Skyrim, 2 years on…

One aspect of my New Years Resolution for 2014 is to write more often.  NaBloPoMo 2013 was an excellent way to get me writing again after a significant time away, but I want to ensure that my writing won’t get stale and laboured again, so I will be trying to blog twice per month from now on (and hopefully at least once per month).  I will be talking a bit more about changes I’m trying to make in my second post for the month, but for now I want to talk a bit about Skyrim.

I purchased the Legenday edition of Skyrim for the PS3 in November. I wanted to pack my XBOX 360 away to make room for a PlayStation 4, but I was reluctant to do so in case I ever wanted to go back to playing Skyrim. Since I had no intentions of packing up my PS3 and hadn’t yet purchased any of the DLC for the game, I thought that the Legendary edition was my best option. From a technical perspective, the game runs much better after all the patches, though the load times can still be uncomfortably long and the frame rate still chugs when you first enter towns. It is, however, totally playable at this point.

As I mentioned in a few of my NaBloPoMo posts, Skyrim is my favourite game of Generation 7. While I still stand by my choice, I have to admit that until just this week, I had never finished the Main quest line, or the also important Civil War quest line. The meta game of dungeon delving, buying, crafting, and selling was almost always the biggest draw toward Skyrim for me, and it was interesting enough that I didn’t need the mediocre story messing that up. Finally, after two years of back and forth between the two, I was able to complete some of my most significant objectives in the game: both meta and ortho.

I completed the Main quest line. The story, of course, wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was fun to play. I especially enjoyed the environment of Blackreach, an enormous Dwarven settlement. It was a fascinating place to explore, even if Falmer and Chaurus enemies make me terribly uncomfortable. I thought that the armistice discussions in A Season Unending were also interesting, and forced me to read more about Skyrim’s political history like the Great War, and the treaty with the Aldmeri Dominion. I had never paid much attention to these elements of the story before this series of play sessions. I knew that Nords didn’t much like the Thalmor due to their involvement with banning the worship of Talos in Skyrim, but I hadn’t ever absorbed much more than that.

Learning more about the Great War made the Civil War quest line a little awkward for me. While I knew that the Stormcloaks were racist against other groups, my character was a Nord and I had resolved to join tthat side of the war long before I started playing again in December, but I’m not sure if I like how things turned out in the end. The replacement Jarls were a little creepy, even after A Season Unending. I liked Balgruuf and Laila Law-Giver (though I’m assuming she became Jarl again after the Stormcloaks won the civil war — I didn’t check). The guy in Markarth was a little sketchy, but his replacement, Thongvor Silver-Blood was far worse.

There were just so many wider political issues at stake in the conflict as well. I agree that the people of Skyrim should have had the right to worship Talos as they saw fit, and I think that they deserved the right to be autonomous if that’s what they wanted, but I’m not sure Ulfric Stormcloak much cared about any of that. Ulfric seemed far more interested in his own power to me, and even in creating his own empire, than he did for the people of Skyrim. While he was tolerant of other races in Windhelm, I can’t support his segregation of the Dunmer and Argonians in various parts of the city. The racial elements of the Stormcloak cause were a great source of discomfort for me. All that said, I’m not sure the Empire was working particularly well either. I may watch a Let’s Play of that side of the story to see if their aims may have been more palatable, but I’m pretty sure it would also be a mixed bag of motivations and justifications. All that said, I was level 35 by the time I got to the Civil War quest, and it was pretty fun killing off large waves of Imperial soldiers in two hits apiece.

I also felt that both the main quests had difficult endings. I found it hard to accept that the Dragonborn would fade in to obscurity after singlehandedly solving both the dragon problem and the civil war problem. I know that this is necessary to allow the player to continue to explore the enormous world after the main quest is over, but I still found it a little difficult to accept. I wonder if this is something Bethesda will try to think about a little more in the next Elder Scrolls game, though with all the controversy that’s happened around this issue in the Fallout series, I think they may not bother doing much about it.

And so I will now be taking a nice, long break from Skyrim. Aside from those two large quest lines, I finally was able to get the 100k gold achievement, purchase and upgrade all of the city houses (and Lakeview Manor near Falkreath), and discover all 13 Standing Stones. I still have a fair amount I’d like to accomplish, however. I would like to try out the Dragonborn DLC and travel to Solsheim and get the 10 sidequests achievement. Eventually, I’ll get there.

On shopping and the end of the year in video games

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Describe your most recent shopping splurge.

I am so happy that the end of this challenge is finally in sight.  I have most of my posts for this week started (a couple nearly finished), which is great.  I don’t think I’ve ever been this ready for something to end, aside from uncomfortable visits to the emergency room.  This will probably be my last spontaneous post of NaBloPoMo.  I saw this prompt and thought it would be good for discussing some of my thoughts on the new console launches and the end of the year in video games.

2013 has been a good year for video games.  There have, for me, been enough interesting titles to keep me from kicking much from my backlog, but the backlog hasn’t been growing either, so that’s definitely a plus.  2014 looks equally, if not more, promising with some pretty awesome titles to look forward to:

  • Layton vs. Ace Attorney
  • Dreamfall: Chapters
  • Transistor
  • Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
  • Tales of Xillia 2
  • The Witness
  • Broken Age
  • Child of Light
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Bravely Default
  • Danganronpa
  • Persona Q (if it gets a North American release in 2014)
  • Persona 5 (also if it gets a North American release in 2014)

These are a lot of great things to be excited about.  I’m also hoping to get a PlayStation 4 for my birthday in February, but we’ll see.  Most of the home console games I’m looking forward to are either generation 7 exclusive or coming out for all the systems — I think right now the only exception to that is The Witness.  That said, I can see myself wanting to play those systems on the new gen consoles over PS3 or X360.

So, this fall instead of buying a new console, I decided to buy a newer PlayStation 3 model, which is my most recent shopping splurge.  I had an 80 gig system and it was becoming a huge hassle for a number of reasons.  Finding an entertainment unit that it could fit in to easily when I moved to Alberta was a challenge, and I’ll likely buy another new entertainment unit when I move again — the smaller console is just so much easier to work with.  Also, I’ve been downloading a lot of the PlayStation+ free games and micromanaging the hard drive has been a tremendous pain in the ass.  I was thinking about just upgrading the hard drive, but I figured I may as well get the bonus of a much smaller and quieter system at the same time.  I traded in my old system and the copy of GTA V, so I wound up not paying that much out of pocket for it.  It’s a much nicer design than the original enormous PS3.  If the PS4 had had backwards compatibility out of the box, I would have just upgraded, but I couldn’t justify the price tag right now when there’s nothing on it that I’m interested in playing.  Zeitgeist be damned.

All that’s really left to do for now is finish up the last few games I want to play before compiling my top 5 list.  I generally work with a top 5 because most years there are just slightly too few games for me to make a top 10 without stretching, and coming up with a top 5 is quite a challenge, which I think is best.  A game of the year list wouldn’t be all that significant if you didn’t have to make some tough decisions here and there.  I do have most of my list planned at the moment, but there are a few titles I need to play before I make my final cut.  Here’s what I’m looking to play before the end of the year:

  • Papers Please
  • Thomas was Alone
  • The Legend of Zelda: a Link Between Worlds
  • Turnabout Reclaimed (Dual Destinies DLC case)
  • Tearaway

I’m not sure I’ll play Tearaway because while I think Media Molecule always has interesting ideas, I am not generally that interested in platformers and Thomas Was Alone is also a platformer and far more appealing to me.  Not sure I have it in me to play two platformers by the end of this year.  Also, I’ve read that that game can tend to be a bit short on content, so I’m not sure I want to pay full price for it.  We’ll see how the Christmas budget winds up shaking out — if I can afford to buy it, I’ll probably try to pick it up.

On comfort fiction

Based on a prompt from Duolit: What is your favourite rainy day movie?

I actually don’t have a favourite rainy day movie.  For quite some time now, I haven’t been all that interested in movies at all, but I do have a pretty significant catalog of what I like to call comfort fiction: fictional media that I go to when times are tough, for whatever reason.  Here’s my top three (in no particular order).

1.  Alias (TV series, 2001-2006)

Alias is one of those TV series that you either love or hate.  Some of us think it’s awesome, and some think it’s totally awful.  For me, the first three seasons are totally worth watching, the fourth season is not so great, and the fifth season is practically un-watchable.  Those first three seasons are always fun for me to watch, and that has made Alias my favourite palate cleansing series.

I often have problems with ending remorse.  I’ve never delayed finishing a fictional work because I don’t want it to end, but after I finish something I’ve really enjoyed, I usually feel a sense of loss.  This sense of loss is often accompanied by a difficulty to start something new.  My mind is often filled with the thing that I’ve enjoyed so much, and I spent more time wondering what I should do with my time now that that thing is over than I probably should.  If I pick up something new when I’m feeling like this, I will almost inevitably drop it, regardless of how good it might be — I just get stuck and can’t move forward.  Alias is usually my best remedy for this problem.  I can pop in the DVDs and just fly through it: I often fast forward through long stretches and only watch my favourite scenes.  I’ve watched the first season so many times now, that I’ve got it mostly memorized anyway.  Sometimes I’ll wind up watching the whole five seasons (though I usually stop midway through season 4) and sometimes I’ll only watch the first few episodes.

I’m not really sure why this works so well for me, but I think that Alias entertains me just enough to take the edge off of my feelings for whatever I just finished; pushes it far enough to the back of my mind that I can move forward and focus on something new.

2.  Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (video game, Playstation 2, 2007 NA)

It’s no great secret that Persona 3 is my favourite video game, period.  There are a lot of different versions of the game, but the one that I’ve played them most often recently is Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port that came out in North America in 2010.  The female character story in P3P is incredible and the writing in her social links far surpasses anything in Persona 3 or Persona 4.  When this version was first released, I loved it so much that I played it twice in a row, and the game takes roughly 80-90 hours on an initial run and about 40-50 on New Game +.

I was having a bad week when I first got P3P.  I was unemployed and on the same day I received the game, I had had a pretty disastrous job interview.  A few days after starting, a new exterior paint job was started on our house.  The colour of our original house paint (my mother wanted something very close to the original or the exact same colour if she could get it) had changed a bit over the years, and the job had to be restarted at one point.  The painters were around for well over a week, working long hours.  I was home all day, and it was noisy, and I felt like I had no privacy.  P3P wound up being the best distraction I could have hoped for, and it kept me sane for those few days.

And I’ve continued to use P3P as my go-to distraction since 2010.  Whenever I’m having a bad week at work, or if I get some kind of terrible news that I desperately need a good distraction from, I play P3P.  It never fails to keep me busy when I really need it.

3.  Strobe Edge (manga, 2007-2010 JP)

Strobe Edge is not my all-time favourite manga,  but it’s one of those series that incorporates a lot of genre conventions effectively to make something that’s not particularly exciting, but that’s awesome all the same.  Strobe Edge is my favourite contemporary, slice-of-life shoujo manga that doesn’t lean heavily on one particular character trope.  The heroine isn’t a delinquent or shy and misunderstood by all of her classmates, or gorgeous in public and in sweatpants in private.  She’s just a girl, going to school and figuring out how to have fun and enjoy her life.  Yes, there are definitely some conventions at work in Strobe Edge.  The hero is the most popular boy in school, there’s a love triangle, the heroine is bullied for liking the hero, etc…

But all of these tropes are used in interesting ways.  The hero is actually quite socially awkward, the love triangle is actually pretty touching and more of a rectangle (and I hate this trope but it doesn’t bother me here), and the heroine is bullied only for a chapter or two and for different reasons than you’d expect.  In the world of trope-laden, unoriginal shoujo manga, it is difficult to find series that use these conventions well while making them fresh at the same time.  Strobe Edge does that and more.  The art’s not too shabby either.

I love shoujo manga, but I also hate it.  The genre’s reliance on tropes and conventions, and the sometimes insulting Japanese views on romance and gender can be a turnoff at times.  I also find that shoujo manga can typically be a little too long: romance isn’t exactly the best genre for serialized media, and I often get the sense that mangaka are forced to stretch things if their series are succeeding.  It’s difficult to have these conflicting feelings about something, and I am too often disappointed when I try to read something new.

This is when I turn to Strobe Edge.  It never fails to restore my faith in shoujo manga.  I am always amused by it and don’t ever seem to get sick of the story, characters, or art.  I look forward to the day when it will be usurped by something even better, but for now, Strobe Edge is definitely my go-to romance.

On Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

I finished Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (AA5 from now on) the night before last and I have quite a lot to say about it.  I hope I can make this post flow as I want to, but it may be a little choppy in places.  I almost wish I could just present a chart with pros and cons on it, because while I did enjoy the game, I do think it has its fair share of problems.

I should probably start by saying that AA5 impressed me.  After not much liking the story in AA4 and not liking pretty much everything about Ace Attorney Investigations, the spin-off featuring prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, I was pretty skeptical about AA5.  I felt like the development team was going down a path that didn’t interest me any more, and I was honestly okay with loving the original trilogy and being pretty unenthusiastic about the rest of the series.  I did not have high hopes for AA5.  When I started playing it, I was happy to admit that I was wrong, and that the current Ace Attorney team could make a game that I would be interested in playing.

I do think that the games are on a different path these days, particularly in terms of the way the cases are written.  As I mentioned a few days ago in a previous post on this series, many of the cases in the original trilogy are quite simple.  They seem complicated while Phoenix and the prosecutor are fighting things out in court, but this is mostly due to the way the Ace Attorney justice system works.  Once the secrets of most cases are revealed, however, they are often not particularly complicated or unrealistic.  The cases in AA5 are the exact opposite of simple, and the courtroom tension is created mostly through the defense attorney’s inability to sort out exactly what happened.  The mechanics of the cases themselves are loaded with extraordinary frame-ups and other issues, often to the point of being completely ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I think I will just have to get used to this, as I don’t see the developers going back to the writing style of the first two games.  I think it’s also unlikely that the writers will ever be able to match the kind of tension that existed between Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth or Phoenix Wright and Franziska von Karma.  There was some potential for this between Athena Cykes and Simon Blackquill, but the writers didn’t make particularly good use of it and the issues surrounding them weren’t revealed or resolved until the end of the game (though there are vague hints of them earlier on).  Perhaps this could improve during a sequel, but the development team has been pretty consistent in its creation of one major prosecutor arc per game and I don’t see that changing in future installments.

The team that made AA5 was pretty selective in which elements of AA4 they wanted to bring forward to this game.  This was, for me, mostly a success.  The new justice system introduced by Phoenix in the final case of AA4 was left behind, and I think that while it would have been interesting to see more of it, sticking with the known and tested Ace Attorney formula was probably a good choice, if a little conservative.  I think that going back to Phoenix as the main protagonist over Apollo was also a good choice, since I generally think that Phoenix is more interesting.  On the down side, I think that it would have been nice if they had some how dealt with the issue of Apollo’s family and heritage that was revealed at the end of AA4.  This was not mentioned at all and it’s hard to tell if they just didn’t want to deal with it or if it’s being reserved for future games.

I am also not all that sure about Phoenix’s character development in AA5.  He is, in many ways, exactly as you would expect him to be had the events of AA4 never happened.  It has been quite some time since I last played AA4, however, so I’m not really sure how accurately I’m remembering his characterization.  It does feel, in many ways, as though the team was trying to retcon AA4 without rocking the boat too much.  This was quite surprising to me, because AA4 sold well in Japan, and the cast of that game seemed to be popular with Japanese Ace Attorney fans.  The retreat away from so many of the things that that game introduced seems far more in line with what many Western Ace Attorney fans would have wanted, which seems odd given that the series has struggled here sales-wise in recent years.

It all makes me wonder even more if the rumours surrounding AA4 were true: that it was originally intended to be a complete reboot, with the addition of Phoenix coming quite late in the development process.  There are some Ace Attorney fans that are so cynical about Phoenix’s enormous character change in AA4 that they have suggested that his sprite was literally just skinned in after the game was complete.  I’m not sure I believe that’s the case, but I think that the minor retconning they’e done in AA5 is an indication of something about the development process of AA4 being a little off.

Despite these caveats, AA5 was super fun to play.  Athena Cykes is an excellent addition to the main cast and I would argue that her Mood Matrix minigame is far more interesting than Apollo’s Perceive ability.  Actually, it was quite nice to have all three abilities, including Phoenix’s Psychelocks, to tackle, though I would have preferred less Perceive and more Psychelocks — I’ve always liked those better than most of the Ace Attorney fandom.  Simon Blackquill is also an excellent character, and I’d say I liked him about as much as Godot from AA3, which is quite a bit.

The real highlight of AA5 is its production values.  The character animations are lively and interesting, though I think that the team struggled with updating the original cast’s animations, which are pretty similar to the sprites used in the first trilogy.  Though Phoenix looks pretty good, both Edgeworth and Pearl are quite stiff, particularly compared to the new cast, including many of the witnesses.  The sound track is excellent, though I’d argue this is a strength of the entire series, with nice updates of older music from earlier games and good new tracks as well.  What was really surprising is that the 3D in AA5 is actually quite well done.  I don’t use it often because it hurts my eyes, but if you’re in to actually using the 3D functionality of the 3DS, I would recommend using it in this case.

Really, it’s awesome.  If you like the Ace Attorney series, you should play it, definitely worth the price of admission.

On the best games of generation 7, part 4: Skyrim

1.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Looking at what I’ve written about Skyrim previously (mostly in my 2011 game of the year blog post on Giant Bomb), it’s actually a little surprising that this wound up being my favourite game of Generation 7.  It was my game of the year in 2011, but at the time I would have rated 999 higher had it not been released in 2010 and had Skyrim not had so many technical problems on the Playstation 3.  Time brings changes in perspective, however, and given the amount of fun I’ve had with Skyrim over the past two years, I’m pretty happy with how my feelings on it have changed.

When Skyrim was released in November of 2011, I loved it.  I had been playing a lot of turn-based JRPGs and I desperately needed a break from them and to play something a little outside my comfort zone.  I bought it on release day and quickly racked up about 120 hours on two different characters.  I stopped soon after that, however, because the infamous PS3 save file bug began to make the game completely unplayable.  Needless to say, I was pretty pissed.

I purchased the PS3 version of Skyrim because by 2011, I had decided that I was content to stay in Sony’s ecosystem.  The PS3 was getting the Japanese games I wanted to play, I was enjoying a lot of late PSP releases, making plans to buy a Vita, and mostly choosing the PS3 version for multi-platform games.  I owned, and still own, an Xbox 360, but even two years ago, I was pretty well ready to pack it away to save space in my entertainment center: it’s an early model with a 20 gig hard drive, so it makes loads of noise and requires constant storage management.  I knew that choosing the PS3 version was risky.  Media outlets were not sent review code for the PS3 version and it was pretty well known that Bethesda’s other generation 7 games had had technical problems on the PS3.  Still, at the time I felt that choosing the PS3 version was worth it due to my X360’s limitations.  I was willing to put up with a little extra Bethesda jank in order to play Skyrim on my preferred platform.

And then I realized that it wasn’t worth it at all since the PS3 version of Skyrim had serious problems.  It wasn’t even just bugs — the engine that Bethesda used to build their games had an architectural incompatibility with the PS3’s save system that essentially made the game run worse as your save file became larger.  So, really, the more I played the PS3 version of Skyrim, the worse its performance got.  Not really an ideal scenario.  I played as long as I could, and then traded the PS3 version in while I could still get a decent amount of money for it and asked for the X360 version of the game for my birthday in February.  This particular technical problem bothered me a great deal for a number of reasons. But mainly I felt like PS3 had been out for 4 years and the time for excusing lousy ports on the platform was over.  Bethesda’s response to the situation was also pretty irritating, and while I loved Skyrim, it all left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Over time, of course, my feelings about all of this have evened out and I’m now much better able to actually enjoy the game without thinking about all the drama that surrounded it.  During the past two years, I have gone back to Skyrim again and again, settling in to it whenever I’ve needed a sure distraction or a break from the turn-based games I normally play.  It can also be pretty dangerous for me to play at times, since once I get in to it, I’m hooked and have a hard time focusing on anything else.  In fact, just last week I had to force myself to put Skyrim down so that I could deal with the dinner party and make more headway on Ace Attorney V.  There aren’t a lot of games that do that to me, that grab me and refuse to let me go, and even less to the extent that Skyrim does.  I’d say probably Persona 3 is the only game that’s gripped me as hard as Skyrim has in the past 6 or 7 years.

And to be honest, I can’t even definitively tell you why I like it so much.  It certainly isn’t the main story, which I have never actually finished (though it is definitely a goal of mine that I would like to tackle it in the next month or two).  For sure, I find the real estate part of it to be a significant motivator.  I love buying and upgrading the houses, which provides me with a lot of incentive to explore dungeons and craft items to make the gold I need to buy them.  I also feel like Skyrim’s skill system makes your in-game activities feel like they matter.  I recently tried out Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and found that a lot of the skills I had available didn’t really matter, particularly the crafting skills.  I could always find the potions I really needed from stores, was finding better weapons then I could smith or enchant, and I always had loads of money.

In Skyrim, Bethesda did a great job of allowing the player to choose their upgrade path, even if it wasn’t a typical archetype, and truly integrate that in to their own personal game story.  My favourite way to play Skyrim is to duel-wield one-handed weapons, and craft weapons and armor that allow me to get by without any defense or healing spells.  My trump card against tough boss characters was always a paralysis poison — something one might expect a thief-oriented character to use, but I played like a tank.  For me, finding ways to compensate for my character’s weaknesses from skill trees I might not ordinarily think much of using is rewarding and fun.

Again, I could go on forever, and I still have no idea whether or not these choices I’ve made over the past few days will hold up for me, but I’m interested to see if anything I play in the next while can usurp something in my current top 5.

On the best games of generation 7, part 3: Ace Attorney

2.   Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Ace Attorney series as a whole recently, since I’m currently playing Dual Destinies.  The Ace Attorney games have been very important to me over the years.  I was very active in the fandom and made quite a number of friends then that I am still in close contact with now.  The friendships I made there slowly led me down the long, and some would likely say dangerous, path in to all fictional things Japanese, including niche visual novels, manga, and anime.

In fact, before becoming involved in Ace Attorney fandom, I had always avoided manga and anime.  As a teenager, the scant offerings of YTV such as Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon didn’t interest me all that much, precocious literature and film snob that I was, and there was no easy way to access other series back then.  Years later, after being in and around a number of Western fandoms, particularly Harry Potter, and seeing more and more nerds becoming interested in manga and anime, I thought from time to time about trying it all out.  All the drama surrounding some of the communities I hung out with, however, was a huge turnoff — I figured I was better off just sticking with my own thing, and not following the herd on to whatever they wanted to squee about next.

But the Ace Attorney fandom was a little different.  It was a pretty great community to be a part of.  The fanwork was awesome, most of the prominent writers, artists, and bloggers got along pretty well and there wasn’t a whole lot of public drama.  Of course, there was a fair amount of personal drama, but it was more about individual people having conflicts with each other about real issues that would affect any friendship and not the crazy shit I’ve seen elsewhere.  It was a fantastic creative force to be a part of, and there was so much positive inspiration going around that it was hard not to get caught up in it.

I digress, but it was all a lot of fun.  This makes it very difficult for me to put just one of the entries in the original Ace Attorney trilogy on this list, but I feel like the first game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is probably the best game in the series all-around.

To me, Phoenix Wright always seemed like a younger, more insecure, and newer version of Perry Mason.  I have always been fond of legal dramas, as I’ve been watching them with my mother since I was a kid.  It’s not surprising, then, that AA1 is generally the title that I credit with solidifying my return to video games.  When I decided to try playing games again when I was about 25, I struggled to find titles that I could enjoy as an adult, since I wasn’t interested in playing the same series I’d been introduced to as a kid.  AA1 was perfect.  It’s a legal dramedy, it’s a visual novel, so it’s not twitchy or complicated to control, it’s got interesting characters, a great story, and the puzzle/court elements are intuitive and mostly logical.

The writing in AA1 is phenomenal.  A satire of the actual Japanese justice system, defendants are arrested and charged quickly, and their trials begin only a day or two after they are apprehended.  Many of the cases, then, initially seem quite complicated while you, as Phoenix, try to figure out the truth.  As you tensely battle it out with the prosecutor you’re up against and try to solicit accurate testimony from witnesses, you begin to see that it’s actually the road to the truth that’s complicated and not so much the cases themselves.  The actual mechanisms of a murder case are generally quite simple.  This, I think, is what makes AA1 so brilliant (and the rest of the original trilogy to a lesser extent).  The game’s writers found a way to create a lot of tension and make the prosecutors feel intimidating while also making the cases themselves quite simple.  This is sharp contrast to the way the series is written now, which I’ll talk about more when I write about Ace Attorney 5.

Also adding to the excellent writing is AA1’s impressive English localization, though I’d say it’s very strong throughout the entire original trilogy (I think AA3 is probably the best).  I have never really understood why Capcom chose to set the North American version of the game in Los Angeles, but despite that, the localization is funny, and full of great pop culture references and punny names.  Ben Judd’s team was never afraid to play with language, and it was awesome.

What really solidifies AA1 as my favourite game in the Ace Attorney series is the case that was added to the DS version: Rise From the Ashes.  While the Ace Attorney games were first released in North America on the Nintendo DS, they originally came out in Japan years earlier on the Game Boy Advance.  The port of AA1 included a new case that used a lot of the DS’s new features, including the touch screen.  The use of DS functionality, such as dusting for fingerprints, and spraying luminol, was brilliant, and the case itself was well-written and fit nicely in to the themes of AA1 and the overarching Ace Attorney story.  While I knew at the time that it would be unlikely to get similar content in the re-releases of AA2 and AA3, the limited amount of DS touchscreen content in Ace Attorney 4 was very disappointing for me.

Ugh, I could go on forever, but I think I’ve proven my point.  The Ace Attorney series is awesome, and the first game is definitely a bit part of what makes it awesome.  If you’re reading this and haven’t played any of these games, the whole trilogy is available on iOS and is a pretty great deal for the amount of content you get with it.

On the best games of generation 7, part 2: Digital, Journey, 999

And here begins the list

5.  Digital: A Love Story

Digital is a free PC visual novel created by notable indie game designer, Christine Love.  The game is set 5 minutes in to the future of 1988 and you assume the role of an adolescent who has just received a new Amie (based on the Amiga) Workbench PC.  You are given a BBS number to access with your 14k modem and that sets off a story of love, sentient AIs, hacking the Gibson, and a lot of other early internet goodness.  The gameplay largely involves dialing in to various BBSes, reading and responding to messages, and cracking systems.  Through all of this, the player meets several characters and becomes involved in a fairly simple, but engaging love story that early internet users are sure to enjoy.

Digital is, in my opinion, of the most successful experiments in melding game play and linear storytelling in Generation 7.  While the mechanics not particularly challenging or complex, they feel natural, and deeply connected to the story that Love is trying to tell.  There is nothing in Digital that happens outside the game’s narrative — the Amie interface is what the player uses to interact with everything in the game’s world, and there is no view on the story that the player can have aside from the interface and the BBS services they connect to.  The only aspect of the game that breaks this is that the player is not capable of actually writing responses to messages and is limited only to hitting a reply button.  That said, Christine Love is able to effectively communicate both sides of the conversation.

I urge everyone who enjoys video games to try out Digital, particularly since it’s free.  It consistently surprises and thrills me (I’ve played it several times since my first run in 2010), has great visual design, an awesome story, and pushes my internet nerd nostalgia buttons.  What more could a girl ask for?

4.  Journey

In the past several years, there has been a lot of discussion in the video game community about whether or not video games can be art.  I generally tend to fall somewhere in the middle of this argument, where some games are and others are not and I think Journey is one of the best examples of how games can be art.

As I said in an earlier post, one of the best things about Journey is the use of the game’s controls in creating an emotional response.  From the elation and freedom that you feel when you’re sand surfing to the abject horror and despair you feel when avoiding enemies and climbing the last peak, the game’s controls push these feelings to a level that I haven’t experienced very often while playing games.

The addition of beautiful visuals, music, atmosphere and animation to the emotional depth the game offers and you have something very special.  I am so excited to see what Jenova Chen and his team work on next.

3. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Yet another visual novel, 999 is an adventure game with room escape puzzles and a dense, complicated story.  You play as Junpei, a university student who, along with 8 other people, is abducted and brought to a mysterious ship.  As a group, the 9 of you must play a life or death puzzle game in order to figure out how to leave the ship.  It is a true visual novel where making certain decisions will allow you to only view certain aspects of the story and it requires, at minimum, 3 separate play-throughs to see the true ending.

While some have argued that the puzzles in 999 are unimpressive, I found them to be a nice balance between challenging and intuitive.  Its atmosphere is also quite remarkable, and despite being a handheld game, it succeeds at making you feel a great sense of dread and fear without subjecting you to cheap jump scares.

The real star of 999, however, is its story and characters.  The narrative in 999 goes to some pretty far away places, but once its true secrets are revealed and you start to think about it, you realize that, within its own universe, it makes perfect sense and given all the information you were provided with, you should probably have guessed its outcome in advance.  This is, in my view, sheer brilliance.  I don’t think I have ever been so impressed by a story in a video game as I was when I played 999.