Game Review: Ace Attorney Investigations – Miles Edgeworth

I just came home from Easter dinner and I don’t feel like doing much, so I figured I’d just post another review before I start getting a backlog, and gods know I have enough backlogs.

As much as I love Phoenix and Apollo, Miles Edgeworth is probably my favourite of the main cast, not many people can pull off a maroon suit with a cravat, and even though he does have moments where he’s a complete jackass (Adrian Andrews, anyone?) he just always seems so cool, confident, and in control, and did I mention that he’s a classy, classy man, because he totally is.

Ace Attorney Investigations puts you in Edgeworth’s shoes as he, you guessed it, investigates crime scenes. Like past Ace Attorney games, gameplay is broken up into two segments: Investigation and Rebuttal. During the Investigation portion, you move Edgeworth (while another character shadows him, ready to offer you advice if you get stuck) around the crime scene, examining evidence, which he’ll add to his Organizer (basically the Court Record in other games). As with the other Ace Attorney games, it’s important to refer to the evidence in the organizer frequently.

While Phoenix has his magatama and Apollo has his bracelet, Miles relies on his brain to aid in his investigations. You’ll naturally pick up pieces of information throughout your investigation, using the Logic system, you can connect two pieces of information together, and if you choose the right info, Miles will have a breakthrough (Eureka!) and you’ll be given new information to aid in your investigation. If you find a contradiction between the scene of a crime and a piece of evidence you currently hold, Miles can Deduce why this is so. I really like this system since it fits Miles to a T. He doesn’t need spiritual powers or acute perception, just reason and logic.

When you’ve finished investigating, it’s time to go toe-to-toe with suspects in the Rebuttal segments. These should be familiar to any Ace Attorney fan, as they involve pressing suspects and objecting to contradictory statements (with evidence in hand, of course!).

As usual, the cast of characters is delightfully quirky and you’ll see plenty of old faces as well as new ones, of particular note are Kay Faraday, a young woman who claims to be the next Great Thief, Yatagarasu, and Shi-Long Lang, an Interpol agent who is basically your “prosecutor” for this game. For me, Agent Lang was one of those characters who was kind of annoying at first but as the game went on I found myself warming up to him. Ace Attorney characters in general seem to have a way of growing on you.

In addition to Miles Edgeworth being a classy, classy man, the game’s music is similarly classy. Seriously, listen to this one with headphones on. My favourite track was probably “Confrontation~Presto”. About the only thing I found lacking was the “regular” interrogation theme, which was just kind of….slow and ordinary.

In terms of other things I was kind of meh about, the game is ridiculously easy, and I found that most of the time when I was stuck it was because I forgot to connect the dots in Miles’ head via the Logic button. I did find that it seemed like there was much more hand-holding in this game, with Miles nearly outright stating exactly which piece of evidence I needed to get a witness to spill their guts. I thought this was much more subtle in Phoenix’a games.

Overall, if you’re an Ace Attorney fan and you haven’t picked this one up by now, go and get it. I’m not usually a fan of spin-offs that aren’t related to Shin Megami Tensei, but this one’s great. In fact, the thing I’m most saddened by is that North America didn’t get Investigations 2.

*sighs* Oh well, there’s always Dual Destinies….

Review: The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

[Note: This review will contain SPOILERS for The Whitefire Crossing, so if for some reason you haven’t read it (and you should) go and read it and then come back to this review.]

If you’ve been following my blog since February of last year, you probably read my review of The Whitefire Crossing, a book that was very good, surprisingly good, maybe not super amazing, but definitely worthy of a peek at the sequel.

When we last left Dev and Kiran, they had made it to their destination in Alathia only to be captured by the Alathians, with Dev being sent to work in the mines by the Alathian Council, a hostage to ensure Kiran’s good behaviour. When the Council offers Dev freedom in exchange for aiding them in a clandestine mission to Ninavel, Dev accepts, if only so he can keep the vow he made to his mentor and friend to keep his daughter safe. However, it turns out a killer who’s targeting Ninavel’s mages is the least of his worries, as he and Kiran find themselves betrayed by friends and forced into an uneasy truce with their deadliest enemy.

This book was actually very frustrating for me as a reader, and it’s not because the writing is shit (the writing is very definitely not shitty). My major issue with this book is that Dev and Kiran’s relationship essentially gets a giant reset button, leaving me feeling like all the character development in The Whitefire Crossing didn’t matter. If I were feeling cynical I’d say that it feels like a cheap ploy for yet more character development.  On the plus side, the characters are much more nuanced this time around. Characters that you might have thought were selfish dicks in the first book have a bit more light shed on their motivations, a couple characters who were only given mentions in the previous book have a larger role to play in this one. We get to see much more of Ruslan, Mikhail, and Lizaveta, and what Kiran’s life was like before Kiran’s flight from Ruslan. Overall, The Tainted City does a much better job of highlighting just how morally grey the entire world is. some of those shades of grey are much darker than others, mind you, but overall the world doesn’t seem nearly as black and white as The Whitefire Crossing sometimes had you believe, even Ruslan’s actions are somewhat understandable yet fucked up at the same time. After wading through book after book with stupid love triangles, it’s also refreshing to read about characters who aren’t completely motivated by a love interest. Dev is motivated by the promise he made to his friend/mentor Sethan to rescue Melly, and he’s also motivated by his friendship with Kiran to keep him safe and away from Ruslan.

Another thing I liked was the way the city and the characters who live in it seem real, but Schafer didn’t feel the need to infodump you every five minutes (something which many fantasy authors, self included, have trouble doing). My one issue is that sometimes it’s difficult to nail down the exact rules for magic (particularly which spells require magical channels and which don’t) fortunately, the rules aren’t so exhaustive that you need an entire magic textbook to figure them out. Also, everyone, this is how you write the second book in a trilogy, you take the great ideas from the first book and you expand upon them, play with them a little more, develop characters that weren’t very developed in the last book.

In terms of diversity, many major and minor characters alike are POCs, protagonists and antagonists alike, and there’s a bit more overt queerness (and nobody seems to really care) which is certainly an improvement on the last book. Unfortunately, I’ve never been so completely disturbed when one of my favourite slash pairings becomes canon, and I would very much appreciate more queer relationships with less betrayal and villainy in general.

Having said that, I’m eagerly anticipating the last book in the series, because the second book took a very, very interesting turn towards the end, and hopefully this last book will not involve a relationship reset button.

The Thirteen Houses Project: Balm

[Once a month for the next twelve months, I will be doing a post on the 13th of each month based on one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers from Kushiel’s Legacy.]

It’s the thirteenth and you know what that means, another post for the Thirteen Houses Project! We’re nearing the end of the project, and I had to flip a coin to determine whether I would discuss Balm or Gentian this month (Mandrake and Valerian are being saved for last).

The motto of Balm House is “Rest and be soothed,” and it’s canon is compassion. They hold that Naamah lay with the King of Persis out of compassion, to heal the pain in his soul. Adepts of Balm House are trained in the healing arts (particularly massage). In Phedre’s trilogy, Phedre comes to understand Balm house’s perspective when she sleeps with Hyacinthe after he loses a woman he loved. In Kushiel’s Scion, Imriel’s first experience with the Night Court is at Balm House, where the adept helps him heal from his traumatic experiences while being held captive in Darsanga. His trip to Balm House does not magically deal with his trauma, he (literally) bears the scars of his ordeal all his life, but it is an important step in healing emotionally for him.

Whenever I’m asked to choose my favourite Night Court house, it’s always a tie between Balm and Gentian (although I think Gentian just manages to get the top spot). I love the idea of Balm House, I love the idea of a place where patrons can go to rest and heal, where they can find a shoulder to cry on and words of comfort, and, yes, sex, if they’re up to it.

From the description above, you might be tempted to dismiss Balm House as the “house of the magic healing penis/vulva” but I do think that while Balm House does play a role in Imriel’s healing, it doesn’t magically “cure” his trauma. Balm House offers compassion and understanding, not necessarily a panacea for all that ails. This is what I take from Balm House, the importance of compassion and empathy: understanding the pain and suffering of others even if I might not experience that pain and suffering myself.

We don’t hear a lot about compassion in Heathen spaces. I’ve heard it said that things like compassion and moderation are “weak” Christian values and most definitely not Heathen virtues. I have to admit I’m pretty baffled by this lack of empathy for others. (Although I must confess, the complete xenophobia of some Heathen groups in general baffles me.) This is part of the reason why I find the Nine Noble Virtues inadequate as a kind of moral compass. It’s not that things like Courage aren’t great virtues, it’s that some Heathens seem to have this slavish devotion to it to the point of dismissing other excellent qualities as “weak” and you know what? Embracing values like compassion doesn’t automatically make you a Christian, either. To me, feeling compassion for others, and then acting to eliminate the cause of their suffering is a virtue, whatever your religion.

Melissa officinalis L. by Gideon Pisanty (via Wikipedia)

Review: A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway

[Note: There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for A Study in Silks, please be sure to finish that book before you read this.]

There’s a phenomenon that I like to call the “Second Book Curse” which is when you have a trilogy of books where the first book is awesome and the third book is awesome, but the second? Well, the second book is okay, but mostly it just seems like filler for the third book.

A Study in Darkness is a great example of this phenomenon in action.

A Study in Darkness starts off with a (literal) bang when Sherlock Holmes’ house is bombed. After being kicked out of Hilliard House at the end of A Study in Silks and having been separated from Nick and Tobias, Evelina reluctantly accepts an invitation from Imogen to join her at the family’s country house for a time.

To make a long story short, kissing happens, and then suddenly Evelina finds herself in the Gold King’s pocket. He sends her to Whitechapel to spy on a fellow Steam Baron, the Blue King.

Also Jack the Ripper, you can’t have a story set in Victorian London without Jack the Ripper.

Normally I would start by talking about things I liked about the book, but in this case I actually didn’t like it very much. Oh, it starts off great with Holmes’ residence being bombed, but after that I felt like the plot slowed to a crawl. At one point, Evelina is in a tavern and I completely glossed over what was being said because it was just that dull. You would think that being stuck in Whitechapel with a killer on the loose would be a bit more exciting, but Evelina pretty much heads to Whitechapel, there’s a time lapse, and then suddenly Evelina’s fretting that she only has a week before the Gold King’s deadline… she spends time learning about magic….because that’s what you’re supposed to do on a deadline, take the time to learn magic. The book is also much more gory than the last book, and I had to admit that the state of one of the Rippers victims was definitely jarring and not really in keeping with the series so far (kind of like the rape scene in Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Mariller).

On the plus side, minor characters like Striker get a bit more development, although the most surprising for me in terms of character development was Alice, as in the first book, she’s presented in a way that makes you think she’s “Daddy’s Little Villain”. On the minus side, we don’t get to see much of Imogen or Mouse and Bird.

Although romance was definitely a thing it book one, it definitely gets more attention in the second book. On the plus side, the love triangle is finally resolved (and I actually liked how Holloway separated her heroine from both love interests in the beginning) on the other hand, separating your love interests means that you have to listen to them whine about how they miss each other until the love triangle finally is resolved. Maybe it’s just me and the fact that I’m just tired of love triangles in general (especially love triangles that don’t end in threesomes). Bleh, moving on….

So now that I’ve discussed the good and the bad, let’s move on to the ugly. The good news is that A Study in Darkness has less disposable POCs (and Striker and Nick get character development) the bad news is that there’s a bit of fat-shaming, with the book describing just how disgustingly obese the Blue King is (to the point where he needs to use a chair to get around) it’s just completely unnecessary and gross.

Overall, I just wasn’t feeling this book. The first book wasn’t great literature, but at least it was somewhat entertaining, this book just seems like pointless filler for the exciting conclusion that will probably be the third book. I will be reviewing the third, but after such a disappointing second book I’m going to be giving this trilogy a rest for a bit.

Game Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Justice prevails!

As you no doubt have figured out, I’ve gone from saying: “A game about being a lawyer? BORING!” to “OMGS MUST BUY THE NEXT ONE!”

The fourth installment of the Ace Attorney franchise has you stepping into the shoes of a new defense attorney, Apollo Justice, as he investigates crimes, exposes contradictions in witness testimony, and….tries to catch a panty thief?

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. It seems like I’ve been playing as Phoenix forever, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about playing as a brand new attorney. The introduction of a new main character and new cast is always hit or miss with me, sometimes I end up loving it, other times I end up missing the old cast too much.

In this case, however, I found Apollo Justice to be a refreshing change. Apollo is a bit more energetic than Phoenix (fittingly, the dominant color of his outfit is red, in contrast to Phoenix’s blue). I really like him as a character. He’s loud, he’s snarky, he’s still the butt of the vast majority of the jokes in the game. In fact, I was impressed with the cast in general. Although in general I’d say the characters are a bit less quirky than they have been in previous games (still quirky, but a bit less over the top), I found that to be a refreshing change from the previous titles.  Although you do see a couple of familiar faces from past games, the majority of the cast is brand new, including a new prosecutor: Klavier Gavin (Klavier is awesome, btw). Story-wise, this game doesn’t pull any punches, with the first case giving you a real swift kick in the ass that was actually pretty cool. I’m used to this series giving me “Holy shit!” moments during the latter cases, but Apollo Justice does not screw around in this regard. In fact, I’d say this installment is a bit darker than previous games (or at least a bit more serious).

In terms of gameplay, you know the drill by now if you’ve read my previous reviews. You spend time investigating crime scenes, gathering evidence, when you’re finished gathering evidence, you proceed to the trial phase, where you can press witnesses for more information or object to their statements and supply evidence to expose the contradictions in their testimony. The new gameplay element in Apollo Justice is the “Perceive” system. As the name might suggest, Perceiving a character involves observing them and finding their tells (or habits, as the game says) that they unconsciously do when they’re nervous about something. When Apollo enters Perceive mode with the help of his bracelet, time slows and you’re able to focus on the witness while they’re spitting out their testimony. Your goal is to find their habit (for instance, shifty eyes or swallowing) that occurs when they say a particular word or phrase. It sounds difficult, but in practice it’s actually not that hard as you usually only have a couple of lines of testimony to scrutinize, and the game isn’t subtle about indicating when you should be using it. I have to say that in spite of the fact that it was pretty easy (for the most part) I enjoyed it, and it seemed much more realistic than Phoenix flashing his Magatama around (not that I didn’t like the Psyche-Locks) it’s all about observing a witness and then shoving their habit in their face. easy, but satisfying.

More good points: I complained about the soundtrack in the last game, but I really enjoyed the new versions of old tracks. In particular, the new Pursuit/Cornered theme is really upbeat and fits with Apollo’s more energetic personality. The game is also a bit longer, the first case might take you a couple hours depending on how quickly you read. Difficulty wise it is kind of on the easier side, and there were only a couple of times where I got really stuck (once because I missed one small piece of evidence).

As for things I didn’t like. Some characters took a little getting used to, like Trucy, the “assistant” character in AJ, but others I just found plain annoying (Valant the magician) or annoying and a little creepy (the reporter character, everything about him creeps me out, least of which the fact that he practically strangles himself with his tie whenever he’s nervous). I was also disappointed in the Big Bad, and thought that their motivation for doing what they did was…. kind of stupid, all things considered, but I’m probably being less critical than I usually am because this antagonist is pretty much Evil is Sexy for me and it was very distracting. Also, a certain scientific investigator returns from case five of the first game, and TBH I really didn’t like how she went from being very enthusiastic about investigating and science and more science to assaulting you with snacks (although given what’s happened to her in the interim, her crankiness is justified, I would say).

Overall, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t too impressed with the main antagonist from a story point of view, I thought the Perceive system was great, and even though I miss the old cast, I liked following all the fresh faces around. Overall, I would say that it’s definitely different from what you may be used to with the original trilogy, but it’s still a solid entry in the series and I enjoyed it very much.