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Psychotic Reviews: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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One of my favorite series on the original DS was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Each game was serious and completely whimsical at the same time. The characters are over the top and blown out of proportion in some cases, which only serve to make the courtroom scenes incredibly memorable as all of these personalities clash. The mystery element meant that the full picture of what happened was never entirely clear to the player until the trial and the investigations leading up to the courtroom scenes slowly reveal the whole story, or could also go down the rabbit hole at times. Its really a perfect blend of point and click puzzle adventure games with the narrative style of a visual novel, making the series stand out as the sum of its parts.

In contrast I’ve only played the first game in the Professor Layton series. I enjoy the game but can never sit down and play it for too long in any one sitting. Its really a gauntlet of puzzles. There are some point and click elements involved in this game as well, but they mainly serve as a way to find hint coins and hidden puzzles. The game is more of a slow burner compared to the Ace Attorney series, which will mix in dramatic courtroom scenes with the slower investigation to mix the pacing up.

These two series in terms of gameplay actually make sense putting together, and when I first heard about the crossover I was rather excited since I knew of Layton at the time and am a massive Ace Attorney fan. Despite only playing the first Layton game I was impressed by this game! The Ace Attorney style investigations mixed well with Layton style exploration and puzzle solving. It never felt like the gauntlet of Layton’s puzzles was getting to be too much of a grind since there is plenty more to enjoy and move through in the game.

In terms of story the world and area feel much more inspired by Layton. There is a village filled with magic where witches are burned after being found guilty at a trial. Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix Wright, and Maya Fey all find themselves brought to this village. As Phoenix you play through a witch trial and work to get the first exoneration of a witch in the village’s memory! This case introduces a unique twist to the system of cross examination that was standard throughout the Ace Attorney series. In the courtroom scenes the witness testimony is all done at once, the witnesses line up and Phoenix cross examines them one after the other. This does allow the witnesses to collaborate with their stories and add in information that fills in any holes on the fly. This style feels stacked against you. No wonder there were so many guilty verdicts in a row before Nick and Maya showed up here!

After the two pairs meet up the overall goal of the game becomes to uncover the secret of the village and keep working to get rid of this stigma against witches. After all, magic shouldn’t exist in our rational, modern world of science right? This games does a fantastic job of leading you along through the story, with twists and turns helping to guide you. The drama of the courtroom spills out into the streets and these strangers soon become well known for their alien idea of ‘logic’. That’s right, this village has not been enlightened to the basic Western ideas of Greek logic.

Once again Capcom shows that they are the complete master of the crossover, but they had plenty of help from Level-5. Both companies worked together to add the elements from their respective games, and then to polish it up and make it presentable for the player. As a result of this the game is incredibly strong. If you’re interested in either series you’ll be pleased with the results here since Layton is more of the same and Phoenix has a nice change to make this game feel like a unique entry to the Ace Attorney series. Despite their differences the characters work well, but I feel like Layton himself solves these major puzzles because of hazy and unexplained reasons. This difference could be a result of Phoenix taking details in one at a time since everything in his series is evidence based, and only one piece is usually relevant at any one time. If you have a 3DS and are looking for a story based adventure jam packed with fun and wit, check this game out!

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Psychotic Reviews: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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Its finally time for a Zelda game to be reviewed! This is far from the first game I’ve played in the series, that honor goes to Oracle of Ages on the Game Boy Color. I played the Game Boy Advance port of the predecessor of this game, A Link to the Past on the next handheld I owned. I loved it and now own the original Super Nintendo release, and still have my original boxes for Oracle of Ages, GBA Link to the Past, and the Minish Cap. Since I went so long without a home Nintendo console its only recently in my collecting days that I’ve picked those up. A Link Between Worlds is the most recent original game in the long running series, releasing in 2013 for Nintendo’s 3DS. It uses the world design and map of Link to the Past as a base, and weaves a new tale in a familiar world.

The Zelda games always seem to have some identifying mechanic at their core to make each individual title stand out. Wind Waker’s sailing, Wolf Link in Twilight Princess, time jumps in Ocarina of Time, masks in Majora’s Mask, and so on. In Link Between Worlds you can turn into a painting on the wall and scoot along it, moving to floating platforms or through small cracks to get past certain rooms and into secret areas. There are some cracks on the overworld after a certain event that will be your method of travel between Hyrule and the replacement to the old Dark World, Lorule. High and Low, get it? Lorule is dark and its princess, Hilda, calls upon Link to help gather up the descendants of the Seven Sages to save both worlds. This is after you do the basic and familiar pendant gathering for fans of the first game.

This game really does feel like Nintendo’s version of fanservice. They take something familiar and dear to a lot of their old school fans, and modernized it. I feel like I’m playing A Link to the Past again, but the story’s different, and the wall running adds just enough to where it doesn’t feel like another Game Boy Advance port! The early dungeons and some of the bosses are quite familiar as well, but they may require different tactics to defeat than before since you have all kinds of fun new toys and abilities to play with.

Something that old school Zelda fans may miss is the way dungeons feel. You don’t unlock new items through doing the dungeons, you rent and later buy them. You can rent most of the items early on in the game, with any stragglers unlocked by getting through a certain area of the game. This style does open the game up, so it doesn’t feel like a completely linear run through the dungeons. The early part does, but once the world opens up and you can get to Lorule then there are few restrictions to which dungeon you go to. The sacrifice of finding items in dungeons actually opens the world up to different play and exploration styles!

There are not too many weaknesses about this game that I noticed. Any time I died or made a mistake it was entirely my fault and not one of the game’s by having a badly designed room or controls. Everything flows well. There are parts that may take a bit of trial and error or memorization, but its never enough to significantly alter the flow of the game. Since I have a 3DS XL I also tried out the game’s 3D capabilities. At first glance you may think that the feature is worthless in a top down Zelda. There were certain areas that felt easier and flowed better, and allowed for better timing while in 3D than 2D in my opinion.

What stood out the most to me was the game’s story. It felt like the darkest world with the most urgency since Majora’s Mask. It doesn’t go beyond that game of course but it delves deeper than one would expect into the purpose of the Sages and the Triforce’s impact and power on the worlds of Hyrule and Lorule. The ending was wrapped up neatly in traditional Zelda style. Everything is just peachy for Hyrule, Link, and Princess Zelda when all is said and done. The journey to the ending was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld game in a long time, and it comes highly recommended!

Spooky Plays: D

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Welcome back to a world of horror and fright. You may remember last year when I did a review of a game that not many would think of when pondering the options to step into a good atmosphere that sends chills down spines and squeals up throats. Thief: The Dark Project was that game, and the horror came from the masterpiece’s years spent in development hell when its focus was changed about a half dozen times. Well, if you want to read more about that game check it out right here: https://whydidiplaythis.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/unexpectedly-spooky-thief-the-dark-project/ . In contrast to a jumbled mess of juxtaposed design and experimentation that somehow worked brilliantly, this year I bring you D. Just D. The letter D. No more. No less. D.

D is a horror puzzle game developed by WARP and published by Acclaim. It was originally created and released on the 3DO, but given the system’s less than stellar sales records, the game was ported over to Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, as well as DOS in the Western markets. In Japan, the Saturn release was a smash hit, debuting at the top of the sales chart. Acclaim insisted on porting it over to the other consoles themselves, and localizing it for the international market. The Saturn port was also successful on the sales charts in the West despite that console’s lukewarm reception. Sadly, Sony did not manufacture enough copies to even dream of satisfing pre-order demands for the Playstation release, and few more were ever produced. This leads to the oddity of the Saturn version being the easiest to find in the US. There’s not too much difference in price between the two though, Saturn averages out to be cheaper. The 3DO version stands up as the hardest to find and most expensive release. I blame this on the fact that searching for just “D” leads to so many other results that its annoying to find this specific game for any of its systems.

The game’s development is a wonderful tale in and of itself, with Kenji Eno going to extreme lengths to keep the real story of the game hidden, even from his coworkers, in an attempt to sort of cheat his way into a publishing deal. He made the game appear more like it was a clean cut adventure game with high quality graphics, not unlike Myst before it. Since Kenji Eno personally visited manufacturers in the USA to switch out his clean version from the real version he also bypassed any possibility of censorship.

Even today the horror imagery and well detailed (for the time) art design and environments stand out among its peers in the genre. Where Resident Evil would release after this game and rely on bad voice acting and jump scares, D does an excellent job of instilling a creepy atmosphere around the player and the young woman you control, WARP’s digital actress Laura Harris.

One interesting way that this atmosphere was achieved is a design choice that forces the player to sit and play the game. There is no saving or pausing. You have two hours of real time to finish the game from start to ending. That may seem like a short time, but I ended up being about ten minutes shy of beating it when I first played it. The second time was the charm for me.

One of the reasons you might get stopped and take a bit longer to finish the game is the puzzle design. Its quite reminiscent of point and click adventure games, but given its short length, most of these puzzles lack the depth or insane difficulty of some PC adventure games that are similar to D’s presentation. The exploration and movement works well for being limited to a controller. The odd part about the game’s movement design is that some rooms have paths that go all over the place. One example of this is in one of the bedrooms. You’ll step inside and be looking at a painting, and you can only walk towards this painting at first. Later you’ll need to get into a table to the right of the painting, but to get to the table from the painting you have to turn left, walk to the other door, then turn and step to the bed, turn to the left again, and then step forward to the table. You can’t just turn right when you’re already standing next to the table.

The game certainly feels aged though. Compared to other horror games its quite tame. As you play you’ll find the atmosphere is where the real tension is, and there are some creepy images and unexplained phenomena throughout this mansion Laura finds herself in. The occasional dessicated corpse catches her by surprise, and a wall of spikes early in the game might be only real jump scares in the game, but none of them are harmful. This game did influence later titles when it comes to presentation though. D’s unexpected success in all markets is simultaneously a beginning and an ending, as slower FMV puzzle games were nearing their twilight. D’s future influence lies in its tight artistic designs, well produced visuals, and its use of sound to create a setting and experience that will stick to the player. Its length actually helps it in this case. Since the game is so short everything that happens gets stuck in your mind, and you’ll rarely find yourself scratching your chin trying to remember something like you might with a long winded RPG or even other horror games!

If you have about $20-40 burning up your pocket or paypal balance, and you want a good, creepy experience that doesn’t require a long term commitment, then D is a fantastic purchase.

Psychotic Reviews: The Legend of Oasis

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The Legend of Oasis is the followup/prequel to Beyond Oasis. It was also developed by Ancient and composed by the studio’s founder Yuzo Koshiro. It was released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn and was built off of the same engine that powered Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor for those outside North America). The Legend of Oasis keeps the same feeling and exploration style of the first game while introducing new puzzles and a new map.

The Legend of Oasis features beautiful, hand drawn 2D art and characters and shows off the system’s 2D capabilities quite well. The first game looked great on the Genesis, and the followup also looks great on the Saturn. Despite being scored by Koshiro, the music seems to take a backseat for the most part. Its rather quiet and reserved, and there are long pauses between tracks, even when the track is on a loop. The voice samples used are of high quality and Koshiro makes good use of the available CD audio, both of which put his accomplished sound design abilities on display.

In The Legend of Oasis, there are more spirits to recruit and use. On top of the original four from Beyond Oasis (Bow was renamed to Bawu for this game), there are two additional spirits, Brass and Airl. Brass has the power of sound, which can shatter crystals and break up electrical currents, and Airl has the power of air. The four returning spirits play the same roles as they did in Beyond Oasis. Bawu has some added voice samples including a chuckle when he gets bored and a sigh when he doesn’t have anything to eat.

One significant change in The Legend of Oasis is that weapons no longer break, and level up by finding newer versions of them in dungeons. There are also scrolls that unlock special abilities for the weapons, and orbs which can power them. The use of food items has also changed in that now you are instantly healed when you pick them up instead of being stored as inventory items to use when you need them.

Unlike the first game, there is a much greater emphasis on the dungeons instead of a more balanced mixture between dungeon diving and overworld exploration. I feel like this is a step back, given that the outdoor areas in Beyond Oasis were filled with secrets and mini games. The overworld also served as a great way to separate dungeons from each other and give the player some breathing room. In The Legend of Oasis there are dungeon entrances within the depths of other dungeons, such as Shade’s Shrine of Darkness located within Brass’ Forest of Sound.

Overall, it feels like The Legend of Oasis was a step down from its Genesis predecessor. The Story of Thor series was laid to rest in only two games and ended on a rather mediocre adventure. However, one highlight of this game is that it does show you how the additional two spirits were to be used, since that weren’t in the Genesis game.

Psychotic Reviews: Beyond Oasis

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Beyond Oasis is an action/adventure game developed by Ancient for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It released quite late in the system’s lifecycle, late 1994 for Japan and 1995 everywhere else. Since Ancient was founded by Yuzo Koshiro it also includes a soundtrack composed by him. This is most likely Sega’s answer to The Legend of Zelda mixed with some Mana series since there are many similarities in gameplay design, puzzle solving, and progression.

You play as Prince Ali of the Kingdom of Oasis, and some bad stuff is starting to go down. One day while digging in an old ruin Prince Ali finds a gold armlet, which fixes itself to his wrist and tells him of his destiny to save Oasis. Clothing style and culture shows that the game is based on Middle Eastern mythology and literature such as the 1001 Arabian Nights. The gold armlet has the ability to control spirits, one of which is named after the class of infernal djinni Efreet.

There are differences with the weapon and item systems, as well as abilities. Ali starts off with a knife as your default weapon, this knife has unlimited uses but a short reach. You can pick up other weapons such as a bow, sword, and bombs for damage boosts, but these all break after a certain number of uses. Planning when and where to use your stronger weapons is a must, I usually saved them for boss battles.

Combat is quite fun as it offers great depth. It feels like you’re playing a brawler within your adventure game as Ali has kicks, swipes, stabs, jump kicks, flying stabs and slashes, flip attacks, and a spin attack. A lot of these attacks can only be used with your first knife though, so heavy damage weapons that can break are best used for more predictable fights like bosses. Each spirit has its own attacks as well, and these take large chunks of your SP down. Just having a spirit out will slowly deplete your SP bar.

The items you find mostly heal you. Ali has two stats to worry about, HP and SP. HP is your health, like it is every game that has HP. SP are your Spell Points, and these are used up just by having a spirit out or using a spirit’s magical abilities. These healing items are certain food items. Items like meat or cheese heals your HP while fruits heal your SP, still others heal both stats! You can also pick up powerups for your spirits, various weapons, and healing items in treasure chests scattered throughout Oasis.

There are plenty of secrets to find while exploring the world, even some hidden mini games that give quite nice rewards. In terms of following the storyline though the game is just as linear as any Zelda game. Beyond Oasis has the built in feature known as the “go-here” arrow when you’re off doing your quest. The map is stylized and fairly difficult to read when you’re first starting the game though. Once you’ve explored most of it the map will make sense.

The game feels quite balanced in its world design. You usually have nice area of outdoor overworld to explore while you make your way from dungeon to dungeon. The game also has a natural break between spirits. You can find the first two spirits quickly, but then Ali starts to work to unfold more of this mysterious group that is threatening his Kingdom before working to get the last two. Its a nice break between the two and lets the story keep you interested in what’s happening instead of breaking it up like this: get all spirits, uncover mystery.

A physical copy for the Genesis seems to be a bit uncommon, and its price ranges from $15-25 for a loose cartridge. This game has seen various digital releases and is on some modern compilations such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Steam.

Psychotic Reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

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Right then, we’ve all had our fun with the ol’ point ‘n click right? Well we’re not going to monkey around ‘ere and take a good, wholesome look at Discworld, released for almost everyfin’ out in ’95. You can find this ol’ game for DOS, Mac, Playstation, and the Sega Saturn (if you live in Europe or Japan).

Ok, I’ve had my fun trying to act like I have an unspecified English accent, my fake accent is better in person I swear, you twat! Since the game is based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels you can expect the same writing from the books. The plot is mostly based on the novel Guards! Guards! but Rincewind is the main protagonist of the game. No complaints in the writing and story department.

Already puzzling just to leave the room!

I recently found the Playstation version, which was only ever pressed and released in the old longbox form in the USA. This is an incredibly early game in the Playstation’s lifecycle, but it was primarily developed for DOS. Even though the game is 2D the optimization for the PS1 is not smooth, and slowdown occurs seemingly whenever anything of note happens, even if it repeats constantly.

Saving and loading is annoying in this game, to save the game you have to reformat the save seemingly randomly, which erases the file, just so you can save another file. Its strange and just too many steps to save a game to a memory card. Loading is also stupid, you have to let a new game start, open the menu, then load the game from there. This just shows how poorly optimized the game is, but since its one of the first PS1 games ever can it really be blamed? I say yes.

I will say that the voice acting in Discworld is amazing. The game was developed by British companies Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions, and published by future Sony studio Psygnosis (RIP). The British is strong with this one, and the cast shows its brilliance throughout the game. Rincewind is (mostly) voiced by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, who is a great fit for the humor of Pratchett’s writing style.

He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways.

Like any point and click adventure you will be charged with solving many puzzles, both large and small. Some of these puzzles are insanely easy, the item to use will be glaringly obvious, other times you’ll have to really sit down and go through your entire inventory to exhaust all your options before you come across the correct answer. If you’re a fan of Pratchett’s work you may enjoy this game if you have any bit of love for point and clicks, if you can’t stand the genre at all then this game could become quite the nuisance and annoy you.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that despite its technical problems I still find the PS1 version to be quite playable. The bad news is the price. If you’re going online to buy this the cheapest and easiest option is to buy the Playstation release. The price could still run you $30+ though if you’re wanting the box and manual, and its sequel is not far behind. If you luck out like me and find it in nice shape, and complete, for $5 at a thrift store then take that sucker home!

Now I’m really in the mood to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Happy 2013 to my followers! Here is my gift to you while I go watch the full movie.

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