective. But when his new job sends him to an odd hotel in the middle of nowhere, he’ll find significantly more than a quiet¬†night’s rest.

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Hotel Dusk is an old favorite of mine, which I hadn’t played in years. As I seem to finally have an opportunity to get around to playing the sequel, I decided to revisit Kyle Hyde’s original¬†adventure first. I’m surprised at how much I’d forgotten, as entire sections of the game seemed new to me.

This is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and gives no quarter. It’s an old-fashioned hard-boiled mystery with a down-on-his-luck protagonist and a bunch of odd people and happenings his mind just can’t let go of. As such, the pace is appropriately deliberate as Hyde pokes around Hotel Dusk and pieces everything together. The journey is well¬†worth it, but this is a story that unfolds gradually and requires some patience. The game’s self description of being an “interactive mystery novel” is spot on.

Aiding in the immersion as the player guides Hyde through a tangle of misfits with hidden secrets is a fantastic artistic style and some unique elements both in presentation and gameplay. The “hand drawn” feel to the character portraits and the way color is sparingly used on and of in them contrasts nicely with the more traditionally drawn backgrounds. This not only let’s the characters stand out, but keeps the backgrounds simple and clear so searching for things and solving puzzles isn’t unnecessarily complicated by the art. Even little touches, like requiring the DS be held sideways to resemble a book while playing or having a virtual notebook you can hand write notes in, add to the experience.

The puzzles are fine overall. They tend to be reasonably engaging and as well incorporated as can be. Some are a little shoehorned in, but nothing seems terribly out of place or breaks immersion enough to be a problem. A couple of mini-games/puzzles were particularly clever, and effort was taken to make use of the DS’s features. The mystery elements are the focus though, and a majority of the game is walking around gathering information and talking to various people to unravel all the odd things going on at the hotel.

Hyde is generally a smart protagonist, and there were only a couple times where I was ahead of him enough to get a little impatient. Not bad at all for such a long game. There’s a good mix of (semi) reasonable red herrings and interwoven backstories¬†for the various characters. There are of course some¬†coincidences in this kind of tale, but they are relatively minimal and blend in fairly¬†seamlessly overall. Everything¬†ties up fairly nicely at the end, although a few¬†minor lingering questions remain involving some of the supporting cast. The main story threads are resolved to satisfaction while leaving¬†room for certain things to be expanded on in the sequel, although I don’t know if they were (to my knowledge sequel is largely separate/stand alone even though it features same main character).

Perhaps most importantly at this point is that I find Hotel Dusk: Room 215 holds up well compared to when I first played it and I thoroughly enjoyed my replay. The heavy narrative focus, as well as little things like not being able to speed up the text display, will make this a slog for some players, but those with the patience to wander through a solid, old school noir-ish mystery will still find this to be a gem among the DS’s expansive library.

 

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward Review

The Nonary Game returns…

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I loved 999, but hadn’t played this sequel yet due to glitching issues with the 3DS version. With the third game out and me now having a Vita, I decided to go back to this to finish the trilogy in order.

The general setup is largely the same, with nine people kidnapped and forced to play a life and death game at the whim of their captor, who is hinted to be posing as one of the nine. Once again the game is a combination of almost visual novel type story sections and adventure game style puzzle sections. There’s a very different feel to this versus 999, but the atmosphere is still appropriately dark and foreboding¬†and things come together pretty well. The puzzles are good, the characters nicely varied and reasonably engaging, and the narrative compelling. When the game first came out I wasn’t a fan of the change in visual style from the first game, but I found now I barely even noticed. The game looked good and the graphics were appropriate.

The plot is intriguing, and makes good use of the branching aspect. I found the¬†philosophical incorporations of both the¬†Prisoner’s Dilemma and Schrodinger’s Cat quite interesting, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff in general. There’s a TON going on as things progress. Magnitudes more so than in 999. It leads to an end with almost too many twists, but I was fine with it overall (although I have¬†mixed feelings about what this all means as a follow up to 999). The parallel branching nature does undermine some of the drama, as the Ally/Betray choices don’t have the same kind of impact when you eventually have to go back and choose the other.

There were a couple instances of “carrying the idiot ball,” but otherwise the characters’ reactions and motivations fit well among branches. A couple of things (mostly related to game’s workings) were left implied when they should have been made explicit, which is kind of surprising given all the exposition in parts. There were also a few instances of wasted potential, such as¬†a clever development that should have had big implications but is instead used only when it’s introduced and never mentioned again, and a character who oddly fades into the background at points where they could/should have been important.

While not being quite as tight as 999 nor reaching the same heights, Virtue’s Last Reward is an excellent sequel that is more ambitious than its predecessor and largely succeeds on the grander scale. I don’t know that I entirely like where this is all going story-wise, but I am definitely fully invested in seeing how it turns out. Bring on Zero Time Dilemma.