Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter (Review)

I couldn’t be more excited to start Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter and dive into the mystery. Because, come on, with a riveting title as such, I had my expectations soaring. But I also had to maintain my best to keep it leveled until I completed the game. Developed by Frogwares, this adventure mystery video game might seem to be a good starting point for those new to the Sherlock series, placing them into the shoes of our beloved and suave British detective, Holmes.

Premise

When a mysterious visiting woman, Alice De’Bouvier, shows up as your new neighbour, you find yourself in a dilemma to confront dark family secrets, both in your cases and personal life—particularly in regards with your adopted daughter, Katelyn. Things take a disconcerting turn with the passive threats from your dear neighbour as you slowly uncover her true intentions in doting on Kate, and discover who she really is behind her façade, in many ways you wish you hadn’t.

Gameplay and Mechanics

There aren’t many controls to make the game complicated. You get the gist of them real quick in the first case. Just like a consulting detective would, you move about and poke around a series of environments for clues. The game also experiments on your perceptions and reflexes through its mini-games present in the cases. One minute you are going on stealth mode stalking a suspect as an errand boy, and the next you are exorcising demons in the name of investigation. Aside from those fun bits, once you have gathered substantial evidence, you can leap inside Holmes’s mind and piece what you know to form a possible deduction.

// Sherlock’s Deduction Space

I want to point out that it’s highly possible to form wrong conclusions based on poor judgment of character observation and misconstrued reasonings. Wrong interpretation leads to the wrong analysis, making it harder for you to find the right conclusion to the investigation. You may find yourself pointing your finger at an innocent party if you have not found all the clues. For other instances, you will have to interrupt witnesses and suspects during interrogations in order to compare their version of the facts with the clues that you have gathered. Badly-conducted interrogations cuts off your access to some clues once and for all.

// Building the Character Portrait
// Character Portraits

I found this to be particularly interesting while playing the game difficulty at Hard mode because this creates a lot of pressure to trust my intuitions in making the right choice. The reason I had to mention the game difficulty I was playing in, we’re going to get into that now. The game gives you two modes of difficulty: Normal and Hard. I’ve learned from forums that the Normal mode was easier for new players to feel their way around in Holmes’s mind. In some ways, I wished I had started off with Normal mode to better compare the difficulty. But it still worked out well after I replayed the cases in Normal after my first walkthrough completion. There are a lot of differences between the two modes, but I’ll only mention the ones significant in the cases.

[1] True Conclusion Check Availability

  • Normal – It is available; you can check if you have made the right conclusion at the case finish.
  • Hard – Not available; you are in the dark about your conclusion.

[2] Deduction

  • Normal – Usual deduction space and you are free to deduct with what seems logical.
  • Hard – There is a distortion effect upon combining wrong clues and it becomes detrimental.

[3] Icons on Evidence in the Casebook

  • Normal – Icons on evidence such as the Dialogue, Perform analysis, Search archives, Search the Map, etc. are shown.
  • Hard – Icons on evidence aren’t shown and you are left to sort out tricks on your own.

[4] Observation of Characters in Dialogues

  • Normal – You have an unlimited time to complete a Character Portrait.
  • Hard – You only have a minute to study the character and complete the Character Portrait. However, you would have an Imprecise Character Portrait or Poor Character Portrait should one active zone wasn’t chosen or is chosen incorrectly, and you have failed the timer. It’s important to note that even after you choose the right choices, you have to press the Validation button to confirm your decision.

At first, the idea of mini-games that test your reflexes may seem like a waste of time and effort, but I found them to be rather enjoyable and helped to add dimension in an otherwise ‘just-investigate-and-find-clues’ game. 

// Yes, we’re going bowling soon
// Eavesdropping action
// In-game puzzles to solve

I suppose you can’t just rest on one thing in this game because we all know that a detective’s job is never easy or safe, so I feel that the developers were trying to experiment and push more action into proceedings. The idea of QTE too takes on a sense of urgency when you realize you have to make life-and-death decisions. And since you are brainy and have the capability of finding the truth (or perceived truth), you will have to make ethical choices to condemn or absolve the criminal. In most cases, those ethical dilemmas still confound me.

What’s relieving is knowing that while I had the power to choose my own ending and somehow unsatisfied with it, there’s a chance of me to change my mind and replay a scene before I finalize my decision in closing the case. Summons up the sheer wonder of each person’s moral compass.

Design and Visual

It’s clear massive effort has gone into its environment capturing London’s beauty (and danger in the city). The view of the realistic crime scenes and a touch of “someone’s been there” at homes gives off an immersive feeling in-game. 

// Alice’s Abode
// 221B Baker Street
// Green Dragon Tavern
// 221B Baker Street, Sherlock’s Abode

Character animation and natural movement have been made possible by using motion capture with actors, including for their dialogue and emotions—while most characters were detailed, I found Alice and Kate’s design a little insufferable for how rigid they looked during cutscenes and dialogue exchanges. Thankfully, they weren’t distractingly bad to put me off a good story. But on a whole? Gorgeous landscapes.

// Watson looking debonair and Holmes a little more rugged, I have no complaints

Occasionally, I found myself not wanting to progress in the game because I just wanted to admire the visuals. And I’m not complaining how much of an eye candy Holmes is and how Watson resembled so much of Jude Law in The Devil’s Daughter.

Soundtrack

A fantastic work by Sergey Sedliar and Vitalii Stepchenko. From the sound of light electric guitars, bass guitar, keyboard for synths and other sampled instruments, it rekindled a poignant memory and forebode of playing This War Of Mine and Silent Hill.

  1. Cinematic Trailer Theme
  2. Main Soundtrack

It’s certainly not the classical music one would expect from Sherlock Holmes games, but composed hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter promises to be its own kind of mystery and adventure. Most of the standalone cases were enjoyable, if not all. While it’s not going to blow your mind with anything revolutionary, I would say take the game and play it for its story and get some good laugh (at a certain exorcism scene). Despite minor flaws in some of the writing where the truth felt abrupt and a couple of red herrings thrown about, it’s still a well crafted game that keeps you on your toes as you make decisions in moments of life and death. I think this would be a good start for a broad audience to try their hands on a Sherlock series for logic and action.

// Chase Sequence in Case 1: Prey Tell

That being said, the game isn’t meant to be rushed and it’s best enjoyed slow like a glass of good wine. It’s akin to a slow burn horror film where you wouldn’t expect jump-scares but be unsettled either way.  I truly believed I was Sherlock through most of the game, and appreciated the developers’ effort in giving the gameplay some variety. It’s a lot of mixed reviews for that one but alright, not everyone likes a chase sequence or stealth mission. Personally, I found them fun—play to your strengths, I guess. I was the Sherlock Holmes so it was second nature of me to keep my eyes and ears open for every possibility.

// Evidence Search in Case 4: Chain Reaction

The end deal? The gameplay is not for everyone. I’d say if you like shooting and explosions in your games, then this might not be your cup of tea. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes traditionalist that just wants to click and solve riddles and puzzles, the action sequences might come as a shock to you. But if you find yourself drawn to being challenged intellectually and wanting some action at the same time, this one’s for you. With such a varied gameplay experience in one setting, good characters, and astounding visuals, it’s one of those few games that manages to accomplish them decently—and that is no small feat.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (Review)

Where there’s a Wright, you can’t be wrong. Oh, I’m excited to wright about this (got you). Puns aside, before I proceed, I like to make it clear that this review is solely based on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, a remake of the Nintendo version. For the sake of keeping this review concise, I would be giving a general overview based on the trilogy as a whole here and give attention to each entries in a separate blog post. The game trilogy comprises of :

  1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (AA)
  2. Phoenix Wright: Justice for All (JFA)
  3. Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations (T&T)

Developed by Capcom, this gem of a series captures every suspense and comedy a visual novel has to offer as you step into the shoes of the beloved defense attorney, Phoenix Wright (aka Nick or Feenie). While there are other instances for you take the roles of various characters in the series, you are mainly playing as Wright. The concept of the game is straightforward. To summarize the life of a lawyer quoted by me, a non-lawyer, it can be broken down into case investigations, witness cross-examinations, contradiction exposure within witness testimonies, and evidential arguments.

// Yes, we’re, um, ready

If you’re a lawyer, you’re probably thinking how much of this doesn’t make sense (we will save the legal rant for later). Understandably so. Attorneys don’t really do crime scene investigations. But what Ace Attorney does is make you spend a lot of time talking to your clients to figure out what the actual facts are, which leads you in forming better arguments for the court hearings. Now put on your attorney’s badge and get ready for this.

Premise

The story follows Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense attorney who attempts to have his clients declared “not guilty”. Among other characters are Phoenix’s boss, Mia Fey; his assistant and Mia’s sister, Maya; and prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. The story is split into five cases where the characters are more fleshed out through the game progression, revealing character arcs, unbelievable backstories, building up to more shocking outcomes in the present.

// I will if you’re the one serving it-

Gameplay and Mechanics

How hard can a lawyer’s game be— For those wondering, there isn’t any difficulty mode in the series. A discussion regarding it’s difficulty too is subjective and isn’t something I want to draw attention to. Like all adventure visual novels, Ace Attorney has its own sections within all its episodes. The gameplay is split into two sections: [1] Investigation and [2] Courtroom Trial. 

The Investigation section is self-explanatory. While your client is stuck bored out of their wits in detention center, you hustle. You go about different locations gathering new pieces of information and evidence, either through your own environmental observation or conversation with other characters. These characters range from your client, witnesses, FBI, and certain persecutor(s).

// Gathering information from witness

Meanwhile, evidence are stored into your own record book for your perusal. The game proceeds once you have collected all vital evidence. That also means it is technically impossible for you to be stuck in-game. A little jog to your memory is just what you need if you find that you are not progressing with the plot.

// Going through court record to review information

Moving on to the Courtroom Trial section, this is where the fun plays out (Ah yes, I enjoy the sight of bickering lawyers and a clueless judge). The whole point of a trial is to have the judge declare your client “not guilty”. As such, your logical thinking (and a ton of common sense) comes into play as you cross-examine witnesses, find lies and inconsistencies in their testimonies. What makes it flexible is the option to go back and forth between the various statements in the testimony, and you can opt to ‘press’ the witness for more details regarding said statement. Be prepared to hear recurring phrases like ‘Objection!’‘Hold it!’ and ‘Take that!’ along with epic table slams throughout the series.

// You’re welcome, Edgey boy
// Oh boy, you bet

Similar to Danganronpa, you need to present evidence to counter those contradictions. Careful though, those things do come with consequences should you present incorrect evidence. 

You know where I’m going with that; your health bar. It doesn’t seem significant at first if you are breezing through the game, but it’s worth nothing that the health bar that indicates the judge’s patience. If you think that isn’t a big deal, I will tell you why is is a big deal. In certain climax during a trial, the judge could really lose his patience when things get dragged. It puts a whole ton of pressure when one wrong move results in a complete depletion of your health bar like so. I call that court tension. It also means you have failed and your client is declared ‘guilty’.

Design and Visual

If you grew up playing Ace Attorney on Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS, the visuals just look more crisp now. The art style, together with the stereoscopic 3D, makes the Ace Attorney trilogy look even more like a graphic novel than before. The characters shine bright with their own eccentricities and it’s always a pleasure to see Miles Edgeworth (on the edge) dealing with wackadoo witnesses, and struggling most of the times when things don’t go his way.

// Ah, don’t you love grandmas as witness-
// [ deceased ]

The colours in the game just takes you back to the good old days when you are just outlining a figure and filling it with a colour on Microsoft Paint. Alright, that wasn’t the best comparison. I meant it’s old school cool. Much love.

Soundtrack

Headphones on. Have a listen, if you will.

  1. Courtroom Lobby
  2. Trial
  3. Objection

What can I say? It’s classic stuff. Nothing I love more than a mix between orchestrated instruments and synthesizers to take me back to my childhood.

Fun Facts

Previously when I played Ace Attorney (around 2008), I was visibly confused how setting was Japanese yet everyone was talking like they were in America. It got apparent in the ‘Justice for All’ and ‘Trials and Tribulations’. I later learned about the localization of the first game where Ace Attorney’s Japanese version takes place in Japan while the localized version is set in United States. But it gets more complicated in the later games where the Japanese setting becomes more obvious. So a genius came up with the idea that the localized versions of the Ace Attorney games take place in Los Angeles in an alternative universe where anti-Japanese laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 were not passed, anti-Japanese sentiments were not powerful, and where Japanese culture flourished. This dictated what should be localized and what should be kept Japanese. Surprisingly, it works. I believe the game makes more sense as a whole and resonates on a deeper level once you consider its connection to the actual Japanese legal system.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the series felt safe for me, in a good way. It wasn’t diabolical except for a few standout cases. I don’t think Ace Attorney actually punishes its players since “save” exists. After all, the game is linear, and you are tying all the evidence together after revealing clues for a climax showdown… it’s great. It feels right because the gameplay and story goes hand in hand. But what I loved so much about Ace Attorney from the bottom of my heart is that, you don’t get a whole lot of backstory for Wright in the beginning. What you do get is a flawed character who is lovable, and you watch his personality grow through the dialogue in game. It’s not just him, but also other characters and they’re all memorable in their own feat. I got this beautiful sense of accomplishment finishing the series because it felt as if I had driven the story forward with these amazing characters. 

Serena (Review)

For God knows how long, a husband’s life was turned upside down when the love of his life Serena disappeared. But in a disconcerting fashion, he realizes that everything is hazy and there are many questions unanswered. Reeling from the disappearance of Serena, he sets out to find clues and meanings in the cabin to find her. What lies ahead is a somberness of secrets in the cabin, as he searches for answers about the only woman he ever loved. Will the truth be too ghastly to handle?

When I decided to give Serena a go, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It was free on Steam, and I didn’t see why there was no reason for me not to play a horror adventure. First impressions, it wasn’t too shabby. From the very start, I am in a cabin that reeks of the absence of hope. In a first-person perspective, my feet are tied down by the fixed background screens and a point-and-click interface.

Gameplay and Mechanics

The game is simply designed with basic controls. Keep in mind you are not actually playing as Serena (as the title states) but more so, her husband. Confined in a cabin, all I had to do was aim my mouse on various objects that are within my vicinity. Clicking on the objects pushes the husband to narrate his various thoughts and memories of Serena. Sometimes, he imagines the difficult conversations that he would never have with her, cursing his own lack of nerve. He’s rather loquacious and every little thing I clicked seemed to strike a nerve in him as I was nearing the truth. With the right sequence and objects clicked to trigger his key memories, things in the cabin changed subtly, thereby revealing new awareness towards the end of uncovering the mystery of it all.

// The objects that trigger the memories

The story isn’t overly long or complicated, and it is well-developed through the course of the object interactions. I found Josh Mandel’s voice as the husband to be disturbingly good in the game (God, that man sure can lament) — one that starts out optimistic and reminiscent, and then gradually degenerates into anger, hatred, bitterness and revolt. In true minimalistic fashion, as I clicked on the same object for multiple times until the lines started to repeat itself, it tells me that the game did extensively well in portraying the dynamics and emotions of the protagonist’s former relationship with his wife like so.

Design and Visuals

The game visuals filled me with foreboding. I think the visuals were splendid for an indie game and encapsulated the eeriness of a dilapidated cabin. When I was walking closer to something, my heavy footsteps on a long abandoned cabin where the miserable rusty windows were my only source of light to illuminate the path onwards, it was a natural instinct for me to freeze when I heard a clock chiming out of nowhere. The visuals take a huge understanding in the colour psychology where its colours are unsaturated. The brown tones of the game go in darker tones when things get more disturbing.

// Faint lighting in the bedroom
// View of the bedroom from the kitchen and dining area

Final Thoughts

There is not much for me to say without risking spoilers. Ostensibly, mixing pathos with psychological horror was the highlight of this game for me. It was refreshing to play a horror game without the cliché jump-scares and mindless screaming, something I berate a lot when it comes to horror. As much as I enjoyed the story of Serena, it may be for me to convince others to play what seems to be a dying art in the industry.  While it is also tough to contend on such game style due to subjectivity, and even though this point-and-click adventure genre has its nostalgic charms – even that warm glow is frequently cut off by a reminder of how often these games ended up being an exasperating exercise in aimlessly clicking on random objects, all in the vain hope that it might trigger the next bit of plot. I will cherish such games memories, but maybe clicking on objects without the ability to move around on my feet just isn’t enough anymore.

Despite the game’s clunky mechanics, and the inability to save the game, I can forgive it and appreciate that Serena is supposed to be a sort of homage to old-school adventure games. I only wished the game developers had thought of placing a settings page for me to save the game. Because really, the game just takes over your screen and if your first instinct for any game is to configure the keys, you might just find yourself out of the game when you hit the “Esc” button like I did. You literally get booted out without any progress saved. Not exactly fun.

// Something’s not right

The first twist of the game was fairly predictable but I must say… that ending caught me off guard. I think one thing anyone can relate from Serena is the idea that inside every person you know, there is a person you don’t know.  The whole thing was so surreal, it was as if it had been a ghoulish nightmare. But an unmistakable dread rose within me, confirming that I was in the game for an hour, leaving me to wonder what it all meant. It’s the uncanny feeling, I decided. Two lonely people, who once had dreams, and one had been caught up with the long hours of work.. and everything just came crashing down.

Still, I could not shake my sense of unease after the game. There had been other horror games, but this had been different. It was as if a tiny crack, a fissure in the protective armor I had spent years putting up around myself, had been opened, leaving me feeling exposed. In the meantime, I will continue this game with a few more runs for a thorough analysis. You can never fully know the life of another. You only have fragments, bits, scraps of their words and others’ perceptions of them. But sometimes, you would wish you never knew anything about them in the first place.

All Things in Consideration

Now if you have read this until the end and you are considering playing Serena, know that there are areas of the game where you can be unsure on how to progress and can frustrate you. But please understand that I do not wish to spoil anything for you and since the game is story-driven, it is crucial for you to immerse yourself in it. So here are some useful tips that will come in handy for you:

  • RIGHT MOUSE BUTTON – Change control scheme
    • This locks the camera and prevents it from following the mouse. To look around, move the mouse towards the edges of the screen.
  • SPACEBAR – Toggle hotspots
    • Pressing the spacebar highlights all of the clickable spots with a blue dot.
  • ESCAPE – Escape
    • There are no settings in this game. This just means quit.

I also noticed some people get stuck at the bookcase where they are unable to exit the scene. If your game has no visible words on the screen when there is a narration going on right from the start, just edit the CONFIG.LUA file present in the game folder. Go ahead and change “fullscreen = false” to make it work. You can open the .LUA file with the notepad software.

Good luck.