The Job Woes Continue

You know what I’ve come to hate about job-searching more than the waiting part? Losing any bit of control over my ability to job search. I’ve been holding this in for a while, only really talking about it with my fiance and a little with my mom, but I can’t stand having people related to me try to “help” me by taking matters into their own hands.

Case in point, I recently found out about a house-sitting job that I figured I’d look into at some point this week. But I then found out my mom had gone ahead and called up the woman to find out for me. The job has since been revealed to be nothing more than basically renting a house, something I’m not interested in doing, but it irritates me to no end when this sort of thing happens. I don’t mind going with her to pass out resumes (as I still need a vehicle yet), but it’s one thing for her and my dad to make suggestions. It’s another thing entirely for them to push stuff onto me without me knowing.

The same can be said for my relatives, though this tends to be more the case on my dad’s side. I get asked more about my job situation from them than I do from the relatives on my mom’s side (though there are definitely exceptions), but they’ve also occasionally brought up job offers to “help” me. Look, I’m not selfish. I can appreciate their concerns and giving suggestions is most likely what they consider a kind gesture. But I’m also not a teenager anymore, when this sort of thing would be considered…well, more appropriate. I’ll be 27 in a couple weeks, and yet I still feel at times as though people in my family either don’t think I’m looking hard enough or not at all. This is a major vice of my dad in particular, though I’m not the only one he’s acted towards like that.

I know this blog might come off as whiny, but the fact is that I really am trying my best and avoiding being lazy. Given that I still want to move in with my fiance in the near future, I still can’t help feeling like I’m better off avoiding moving and the like until THAT big move happens. Because of that, I have to practically take what I can get in town, which isn’t a lot. My last job was one of my most well-liked yet, and I was let go after only 4 months due to overstaffing. It’s hard not to feel frustrated when it’s one aspect of my life I’m severely lacking in, and to have even a shred of what little control I have over it taken by others just adds to that frustration. I sincerely hope my situation improves this year, but until then I’m gonna try to continue asserting myself when it comes to this job search.

“Summer Knight” Review

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After taking a break over Christmas from “The Dresden Files,” I decided to read the next (aka fourth) book earlier this week. I have two more in my possession to read yet, but I can’t promise they’ll be right away. For now, let’s take a look at “Summer Knight” and see how it stacks up to the previous books.

Given that there are a TON of twists and revelations in this one that I don’t want to spoil, a lot of my review may come off a bit vague and I apologize for that. The basic plot is this: Harry Dresden is pulled into a murder mystery involving two prominent groups of faeries, the Summer Court and the Winter Court. When a representative of the Summer Court, the Summer Knight, is killed, the Winter Court’s queen, Mab, enlists Harry’s help to find the killer. But doing so soon gets him caught up in affairs between the two courts, who are on the brink of war as a result. Will Harry discover the culprit in time, or will the ensuing war tear the world apart?

First off, this book adds a lot of world-building to the Dresden universe. Much like with the vampires in “Grave Peril,” we get a deeper look at the world of faeries aside from Toot-Toot (introduced in the first book) and Harry’s godmother. I like the idea that both courts essentially control the weather, sort of like a parallel to the Miser brothers in “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Unfortunately, as far as the queens go, we only really get to know Mab thanks to the Winter Court being under suspicion. The Summer Queen is never properly introduced, though we do meet her subordinates throughout the story. While I would’ve liked to complete the rounds of meeting these figureheads, Mab was an interesting character and I can definitely see her returning in future books. There’s more to her beyond what the main plot offers, but saying more about her role would be a big spoiler.

Aside from the faeries, we also get an insider’s look into the White Council. This is their first formal appearance, and though most of the council leaders don’t get much focus, I appreciated having faces and names to attribute to the group. My favorite of anyone introduced was Ebenezar McCoy, a former mentor of Harry’s and a laidback sort of guy. The book wastes no time establishing their connection even before they’re in the council meeting and he’s very likable as a result. I especially enjoyed his interactions with the council leaders, most notably the main figurehead, the Merlin. These interactions showed Ebenezar as not just being a simple farmer/wizard, but also an extremely clever one. Morgan, a Warden from the first book, also makes his return and is just as horrible as ever. Every time he talked venom toward Harry, I just wanted to punch him. He mostly serves as a minor obstacle here, and I hope something major is done with (or to) him in a future book.

There’s another important character who becomes involved in the story almost coincidentally, though I can’t give away who it is. I will say that even by the end, I found them hard to like due to their actions and was glad to see that the connection between them and Harry wasn’t forced into something more than it was for dramatic purposes. People who have read this book probably know what I’m referring to, but let’s just say that this was one character I could honestly care less to see return.

As far as the culprit in this one, I was able to accurately predict who did the deed, but not the reasons surrounding it. It’s a lot more intricate than you expect. For that reason, considering the “politics” in the book and the war itself, I found the overall plot in this one to be both interesting and at the same time lackluster. I blame it both on my lack of interest in any sort of politics, even fictional ones, but I also found it hard to relate to the Courts too. Given that it’s a dispute between supernatural beings and the fact that Harry’s thrown into the fray, I found that I only had interest in the war itself due to the stakes involved. I think when it comes to this series, I prefer the mysteries that have more of a personal stake for Harry than him playing the outsider looking in. That said, I still appreciate how this book shows just how small he and many others are in the face of these two powerhouses, and it did at least show that either side could pose a threat at any given time.

If I had one other gripe about the book, it’s near the beginning. One of the werewolves from “Fool Moon,” a teen named Billy, helps out Harry even before the main plot really kicks off. I had no problem with him helping nor with his involvement through the story, but I did find it jarring to have him show up and immediately act very concerned and worried for Dresden as a friend. Now, is this because I don’t think he should feel this way? No, of course not. But given that I hadn’t seen this character since “Fool Moon,” it WAS a bit jarring to see that huge of a leap in their relationship to one another. I felt that maybe it would’ve benefited to have a scene or two with him during “Grave Peril” to continue showing the advancement of their friendship, much like his friendship with Murphy has done (speaking of, her role here, while not as brief as the last book, involved some of my favorite moments in the book). As it stands, it took me a few scenes between the two after that initial one to settle into their friendship.

Overall, while I enjoyed this book and think it was just as well-written as the previous ones, I felt it was the least interesting of the bunch so far. Again, a lot of that is due to the “politics” involved and my own preference toward that. Thankfully, that still didn’t make the book difficult to read through, and those twists and revelations I mentioned earlier were a big factor in that. If you liked the previous books, this one is definitely worth the read if only for you to experience those twists and the world-building involved.

I give “Summer Knight” an 8.5/10.

“Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor’s Path” (aka “Gyakuten Kenji 2”) Review

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As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I’m an avid fan of the Ace Attorney series. I’ve played all of them now, including today’s entry, and while I haven’t played the first “Ace Attorney Investigations” in a long while, I remember enjoying it for being able to play as Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth and changing up the gameplay from previous AA games. To date, AAI2 is the only game that hasn’t been officially translated by Capcom, as the development team was separated after its release in Japan. However, thanks to some dedicated fans, an English translation was completed and released as a rom. Does it stand up to the quality of the series? Let’s find out.

Story:

First off, I’ll note here that I’m going to avoid spoilers wherever possible. Like in AAI, the game follows a format of each case (five in all) spanning a short period of time. The basic plot with both games is that Miles Edgeworth, Detective Gumshoe, and the Great Thief Kay Faraday get wrapped up in solving these cases while slowly piecing together their connections to one another. In AAI2, these cases range from attempted assassinations to including blackmail and even kidnappings. For me personally, I found each case to be good in their own right. My favorite was easily Case 3, however, as it added to backstory set up by other games and had a strong emotional impact by the end. It’s also one of the best third cases I’ve played in any AA game, which have ranged from fairly good to mediocre. I also liked the final case, though I had issues with the pacing as it felt drawn out and the focus of it often strayed in different directions. It’s kinda bad when even your characters have to stop and piece together everything that they know up to that point. That said, it brought all the loose ends of the plot together to a satisfying conclusion. The only one other grievance I had was with a character gaining temporary amnesia in Case 4. While it lead to some great moments between them and Edgeworth, I felt it was a kinda cheap way to give Edgeworth the motivation to do something about it.

Plenty of characters return from previous AA titles alongside the new ones in this game. There are tons of cameos from some of my favorite characters the series has produced, and as mentioned earlier, both Gumshoe and Kay return and are given a bit more to do respectively. Many of the new characters were great, and I especially liked Raymond Shields, a defense attorney who has known Miles since his youth. Raymond does unfortunately push Gumshoe out of the partner role several times, but I found he was a fun enough character to not mind it. He kinda reminded me of Larry Butz in his pursuit of women, only far, FAR less annoyingly so. There’s a rival prosecutor, Sebastian Debeste, who I found to be one of my least favorites of the series. He’s portrayed as a bumbling idiot, but they do give him development near the end of the game that slightly redeemed him for me. The “true” rival is Judge Justine Courtney, who assists Sebastian in his investigations. While she was a worthy adversary, I found her hard to like even after some development that she too gets near the end. She’s not necessarily a BAD character, but I just felt irritated with her most of the time. I enjoyed the villains in this game, as each one was just despicable enough to make you feel good for taking them down. However, I found myself liking the one from Case 4 more than the final “true” villain, as their backstory made me feel they had the potential to carry the game on their own merits. That’s not to say the final villain is bad, and the writers did a great job with them and showing their reasoning and motivation. But many of the AA titles have easy-to-predict villains, and I was able to deduce who the “mastermind” was before the characters reached that answer. Ultimately, I found the showdown with them much more entertaining than trying to figure out that they were the culprit.

The third major story element here are themes. There are two very blatant ones in the game: the bond between a parent and child, and choosing the path in life that’s right for you. As you can probably guess from the title, the latter is the dominant theme of the game and mostly centers around Edgeworth trying to decide once and for all if being a prosecutor is right for him. In-game, I felt it was done very well, and some of the ideas brought up with it almost seemed to reflect the “Dark Age of the Law” theme that’s present in “AA5: Duel Destinies” and to a lesser extent “AA4: Apollo Justice.” However, I found it also made Edgeworth come off a bit flip-floppy at times in his decisions. I can chalk a lot of that up to knowing what ultimately happens to him, having played the more recent games ahead of this one, but I also felt this theme could have been done much sooner. I feel if they’d tackled this idea in AAI, it would’ve flowed perfectly as a follow-up to the original trilogy and his struggles presented there. As it stands, while some moments had good emotional punch to them, others didn’t leave the impact on me that they probably should have. The parent/child theme, on the other hand, was utilized great and spanned several characters, showing both the good and bad outcomes of that bond. It was a theme that felt solid enough to possibly carry the game on its own, though I still applaud the use of both themes as they often criss-cross with each other here. Overall, as you can see, the game offers a LOT of plot and character development.

Graphics:

As with AAI, the graphics for AAI2 make the most out of the DS hardware (or emulation). The sprites during the dialogue-heavy scenes are crisp and clear, and the overhead investigation segments have a slightly pixelated style to them. The animations are fluid and, even during the overhead segments, accurately represent the character as they react to different situations. The only time I ran into any issues was during a segment with Gumshoe in Case 2, which caused my emulator to chug along at a slow pace. Aside from that, the game moves at a good pace.

Sound:

Plenty of sound effects and music from previous games make their return here in the best way possible. From the moment you start playing, you know it’s an AA game just from the start menu alone. The theme songs introduced in AAI and even the AA trilogy come back with each returning character, but there are also tons of new themes that I enjoyed as well. Some of these were Ray’s theme, a convict’s theme from Case 2, the theme for a show called “Piece of Cake” from Case 3, and the theme that plays during the game’s final showdown. As this was fan-translated, there are also voice clips done by various fans to inject some personality into the newer characters. I found these easy to spot, as some sounded slightly louder than they should in-game, but they all felt pretty fitting to me.

Gameplay:

Finally, we get to the gameplay, and not a whole lot has changed from AAI (though I don’t consider that a detriment). The gameplay consists of several segments: the investigation, the argument/rebuttal testimonies, and logic chess. The investigation segments involve you directly controlling Edgeworth as he searches crime scenes for clues. During this time, you can collect evidence, speak with characters, confer with your investigation partner (usually Gumshoe or Kay) for hints if you get stuck, and use Edgeworth’s logic to piece together matching information. As with the first game, I had no problems with the controls, even while playing on a keyboard. The only times I ran into trouble were by missing a minor clue, either one that added to my evidence or my logic.

The argument/rebuttal testimonies are a revamped form of the courtroom segments from previous AA games. During these, you question and press witnesses/criminals to reveal contradictions in their testimony. You then have to present evidence to reveal their lie. These segments can go on for a while, depending on if you like to press every statement to see what’s said like I do. I found that early on in the game, there were moments that felt a bit hand-holdy, especially during these segments. Thankfully, the game picks up a bit on the difficulty as it progresses, so this becomes much less frequent.

The logic chess segments are the new feature for this game and act similarly to testimonies. At various points in each case, Edgeworth uses this method to “battle” a witness in order to draw out secrets from them. Each witness has a set number of chess pieces that you’re required to break. To do this, you have to take cues from their reactions and follow a specific line of questioning. You also have a time bar that ticks down as you choose which line to follow, and it can also be knocked down further if you choose the wrong answer. Each case changes up these segments from time to time to give them some freshness, such as by forcing you work against a quickly dropping time bar or giving gentle, patient answers to a worked-up witness. There isn’t a ton of variety and they often feel like another glorified testimony, but I found myself enjoying them more than the testimonies at times. They were engaging and sometimes intense thanks to the time bar, and utilizing Edgeworth’s combined interest in using logic and playing chess was a brilliant idea. While I can say it’s not my absolute feature this series has introduced, I liked it for what it was.

If there’s one major gripe I have upon completing AAI2, it’s that gamers outside of Japan had to miss out on this game for the longest time until this rom came along. So many great elements are present here and it includes major references and plot tie-ins to previous games, especially AAI and the original AA trilogy. While I wish an English cartridge would exist someday for my collection (along with “Duel Destinies”), I have to give major kudos to the fans who took the time to put their all into translating it. From start to finish, I felt like I was playing the game as if it were translated by Capcom themselves. I’m truly grateful to them, because I would’ve otherwise missed out on an amazing game.

I know this has been a long review, but I feel this game deserves the recognition. As an AA game, it’s one of the stronger entries I’ve seen, mostly in terms of character development. Despite minor issues, I found it to be a fun and worthy addition to the series. I would highly recommend anyone who’s a fan of the series or even just AAI give it a shot.

I give “Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor’s Path” a solid 9/10.

“Gyakuten Saiban” (aka “Ace Attorney”) Movie Review

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I told myself and my fiance that I wasn’t planning on reviewing this, having now seen it twice within the past year or two. But given that I’ve finally been able to play through “Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor’s Path” thanks to the wonders of emulation, I’ve been in a huge “Ace Attorney” mood. I plan to review that game in the coming week or so, but I’m not sure when I’ll be finished with it. So, with that said, I’m gonna look at the Japanese-only, live-action “Ace Attorney” film.

For the uninitiated, the “Ace Attorney” series got its start as Game Boy Advance text-based games in Japan before being released to the DS worldwide. You play as Phoenix Wright, a defense attorney who must gather evidence to use in a courtroom setting to get that elusive “Not Guilty” verdict for his clients. I fell in love with the games from the first one, which I bought with my very first DS. The series has continued to be developed, sparking spin-off games (and a crossover with the “Professor Layton” series), various manga, Japanese stage shows and this film.

The film was released in 2012 and loosely follows the murder cases from the first game, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.” The first and third cases are very briefly shown to introduce Phoenix and his rival, Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, before using the basic ideas from the second and fourth cases to act as the main plot (sorry, fans of the DS version, no fifth case representation here). It boils down to this: Phoenix is forced to go up against Edgeworth when his mentor, Mia Fey, is killed for unknown reasons and her sister, Maya, is suspected of the crime. Phoenix must defend Maya, and he later must do the same for an unlikely person in a separate case. But are the cases truly separate, or could there be a dark secret behind both?

I find it hard to say for sure if someone who doesn’t know the source material would enjoy this film. Taken at its core as a courtroom drama, however, I think it makes for a fun romp. The story is slightly disjointed due to the case set-up, but I liked how close both featured cases were to the game (barring some changes that didn’t bug me other than one from Case 4 involving an elevator – don’t ask). The movie also tries to tie some things together that wasn’t present in the games, and for the format I thought it worked well. I also liked how they approached the courtroom setting. The movie combines a modern-ish setting with a futuristic courtroom set-up. Evidence is presented through scans and holograms, yet witnesses are still called to testify. It makes the film both visually interesting and also feel fresh in concept. In my case, I can’t help but judge it based on its inspiration, and I can say that while it has some problems, it’s easily one of the best video game adaptations I’ve ever seen (yes, I know that’s not saying much considering other films, but this one truly is).

Acting-wise, it’s very over the top, much like in the games. The actors all do a pretty admirable job trying to capture their characters. I especially like the ones for Phoenix and Edgeworth, who to this day are two of my favorite characters from the series. They play polar opposites well here, both in acting styles and personality, with Edgeworth being calm and seemingly unfeeling and Phoenix being very frantic and a little goofy. The only gripes I really had involved the characterizations of Maya, the Judge, Detective Dick Gumshoe, and Prosecutor Manfred von Karma. Maya is much more serious in this, and while it’s understandable given the tone and her involvement in the story, it would’ve been nice to see her more bubbly, fun-loving side here. The Judge is similar, in that he’s deadpan serious here, rather than having some “confused old man” moments that made him endearing (and sometimes irritating) in the games. And Gumshoe is much younger, more attractive and not remotely bumbling like his game counterpart. However, I DID like that they kept his professional bond with Edgeworth (though not fully explored) and his determination to get things done. As for Manfred von Karma, well… I’ll just say that he’s more likable in this and leave it at that. Needless to say, anyone who’s played the games are in for a surprise with him.

One thing that caught me off-guard was how fast-paced the editing was. Maybe it’s a regular thing in Japanese cinema, but I found it took some getting used to, mainly thanks to the jump cuts from one location to the next. For an over 2 hour movie, it flew by for the most part. There were times I wished they’d included a few extra details from the games, mainly to add to the story or at the very least the characters. You don’t get much time to make a connection with them if you aren’t already vaguely familiar with them. However, credit where credit is due: These guys did their research. What stuff from the games writing-wise is utilized well, there are a few orchestrated tracks from the game, and the film just looks AMAZING. They did their best to capture the locations, character appearances (well, almost, as some costumes have discrepancies), and overall feel from the games. They even made me feel sorry for a witness that, while written well in-game, majorly invoked sympathy in me here through some visual flashbacks. Ultimately, even though the colors were a bit muted at times and the tone was more realistic and gritty than the games, I like what they were going for.

Overall, if you like the video games or even just courtroom dramas, this isn’t a bad way to spend 2 hours of your time. While those who have played the games will find a few things to gripe about, what IS represented accurately is done with lots of attention to detail and makes this a pretty faithful adaption in that respect. Those who are going in blind may find it takes getting used to, and the pacing can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. But if you want an interesting take on the genre, I would still recommend at least giving it a watch.

I give “Gyakuten Saiban” aka “Ace Attorney” a solid 8/10.