The Best Games on the 3DS

I wasn’t expecting this to be the post for this month, but Persona 5 has ended up taking much longer than I expected to play through and gather my notes on, so this will have to serve to tide me over until then. Despite the success of Nintendo’s most recent portable console, the Switch, I find myself still being drawn to my 3DS. This might be because of the lack of games on the Switch now that I’ve finished saving Hyrule, but it’s also because of the remarkable staying power of the 3DS, which might be the greatest portable console ever made. So, to reflect on the 3DS’ remarkable lifespan, here is a short list of my favourite exclusive games for the console, in no particular order.

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Attack of the Friday Monsters

You might never have heard of this game, and that’s a damn shame, but probably completely reasonable. Released as part of a compilation of experimental games on the e-shop by Level 5, Attack of the Friday Monsters puts you in the shoes of the young boy Sohta, who lives in a small Japanese town. There, every Friday, giant monsters battle it out while the residents look on. Or do they? The game never deigns to answer this question, because it doesn’t matter. It provides a variety of interpretations to its titular question, but never wants to distract you too much from the meat of the game. This is a day in the life of Sohta, running errands throughout the Ghibli-esque town, meeting its residents and solving their various problems. It’s a game fuelled by Sohta’s childlike imagination, which makes him a somewhat unreliable narrator, but allowing yourself to get swept into his world creates the sort of nostalgic feelings for someone else’s childhood that only a few rare games and films manage to achieve. There’s also some vague tacked on gameplay in the form of a clever little card game, but it never outstays it’s welcome. The same cannot be said for the game itself, which could really do with a bit more meat on its bones. It humbly finishes up its story within a few hours, but it needn’t. The amount of times I’ve replayed this game speaks volumes to the amount of time that we could have spent in Sohta’s world.

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Shin Megami Tensei IV

The contrast between the tone of AotFM and SMTIV couldn’t be starker. AotFM plays out in a small, idyllic Japanese suburb. SMTIV spends half of its time in the feudal land of Mikado, controlled by a strange religious leader and populated by subjugated masses who long for their slim chance to join the upper classes. The other half takes place in the somehow even more depressing post-apocalyptic Tokyo, where most of the population has moved underground in order to escape a ravenous demon horde who are only partly controlled by a faction of the Yakuza. You play as a Samurai of Mikado, a warrior trained to battle demons, but your quest to find the mysterious ‘Black Samurai’, who is corrupting the minds of the Mikado peasants leads you to some unfortunate realisations about the world you live in. Like other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the story splits into three routes; Law, Chaos and Neutral, and none of them here have much of an uplifting ending. But SMTIV remains engaging despite this, although the plot is only half the fun.

I’ve seen some people criticise the ‘shallow’ characters of SMTIV, but I don’t think that gives them enough credit. I wasn’t ever blown away by the writing, but it has a certain subtlety to it (at least as subtle as SMT can get), and the plot itself, while slow paced, has enough intrigue in it to carry you through. What makes SMT games really stand out, however, is the turn based battle system. SMTIII pioneered the ‘press-turn’ system, which Persona players will be familiar with, which allows you to exploit enemy weaknesses for an extra turn in battle. Of course, enemies can exploit this as well, which can turn battles into either satisfying chains of attacks that don’t allow the enemy to get a move in edgeways, or frustratingly watching as you watch your team get decimated by a threatening boss. The enemies you fight in SMT are demons, who you can collect Pokemon style through an annoyingly obtuse and random negotiation system, and fuse together to make stronger demons. SMTIV offers the best fusing method of the series, giving you helpful recommendations while still allowing customization.

I don’t think SMTIV is a perfect experience, but the benefits of it being on a handheld, combined with an engaging story and refined battle system make it my favourite SMT game that I’ve played (although Persona 5 is certainly edging closer), and I thoroughly recommend it as a starting point for the series.

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Spirit of Justice/DGS

I’m a huge fan of the Ace Attorney franchise, and while I would love to put the amazing Ace Attorney Trilogy on this list (which is better than both of these games), it’s not a 3DS exclusive, and I have standards while making these lists (I can only assume). I’ve written full reviews of both Spirit of Justice and Dai Gyakuten Saiban, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will provide a brief spoiler free rundown of what to expect. Ace Attorney is a series about crime solving lawyers, and Spirit of Justice is simply the sixth game in the series, this one involving the spikey haired protagonist Phoenix Wright travelling to the mysterious land of Khura’in for more crime solving adventures. I would recommend playing the previous 5 games in the series before this one, and I’m sure you’ll not regret playing four of them.

Dai Gyakuten Saiban has much less baggage to it, but at the moment is sadly only available in Japanese. This spin-off title takes place in Victorian London, and is notably written by the author of the original trilogy. Most people will have to wait for the upcoming fan translation to get a taste of this one, but for those who speak Japanese, or don’t mind watching a subtitled play through on Youtube, those options are also available.

Basically this entry was a cheat to tell you to play the Ace Attorney Trilogy on 3DS/DS, but my over-reliance on arbitrary rules that I imposed on myself prevents me from doing that.

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A Link Between Worlds

This and the next entry are the only two non-eshop exclusive titles on this list, although what this says about my taste in games you’ll have to work out for myself. Link Between Worlds is one of the best Zelda games out there, and certainly the best top down Zelda there is. Purists might argue in favour of the original Link to the Past, but those that do are clearly stuck in said past. A Link Between Worlds revisits the Hyrule of A Link to the Past, but adds an extremely clever new puzzle solving mechanic in wall merging. The way this changes up the game is staggering – it allows for so much free form exploration and puzzle solving that it’s almost comparable to the introduction of climbing in Breath of the Wild.

The other way in which this game influenced Breath of the Wild is in its non-linearity. Where A Link to the Past gave you numbered checklists of dungeons to visit, Link Between Worlds lets you rent out items to access specific dungeons and tackle them in whatever order you want, while still being able to stagger the difficulty through splitting up the dungeons into sets. It’s also a lot faster paced than any 3D Zelda, and perhaps any 2D Zelda, with item swapping on the fly thanks to the 3DS touchscreen, combat and exploration are all seamless and feels natural. Think of this as the proto-Breath of the Wild for those who want a top-down Zelda experience.

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Kid Icarus Uprising

 Remember how maligned the controls in this game were when it first released? Sakurai himself clearly had so little faith in them that he had to include a stand with boxed copies of the game. I really hope that didn’t put anyone off Kid Icarus Uprising, because it’s such a joy to play that it’d be a real shame to miss. Freed from the shackles of Smash Bros, game director Sakurai was able to create a game that’s half incredibly entertaining on-rails shooter and half slightly less entertaining but still fun 3rd Person Action Adventure game. What bolsters the game past simply entertaining is a quality story with great voice acting and writing, and a fuck ton of content.

The writing present in KI:U is surprisingly good. It has the annoying traits of being self-aware, but never reaches the actual point of annoyance by carefully treading the line. Some characters are obvious stand-outs, such as Hades, but the core cast is an enjoyable group of people to have whisper sweet one-liners into your ear while you play. Much like Smash Bros, Sakurai has stuffed the game to the brim with optional extra modes, some of which are pointless, yet amusing (such as a mode where you pay money to have a character walk slowly towards you), and some are extremely complex, such as the weapon fusing system. The game also employs one of the cleverest approaches to difficulty I’ve ever seen; asking you to gamble more currency on higher difficulties for the chance of greater rewards and treasure. One of the stand outs of the 3DS’ early library that continues to stand tall.

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Box Boy

I don’t really have much to say about BoxBoy, the small title from Hal Laboratory, creators of Kirby. It’s extremely simple; you are a Box, who can produce more boxes from his body. You then have to use those boxes to solve simple puzzles. It’s sort of like if you crossed a standard 2D platformer with Tetris, and it’s absolutely genius. It’s one of those rare games that I feel will be used to teach the basics of good game design for years to come. An extremely simple mechanic pushed to its limits during the course of the campaign, and then pushed even further in bonus levels, some of which become properly difficult to solve. Two sequels would add on a few extra boxes and mechanics, but the original remains a brilliant example of pure game design at its best.

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A look at Dai Gyakuten Saiban

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This review contains major spoilers for Dai Gyakuten Saiban as well as other games in the Ace Attorney series

In my review of Spirit of Justice, I said that I considered Dai Gyakuten Saiban ‘unfinished’, and for that reason I could not place it in my Ace Attorney game rankings. Because of this, I felt that, at least until it received a sequel, I would not review Dai Gyakuten Saiban (henceforth DGS). However, as you can tell, two things happened to make me reconsider. Firstly, someone asked (and who am I to turn down a request from my very limited readership), and secondly a Youtube play-through of the game had been completely subbed by the fans (AA has the best fans), meaning the game is now more accessible to a non-Japanese speaking audience. Because of these things, I will now talk about the game for a bit, but bear in mind that this isn’t a review in the traditional sense. Dai Gyakuten Saiban may have released as a standalone product, but this game was built to be part of a longer story and thus criticising it for unfinished plot points and character arcs seems worthless, as come 2017 all those things will be resolved and any review of the game will have half of its criticism rendered meaningless. Because of that, this is more a ‘look at’ than a ‘review’ of DGS.

A playlist of extended songs from the DGS OST

Anyway, with that spiel out of the way, it’s time to look at the first case; in short; it’s alright. But short isn’t what we do here at Toatali Reviews, and short is not what DGS intends to do either. No, this case (The Adventure of the Great Departure), is long and almost annoyingly so. One of the longest first cases in the series, this trend towards longer introductions isn’t something I’m a huge fan of. Turnabout Trump worked as an extended introductory case because it added to the story and had a fantastic twist. Meanwhile, Turnabout Foreigner was a little too long for me, but it at least attempted to build up a setting; it had a purpose for being long. Meanwhile, The Adventure of the Great Departure does have some relation to the greater narrative, but as a case has nothing of much surprise or value that lasts its run-time. The important characters to the plot are Jezail Brett, John H Watson and Detective Hosonaga, and yet two funny but meaningless witnesses are added to complicate what is ultimately a simple case. Sometimes, making a case longer isn’t the right move if you’re not going to fill that time with engaging mystery or build up to some good twists. Perhaps the greatest strength of this case is Ryunosuke himself, who takes use of the full length of the case to get in some early character development. Character is a strong focus of DGS, in a way that the Ace Attorney series hasn’t quite seen before in the same way. Ryunosuke’s character development can actually be seen without a lick of Japanese; in Case One his eyes are wild, but by Case Five, his animations have settled down and his general demeanour is calmer, despite the stakes being higher. I think I’ll come back to talking more about our protagonist, but it’s worth saying nonetheless, especially seeing as his animations in Case One are such a highlight – the animations in general are something this game gets right in so many ways, but this is just an early example of how good the character and animation design is.

Another DGS staple that Case One exemplifies is the aesthetic. The initial trailer showed the game being set in Meiji Japan, and while I wish we’d stayed there a little longer, what we see of Japan here is lovely, and that same attention to making history look fantastic carries over to London when we eventually get to explore it in Case Four. Meiji Japan is a good setting for historical fiction; it’s a transitionary period from the Tokugawa period (remnants of which we can see in Payne/Auchi’s clothing) to the more modern Japan that existed up until WWII when the Japanese once again had to ‘reboot’ (to overly simplify Japanese history…). The Adventure of the Great Departure plays with its historical setting in some clever ways, from the failure of the Japanese to recognise Curare, to the relationship of Japan to England. As a Londoner myself, seeing the Japanese position on the casual racism of the British to the Japanese during this period was quite interesting, and Brett’s dismissal of Ryunosuke’s efforts is simultaneously amusing, threatening and depressing (making her a potentially good villain until they blow it by ‘forgetting’ to give her a motive). Of course, Takumi has swotted up on his history; the case takes place soon after the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, which may sound boring, but changed the nature of Japanese criminal law by abolishing extraterritoriality for British citizens living in Japan (meaning that people like Brett could be forced to appear in court and tried under Japanese laws).

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tfw your mentor dies and you have to make difficult decisions in court

Ryunosuke’s mentor Asougi marks a good transitionary point between Cases One and Two, but also marks out Takumi’s efforts in DGS to rectify the mistakes of Ace Attorney games past. In fact, here’s another reason why the length of Case One might not be such as sticking point; Mia in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney didn’t get much chance to be fleshed out before being killed off, and so it’s really only in Trials and Tribulations when we as an audience start to care about her, by which point, it’s almost too late. Takumi attempts to retry this with Asougi, and to a certain extent he succeeds. Asougi is more defined as a character than Mia, but his somewhat aloof nature means that he’s quite hard to warm to. When someone is that great we have to get to know their flaws and humanity before we can really care for them, and, for me at least, Asougi misses that mark. Still, his death in Case Two (The Adventure of the Unbreakable Speckled Band) is surprising, though not as surprising as the structure of that case as one without a trial.

The Adventure of the Unbreakable Speckled Band is an attempt to shake up the structural conventions of an Ace Attorney game; it focuses entirely on the investigation segments in order to build up and develop a new mechanic, and while it succeeds on that point, it fails on a few others. The biggest mistake that Case Two makes is in its mystery, which borrows the title and premise from a Sherlock Holmes story, then after leading you to the original reveal, pulls the rug out from under you and gives it a whole new ending. This is a good start – I’m not a huge fan of the original Speckled Band, and the idea of turning an original Holmes story on its head in order to introduce a Holmes that is also a reinvention of Conan Doyle’s iconic creation is smart. However, the new ending is awful, to be blunt about it. I’m not a fan of accidental deaths in murder mysteries in general, but to add on top of that the mass sleeping drug twist that any murder mystery fan could see coming a mile away, and the murderer being a cat and you get a rather disappointing reveal. I did like the creation of the locked room trick, however, and the pathetic way that Asougi dies ties into a theme that can be seen throughout DGS, that I’ll get onto later.

Now is, however, a great time to talk about Sherlock Holmes, who makes his appearance in this Case, bringing with him a whole new investigation mechanic called ‘Joint Reasoning’. Sherlock himself is a divisive character and it’s really a matter of personal preference as to whether his humour and style clicks with you. For me, Sherlock worked – I loved watching his logic spiral out of control, and Sherlock Holmes is a character that has been through so many iterations it was nice seeing something that felt completely fresh. Joint Reasoning was built for this new Sherlock, and as such it’s also been somewhat divisive. The stylistic direction is something to behold, borrowing Ghost Trick’s spotlights and adding spinney and dramatic camera angles that match perfectly with Sherlock’s bravado nature. However, I understand the criticism that the whole thing takes a bit long; while nowhere near as bad as Apollo Justice’s Perceive, which forced you to crawl through the same speech over and over again to droning music, in Joint Reasoning there is a bit of repeat to the whole process when you attempt to correct the flawed logic. Still, the music development does a bit to alleviate this, and I was never personally bored. One problem I did have with the mechanic is that it never really develops. There’s too much reliance on eye direction puzzles that wear out their welcome a bit towards the end, which I think is something that needs to be examined for DGS2.

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Oh look, it’s actually Satan

After disembarking the ship Ryunosuke and Susato land in London for what is not only the best case in the game, but one of the best in the whole Ace Attorney series. The Adventure of the Runaway Room is a masterpiece in the way that it takes the conceit of another of the best cases in the series (2-4, your client is guilty), then reworks it and redoes it to make it somehow even better (this also ties into what I was saying earlier about Takumi reworking the events of previous games (I’m really clever)). This case defines DGS and plays up all of its strengths, so much so that I’m not even quite sure where to start talking about it. I guess I’ll start with Megundal, who Takumi really needed to get right for not only this case, but also Case Five, to have their full impact. Luckily, he succeeded; like a Victorian billionaire version of my old art teacher Mr. Crow (yes I realise that’s a bit too personal just bear with me), Cosney Megundal is calm yet threatening; he’s at points friendly, but there’s a simmering anger underneath it all that you can just glimpse in his animations and finally breaks out towards the end of the case. Megundal is the sort of villain you love to hate, and DGS of course forces you to defend him. Unlike 2-4, however, Megundal isn’t holding you hostage. Instead, Ryunosuke holds himself hostage; he could easily go back to Japan, but he holds himself to the memory of Asougi and is therefore trapped by his own promises. In the end the decision is taken out of your hands when Megundal and Lestrade (here reimagined as a thief rather than a detective) tamper with the evidence, but then you have to make the decision again; do you admit the evidence has been forged. In a moment that robs you of all joy and marks the darkest moment in an Ace Attorney game, Megundal becomes the perfect villain by making you choose between ‘justice’ and ‘friendship’, the two key tenants of Ace Attorney protagonists, in a way much less forced than that of 2-4. And then, when you choose justice, it’s all robbed from you by the unpredictable new mechanic of the jury. For that moment alone The Adventure of the Runaway Room would cement itself as a masterpiece of the series, but luckily other elements come together to make this case even better than it already was.

Barok Van Zieks (or Banjieks or whatever) is a perfect prosecutor for this case, and while he doesn’t ever get the development he sorely needs, for the purposes of Case Three, he does just fine. For one, he’s not a genius child prodigy; he’s just a normal prosecutor with an aura of death around him. Being more adult just makes someone more threatening to face and his threats here aren’t of death and torture like Queen Ga’ran in Spirit of Justice, in fact, they’re threats appealing to Ryunosuke’s sense of justice. Both parties here know that Megundal is guilty, but Van Zieks has been chasing him for years, only now returning to court to take him down. Van Zieks embodies the sense of justice in this case where the memory of Asougi embodies the conflicting side. If Van Zieks doesn’t get the development he needs in DGS1, that’s because he serves his purpose as the man committed to taking down Megundal. Hopefully though we’ll learn more about him in DGS2, because he has potential to be more (also, that leg slam. Nice.)

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Spoiler; Barok never finishes his wine because he’s a lightweight

There are three more things that I want to praise Case Three for; music; jury and evidence, so let’s quickly start with the music. All of these sort of apply to all of DGS, none more so than the music. DGS’ soundtrack is amazing, and Case Three makes liberal use of the track ‘Trial in Disarray’, which is one of the highlights of the OST. Seriously, if you haven’t yet, just give the whole thing a listen. Anyway, onto the jury, which seems to be another element that clicks with some people and not so much with others. While I have my own problems with the jury, such as the reuse of characters that makes London feel like a small town and the overuse of the system near the beginning of cases that makes the whole thing feel less dramatic, in Case Three, they are used in a way that makes sense. Takumi seems to have wanted to use a jury since Apollo Justice, but only now are we seeing the full system come to fruition, and his plan starts with a case that showcases the power of the jury by taking the decision out of your hands. You’re against Megundal, but the evidence isn’t there, and the jury cannot convict him. While I feel that the jury will have some prominence in the finale of DGS2, Case Three seems to be the apex of the jury in this game, and as such I see why complaints about them abound. Finally, I’d just like to touch on the return of necessary evidence examination. For once you have to actually look at the evidence you’re given. Again, this is one of Takumi’s improvements; Rise from the Ashes had a bit of this, but really DGS is where it shines.

From the best case to the worst case, DGS falls fast and hard in The Adventure of the Clouded Heart/Kokoro. Yes, the twist is awful and the case drags a lot, but I don’t hate this one as much as some others I know do. For me, it’s the characters that pull this one through – the Garrideb’s struggle is just funny and touching enough to carry me through this case, and Souseki is a great defendant. If anything, this case aims to build up a feeling of London, but I can’t say it succeeds – it might be too subtle. Turnabout Foreigner shoves its message in your face, but it does get the point across, whereas Clouded Kokoro tiptoes around the subject, only hinting at its true intentions. That or it’s just a bad filler case that I’m reading too much into. Anyway, I don’t have much to say about this one.

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The final case is where everything came together for me – it never reaches the height of Runaway Room, but it’s a fantastic final case, and it will tie nicely in my thesis that I’ll present in a minute. I think the introduction drags a bit, mainly because we have to spend a lot of it with Iris and Gina, two characters I don’t like. Gina falls into the tsundere trap, and while she’s not as bad as Rayfa, I expect more from Takumi. Iris, on the other hand, is pointless and annoying. That’s about all I have to say about Iris – my patience wears pretty thin in indulging the notion that she is any more than a silly mascot character. Luckily, we soon get some stakes and an intriguing mystery. Once we’re in court, everything falls into place. Gregson, a detective so boring I forgot to write about him in my Clouded Kokoro section, becomes a secret spy in a more believable twist than the Phantom in Dual Destinies. An annoyance from Case One (the rejection of science) rears its head again, as do other plot points. But best of all, Megundal shows his final hand; Rupert Crogray is not the final villain you’d expect in an Ace Attorney game because he’s not the final villain; Megundal is. Seeing the continuing influence of Megundal is great to watch, but it also raises an interesting question; one of satisfaction. Something I’ve heard a lot is ‘Crogray was a bad villain because beating him wasn’t satisfying – and you’re robbed of the satisfaction of beating Megundal.’ Yes, that’s all true. But I think that the mistake is treating that as a negative. Before I get to my point, let’s just talk a bit more about Ryunosuke and Susato. I’ve ignored Susato because she’s boring but I do like how she’s quite a change from other cheery assistants past with her calmer nature and I see major development for her in the future. Ryunosuke is… he’s a good protagonist and more defined than Apollo and Phoenix but I can’t help feel that his journey is, at least for now, a bit basic. He starts nervous, and then after a brief spell of depression and challenge becomes more confident. Fine, but a bit cliched. Hopefully, he’ll develop more in DGS2, but I’m not holding my breath.

Okay so here’s my point; Dai Gyakuten Saiban is simultaneously the first and second act of a traditional three-act structure. DGS is both the introduction and the lowest point of our characters – and this makes sense when you consider two things; one is that DGS was written as one long story and split up afterwards (much like The Lord of the Rings) and two; the resolution of every case robs you of any satisfaction that is synonymous with the Ace Attorney series. The first case feels unfinished because Brett has no motive; the second case is unsatisfactory because Asougi died by accident; the third case forces you into letting a guilty man off the hook and then has someone else kill him; the fourth case has no murderer, just a broken home leading to an accidental stabbing, and the final case is just a sad resolution to the third and leaves all the pressing questions unanswered. And sure, that’s not satisfying, but does it matter? DGS accomplishes what it sets out to do, and it does it really well. If that means that it’s not satisfying as a standalone game and you don’t enjoy it for that reason then fine, but it sure worked for me. It is different and it’s new, but I can’t wait to see how the story resolves itself.