All Present and Accounted For

Oh, it looks like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice won’t be just about our man abroad. Somewhat surprisingly, its second murder case takes place back home, fixing the spotlight on almost all the other good guys from the past games; Phoenix’s adopted daughter Trucy Wright, his protege Apollo Justice, the criminal psychologist Athena Cykes, and the forensics team member Ema Skye. In a way, I’m kinda starting to miss the good old times, when all the cases of a single game were tackled by a compact crew of just two or three. Then again, this sort of all-star setup at least guarantees that fans of any character are likely to be pleasantly surprised by Spirit of Justice.

Still, a strong line of defence is hardly redundant. As I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory, let’s just say the second case is pretty bloaty. It takes about six hours to go through and contains so much investigating, cross-examining, scheming, and lies stacked upon lies that towards the end it almost began to feel like the final confrontations of the past games. Unfortunately a good recipe cannot always be improved simply by making things more convoluted. Every now and then – even if it was still an entertaining ride on whole – the case got a little too gimmicky for its own good.

Nevertheless, I’m still intrigued to see how the game will tie seemingly individual incidents together. For now, the only link is that because of a Miraculous Coincidence™, Apollo’s adversary in court was a prosecutor on loan from – yup, you guessed it – Khura’in. There just has to be another explanation than the local prosecutors no longer even daring to enter the courtroom if faced with a defendant backed up by an attorney from the Wright agency (^^;) Oh well, let the good times roll, I’m off to case number three!

Hap’piraki!

That’s the way they greet people in the Kingdom of Khura’in and it’s where I ended up on this lazy Sunday, courtesy of the gaming world’s most popular (read: practically only) defence attorney Phoenix Wright. To put it another way, the winner of my “What to Play Next” draw is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Wright might have been looking forward to a laid-back trip abroad simply to visit his former assistant, the spirit medium Maya Fey, but after his local tour guide, a young monk in training, is suddenly accused of treason and murder, our spiky-haired, blue-jacketed hero has no choice but to practice law in a foreign country.

So far, I have only completed the first of the game’s five cases but that alone has been enough to convince me that Capcom’s script writers and murder mystery masterminds are still in top-notch condition. The story flows effortlessly while the player laughs heartily at outrageous characters and a constant barrage of quality humour. In the courtroom, things get a little more serious, and the deviously elaborate plans of the cowardly culprits are torn apart piece by piece by cross-examining witnesses, pressing them for additional details, and exposing the lies with contradicting evidence – the weapon most powerful in all of gaming. Every game in the series seems to introduce its own tiny original element, which in this case seems to be Khura’in priestesses’ ability to summon forth the last few seconds of someone who has died. No biggie; if that’s what it takes to spot a crucial contradiction then so be it.

I’m quite certain to be entertained by this one for the next week or two, so expect more random posts about it as I go along. Already, I’d dare say it’s guaranteed thinking and laughing therapy. Then again, all the previous games have been that, too, so it’s a safe bet.

Smooth-ish Moves

The weekend gaming session is in full swing courtesy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. While this 2D platformer series saw daylight already in 2002 on Game Boy Color, I’ve missed all the previous ones due to a severe digital allergy and – as for the very first game – never having owned a GBC. After WayForward finally decided to test the waters by releasing Shantae’s newest escapade also in physical form, I had no reason not to give it a chance. And sure enough, it turned out to be a pretty good call, even if the ride was a tad bumpy.

The heroine of the game, Shantae, is a perky, upbeat dancer stylishly grooving away in harem pants. She’s also the Guardian Genie of Scuttle Town. A demanding post for sure, given that the wily female pirate, Risky Boots, seems rather fixated on terrorizing the citizens of said town. Shantae’s uncle is already working on some weird contraption that should keep Risky at bay but since it’s missing a miscellaneous bunch of parts, it’s up to Shantae to travel the world and pick them up.

Shantae is charming from the get-go. The eloquent, anime-inspired graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the animation of the heroine in particular, with all the fluidity and attention to detail, is absolutely phenomenal. A jolly soundtrack with subtle oriental undertones accompany the action well.

Shantae isn’t as much a straightforward platformer as it is a (silly-)story-driven action-adventure. Even if new locations are unlocked one by one, the hunt for spare parts frequently requires visits to Scuttle Town, which acts as a central hub of sorts. There, conversations with its denizens give hints on what to do next and where to do it. Previously completed stages are constantly revisited but if that sounds like repetition, it’s not like that at all; along the way, Shantae learns dances that enable her to transform into other characters, each with their own array of skills. Monkey Shantae, for example, can ascend vertical walls with ease whereas Mermaid Shantae is a given to explore underwater locations. With skills like these, every vast stage is suddenly rife with Metroidvania-like secrets to unravel.

Shantae might look jovial and easy to approach, but I’d say a word of warning is still in place. At least for a casual gaming pleb like myself, the courtship period was utterly harrowing. Checkpoints are sparse and Shantae’s health just plain pathetic. For the first hour, I mostly ended up repeating the same sections over and over again. After challenging the second boss, I must have viewed the Game Over screen dozens of times in a row. Pure frustration almost made me write off the game as inconsequential rubbish before it had even started.

After bumping into a couple of health upgrades and especially after realizing that the Scuttle Town shop sells all sorts super-helpful items such as healing magic and health potions, my blood pressure started to return to ordinary levels. It’s not that big a deal but these kind of moments are exactly what manuals are meant for. Sadly, even physical copies no longer have those. Actually, this one doesn’t even have an in-game help screen that would show what each button does. Everything has to be learned blind. Manageable, sure, but an unnecessary hurdle nonetheless.

Even if the level designers seem to love exact jumps, disappearing platforms, sudden deaths, memorization, automatically scrolling panic sections, and other cheap stunts like that, the game actually becomes easier as you go along. If you can be at least moderately bothered with the hidden stuff, the roughly seven-hour journey eventually turns quite relaxed somewhere in the middle. While the game might have serious balance issues, it’s actually refreshing to play as someone who has an easier time by growing stronger. Makes sense, really.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll join the cult of Shantae quite yet but it was still an experience I wouldn’t mind more of. I left behind a bunch of collectibles and it looked like it has an NG+ of some sort, so perhaps this isn’t the last time it enjoys coverage. For now, though, I’m happy with its end credits and will move on to ponder what to play next.

A couple of other games have recently found their way into the collection, too. Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, together with its eight art cards (of which the one in the photo is perhaps the least controversial), is most likely going to be as ecchi as it gets. It’s not interesting because of gameplay elements or ridiculously massive boobs but because it’s so hilariously and unapologetically Japanese. If anything, I’m looking forward to hearty, good-natured laughs. As for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I already have the Japanese copy but since it featured a baffling amount of text for a rhythm game, I think I’ll give it a more proper go in English. It’s probably not going to overthrow Hatsune Miku but if this blog will ever feature any sort of blatant bias then you can be sure that all Japanese rhythm games are, by default, pretty much the best thing ever!

Backlog Grooming

As for actual gaming, I’ve spent the past three weeks fixated on Dynasty Warriors 7. This 2011 release turned out to be quite an eternity project. It wasn’t even until 2013 that I picked it up from some bargain bin but back then, it didn’t seem entertaining for more than one evening. In summer 2016, I gave this ancient China brawler another brief go but it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally managed to get it off the backlog for good. Since the game is six years old already, I suppose no introductions are necessary; officers vie for the domination of the land by darting around large battlefields and beating the living daylight out of each other and their throwaway troops. I think the last game I played was 3, so it’s hard to say just how much the series has evolved. Still, 7 features at least horseback riding, siege weapons, quizzes, tons of melee weaponry, story campaigns for four different factions, and even a separate conquest mode in which the map of China has been divided into hexes that you conquer by completing the skirmishes they hold.

Dynasty Warriors 7 is actually an impeccable comfort game. Every now and then you have those moments when you’d just like to play something without actually concentrating on anything. This is when Warriors games shine. Pretty much all you have to do is learn three buttons (attacks of the light, heavy, and special variety). As the battles only last five to ten minutes each, it’s perfectly possible to just turn off your brain completely and gleefully mow down hundreds of soldiers and dozens of commanders without a care in the world. Throw in a sofa, a few beers, and a pal, and you can even enjoy a split screen co-op mode.

Dynasty Warriors 7 is awfully bloaty, though. Merely going through the four story campaigns is a bit of an ordeal due to repetition. They’re not particularly memorable stories, either, as the cinematics are mostly just officers bragging, and should someone occasionally die, there are so many lineages, loyalties, and relationships in play that it’s pretty much impossible to follow what is going on, let alone care about any of it. The conquest mode is a veritable timesink as well. Merely conquering all the hexes takes several evenings and if you decide to unlock all the skills of all the 62 playable characters (!) while also collecting pretty much everything from weapons to sworn loyalties, the amount of effort required is staggering. It was a grind hell like none other and although the game doesn’t seem to track time played, by the time I got the platinum trophy, I had completed 700 battles and vanquished 220344 foes (x . x)

These are fun maybe once every console generation but I’d now welcome a half a decade break with open arms. Except Musou Stars is right around the corner. Darn.

Cat Girl Invasion

Well, I’ll be! The gaming year 2017 has barely kicked off and there’s already good news for antromo… antropomop… antporomorp… furry fans. Come spring, there’s at least two releases to twitch an ear to, so this innately Japanese entertainment tradition seems very much alive and well. Which is good, because cats are always awesome.

Atlus has already confirmed a western release for both Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. The first-mentioned will be out some time this spring while the latter is scheduled for fall. It’s apparently some sort of a two-part saga that touts itself as an VN/SRPG hybrid. So, plenty of story-driven reading coupled with isometric, turn-based tactical combat? I’m sold! The games will be released on both PS4 and Vita, and while Europe can only look forward to paltry digital releases, it’s still an option to import physical copies from across the pond instead. The games will even sport original audio with English subtitles, so my mouse cursor is already hovering over an imaginary “Add to Cart” button.

Meanwhile, Koei Tecmo still relies on a 20-year-old recipe of totally OP heroes effortlessly hacking and slashing their way through thousands of enemies. Musou Stars, also a PS4/Vita release, will most likely be just as uninspired as the dozens of games preceding it, but at least its cast looks like proper fan service. Instead of crabby Chinese legends, the game features playable characters from a number of other games and series, including Atelier, Dead or Alive, Toukiden, and even the Wii oddball Opoona! The cat girl on the video, Tamaki, is an original. I think it’s quite safe to say this won’t be even near to any kind of game of the year nomination but for such a silly potpourri, I’ll gladly take it for a spin. Musou Stars will be out in Japan on March 2, but considering how many games from the studio have seen daylight in the west before, a local release date should be just a matter of time.

Once More Unto the Breach

Hi, I’m SalarymanDaishi! You may remember me from such sites as this one, and… Ummm… This one. After five years of nothing but incessant whining, I couldn’t help but take a little break. Still, what the heck! Let’s resume like nothing ever happened.

If past is any indication, please look forward to extremely random and annoyingly infrequent rambling of a grumpy old Finn who, against all odds, is still an incorrigible console gaming weeaboo. This shall once again be a site full of both unwarranted criticism and shameless praise of games that everyone else has either enjoyed already or wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Maybe once a year or so, you might even bump into a haphazardly construed post about some other form of popular culture. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

As per tradition, the season will culminate in the unceremonious nuking of the site. Until then, however, let’s have some fun!

Random Rambling of a Gaming Otaku