150th Review Special, Finale: March of the Masterpieces

As anyone who has read my reviews knows, I tend to be very sparing when handing out 9/10s or 10/10s. While mainstream outlets tend to hand them out like penny candy when a game is promoted enough, I make games (and films, for that matter) work for those grades. I have it so that when a work earns a passing grade, even if it’s a 7/10, it’s a cause for celebration. With me having awarded no 10/10s in this block of 50 reviews, all we have left to discuss are the ones I awarded a 9/10. These are the games I point towards when talking about the hallmarks of a given era or decade, so if you’ve haven’t played them, check them out right away.

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150th Review Special, Part 3: Green Means Go!

Now that the bad/middling games are out of the way, we can finally start talking about the ones I can actually recommend. This has been a great year for me personally because I managed to write three reviews that were over 10,000 words long. The best part? They’re all of games I like. Whereas before, my longest review was that of The Last of Us, I can now safely say that anyone who believes it’s easier to be negative than positive clearly isn’t trying hard enough.

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150th Review Special, Part 2: Throwing Caution to the Wind

I use yellow scores whenever I can’t officially recommend nor dissuade people from playing the game in question. The exact score I use depends on which way I would go if somebody pressed me enough with a 4/10 meaning probably avoid, a 5/10 meaning I’m not sure, and a 6/10 meaning play if you’re a fan. Either way, we’re officially done talking about bad games from this point onward.

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July 2018 in Summary: At the End of an Arduous Month

Summer is usually my favorite time of the year, but for a litany of reasons, July ended up being quite a hassle. The long and short of it is that after finishing my BioShock 2 review at the end of June, I sought to get a head start on Wario Land. Through a set of very bizarre circumstances, I ended up taking longer than expected with the latter review. When I started on Spirit of Justice directly afterwards, similar to the situation with Prosecutor’s Path, I realized by Wednesday that I wouldn’t be able to finish by the weekend. I therefore spontaneously wrote a review of VVVVVV, as I knew it wouldn’t take too long to write about. Amazingly, even with the extra three days, my Spirit of Justice review ended up taking longer than expected. I was able to finish it by Sunday, but at that point, I had another problem: I only had only a week and a half to finish two reviews. I usually write these reviews during my break periods at work, attempting to get 1,000 words written per day. I knew I couldn’t finish both reviews if I stuck to my usual pattern, so I had to write my Spirit Tracks and BioShock Infinite reviews at the same time (meaning I wrote 1,000 words at home and 1,000 at work). Both reviews ended up being over 6,000 words long.  And this was all on top of seeing fourteen films and writing about them. Ironically, despite being a difficult month, a majority of the reviews I wrote were positive.

It wasn’t easy, but despite of all these setbacks, I was able to pull through and get every single review I promised in the last update finished. Even better – my Ace Attorney retrospective is at last complete! The only downside is that I had to momentarily sacrifice a Reel Life feature. I saw quite a few films at the end of the month, and I intend to post the feature for that week this coming Wednesday. The feature after that shall include whichever films I end up seeing this weekend.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Introduction

Apollo Justice, and by extension, the core Ace Attorney series, had gone five years without a sequel. When a follow-up was at last announced in 2012, it had a potential to alienate longtime fans. After all, this was going to be a sequel to what most fans considered the franchise’s nadir. Not only that, but an entirely new development team had taken over its production with no involvement from series creator Shu Takumi and they saw fit to introduce a new assistant as a replacement for a fan favorite. Director Takeshi Yamazaki, producer Motohide Eshiro, and their team had more than proven themselves capable with Prosecutor’s Path, but because it wasn’t localized, Western fans remained unaware of their talent. The sole entry they were exposed to was the original Ace Attorney Investigations. While enjoyed, fans didn’t have nearly as much reverence for it as they did the original trilogy. Thankfully, despite similar factors spelling the downfall of many venerable franchises, a majority of the risks taken by the duo paid off, and Dual Destinies was, by and large, embraced by the fandom.

With plenty of unresolved plot threads floating around, there was potential for a sequel. Unfortunately, shortly after finishing Dual Destinies, Mr. Yamazaki felt a crippling sense of exhaustion, expressing the desire to resign from developing any more Ace Attorney installments. Thinking quickly, Mr. Eshiro decided a trip to events attended by fans was in order. Together, they appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con International and held a press conference in Taiwan. Feeling the enthusiasm of his fans firsthand – both Western and Asian alike – Mr. Yamazaki decided to direct the series’ next installment, to be called Turnabout Trial 6 in its native homeland.

Believing that the cause behind Mr. Yamazaki’s exhaustion stemmed from being the sole director of Dual Destinies, he decided his coworker wasn’t going tackle this new project alone – enter Takuro Fuse. Mr. Fuse had cut his teeth with the Ace Attorney franchise when he replaced Tatsuro Iwamoto as the series’ primary art director. He was the one responsible for a majority of the character designs. He now found himself sharing the director’s along with Mr. Yamazaki.

The project now had two directors and a producer determined to see it through to the end. All they needed now was a theme. Dual Destinies had carried out the impressive task of simultaneously being a return to form while also taking the canon in intriguing, new directions. The only way they could possibly top such a feat was through brainstorming sessions. With nobody being allowed to veto anyone else’s ideas, they eventually settled on the theme of “courtroom revolution”. It was to be an Ace Attorney spin on a classic tale: “the oppressed and weak defeating the strong” in the words of Mr. Yamazaki.

During the development phase, the team agreed that with Phoenix Wright making his triumphant return to the courtroom, nobody could prove a match for him anymore in his normal setting. It is from this line of thinking that they decided to move him to a foreign country with a different court system. Not only that, but promotional materials made it clear supernatural elements, which had been absent from the series for the past three installments, were to return as well. This was alluded to in its English subtitle: Spirit of Justice. Responding to fan feedback, they also decided it would be appropriate to give Apollo Justice a larger role. Therefore, while Phoenix handled cases abroad, his apprentice was to resolve problems back home. How they went about conceiving episodes was a little different this time around. Each episode had a primary writer, and they were assigned based on their strengths. Some proved apt with dialogue while others had a penchant for lending their stories a sense of intrigue. The staff often stayed in the meeting room until nightfall.

After the usual fan and media speculation, Turnabout Trial 6 was released domestically in June of 2016. Four months later in September, the game saw its worldwide release under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Though Dual Destinies was well-liked itself, several fans felt Spirit of Justice to be an improvement. In fact, shortly after its release, a particularly vocal group insisted that Spirit of Justice was the best game in the entire series. The original three games are seen as something of a sacred cow in certain subsets of the Ace Attorney fandom, yet even they found themselves admitting Spirit of Justice was a quality product. Were Mr. Yamazaki, Mr. Fuse, and Mr. Eshiro able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dual Destinies was not a mere happy accident?

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June 2018 in Summary: Halfway Point

Well, we’ve all reached the year’s halfway point. I’m proud to say that I’ve already written twenty-eight reviews so far. With me having taken down my review of BioShock: Infinite earlier this year, the current count is 127. My goal by the end of the year is to reach 150, which I’m feeling good about because I’ve been able to write at least one review per week so far in 2018.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

Introduction

With its new protagonist, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proved to be another success for Capcom’s franchise about fierce courtroom battles. Shortly after its release, a planned sequel was announced in May 2007. However, over the next few years, other members of Capcom wound up taking the series in a new direction. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of producer Motohide Eshiro and director Takeshi Yamazaki, two games that cast the fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth in the lead role were produced. Though the localization efforts for both games were drastically limited, they managed to find an audience. Because Capcom’s focus shifted elsewhere, there was no word of a follow-up to Apollo Justice for five years.

This continued silence finally ended in September of 2012 when Capcom revealed a logo for a hypothetical new installment for the Ace Attorney franchise. As if to dash the ambiguity from the beginning, the logo clearly read “Turnabout Trial 5”. In truth, development had begun in 2011. The team responsible for Prosecutor’s Path had disbanded shortly after its release and the members were subsequently reassigned to different projects. As such, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki found themselves in charge of a skeleton team.

The series historically enjoyed success on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The original trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance while Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments saw the light of day on the Nintendo DS. By the time this project started, Nintendo had launched their latest handheld model, the 3DS, in 2011. The development team was initially unsure whether to retain the series’ traditional 2D sprite-based graphics or utilize 3D character models. Ultimately, they realized that because this new entry was being developed long after the release of Apollo Justice, they needed to make a big impact. The new hardware presented the perfect opportunity for them to usher in a new era for the series.

Naturally, one of the greatest difficulties the team had to overcome was preserving the look and feel of the 2D sprites employed by the preceding installments. Takuro Fuse found himself serving as the game’s art director, replacing mainstay Tatsuro Iwamoto. Having to utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic effects, Mr. Fuse understandably had problems getting character designs to fit the series’ distinctive style. This required him to get a lot of feedback from Mr. Eshiro. According to Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki, their goal was so that their product’s graphics were superior to those of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – a spinoff game being developed around the same time by series Shu Takumi himself.

One of Mr. Fuse’s first tasks was to render a 3D model of the series’ former protagonist, Phoenix Wright. He would later call his first attempts “cringe-worthy”, but they were able to use it as a base. From there, other members of the team gave him their feedback, and they collectively refined it until they were satisfied. This process by itself took six months. Their next goal was to translate the series’ trademark lively animation style for this new engine. To this end, they employed various tricks, including using new character models for different angles. They also used the 3DS’s hardware to add dynamic camera movements and fluid character animations.

There was a shared feeling of dread among Western fans after Capcom made this game’s development known. After all, if Prosecutor’s Path never left Japan, this fifth Ace Attorney installment could very well meet the same fate. That Capcom announced the game was to be localized proved to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, Western fans would get to experience more of the series. The downside is that it came at the cost of localizing Prosecutor’s Path, for Capcom decided to skip it in favor of the newer game. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long after its localization was greenlit for it to be given a Western name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.

Capcom USA’s senior vice president, Christian Svensson, had previously suggested to make Prosecutor’s Path a downloadable title when the company predicted its sales wouldn’t cover the localization costs. Because the executives still believed this to be the case, the decision to greenlight the game came with the condition that it would be made available in the West in a digital format only. Because all 3DS games would be sold in both a digital and physical format from the beginning, this was deemed by most to be a reasonable compromise. Under the name Turnabout Trial 5, this game was released domestically in July of 2013. Its international debut came to pass in October of 2013. In both regions, the game enjoyed a fairly positive reception. Though Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney franchise in the past, this would be their first attempt at creating an installment in the core series. Did their efforts pay off? Were the students able to surpass the master?

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May 2018 in Summary: Extra Life is Now Four Years Old!

Well, I’ve done it. May 20th marks the four-year anniversary of my very first post on WordPress. I may have taken down my initial review of The Last of Us in favor rewriting it three years later, but I still remember that day. Considering how infrequently I would upload reviews back in 2014, I never would’ve imagined that A) I would find a way to post reviews on a weekly basis and B) an overwhelming majority of the reviews I post now eclipse my earliest reviews in terms of length. Thank you to all of my readers for your continued support!

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Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – Prosecutor’s Path

Introduction

In 2009, the Ace Attorney franchise received its first spinoff title in the form of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Fans rejoiced at the prospect of an entire game starring the fan favorite Miles Edgeworth, and it consequently fared well both with them and critics. In response to this positive reception, the game’s producer, Motohide Eshiro, revealed that he had contacted Minae Matsukawa. Ms. Matsukawa was notable for having served as the producer for the DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney along with its distant sequel, Apollo Justice. The reason for Mr. Eshiro to have contacted her was straightforward enough; he offered his services in developing a new Ace Attorney game. This project would officially begin in September of 2009, and the developers went to a “training camp” of sorts to talk about the game for an entire day for the purpose of outlining it.

Revealed in an issue of Famitsu with the name Turnabout Prosecutor 2 in September of 2010, this new game promised to see the return of Miles Edgeworth, Dick Gumshoe and Kay Faraday. Screenshots revealed the existence of a new gameplay mechanic with a prominent chess motif. In addition to revealing a few new characters, the article insisted that the game would focus more on Edgeworth himself than on other characters or past events. It went on to state that the creators wished to reveal a more human, conflicted side to him never before seen. It was around this time that the official website for the game launched.

Mr. Eshiro once again served as the producer of this game while Takeshi Yamazaki directed and wrote the scenario, sharing the latter duty with Yuki Nakamura. Ace Attorney Investigations was notable for having a development cycle that lasted much longer than those of its predecessors in the core series. Much of this can be attributed to the new gameplay mechanics necessitating Mr. Eshiro and his team to develop them from scratch. The development of its sequel ended up taking far less time due to already having a solid foundation on which they could create content. They had even gone as far as spending five days and four nights in a place dubbed the Capcom Manor to work on the game. The inspiration for this decidedly unorthodox method of brainstorming was inspired by the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The esteemed director would gather writers in a hotel room to conceive scripts for his films. At the manor, they systematically discussed the plot, formulated the new gameplay system, finalized the direction, and created sketches for a majority of the cast.

At the Tokyo Game Show convention of 2010, three new characters were officially revealed and named. A trailer showing gameplay footage of Turnabout Trial 2 revealed that many elements from its predecessor such as mentally connecting the facts of the case and utilizing the Little Thief to recreate the crime scene would make a return for this installment as well. In addition, a playable demo of the first episode, “Turnabout Target” was made available at the event. In November, the official website revealed the game’s box art and its slated release date: February 3, 2011. The day came to pass and the game was released to a positive reception.

It didn’t take long for Western fans to speculate the game’s localization plans. In what was a doubtlessly disappointing move for countless overseas fans, Ace Attorney Investigations only ever saw an English translation. Capcom then proceeded to up the ante from this controversial decision by opting not to localize Turnabout Prosecutor 2 at all. Why they decided to limit the game to its domestic market isn’t certain. Christian Svensson, the Senior Vice-President of Capcom’s USA branch at the time said that the decision was made due to estimated returns being unlikely to cover localization costs. Meanwhile, Mr. Eshiro claimed that it was due to a scheduling issue; the staff who worked on this game had disbanded, moving to different teams after finishing it. Around this time, Capcom had been under fire for many controversial business decisions. The list of grievances include releasing multiple titles with on-disc downloadable content, canceling the highly desired sequel to Mega Man Legends, and proceeding to give up on the long-running series entirely once its creator, Keiji Inafune, left in 2010.

To Capcom’s credit, they had many internal discussions on how to address this issue. Mr. Svensson said there might be potential to release the game as a downloadable digital title, thus reducing manufacturing costs. Talks about whether how they could localize this game continued into the next year. However, in 2012, Capcom announced that the core series was to, at long last, receive a sequel. This proved to be a mixed blessing, for Capcom quickly assured fans that it would be localized, but in doing so, all plans to bring Turnabout Prosecutor 2 to the West were effectively stopped.

Fortunately, all hope was not lost. Users on the Ace Attorney fan site Court-Records banded together to create a fan translation. This was not a task to be undertaken by amateurs, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, people had to submit applications, which in turn required the community’s approval in order for them to be on the team. Alexa Ray Corriea writing for Polygon described this approach as uncommon, for most fan translations allow anyone to contribute. It was similar to the Mother 3 translation led by Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin in that it’s clear the people involved wanted the translation to be as professional of a product as possible. The translation was released in an episodic format. In the autumn of 2013, a beta patch translating the first two episodes was released. Nearing the end of the following winter, work on the third episode was complete. In June of 2014, the game was at last fully translated into English, unofficially dubbed Prosecutor’s Path. There have been many instances throughout history of quality games failing to leave Japan. Was this a game worth of the fans’ immeasurable excitement?

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Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Introduction

When Nintendo launched the console to succeed their long-running Game Boy product line, the Nintendo DS, Capcom decided to create ports of Shu Takumi’s Turnabout Trial trilogy. As they were being created, the company elected to localize the three games, bringing them to North America and Europe. To Capcom’s surprise, the series, dubbed Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit abroad. While working on the DS port of the original trilogy’s final installment, Trials and Tribulations, producer Motohide Eshiro had an idea. They could make a spinoff series, casting a major character from Ace Attorney in the lead role. He met up with Takeshi Yamazaki, who had worked as a planner for the bonus episode that would be included with the debut installment’s rerelease. To his delight, Mr. Yamazaki agreed to work on it. Mr. Eshiro would later describe the meeting in his blog on the official Ace Attorney website as a “reckless suggestion with an inspiring, reckless response”. Regardless, they began meeting daily soon thereafter.

Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki quickly decided to have this hypothetical spinoff series take place on the crime scene rather than in a courtroom. Many points of contention arose from these “endless discussions”, including searching for contradictions in a crime scene, being able to play as multiple characters, and how they could possibly retain the spirit of the series without featuring a single courtroom battle. Mr. Yamazaki originally wanted to create a detective game starring Ema Skye, a character who had debuted in the bonus episode he worked on. Mr. Eshiro instead pictured Miles Edgeworth, protagonist Phoenix Wright’s rival and friend, as the main character. Fan feedback had demonstrated over the years that his popularity matched Phoenix Wright’s, and thus the decision was made. This game was to be developed as both a spinoff and follow-up to the original trilogy.

In March of 2008, the official Ace Attorney developer’s blog hinted toward the game’s existence. It referred to the game as a “NEW Turnabout, NOT Trial”. It was also stated that more information about the project would be released during an orchestral concert playing music from the series. At that time, the developers showcased a trailer revealing the game along with a new central character. Seconds after the revelation, an official website was launched. During the Tokyo Game Show of 2008, the gameplay was demonstrated, confirming that various characters from the main series such as Franziska von Karma were slated to return. Announcing the game was halfway finished by that point, they even allowed visitors to play a demo of the first episode. According to a poll conducted by Famitsu magazine, this presentation received more attention than that of any other portable game featured at the show. The game eventually saw its release under the name Turnabout Prosecutor in May of 2009.

Shortly before its domestic release, Capcom trademarked “Ace Attorney Investigations” as the game’s English title. Similar to how they showcased the game to the Japanese public, a playable demo was made available at Comic-Con in July of 2009. In North America, Europe, and Australia, the game was titled Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. The game was released in those regions in February of 2010. Due to the comparatively low sales of the series’ previous installment, Apollo Justice, Ace Attorney Investigations was not translated into any other languages beyond English, much to the chagrin of many international fans. Ace Attorney Investigations has the distinction of being the first entry in the series made without it input from its creator, Shu Takumi. Did Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki create something worthy of bearing the franchise’s banner?

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