Video games shuffle from screen to page


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008

Video game stories used to be so blessedly uncomplicated.

Take “;Pong,”; for instance, the story of a ball being hit back and forth by two paddles in an endless black void. Or “;Space Invaders,”; about a lone spaceship defending Earth and fighting off infinite waves of invading alien forces.

These days, video game stories have evolved to the point where it takes lengthy Wikipedia articles to fully explain exactly what's going on. They've also inspired manga adaptations, more of which have been making their way stateside. Here are two recent examples of franchises that have gone from pixels to print.


'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney'

; The Nintendo DS game “;Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”; has been out in the U.S. for a little more than three years now. Its sequels, “;Justice for All”; and “;Trials and Tribulations,”; and the spinoff “;Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney”; have also come out since then.

Yet it wasn't until after Wilma wrapped up work on her “;Drawn & Quartered”; column late last month that, feeling bored and seeking to let off some steam, she finally started playing the first game. Jason followed suit soon afterward with his copy.

That may have been the most fortuitous circumstance when it came to reviewing the first “;Phoenix Wright”; manga anthology, being released stateside by Del Rey. Because without a firm grasp of the game and its characters, this manga doesn't hold much worth for casual readers.

The “;Phoenix Wright”; manga, subtitled “;Official Casebook Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files,”; gathers a bunch of Japanese artists to draw side stories and shorter four-panel comics based on the canon established in the games. Phoenix Wright is a dashing, spiky-haired defense attorney; often seen at his side is his assistant Maya Fey, a young spirit medium, and her cousin Pearl. His courtroom rivals, including prosecutors Miles Edgeworth, whip-wielding Franziska von Karma and coffee-guzzling Godot, also appear, as does Phoenix's friend Larry Butz and Detective Dick Gumshoe. If those names don't look familiar, it might be wise to play through one of the games - preferably all of them in order - first.

Anyone going in expecting more courtroom drama on par with the games' murder cases, though, needs to adjust those expectations. The manga takes a different approach from the games, employing an often humorous, sometimes sentimental spin on the characters and their situations.

As is customary with anthologies collecting work by multiple creators, the story and art quality can vary. When the creators are on target, like in Masao Aono's scenario following a sick Phoenix in court, “;A Turnabout Day Together,”; it's a pleasant read.

But there are other times when the mood drifts into somewhat sappy, like Naruzo's “;Motive Power,”; where Maya comforts Phoenix about a nightmare. And then there's the confusing “;Turnabout Big Turnaround,”; by Shinosuke, which starts with Gumshoe and Maya eating Phoenix's key evidence and ends with Gumshoe cross-dressing as Maya and Larry making a far-out-of-left-field cameo.

Fortunately, there are more hits than misses in this book, a must-read for manga fans who also loved the games. A second volume featuring stories centered around Edgeworth is due out early next year.


'The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time'

; Strong hero battles giant fire-breathing monster to rescue beautiful princess - it could be any fantasy story. But the hero is Link, the monster is Ganondorf and the princess is Zelda, and the game series is “;The Legend of Zelda.”;

With more than 10 games in the U.S., the Zelda series' characters are as much household names as Mario, Bowser and Peach from “;Super Mario Bros.”;

“;Ocarina of Time,”; based on the Nintendo 64 game of the same name and being published by Viz, is the first Zelda manga to be marketed as manga in the United States. The first Zelda manga published stateside technically was “;The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,”; by Shotaro Ishinomori, serialized in Nintendo's Nintendo Power magazine in the early 1990s, but at the time it was advertised as a comic series, not as manga.

“;Ocarina of Time”; introduces a child-age Link, of the elflike Kokiri who live in Kokiri Forest. With the powers of the evil Ganondorf engulfing the land of Hyrule, Link leaves the forest to stop the sorcerer from capturing the Triforce, a powerful artifact that will grant the wishes of whoever touches it. Link meets Zelda and learns of the three spiritual stones that will open the Sacred Realm where the Triforce is hidden, so he sets out to gather the jewels to keep them out of Ganondorf's hands.

The artwork by the two-woman team that goes by the handle Akira Himekawa is beautiful but extremely busy, in a crowded layout that sometimes leaves the reader behind in its wake.

Adding to the distraction is the tight (or sloppy) binding job. The inner section of many pages is caught so far in the spine that chunks of text are obscured, which could hamper understanding of the story.

And the manga goes much too fast for those who have painstakingly followed in the footsteps of the video game “;Link.”; Players might wax nostalgic for the missing puzzle-solving elements as each epic dungeon is reduced to just a few panels - no jumping over lava pits in Dodongo's cavern or figuring out how to lug Princess Ruto around Jabu-Jabu's belly (OK, maybe that second one is a blessing).

But as a retelling of the game's story, “;Ocarina of Time”; does a good job. Many of the expository events and conversations from the game have been removed, but others have been shifted around and fleshed out further to compensate. Some new scenes add poignancy and back story - such as Link's history with the dragon Volvagia, a boss character in the game - to what would otherwise be a simple story of good versus evil.

The second volume with the conclusion of “;Ocarina of Time”; is due out early next month. Other planned books in the series are based on the Zelda games “;Majora's Mask”; (Nintendo 64) and “;Oracle of Seasons”; (Game Boy Color).