Top 4 Pieces of Media I’ve Revisited Since The Real World Got Weird

By: Talya Stehley  |  May 12, 2020

By Talya Stehley, Staff Writer

  1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS game)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a point-and-click adventure game (a “visual novel” if you’re pedantic) which puts players in the role of Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense attorney in a court system heavily biased against the defense. The original game and its first two sequels were released for the Game Boy Advance in Japan during the early 2000s, and were later localized and re-released for the Nintendo DS.

I was obsessed with this series as a teen. The character writing gripped me. The first time I finished the first game, as the credits started rolling, I took out a piece of paper to write down the name of the head writer, so I would remember it. Though the game’s visual style is cartoony, and its morality at times overly simplistic, there’s something human in them. By the end of the game, and certainly the trilogy, one gets the feeling that these characters are almost real people, and even friends. Ace Attorney is about proving your client innocent, but it’s also about friendship and justice and truth. As a kid, the realization that someone in far-off Japan could create something that could strike such a chord with me in America made me want to be a writer. This also kicked off my anime phase, for better or for worse.

One thing that struck me on revisiting was the game’s grimness. As a fan, and as someone who has played the game before, I know that Phoenix Wright is going to win, because he’s the hero. But none of the characters know that. All they know is that they’ve been framed for murder in a system where most trials end in convictions and the death penalty is very much a thing. Even when the situations and characters are ridiculous, the stakes are very real. That’s what makes Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (and the whole trilogy) great.

I’d planned to replay the whole trilogy (and maybe the later games too, though the later games, especially after series creator Shu Takumi left, are less worth revisiting), but I got stuck at one point during the third case and didn’t pick it up again. Maybe another time.

  1. Yona of The Dawn (Manga/Anime)

Yona of The Dawn is a Japanese comic which entered serialization in 2009. It was adapted into an anime in 2014, though this, sadly, only lasted a single season. It’s marketed as a fantasy romance. Yona, the protagonist, is introduced as a vapid, spoiled princess. When her childhood friend, Su-Won, stages a coup and murders her father, she’s forced to flee the palace and live as a fugitive. Once the dust settles, she and her bodyguard (another childhood friend), Hak, seek the advice of an oracle, who sets them on a quest to unite the four dragon warriors of legend. Along the way, Yona grows in strength and learns that things in the rest of the country aren’t as simple as she had thought. Though she starts her quest with the goal of revenge, she eventually realizes that killing the sitting monarch without a clear idea of what to do with the country isn’t a great idea.

I’m not up-to-date on the comic right now. I used to keep up with the fan translation, but that was years ago. I owned the first six volumes of the comic from before, and purchased the next three because I was so drawn in by the volumes I have. Though I think the series loses a bit of its propulsive drive once the immediate goal of finding the four dragons is fulfilled, the characters are so darn lovable that I want to keep reading. The world-building isn’t particularly intricate, but it works. The only reason why I haven’t read further yet is because I got into Discworld which, while a very different strain of the genre, is scratching my fantasy itch for now.

  1. The Sims 4 (PC game)

The Sims is a series of PC games where you make houses and people and families and have them live out their lives.

I wanted to try and learn how to modify the game’s scripts, so I could make a mod that would force Sims to go through social distancing. But then I got distracted and started just playing The Sims 4. I tend to get bored of The Sims pretty quickly, so this time I gave myself a challenge. Using cheats, I took away all of my Sim’s money, and then tried to keep her alive and save up to buy an actual house. So was born Alicia Firestone. She came to Willow Creek with twenty dollars in her pocket and a dream to become fabulously wealthy. She took to a life of crime (I find it amusing that The Sims lets you apply for a job as a criminal the same way you’d apply for any other job). At first we struggled to make enough money to afford the bare essentials, but eventually, we were able to build a modest house. Since I was trying to play from a more “story” perspective, I didn’t want Alicia to just meet someone random and marry them for the sake of getting married. I did, however, want to have a next generation to play with. So I decided that Alicia was going to take an orphaned teen under her wing and teach them her criminal ways. Only problem was, unmodded Sims 4 doesn’t let you adopt teens, and I didn’t feel like hunting down and installing a mod to do that. So instead, Alicia adopted Nancy, a child Sim.

I instantly fell in love with little Nancy. At school, Nancy met a boy named Trenton, and they became close friends over a shared interest in mischief. They became partners in crime. As teens they started dating, and eventually they got married. Now they have a little girl, Kaylee, a geek, and a few days from becoming a teen, as well as a baby, Malcolm (I’m going with Firefly themed names for this generation). I think of Kaylee as the main character right now, and I’m interested to see where her story goes. I think she’s going to forge her own path in life.

One unexpected development in all this is Trenton. I decided to have him quit his job and be a stay-at-home parent because I was more invested in Nancy’s criminal career than I was in his generic business career. One of Trenton’s fundamental character traits is that he’s evil. This means he gains positive emotion when a nearby Sim experiences a negative emotion. Oddly, this made him a great parent. While most Sims would be fazed by toddler tantrums, Trenton enjoys them. What a weirdo. It’s discoveries like these that make games like The Sims fun. I also appreciate how easy the game makes it to install mods and custom content.

  1. Gravity Falls (Cartoon)

Gravity Falls is a Disney cartoon that aired for two seasons between 2012 and 2016. It’s a coming-of-age story about a set of twins, Dipper and Mabel. They’re spending the summer at their great-uncle Stan’s tourist trap in the fictitious town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Dipper is curious and intelligent, but also awkward and neurotic. Mabel is extroverted and creative, but can also have skewed priorities and is boy-crazy, in the way that only a 12-year-old can be. In the first episode, Dipper finds an old journal discussing the paranormal phenomena in the town, and he resolves to solve the mystery of who wrote it, and why the town is so weird.

Gravity Falls has been the only thing I can think about for the last few days. It’s a kids’ show, but it can be dark and creepy when it wants to be. It’s a little bit like Invader Zim in that respect, but Gravity Falls has a sense of sincerity and emotional honesty that sets it apart. The animation has that Disney polish. Some of the science fiction elements have particularly inspired designs. My favorites are the time machine that takes the form of a tape measure (the more tape you pull out, the further back you go) and the giant mecha piloted using a mo-cap suit.

The individual “monster-of-the-week” episodes are all enjoyable, and the overarching plot is compelling. The main characters’ arcs are mostly satisfying, and even old Grunkle Stan reveals hidden depths over time. I love the way it explored the theme of family. There’s this cool “sins of the fathers” thing going on where the kids have to overcome flaws they got from the generation before them. Things we learn later in the series give moments in earlier episodes new meaning. The show’s pretty, entertaining, and clever. What more could you want?

I didn’t cry the first time I finished watching Gravity Falls, but I did this time. When the twins have to go home for summer vacation, Mabel has to say goodbye to Candy and Grenda, her best friends, perhaps the only people who really get her. I miss being able to see my friends in person.


Photo: Ace Attorney Video Game Still