Review: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies

If you're ever walking into Ace Attorney expecting a realistic sim about being a lawyer, boy, you chose the wrong series. A great part of Ace Attorney is its ability not to take itself seriously. Unfortunately, the quality of Dual Destinies suffered as plots were dull and came together haphazardly.

The first thing I need to mention is the third case of the game, "Turnabout Academy." In this case was a character by the name of Robin Newman. Robin was training to be a prosecutor and was very loud and exuberant. Robin screamed when things got hairy or when flustered by a situation. Robin also presented as a male, an important fact for what I would most like to discuss.

As newbie attorney Athena Cykes, I cross-examined Robin to try to prove the client, Juniper Woods, was innocent. The prosecution's basis for Juniper's guilt was that a voice recording exhibited a woman screaming something that could be interpreted as a threat to the victim. Of the three people suspected of the crime, one was female (Juniper) while Robin and the other character Hugh were male. Through the cross-examination, Robin admits to wearing a dress Juniper made and eventually spit out that he wanted to wear feminine clothing. Athena then realizes Robin is actually physically female and outs Robin as a woman.

It turned out that Robin was actually being forced by her family to present as male since she was a child, leading Robin to be uncomfortable with her gender presentation as she had always believed she was a woman. While I love that the game tackled gender identity issues (somewhat) they're hardly explored in Robin beyond her being forced to come out as a woman (an act that made me extremely comfortable -- I would never want to out someone as that is never my business). Robin instantly shows her love for frilly things and frequently gawks over a sparkling shoe. From one moment, Robin shows her masculinity by shouting at people in a stereotypical testosterone-crazy fashion and the next she shows her femininity by obsessing over pretty shoes and clothes. This seemed simplistic, stereotypical, and played off for laughs. Robin's gender presentation felt like it was mostly played off for laughs. Even if this series is known for its comedic gags, poking fun at someone's gender identity issues in a way that makes the player laugh at the character struggling with those issues is the most definite wrong way to go about humor.

The middle of Dual Destinies fell a bit flat. For a game's theme to be about the dark age of the law, there needs to be more scenes of what that actually means. The first case was a good introduction to Dual Destinies, as the player is able to get its first sights of Athena as well as get reacquainted with Apollo, who seems more serious than he did in his own game (this is explained later). Opening with a case about a bomb explosion in a courtroom is a great way to show what "the dark age of law" entails.

Unfortunately, the second case feels very distinct. Taking place chronologically first in Dual Destinies the player sees how Apollo and Athena first worked together when they met. While this was an interesting way of storytelling, thematically it felt like it had very little to do with the "dark age of law," even though it had great minor characters and introduced several important characters.

The third case felt foreboding at first with a teacher who often preached that the ends justified the means in court, a phrase that came up at the end. Sadly, the issues with Robin distracted me so much from this case that I had a hard time enjoying it.

The fourth and fifth cases were strongly related, but it wasn't until the fifth case that the player finally learns more about Athena and her background. Had the game spent more time building up Athena as a character, the fifth case would have hit harder, but humor frequently distracted from Athena's character. The main problem with Dual Destinies is that it doesn't have the right balance between humor and serious themes. This can be done, and it can be done well, but when humor distracts from the plot rather than adding to it, the theme falls apart.

Other than that, Dual Destinies had several spelling and grammar errors in the English localization, making it seem like it was a very rushed job with no proofreading. (Hey, Capcom! I work as a proofreader for hire! Feel free to hire me!)

Review: Pokemon X and Y: The series' first foray into 3D

It may be Pokemon's first foray into 3D, but that aspect hardly matters when compared with all of the other things Game Freak added to Pokemon X and Y. Other than a hiccup with a game-breaking bug in Lumiose City (which has since been fixed; if you haven't downloaded the patch yet, it's on the Nintendo eShop), the game is solid.

The game tried a few new things. Some worked fantastically, others didn't. First, the story is still pretty weak and predictable. I still find Black and White to have the most complex plot with the most interesting characters. The issue of handling Pokemon as captive tools meant for the equivalent of dog-fighting or rather their handling as a trainer's friends could have been handled in a black-or-white way. We find N and the player on different sides, and yet N changes -- and hopefully the player's outlook was also impacted by N's words.

But that's enough about Black and White. In X and Y, Team Flare (possibly a pun on "flair") couldn't be more black and white. Even before the player learns much of Team Flare's leader Lysandre, he talks about beauty and his worries for the world. He lacks complete subtlety, and it's hard to see how Professor Sycamore never saw his friend's betrayal coming. When the final confrontation with Lysandre comes, he boils his argument down to his belief that there is so much ugliness in the world, and in a world where people treat Pokemon as tools, all Pokemon must be destroyed to save them. There is no room to empathize with Lysandre because he is a flat character capable of no growth.

We do get introduced to a giant, however, who has had his own ancient morality struggle with Pokemon. The player sees very little of this man, and yet he receives more character growth than Lysandre could ever hope to have.

Game Freak took a different turn with the rival character in X and Y. In the past, Pokemon games have one rival. More recent games have added two characters you occasionally battle. Sometimes they're both rivals, sometimes they're also friends, sometimes one is a great battler while the other finds other ways of enjoying a journey with Pokemon. In X and Y, you travel with four other characters. One is clearly your rival and the next best at Pokemon battling. The second is a friendly girl who you spend a decent amount of time with journeying through forests and routes or keeping each other company while watching the fireworks. The third loves to dance and isn't so good at Pokemon battling. The fourth also isn't good at battling and has decided his goal is to fill the Pokedex, and he will challenge you to see who has more entries in the Pokedex. You both travel on your own and with these four characters, meaning you get to choose to move at your own pace and also battle some recurring characters a few times. The rival, named Calem if you chose the female protagonist and Serena if you chose the male protagonist, and Shauna are with you the most of other characters, and these two become a bit more complex as you learn more about their goals for their respective Pokemon journeys. However, these characters are still fairly simple-minded. Even if Pokemon is traditionally a game marketed to children, there is no need for such simplistic characters in a story. Before people come in and say, "But you don't play Pokemon for the story!" I want to say that people choose their own reasons for playing a game. The beauty of Pokemon is that it feels like your own story. My favorite part of starting a Pokemon game is starting the journey, picking my starter, and catching my first few Pokemon in a new region with new Pokemon. I also get to choose which Pokemon to use in my party, which strategies to employ in battles, and what to name my Pokemon (if I choose to name them). At the same time, the plot of Pokemon games is linear. You are guided to which towns to go to next, which gyms to fight next, and to pursue whichever nefarious team is trying to hurt people/the world/Pokemon. With six generations of Pokemon games out, it's time for more stories that challenge the way you think about Pokemon.

However, I suggest everyone who has already beaten the Elite Four to head to Lumiose City for some sidequests with Looker, an international police officer whom we first saw in Platinum. You meet Emma, a young girl involved with a gang in Lumiose. She ends up joining the bureau with Looker but gets caught up in some nasty experiments. Emma isn't a flat gang-style character. She has reasons for being in a gang, motivation for leaving, and it's easy to see why she chooses to do some stupid things for money. Emma's life revolves around not having enough money, and she feels guilty when Looker takes her in and doesn't ask her for anything in return. I know Pokemon "isn't about the story," but I would have loved to have more time with Emma. I learned more about her in five short sidequests than I did about any other character in the game. And this isn't even in the main plot.

Customization was one of the most fun additions of X and Y. I knew as soon as the clothing customization feature was announced, I would end up spending much more of my money in the game on clothes than on items actually useful in the game. Various styles are available, meaning girls can dress up in cute, frilly clothing or wear a t-shirt and shorts, or wear a combination of styles. However, I wish gender fluidity had been considered in this customization feature. Rather than restricting female protagonists to women's clothing and male protagonists to menswear, players should be able to choose what they want to wear regardless of gender intended for the clothing. And I don't mean "unisex" as in girls can wear the boys' clothing, but boys can also wear skirts and dresses, clothing traditionally considered only for women.

We finally got the option to change skin tone at the beginning of the game, something Game Freak should have had in the games before, but I am grateful for the inclusion of not only PoC NPCs but also an option for the protagonist to be PoC. Thank you, Pokemon for this late but well-welcomed addition!

The other great feature is the online interaction with others. I have rarely connected to the internet in Pokemon in the past, usually only using it for the GTS occasionally, but for the first time I was trading and battling with strangers. The game even encourages you to interact with your friends and strangers playing Pokemon X or Y. You can use O-Powers to strengthen your Pokemon's stats or increase your capture rate, as well as many other things. However, they cost more to use on yourself than others. By using an O-Power repeatedly, its level will increase. Because they're cheaper to use on others, the game encourages you to help others out online. You can also trade with someone, battle with someone, connect to the GTS, or do a blind trade. All of this is easily accessible on the lower screen of the 3DS.

Two other additions can be found on the bottom screen. By pressing L or R, you can navigate away from the online capabilities of the Player Search System to Pokemon Amie and Super Training. Pokemon Amie lets you pet your Pokemon, feed your Pokemon, and play three mini-games with your Pokemon. You don't have to do this, and it's never forced on you, but some Pokemon need to have a high affection for you before evolving (this is partly how Eevee evolves into the new fairy-type Sylveon). The mini-games can take less than a minute, so they never take too much of your time. Super Training is not nearly as cute; instead its purpose is to give you some control over which stats you want your Pokemon to improve. By playing short mini-games in which you shoot soccer balls at targets while evading balls shot at you, you can choose which stat to increase. If you don't feel like spending too much time on it, your Pokemon can hit a punching back once a minute to increase stats.

Overall, Pokemon X and Y is just as addicting as any other game in the series, and with the inclusion of Red and Blue starter Pokemon and some subtle throwbacks to Red and Blue (including a sleeping Snorlax blocking your path and a building with arrow tiles that spin you around), X and Y are a great reentry into the series for anyone who hasn't felt like playing Pokemon since the golden days of old.