Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Raiden's Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies Review

Finally Ace Attorney 5 has arrived, and it was worth the wait (and Capcom has confirmed that they're working on a new Phoenix Wright game, so hopefully we'll be seeing a 6 as well!) There will be light spoilers, so you've been warned.

I went into the game with mixed feelings, very excited about a new game in one of my favorite series but also disappointed because I already knew that Maya (quite possibly my favorite character in video games) wasn't going to be part of the cast. She was replaced by Athena Cykes (the girl in yellow in the picture above), a young lawyer who just started at the Wright Anything Agency. Athena's purpose seems to be that she's studied analytical psychology, and she can get additional information during cross examination using the Mood Matrix. She does this by finding statements where the emotions don't match what the witness said (ie the witness is happy when they're saying something sad.) This is there to make the court sessions a little more fresh (like they did with Apollo and his bracelet in Ace Attorney 4.) It's a neat feature and did what it was intended to do, but I still prefer Apollo's perceiving to the Mood Matrix.

While the game stars Phoenix, you play as Apollo and Athena for one case each. Generally, Athena is your sidekick when you play as Phoenix and Apollo is in the background, which is a little bit of a bummer. Athena's personality is pretty similar to Maya and Trucy (the other primary assistants), but there's just something about her that made me indifferent (likely the fact that she isn't Maya.) They went with the assistant in peril story for one of the cases again, and I found myself not really caring about saving Athena, and not caring about her backstory in the way I did with the other characters in the game. Professor Blackquill was a good addition to the cast, as the new asshole prosecutor (a big change of pace from Ace Attorney 4's Prosecutor Gavin, who did get a cameo in case 3!) Blackquill has been convicted of murder, but is still allowed to be a prosecutor. They explain the reasoning in case 5 and the concept is absurd, but that's part of the charm of the series. You put a killer whale on the witness stand in the bonus case after all.

As far as the gameplay goes, the only update to the court proceedings is the Mood Matrix. You still press witnesses for more information and present evidence (and use Apollo's Perceive in a few cases, which I would have liked to see more of.) They give you more hints this time around as far as what you need to be looking for in the next contradiction, which can be good or bad depending on how much you want to think.

The real changes in gameplay came in with the investigation sequences. They streamlined the process, and it's a lot better here than in the previous games. There's a notepad that tells you the things you still have to do before you finish your investigation so you don't forget what you're doing, but the real change is the point and click portion. Instead of having to click through every little spot in the room when you've found everything that stands out and still can't advance, the game will show a circle on the pointer if there's an object you can investigate, and a check if there's something you've already looked at. This makes it a lot easier to keep track of what you're doing. You can also change locations within the areas you investigate, and you only need to investigate specific rooms for clues, instead of looking everywhere you went like in the previous games. Another plus is that when you've investigated everything you needed to and are ready to advance, it will move right along so you won't sit there looking for more when you don't need to.  The interview sequences are also much better, as your character will tell you when you need to present evidence to get more information, so you don't have to find everybody and present everything you have if you're stuck.

The cases are pretty solid and they've added anime cut scenes to each case, which is also a nice touch. The game begins with an explosion blowing up one of the courtrooms in the middle of a trial, and that remains overhead until the end of the main story. I was able to pick out the real killer in case 3 from the first time I saw them and while you can usually figure it out early based off of Phoenix Wright logic (not going to go into the details on that since it might spoil things for people that have yet to play the games), they threw a wrench into that formula later in the game. I was pretty surprised at how case 5 concluded and they tied everything together at the end nicely. There were some pretty intense moments in cases 4 and 5, especially with Prosecutor Blackquill.

I normally don't like DLC, but the bonus case was well worth it. I thought I had the killer in the bonus case figured out with Phoenix Wright logic when the first day of court ended and the game leads you down that path, but then they changed it up in an amazing way so the formula no longer holds up, which is great. The bonus case is one of my favorites in the series, with a lot of twists and turns, great characters, and an amazing ending.

Overall, this was an outstanding game, a must for anyone who enjoys visual novels/point and click/thinking. It's easily the most playable in the series due to the investigation improvements, and the cases are very good. They left out some very notable characters from previous games (1 year passed between Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies, and 8 between Trials and Tribulations and Dual Destinies) in Maya, Detective Gumshoe, Ema Skye, Larry Butz, and Franziska von Karma, but having Pearl appear in two cases was a nice surprise. I probably would have rated the game higher if I cared about Athena as the new second, but what can ya do.

Score: 9.25/10
Raiden's Top 100 Ranking: 22

Upcoming reviews: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom

If there are any games on my top 100 you'd like to see a more detailed review on, or any games you know I've played that you'd like me to review, let me know! Unfortunately, I don't have time to pick up new games that aren't already on my short list, at least for the next year or two.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Raiden's Pokemon X/Y Review

Same game, different region. That sums up Pokemon X/Y. Overall a good game, but I wouldn't rate it any higher than third best gen in the series.

I think I would like X/Y a lot more if I hadn't played all of the other games first. After 6 generations and one sequel, the formula and basic gameplay is becoming a little stale to me. At the basic level, Pokemon remains an RPG with a party selection that no other series comes close to. Chrono Cross boasted over 40 playable characters, and that was huge. Pokemon has 718, if serebii is correct, so it's not even close.

They did try to switch up the basic formula with Mega Evolution, but that really didn't change much. It would make your Pokemon stronger and in some cases change the type, but other than that it wasn't anything big.

The bigger change came with the new addition of the Fairy type, which made Dragons a lot less overpowered. I'm a little confused as to why Fairy is weak to Poison and Steel (the only reason I've been able to come up with is that those types aren't strong against much), but that's not the thing that really bothers me about new types being added. They made such a big deal about how Fairy is the new big thing, but there are pokemon from previous generations that now have the Fairy type added. Why weren't those pokemon the fairy type? Is there something about the Kalos region that turns them into Fairy type? Why did it take them this long to discover a new type? I know I shouldn't expect continuity in a game targeted at younger children, but that still bothers me.

One thing that X/Y does extremely well is the Pokemon selection you get on your first playthrough before unlocking the national dex. You have the option of capturing at least twice the pokemon that you did in previous generations (including Eevee's, and gen 1 starters!) Some of the new pokemon are ridiculous though (I'm looking at you Klefki. Really? A set of keys?)

I would pay good money if Nintendo and Game Freak would give us a game where you can travel to all 6 regions, but that's something I'll probably never see (unless it's in MMO form, and that'd just suck).

Score: 7.2/10
Raiden's Top 100 Ranking: Not ranked.

Upcoming reviews: Phoenix Wright 5: Dual Destinies, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom

If there are any games on my top 100 you'd like to see a more detailed review on, or any games you know I've played that you'd like me to review, let me know! Unfortunately, I don't have time to pick up new games that aren't already on my short list, at least for the next year or two.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Raiden's The Last of Us Review

Finally getting around to writing this, and only a hand full of months late! I'm going to try to keep it to light spoilers (if any at all), that don't give away anything as far as story specifics goes. If you're still planning on playing the game and don't want any spoilers whatsoever, you may want to turn back now. You've been warned.

The Last of Us is amazing in every way. Naughty Dog was able to create characters in Joel and Ellie that you can really connect to, and you really root for. One thing I really enjoyed is the moral gray area you take in the game. Most of the time you play as the hero, fighting for justice, peace, etc, but in The Last of Us things are different. Don't get me wrong, you're not playing as the villains or anything, it's just not clear cut. The other people you're fighting against are just trying to survive, same as you (it reminds me of some of the other groups of humans that the main group encounters in the Walking Dead TV show.)

There are a few complaints I've heard about this game that I'd like to address. Similar to Tomb Raider 2013, one of the negative things someone mentioned to me is that "it relies too much on stealth." That can be true, but only if that's how you choose to play the game. Yes, there are areas that are designed in a way that makes you sneak around, but there are also others that are built to make you charge in, guns blazing. If you choose to play the entire game through using stealth tactics and don't want to try anything different, or lack the skill to have success without it, that's not the fault of the game, that's on you.

The big thing a lot of people dislike is the ending. Obviously, I'm not going to go into anything specific about how the game ended, but I will say this. The ending that said people seem to want completely contradicts everything that the entire game has built, and goes against what the characters would do or say. When Naughty Dog was still working on the game, they changed the ending from what those people want to what the final product was for that reason, and I wouldn't want it any other way. The only thing I didn't like about the ending was that it meant the game was over, and my journey through the post apocalyptic world with Joel and Ellie had come to an end (at least until the single player DLC is released, starring Ellie! Woo!). One amusing thing I found was an "alternate ending" where the actors ended up singing all of the lines in the final scene like it was some kind of Broadway show. It was really something to see.

The controls are very smooth, and the crafting system works very well. You're able to find limited amounts of stuff like rags, alcohol, bottles, etc, and have to determine what you want to make with those resources. You also have to do that in real time, so there's no pausing to craft something you need in the middle of battle. There is also a proper New Game+ mode, so you can take a powered up Joel through again if you want to (which I did).

The Last of Us is an amazing, emotional journey that shows both the best and the worst (mostly the worst) of human nature. Watching the bond between Joel and Ellie grow and develop is very satisfying, and felt real (most games aren't capable of making those things feel genuine). I can say without any doubt that The Last of Us is the best game of this generation, and the second best I've ever played.

Score: 10/10
Raiden's Top 100 Ranking: 2nd Place (after Final Fantasy VI, before Tomb Raider 2013)

Upcoming reviews: Pokemon X/Y, Phoenix Wright 5: Dual Destinies, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

If there are any games on my top 100 you'd like to see a more detailed review on, or any games you know I've played that you'd like me to review, let me know! I unfortunately don't have time to pick up new games that aren't already on my short list, at least for the next year or two.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Last of Us

Just finished The Last of Us, and it's amazing. The only genuine complaints I've heard about it (aside from one guy on IRC who keeps whining that it was "overhyped" and that it was a PS3 exclusive who has no intention of playing the game, he just likes to bitch) was that the ending wasn't good, but I don't agree with that. I don't know what those people were expecting.

I don't want to give away anything so I'm going to cut it there. I'll update my Top 100 accordingly with a new writeup for this one in a few days once it's had some time to sink in, so I can give it a placement that isn't based on the high of just finishing things up.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Adoption Lottery

Another question that people ask a lot is what you do while you’re waiting to be matched. While it’s pretty much just waiting, we get monthly updates from most of the agencies we’re working with about how many times our profile has been shown. There are also situations that we apply to outside of our agencies that Rachel finds on her own through various adoption communities she’s a part of, and those situations are the subject of this post.

We hear of anywhere between one and ten situations a week this way, and if the situation works for us we apply for it. That’s when the Adoption Lottery begins. Pretty much everybody has dreamed of winning the lottery, and that’s kind of what applying to an adoption situation is like. When you buy the lottery ticket you know that the odds are very low that you’ll win, but you still think about what it would be like if you did. An adoption is the same (though the odds are a lot better than winning the lottery). You know that there are a dozen other families applying for the same situation and that the odds are against you, but there’s still that what if feeling, and the hope that maybe this will be the one, that this will be the child you’re meant to raise. You start looking at the date the child is due to figure out how much time you have to get everything figured out, and if it’s out of state, what the travel will be like. How long will you need to be out of state? Are you going to fly, drive, or take the train? What hotel should we stay at? How big of a car do we need to rent? What are the travel restrictions for newborns? All of these questions occupy your mind until you hear back from the agency and find out you weren't selected. But that’s okay. That just means that it wasn't meant to be, and there's no time to worry about what might have been. The next situation is right around the corner and you have to get ready to repeat the process again, because maybe, just maybe, the next one will be the child you've been waiting for.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Adoption Update

I get asked frequently about how the adoption is going and today had a lot of action on that front, so here goes.

I know most people probably aren't too familiar with the adoption process, and when it's complete and you have the child it's great. It's getting there that sucks. As Rachel described it this evening, it's an emotional roller coaster, and the worst day we've had in the process since the failed adoption last year. We were told of a situation Tuesday for an African American child that was born a month ago, and the scenario was perfect for us. The fees were about $15,000 less than a typical adoption because the the child was already born, she was in Missouri so it was only about an 8 hour train ride, no drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues, and the birthmother was open to any race for the adoptive couple, and they wanted to child picked up next week. There were only 5 couples that they could find that were interested, so we had a 20% chance. This morning we heard from the agency, and the birthmother decided she wanted to see more profiles since she now wanted a family that had one African American/Biracial parent or child, so that one fell through.

Later this afternoon Rachel received a phone call from an adoption lawyer that was working on a case where a baby boy was born 10 weeks premature and the family he had been matched with backed out because they didn't want a premature baby and they had to find a family for him asap. The birthmother had already signed over her parental rights so there was no possibility of another failed adoption. The up front fees were fairly reasonable as well. I had to call him to talk about some insurance stuff and everything was going great until he said that the child was in Arkansas, and one or both of us would need to be there for 6 weeks until he was at normal birth weight and could be released from the hospital. With the medical expenses, travel, lodging, food, and car rental, those hidden fees increased the overall charges to about $15,000 over our budget, so we had to pass on that one. After all the time we've spent waiting, and the failed match, it was very difficult to pass on it, but there was no way we could afford it.

Thankfully, once the adoption is all done and we have our baby, none of this will matter. Right now the roller coaster is at the bottom of the tracks, but we're nearing that final incline. Maybe one day I'll tell our future child the story of how everything worked out in a How I Met Your Mother-esque manner (I'm watching that right now, so that's where the idea came from.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Raiden's Top Games, Full List (Without writeups)

As requested, here is the full list (Updated January 8, 2014)

102. Pacman Versus (Gamecube)
101. Columns (Game Gear)
100. Home Alone (NES)
99. Final Fight (Arcade)
98. Final Fantasy VII (PSX)
97. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS)
96. Plague Inc (iOS)
95. Dragon Quest V (DS)
94. Katamari Damacy (PS2)
93. Super Bomberman (SNES)
92. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
91. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (Gameboy Advance)
90. Pokemon Emerald (Gameboy Advance)
89. Final Fantasy Legend 3 (Gameboy)
88. Gremlins 2 (NES)
87. Chip's Challenge (PC)
86. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom (PC)
85. Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires (PS2)
84. Punch-Out (NES)
83. Snake Rattle N Roll (NES)
82. Dragon Age 2 (PS3)
81. Captain Comic (PC)
80. The Simpsons (Arcade)
79. Worms 2 (PC)
78. Basewars (NES)
77. Super Smash Brothers Brawl (Wii)
76. The Raiden Project (PSX)
75. Lemmings (SNES)
74. Super Mario Brothers (NES)
73. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PS2)
72. Warcraft 2 (PC)
71. Maniac Mansion (NES)
70. Pokemon FireRed/Leafgreen (Gameboy Advance)
69. Chrono Trigger (SNES)
68. Diablo 2 (PC)
67. Uplink (PC)
66. Resident Evil (Gamecube)
65. Skitchin (Genesis)
64. Wizards and Warriors (NES)
63. The Addams Family (NES)
62. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES)
61. Phoenix Wright: And Justice for All (DS)
60. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 (PC)
59. Gemfire (SNES)
58. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
57. Megaman 3 (NES)
56. Age of Empires 2 (PC)
55. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)
54. Megaman X2 (SNES)
53. Little Nemo the Dream Master (NES)
52. Metroid Prime (Gamecube)
51. Age of Mythology (PC)
50. Sentinel 3 (iOS)
49. Bubble Bobble (NES)
48. Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Wii)
47. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
46. Aquaria (PC)
45. FEAR (PC)
44. Megaman X4 (PSX)
43. Kickle Cubicle (NES)
42. Little Ninja Brothers (NES)
41. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
40. Gauntlet Legends (Arcade)
39. Aerobiz (SNES)
38. Twisted Metal 2 (PSX)
37. Super Mario World (SNES)
36. Parasite Eve (PSX)
35. Contra (NES)
34. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)
33. Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2 (Gameboy Advance)
32. Tetris & Dr. Mario (SNES)
31. Super Mario RPG (SNES)
30. SimCity (SNES)
29. Megaman X (SNES)
28. Resident Evil 2 (PSX)
27. GI Joe (NES)
26. Final Fantasy Tactics (PSX)
25. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest (NES)
24. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)
23. Dragon Warrior II (NES)
22. Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies (3DS)
21. Heavy Rain (PS3)
20. Metroid Fusion (Gameboy Advance)
19. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (PSX)
18. Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations (DS)
17. Megaman X3 (SNES)
16. Friday the 13th (NES)
15. Megaman 2 (NES)
14. Final Fantasy X (PS2)
13. Tales of Symphonia (Gamecube)
12. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (3DS)
11. Final Fantasy IV (SNES)
10. Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)
9. Ninja Gaiden 2 (NES)
8. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)
7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
6. Super Metroid (SNES)
5. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSX)
4. Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition (Wii)
3. Tomb Raider (PS3)
2. The Last of Us (PS3)
1. Final Fantasy VI (SNES)