Detective Trigger and the Big Break by M.A. Owens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In the penultimate entry of author M.A. Owens’ Detective Trigger series, the namesake Chihuahua Detective finds himself in Arc City Prison, where he meets many prisoners whom he helped incarcerate, prime among them being the feline Mr. B, or “Mr. Scumbag” as the dog terms him. After he fights with Mr. B, the black cat Warden Beans offers Trigger undercover work throughout his prison, tempting him with freedom along with that of his friend Rick. On the surface, Trigger is set up for maintenance duty along with his imprisoned friend Marty, who becomes his cellmate.
Trigger gets into trouble with the canine floor supervisor Dan when attacked by twin cats, although Marty becomes Mr. B’s head of security whilst continuing maintenance duties. The detained detective further seeks information from Fernando, with whom he physically fights, after which a guard takes him to see Mildred and Lady, who provide him with valuable information and revelations. Lady expresses her wishes to get her hands back on the Grand Gobbler statuette, with an escape attempt occurring throughout the concluding chapters, along with a critical reversal of character allegiances, and an epilogue mentioning cybernetics.
All in all, this entry of the Detective Trigger series was an enjoyable one, with the straightforward continuation of its predecessor’s events, the cover art in particular bringing to mind one of the concluding scenes of the last book, and I had little trouble imagining the prison environment that dominates it for the most part. There is mention of the specific breeds of cats and dogs the various characters belong to, although the absence of the Kindle’s x-ray feature in the series’ six-book collection prevents reminders as to which. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret reading and look forward to seeing how the books conclude.
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Monday, September 5, 2022
Detective Trigger and the Big Break
Detective Trigger and the Big Break by M.A. Owens
Saturday, September 3, 2022
Fire Emblem Awakening
The Emblem Awakens
I’ll confess that I’m not a huge fan of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, among them the strategy RPG series Fire Emblem, which wouldn’t release outside Japan until the Game Boy Advance came about. I didn’t play the initial translated titles, although I felt that the Nintendo DS remake of the inaugural entry, Shadow Dragon, would be a good diving board into the franchise. How wrong I was; it ended up being one of few RPGs I ended up unable to finish, with the final battle being a wall preventing me from seeing the ending, although I did barely make it through the endgame a few years later with the partial help of the player’s guide (although there were nonetheless many tough moments).
I more or less swore off the series, and when the first title for the Nintendo 3DS, Fire Emblem Awakening, came along, I was apathetic, although when I learned that Intelligent Systems was making optional a hallmark of the franchise, the permanent death in battle of characters, I decided to give it a third chance, and luckily, it was a chance for the better. Upon starting a new game, the player has a number of options affecting the difficulty, the ability to toggle on/off permadeath among them, and creates an avatar to serve as chief deuteragonist and tactician for the player’s party, with the need to pick both a talent and a flaw for the customizable character influencing stat growth.
Awakening occurs roughly two millennia after the events of Shadow Dragon and Gaiden (which would receive the remake Shadows of Valentia), with their respective continents receiving the new names of Ylisse and Valm. The player’s amnesiac avatar, default name Robin, dreams of killing protagonist Chrom, who leads a personal army known as the Shepherds. Following this is an episodic military campaign that culminates with Chrom’s crusade against the ancient dragon Grima, with great potential for variation, many playable characters able to marry and have children, and the fates of all survivors settled during the ending credits similar to the Suikoden series.
While the characters receive decent development throughout the game, even more so with support conversations eventually triggered when units attack enemies whilst adjacent to other party members a certain number of times, the narrative clearly derives elements and twists from the Star Wars franchise, among them being a resistance against an unjust government. There is a lot of good dialogue, although the translators often made little effort to make the speech sound realistic, with the oath “Gods!”, for instance, sounding asinine when “By the gods!” would have sounded better (and is used maybe once), mayhap even “Heavens!” The voice clips accompanying many cutscenes also rarely, if ever, match the actual dialogue, and overall, Awakening is at the low end of Nintendo’s translation quality.
Luckily, given the major tweaks to the series’ signature strategic gameplay, that particular aspect is significantly more bearable than in prior installments, with the setting consisting of an overworld connected by dots indicating locations, most of which have shops where players can purchase equipment, money primarily gained from small, medium, and large gold bullions commonly acquired from slaying certain enemies in combat. Those worried about not being able to grind their characters supplementally can rest assured that additional encounters appear regularly on the overworld in between story battles, and Reeking Boxes buyable from a few merchants can trigger additional engagement opportunities, enemy strength dependent upon where the boxes see use.
As in pretty much any other game of its subgenre, Awakening sees cutscenes preceding battles, mercifully skippable in case of instances where either Chrom or Robin dies in combat, resulting in an unceremonious Game Over and a trip back to the title screen, any experience units acquired lost, largely a deterrent against the accessibility of titles of its type. Each character can carry five different items with finite uses including self-healing potions, melee or ranged weapons, offensive magic tomes with close and ranged capability, or staves with supportive effects like healing.
Characters have up to three proficiencies with various weapon types, increasing slowly up to the maximum A grade with a successful, provided an engaged enemy’s counterattack doesn’t kill the initiator of a one-on-one skirmish. Adding strategy to battles in the need to consider the “Weapon Triangle”, where sword bearers beat axe wielders, axe users have an advantage over spear-bearing units, and spears beat swords. Other elements to consider include certain weapons like bows and tomes like wind being effective against aerial units and that magic, in general, can be advantageous versus heavily-armored foes, although spells don’t seem to have their own “triangle”.
The acquisition by a unit of a hundred experience points levels them, increasing their stats, and when they reach ten, they can change into an advanced class using Master Seals, sometimes purchased from shops or gained from slain adversaries. However, it’s advisable for a unit until they reach the maximum in their base class of twenty before promotion to ensure they can acquire the highest degree of stats in their upper vocation, which in most cases has a level cap of twenty, although there are some exceptions such as dancers, useful in giving units extra turns and able to level beyond that limit.
The mechanics work well given especially the optionality of permadeath, features like two suspend save slots in the middle of combat, the ability to bring up a “danger zone” indicating if enemies can attack the player’s characters during their turn session, and skippable actions that can really shave superfluous playtime, although many players will require a fair bit of grinding in order to make it through the primary storyline campaign, leveling weaker characters can be tedious, and tasks such as exchanging items between units like keys to open chests and doors (though thief classes can do so without them) can waste the player’s time. Regardless, the gameplay was definitely a major step forward.
However, newcomers to the Fire Emblem franchise won’t exactly find it the most user-friendly strategy RPG, since the interface for the units and their respective inventories takes a lot of getting used to, and seemingly-simple tasks such as exchanging items between characters feel needlessly tedious. However, given the game’s straightforward structure, finding out how to advance the central storyline is nonproblematic, and as mentioned, the skippable attack sequences in combat can shave hours from one’s total playtime. Another nitpick, though, is that players can’t back out of shopping by using the B button alone, with the dialogue to do so needing them to use the directional pad. Overall, Awakening could have definitely interfaced better with players.
On the plus side, the soundtrack is another high point of the first 3DS Fire Emblem alongside the game mechanics, given many spectacular tracks such as the series’ central theme serving as a common motif throughout the player’s experience, the various battle themes preceded by the preparation music, and the great instrumentation and vocals that sometimes become audible, but many players will ultimately tire of hearing the character death music for the millionth time. The sound effects during cutscenes and one-on-one confrontation sequences in combat sound believable, although the voice acting, despite maybe a few strong performances, is largely lackluster, given things such as the constant grunting and dissonance with the written dialogue. Still, the game generally sounds great.
The visuals had a lot of effort put into them as well, with superb character designs that commonly appear during cutscenes, not to mention the cel-shaded anime sequences occurring at pivotal plot moments. The one-on-one skirmishes between player and enemy units look good as well, with decent colors in spite of frequent pixelation and jaggies, although the three-dimensional character models have odd proportions and the odd decision to make them appear as though they have no feet. The game, however, makes superb use of its respective system’s glasses-free 3D, and while they’re not perfect, the graphics have plenty of redeeming aspects.
Finally, the game can be a bit of a slog timewise if the player sits through every character and enemy executing their actions, but those who turn them off will mostly blaze through the game in somewhere under twenty-four hours. The different difficulty settings, potential plot differences, and the ability to carry maybe an element or two from an initial playthrough into a secondary session make for above-average lasting appeal.
On the whole, while Fire Emblem Awakening I don’t exactly consider a masterpiece, since it does have a few issues regarding the general accessibility of the strategy RPG subgenre, it was a huge step forward for the franchise, given especially the optionality of the series’ orthodox tactical mechanics, along with potential variations in the central narrative as well as solid aural and visual presentation. Granted, it does have issues regarding its unwieldy interface not to mention the derivative disposition of the storyline, but those hoping to get their feet wet in the series will most certainly find it a good starting point.
This review is based on a single playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the player’s Nintendo 3DS.
+Accommodating to players of different skill levels.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Can be a bit grindy.
-Controls take a lot of getting used to.
-Story immensely derivative.
The Bottom Line:
A good turning point for the franchise.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
For the most part, I’m typically in the mood for a film studded with animal characters, I found out about this animated film earlier this year, and decided to give it a watch when it appeared on Paramount+. The subtitular protagonist is a dog who finds himself a prisoner in a country where cats rule and canines are forbidden and he's appointed as samurai by a warmongering official of a town to offend its people in hopes of driving them out in order to expand his palace. Hank ultimately becomes the pupil of an ex-samurai who ruined a shogun’s birthday party years ago.
The film is basically Blazing Saddles with animals and an oriental setting (with Mel Brooks voicing the feline shogun and having some involvement with the story, along with plenty of allusion to Brooks’ early American Western parody), and Samuel L. Jackson nicely voices the ex-samurai Jimbo. The script does at times feel immature, and I don’t particularly care for toilet humor (except for the main villain’s oversized emerald latrine dubbed the “super bowl”), but it’s far from Nickelodeon’s worst movie and has a few good laughs and decent opening/ending songs.
Sunday, August 21, 2022
Detective Trigger and the Easy Money
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The third entry of M.A. Owen’s Detective Trigger series begins with the eponymous Chihuahua detective seeking police officer Petey, whom the security guard feline Robby saves from a man dubbed “Mr. Scumbag”. Early on, there’s a reference to a “dated” play called Detective Stone highlighting the racial attitudes between dogs and cats, the latter for a time being chief targets of discrimination in the book series’ setting. When the president of the largest bank in Adria seeks to hire Trigger, the canine detective researches the banker and visits the financial institution, receiving a tour thanks to a Siamese cat that concludes by taking him to Herman’s office.
After Trigger briefly interrogates Herman, the Chihuahua is knocked out and taken to the leader of the Feline Liberation Party, which surprisingly has dogs within its ranks. There’s a reference to “mythological” humans that apparently predated the canines and felines studding the dramatis personae, an aspect I definitely hope the remaining books in the series highlights. Trigger questions the falling out between the feline Mr. B and his adopted daughter Sugarplum, with the detective finding himself on his own with regards to investigating Saint, leader of the FLP. The Chihuahua investigator finds a duffel bag with money under his bed, and ultimately poses as Carson the insurance investigator again when he and Petey go to a boxing match for the final scenes.
All in all, I enjoyed the third entry of Owens’ series, given especially its anthropomorph-studded cast, with the story decently resolving the question of who exactly they are and why readers should care, just as its precursors did. The aforementioned reference to “mythological” humans sort of resonated with me, given a similar concept in stories I had attempted to write that explored the subject, and the racial issues between cats and dogs very much reflect contemporary human society’s unease when it comes to racial relations. While some may occasionally lose track of the characters’ species, I would highly recommend the book to those who enjoy furry-themed literature, and will continue reading the series.
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Thursday, August 18, 2022
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
A Link Well-Kept
I am not a Legend of Zelda fan; there, I said it. My experience with Nintendo’s fabled franchise has, since I first experienced The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super NES, been grossly inconsistent, although the first and only sixteen-bit entry of the series was positive for me, to the point where I would happily replay it throughout my early life as a gamer. Regardless of whatever adulation entries in the series would receive, in some cases near-universal, I would encounter serious issues of which I believe mainstream gamers need to be aware before playing. My latest experience with the SNES title subtitled Triforce of the Gods in Japan would be on the Nintendo 3DS’s Virtual Console. Does it still hold up today?
Before starting a new game, players can see the elaborate backstory on the Golden Land, the celestial land where the mystical Triforce lies, although the wizard Aghanim seeks to eliminate the descendants of seven sages sealing the sacred realm, among his last target being Princess Zelda, telepathically calling out to Link, who rescues her yet becomes public enemy number one in Hyrule. The narrative was definitely good for its time and has reasonable pacing given the game’s meager length, with Link himself receiving some background as to his ancestry, the bulk of scenes occurring after boss fights in Dark World dungeons, along with a satisfactory ending. There are some tried tropes such as a damsel in distress and legendary hero, but otherwise, the plot rises well above average.
The translation, however, is one of the game’s weak points, and largely fell victim to Nintendo of America’s draconian censorship guidelines that eliminated any religious references, such as Aghanim in the Japanese version being a priest allegedly with celestial origin. They even edited the Hylian language based on Egyptian hieroglyphs on the grounds it had religious references, despite its symbolism of a religion hardly anyone has practiced for millennia. There’s also a bit of awkwardness, for instance, with reference to the Sanctuary as “Sanctuary” minus “the”, which accounts for lines such as “This path leads to Sanctuary” and “The soldiers are coming to Sanctuary!” The writing was definitely a step above the NES Zeldas, but otherwise unremarkable.
The gameplay, for the most part, backs the experience well. Early on, Link receives his sword from his uncle, able to slash at enemies with it with a decent semicircular range in front of him, as well as to “charge” it and either keep it extended to poke at foes or execute a spinning attack, useful for when adversaries surround him. He also starts with three heart containers indicative of his health that, when depleted, mark his demise, with the biggest penalty of death being the player needing to restart from one of a few fixed points and have Link retrace his steps, with the player’s postmortem playthrough only partially recovering the Link’s life points.
Link also acquires a number of tools that can aid him in his crusade against Aghanim such as a boomerang useful for stunning most enemies from afar and making them more vulnerable to his melee attacks, not to mention collecting random drops such as health/magic point recovery and rupees in case they’re out of range. One particular tool that can actually be the difference between victory and defeat is the bottle, with Link able to acquire a maximum of four throughout the game, and can store things such as fairies that revive him with partial health when he dies, and potions that can fully recover his life points, magic points, or both.
Link does eventually acquire increases to his maximum health, first at the Sanctuary (or just “Sanctuary” as the translation terms it), and then from the various bosses he defeats at the end of dungeons, for a total of ten acquired as part of the main storyline. Twenty hearts is the maximum amount of health he can possibly acquire, with many quarter-heart pieces scattered throughout the Light and Dark equivalents of Hyrule, with the acquisition of any four of these lengthening his life meter by one heart. In contrast, Link has fixed magic points, although he can find a shrine to halve spell costs.
Dungeon bosses tend to involve some sort of trick to defeat them, most of the time through the use of whatever tool Link gains within their respective temples, and generally don’t take a whole lot of time to defeat, the same going for the final battle. While bottling fairies and healing potions can allow some room for error in those regards (though in some cases I actually took more damage from regular enemies and environments than many bosses), finding the bottles themselves may necessitate use of a guide, and inexperienced players in general might find it a tad difficult to go into the game blind with regards especially to the final boss. Regardless, A Link to the Past’s take on the signature series gameplay contains enough refinement to make it more than bearable.
As a Virtual Console game on the Nintendo 3DS, the sole sixteen-bit Zelda has a major enhancement in the form of the ability to create a single-slot save state, which in general nullifies whatever quibbles the player may have with the save system, enemies, and dungeon design, the last in particular being sometimes irritating, and as A Link to the Past doesn’t indicate when chambers have keys in them like Link’s Awakening and its remakes, using a key in the last dungeon on a door between two rooms reachable without one by stairs on the floor above can easily leave players lost. However, the puzzles are generally enjoyable and solvable without referencing the internet, and both the overworld and dungeons have helpful in-game maps. There are other issues such as the lack of fast-travel in the Dark World, but otherwise, the game’s control aspect rises moderately above average.
The franchise’s regular composer Koji Kondo provided the soundtrack, which has many signature themes such as the Light World overworld music, not to mention jingles such as the “discovery” and item acquisition tunes. The pregame backstory music appears in two different varieties, as well, and the Light and Dark World dungeon themes provide good ambience and mystery. “Zelda’s Lullaby” also made its first appearance, and other tracks prove solid such as the main Dark World music and its respective Death Mountain melody. Granted, the near-death alarm native to the franchise returns (which wouldn’t have been too annoying if it stopped after a couple of beeps), and there are other aural oddities such as the “Oof!” from soldiers that notice Link, but otherwise, sound is one of the game’s high points.
The visuals were well above average for an early 16-bit game, with vibrant colors and environments that appear radiant and contain unique twists such as the ringed designs of the trees, and there are some nice effects such as a few character sprites, namely the soldiers of Hyrule and maybe some NPCs, turning their heads, with Link’s sprite showing different moods as well, along with fluid animation for all models. There are some good weather and illumination effects as well, namely in the Lost Woods’ Light and Dark World variations. However, there is some rare slowdown when multiple sprites populate the screen, and some character sprites like Aghanim’s may look odd depending upon how you look at them, but otherwise, A Link to the Past was and still is a nice-looking game.
Finally, despite its scope, the sole sixteen-bit Zelda is fairly short, with skilled players potentially able to finish it in a little over six hours, but those who are new to it may take longer, with absolute completion due to things such as finding every heart piece and all tools possibly necessitating up to twelve hours’ worth of playtime, with little lasting appeal otherwise aside from self-imposed challenges.
When all is said and done, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, has, for the most part, and pun intended, stood the test of time, given its particular refinement of the signature game mechanics working far better than in its eight-bit predecessors and even many of its sequels on future systems, the effective puzzles which luckily don’t tax the mind, quality-of-life features such as in-game maps, the intricate story and mythos, and solid audiovisual presentation. Granted, it does show its age in a few respects, such as the potential difficulty of going into it blind, the possibility of getting stuck in the final dungeon, the awkward translation, and general absence of lasting appeal, but certainly doesn’t scream “the early 1990s”, and is undoubtedly the definitive top-down Zelda experience.
This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the player’s Nintendo 3DS.
+Refined Zelda gameplay.
-Might be hard to go into blind.
-Some occasional tricky dungeon design.
-Little reason to replay.
The Bottom Line:
The definitive top-down Zelda experience.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours
The Y Pokéromosone
Though the Game Freak-developed and Nintendo-published Pokémon franchise, known in Japan as Pocket Monsters, has existed since the Big N’s original monochrome Game Boy portable system, it wasn’t until series entries began appearing on the DS that I actually got into the games, and while I found the titles to have many positive aspects, I felt their actual gameplay were somewhat unrefined. Regardless, I continued to give future series entries a chance, though surprisingly, I completely missed out on the 3DS installments of the franchise, until I recently downloaded a ton of games to my system’s SD card due to the eShop closing in 2023, among them being Pokémon Y, coupled with sibling title X, which provides an experience largely on par with other entries.
When starting a new game, the player customizes their protagonist, who lives with a single mother and goes on a quest to become the greatest Pokémon champion in X and Y’s respective region of the world, whilst dealing with the sinister Team Flare. There is some decent backstory, although to say that the generation’s narrative is “formulaic” would be an understatement, along with the typical series goal of “catching ‘em all”. The translation is definitely more than legible, although it’s fairly bland, peppered with plentiful unnatural dialogue and some stylistic choices such as using “OK” instead “okay” when in just about any kind of writing the latter has more aesthetic pleasance.
Happily, the series’ signature gameplay largely compensates for whatever narrative shortcomings the X and Y generation has, mostly remaining unchanged from generations before it aside from the ability to grant temporary “mega evolutions” to specific ‘mons, not to mention the ability to toggle on/off experience sharing among monsters in the player’s active party of up to six of the franchise’s eponymous entities. The same positive and negative aspects return, in the former case the ability to exploit Pokémon strengths and weaknesses to triumph in battle, and in the latter instance that switching active monsters wastes the player’s turn. It’s a fun system overall, and a step above the gameplay of the DS entries of the series.
Another aspect with more or less the same positives and negatives is the X and Y entries’ control, with the returning ability to record progress anywhere, adjustable text speed, and eventual ability to use the Fly Hidden Move for rapid conveyance among visited cities. However, some of the same issues return such as the clunkiness of the game menus and confirmations when it comes to things such as overwriting the current abilities of a Pokémon’s move set with different skills, accounting in the end for above-average, but certainly not perfect, interaction with players.
The soundtrack remains a high point of the X and Y games, with plenty of upbeat, energetic tracks (particularly during combat) and pleasant themes for towns and anywhere in between. The sound effects are good as well, and the near-death alarm for Pokémon is less annoying in that it only dings a few times before stopping once a ‘mon reaches low health, although the digitized cries for different Pokémon still sound primitive at times.
The visuals look pleasant as well, with pretty colors, environments, unique designs for every Pokémon, good human character art, nice cel-shading, vivid illumination effects, savvy use of the 3DS’s three-dimensional capabilities especially in battle, and so forth, but there is some degree of pixilation in addition to jaggies and some slowdown most noticeable in combat.
Finally, playtime for the main storyline runs in the upper end of the twenty-four-to-forty-eight-hour range, with plentiful lasting appeal in the form of catching all Pokémon in addition to other postgame content, multiplayer battles via online capability, a starting choice of which element of ‘mon to use, and so forth, although absolute completion of the Pokédex would probably necessitate use of a guide.
Overall, Pokémon Y is another addition to the series that only takes it a few steps forward in terms of gameplay, which is nonetheless enjoyable, whilst having general great audiovisual presentation and plentiful lasting appeal. However, it bequeaths many flaws from its precursors such as the clunk interface, garden-variety narrative, average localization, and that achieving total completion necessitates the use of the internet, be it for referencing a guide or trading with other players. Regardless, long-term fans of the franchise will likely get the most out of it, and those new to the series might find it a little more accessible than its predecessors.
This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy downloaded to the reviewer’s Nintendo 3DS and completed through the main storyline.
+Good Pokémon gameplay.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Menus and confirmations can be cumbersome.
-Typical Pokémon plot.
-Getting 100% completion can require a guide.
The Bottom Line:
Another run-of-the-mill, but still enjoyable, series entry.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Both a spinoff of Discovery, whose second season emphasized Spock's pre-Original Series backstory, and a prequel series to ToS, focusing on Captain Christopher Pike's Enterprise and its crew, which includes maybe a handful of familiar faces/relatives of ToS's characters including the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock himself, with a few calls-forward to the ToS films as well, surprisingly including the maligned fifth movie. Unlike Discovery and Picard has largely-standalone episodes, although there are some overarching plot points. They really did a good job modernizing the Original Series' aesthetics with regard to the "futuristic" technology of the time, and the same goes for the music including the opening credits theme and some familiar tunes from ToS, and I really enjoyed the first season and look forward to the second.