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Posts Tagged ‘rhythm/music’

Pop Princesses

There’s a series of Japanese figures called Pinky:st that I’ve been a collector of for a number of years now. These days, they aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be, but since I still have some interest in them, their dip in popularity simply means that I can get some of the previously expensive ones at much lower prices. As it happens, two of these figures were Pucchi and the second release of Evil, which were included in the limited-edition box sets for their respective DS games. Although my main interest was in the figures, I felt an obligation to play the games as well, and so I did.

These two were the rhythm game Pinky:st Kira Kira * Music Hour and its sequel Pinky:st Kira Kira * Music Night (there is a third Pinky:st game, a PS2 RPG titled Mahoraba Stories, but I neither own nor have played it). Music Hour follows Pucchi on her quest to become a great dancer and fashionista; Music Night stars Pucchi’s rival Evil in a similar story. Strictly on a gameplay level, both are reasonably import-friendly, with a handful of icons and English words in menus and the like. For those who can read Japanese, the text is entirely in hiragana and katakana, so one doesn’t have to worry about any complex or unfamiliar kanji. In addition, the first game was localized in Europe as Kira Kira Pop Princess, so one can forego the Japanese version entirely if they want to. I can’t find any evidence of Music Night‘s European version, Pop Town, actually seeing release anywhere besides Italy, and have to wonder if the German WWII military uniforms that a couple of the characters briefly cosplay in at one point had anything to do with it.

Not being well-versed in Japanese, I couldn’t read the dialogue bits in the cutscenes (although, after beating Music Hour, I was able to find fan translations of the script). There are a lot of cutscenes, too. In addition to the handful of cutscenes related to the core story, there’s one before and after each dance battle round. I must’ve spent just as much—or more—time looking at cutscenes than I had actually playing the games.

Cutscenes aside, here’s how the games are structured. The main character’s home base is at ANGELA, a club on George Hill. Here, Pucchi (or Evil) can practice dance routines for the songs unlocked to that point, save, connect to other players wirelessly, or access the wardrobe. This last part reflects Pinky:st’s core appeal: the mixing and matching of dozens of tops, bottoms, hairstyles, accessories, and so on. The sheer number of clothing articles is astonishing, and not only includes styles from the Pinky:st figure line, but also completely original ones. On top of that, each item has a total of three color variations, and up to ten complete outfits can be created and saved for easy access.

There are other neighborhoods in Rainbow Town besides George Hill. Each one has a ludicrously overpriced clothing store, an accessory-dispensing gashapon (capsule) machine, a place to take photos of the main character with a rudimentary camera feature, and a venue where the dance battles occur, devoted to a specific musical genre. Who participates in these battles and the number of songs for each genre varies between the two games, but the actual dance battle gameplay is the same. For these segments, the DS has to be held book-style, and the touchscreen is used to tap, swipe, and scratch the cues that pop up within three rectangular fields. It’s a simple enough system, but it breaks from the conventional wisdom of rhythm game design in some peculiar ways.

There are typically two schools of design when it comes to rhythm games: the “Simon Says” approach and the “scrolling cues” one. In a Simon Says rhythm game, such as Parappa the Rapper or Space Channel 5, the actions to be taken are played first by the game, and then the player repeats the same sequence. Those that use scrolling cues, including the Dance Dance Revolution and Rock Band games, offer a preview of the beats to hit as they scroll toward the goal. The Music Hour/Music Night approach lies somewhere in between. In these two games, cues for where the notes will appear briefly pop up in a small box at the top of the touchscreen, though these cues rarely indicate what type of action will be required (the aforementioned tapping, swiping, and scratching). This preview box also does not tie in to the rest of the playfield in any way, and in fact can distract from it.

The dance segments have some other unique features. How the notes of each music track sound depends on how precisely they are played, which can result in some rather clunky sounding melodies. While an interesting approach, it can make it harder to determine how a track is supposed to sound. Other than pulling off a completely perfect performance, there is a way to hear tracks played properly, but it requires hoofing it back to ANGELA and going through the practice menu, without actually activating a practice. Then there’s the dancing itself: not only is it difficult to watch the Pinky characters dance on the opposite screen while playing (note that a replay button does become available at the end if you want to watch the simple dance animations), but there are also two measurements of how well a performance goes—and only one of them determines if you pass or fail. As in DDR, a grade is given at the end for how well the notes were hit, chains, and so on. However, there is also the “audience” meter, reminiscent of a similar feature in the PS1 dance battle game Bust a Groove, which shows how well your character fares against the Pinky NPC they’re up against. This second metric is the one that ultimately determines success, and because of that, it’s entirely possible to get a great grade on certain songs and fail. To call such a setup contradictory and maddening is an understatement; the game’s designers should’ve gone with either the grade system or the audience meter, not both.

Once a dance battle has been won, a small amount of money and a prize is issued—usually a new wardrobe item, or said item plus a P-Coin for use with the gashapon machines (for losing battles, only the money and sometimes a P-Coin is given). Speaking of money, as I said before, the clothing stores are overpriced. One has to do a lot of dance battles to build up enough capital to afford even the cheapest items, and even selling off unwanted goods doesn’t help, as only a very small amount is offered for them. That said, the best way to build up a decent wardrobe is simply to win the dance battles.

Finally, this wouldn’t be much of a rhythm game review if I didn’t talk about the music itself. Although the graphics are mostly lovely, with bright colors and clear, crisp designs, the music is, unfortunately, not as memorable. It’s actually fairly generic, and the only tracks that I found stuck in my head were the ones that I had trouble with in the game, and had thus played a dozen times over in hopes of getting past.

As licensed games from a small, and now-defunct, developer, I wasn’t expecting much. That said, these two were pretty much what I was expecting: mediocre, brief, and laden with Pinky:st fanservice. The Pinky figures themselves are all right as well, though the pegs on Evil’s front hair piece and base are too large (either that or the holes are too small). Evil also doesn’t come with as many extras as Pucchi, but like too few other figures in the line, has a ball-jointed neck. Nevertheless, both girls are now on display in my figure case, and their respective games have been filed away in my library, two more for the “beaten” pile.


The 2011 Backlog Report

My Christmas break was longer than expected, thanks to the bad weather, but I’m back home now and catching up on crucial tasks, like changing the look of my Backloggery. While I was away, I finally became the Champion in Pokemon Platinum, started and beat the iPad version of Plants vs. Zombies, picked up a couple of PS2 games in decent condition at Gamestop of all places (a new Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love—it was the last copy and had a beat-up outer box, but the game case itself is sealed— and a used Baroque), got a DS game on sale at Best Buy (Picross 3D), and started Rune Factory 3 and the aforementioned Picross 3D. Upon returning home, yet another new game was added to the pile: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a Christmas present that I wasn’t able to open until last night. There are other late gifts, but I’m not sure any games will be among them; this might be a good thing, given the current state of my backlog.

DD:

When I wrote last January’s backlog report, twenty-two game cases stood on my desk shelf. Counting Metroid Prime Trilogy as three distinct titles, this meant a total of twenty-five games. This year, there are twenty cases and twenty-one titles—World of Goo is currently sitting, unplayed, on one of my hard drives—but the number of RPGs is as unwieldy as ever. And yes, I still haven’t played Rogue Galaxy.

Speaking of which, there were three other 2009 must plays that I didn’t get around to: Nocturne, Persona 3 FES, and Tales of the Abyss. I did play the others, and, save for Chrono Cross, greatly enjoyed each one of them.

Here are my must-play games for 2010, in no particular order:
Rogue Galaxy – Because, seriously, this is starting to get ridiculous.
Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 – Might start this one later in the week, actually.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 – It’s been awhile since I’ve dug into a tactical RPG.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Like FFTA2, a game I had intended to play last year.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Ratchet and Clank
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
World of Goo
Professor Layton and the Curious Village

How many of them will I get through, or even just start? Stay tuned.

My annual roundup, where I post brief impressions of all the games I played in the past year will be up shortly. Also, I will start keeping my annual Beaten Games tabs here from now on (I’ve got a post at the CAG forums’ current Completed Games thread I might use, too). As for the old tabs, they will be migrated here along with most all of my other game-related posts from LiveJournal; having seen this past year how ad-heavy that site has gotten, I feel this would be for the best. Anyway, more to come…


Braincrumbs: Mini Reviews

The busy holiday season is upon us, and over the past couple of weeks, I have bought half a dozen games—not as gifts, but for myself. So far, I’ve played two of these, and have also beaten one of my older backlogged titles. Instead of doing entire posts for these games, which I was strongly considering for two of them, here are some capsule reviews which hopefully cover the core essence of each title.

In Which Chopin is a Bishie Who Dreams he’s in a JRPG: Eternal Sonata

What would the real Chopin have thought of Eternal Sonata?

I have a soft spot for games from early on in a console’s life. They’re an interesting glimpse into what developers were thinking back then in regards to a new platform. What are their priorities? How are graphics approached? What holdovers from the previous gen are apparent?

Eternal Sonata is one such game. It was the first major third-party JRPG on the Xbox 360, greeted with much fanfare by followers of the genre. However, it might also be seen as a sign of things to come, as JRPGs have yet to really find their footing on the high-definition consoles (meanwhile, handheld JRPGs are going through what might be termed a golden age, but that’s a topic for another time).
 
As one would expect from a game inspired by a composer, Eternal Sonata is musically lush, and the voice acting ranks up there with the Tales series in terms of quality. The anime-styled graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, though the animation is merely decent and the environments are more constrained and linear than you would expect. Eternal Sonata also features an engaging battle system that meshes turn-based and action gameplay, with a light and shadow component for special moves that is wholly dependent on the environment. Blocking and counterattacking moves are available, but these require extremely precise timing to pull off, and thus leave much to be desired. One of the characters also has the ability to take photos during battle, but the only thing that this feature is useful for is in amassing large amounts of money (photos can be sold at shops), and feels like a novelty at best, and a wasted opportunity (on the developers’ part) at worst.
 
Ostensibly, the story is about a dream that famed composer Frederic Chopin has while on his deathbed, and his questioning of this dream’s very nature. However, it is also the story of the heroine, Polka, a terminally ill teenage girl with magical powers. There are a few things in the story that don’t make sense, but thanks to good pacing and solid (if cliched at times) characterization, the game progresses in such a way as to lead one to believe that all will be answered by the end. However, in terms of plotting, the final chapter is a mess, and the ending is long, pretentious, and only led to more questions. The final boss, though startling at first, made sense; unfortunately, its abrupt emergence matched the haphazard tone of the entire ending.
 
There’s an Opera out on the Turnpike: Audiosurf

Screenshots don't do this game justice.

I have only been playing the PC game Audiosurf for a little under a week, and already, it’s my favorite game out of those that I’ve played this year. In fact, I was ready to post about this under Game Love, not Reviews; declare it the greatest music game of all time; and make room for it in my Holy Trifecta of Puzzle Games (Panel de Pon, Puyo Puyo, and Tetris). I don’t know if “quadfecta” is a real word, though.

Audiosurf, like many ingenious works, is simple in both form and function. Essentially, it is what would happen if you took an audio visualizer and mixed it with a match-three puzzle game. Plug in any audio file, and as long as it’s in a supported format, Audiosurf will generate a track out of it, complete with peaks, valleys, and lots of little colored pieces to collect for mad points. There are a handful of different characters to choose from, including a few that allow for two-player games. The Mono characters are the most basic of them all, and a good place to start for beginners; the colored blocks are all the same, and all one has to worry about is dodging the useless grey ones. When playing as one of the others, multiple colored pieces show up on the field at the same time, along with power-ups, and things really start to get hectic.

The graphics settings are quite flexible, plus a handful of optional sound effects are available. There’s also a set of achievements, but what really adds to the fun are the online leaderboards; there’s ones for each individual song that’s played with the game. Pick an obscure enough song and you could be the global champion at it, but of course, the real competition lies in the better-known stuff.

One of the most surprising things about Audiosurf is that it’s making me a better listener. Playing a track in the game, I find myself paying more attention to lyrics, instrumentation, and BPM. Regarding that last thing, some songs, like Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin'” sound slower to me in Audiosurf than they do normally.

All in all, despite an interface that isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing ever, plus a tutorial mode that’s rough around the edges, this is an incredible game and a must-have for music lovers. By the way, I’m R. Kasahara on the official site, and if you have any doubts about Audiosurf, go see it in motion.

Snack-Size Diablo: Torchlight

Here's what my Destroyer and his dog looked by the end of the story.

This is the most recent RPG I beat, and the first WRPG I’ve ever gotten to the end of. Torchlight, available for Windows and Mac OS X, is often described as a Diablo clone, but it’s one whose pedigree includes former staffers at Diablo home Blizzard North. Naturally, Torchlight has some of that Blizzard Touch™ about it, without the full-on robustness of that studio’s regular output. This lack of depth isn’t really a problem, though, since it’s a quality game made on a small scale by a small studio, and a good value at its full price of $20.

The story in Torchlight is pretty bare-bones. There’s mysterious happenings in the mines just outside of the town of Torchlight. You’re an adventurer who has come to town, and soon you find yourself teaming up with a woman named Syl in an effort to unravel the mine’s mysteries. It’s not a particularly deep story, but it gets the job done, and features some challenging moments and a tidy conclusion.

What largely kept me playing were the clean, World of WarCraft-style graphics and the satisfying loot grind. I also liked going in knowing that it was a short game—I like Diablo-esque RPGs but find many of them too long and too big. Oddly enough, in the end, the one game that Torchlight reminded me of most was Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. Shiren is turn-based and a roguelike, but other than that, there’s not much else separating the two: dungeon floors that were just the right size, item limits that were reasonable, the aforementioned story and loot points, the helper character concept, good graphics and music, and above all, plenty of fun to be had. Besides, if you want to play Torchlight in a more hardcore manner, there’s always the harder difficulty settings and permanent death option.


PAX East 2010, Part Three: The Final Countdown

And here’s the conclusion! This one was delayed since I was waiting for namatamiku to get his box of Cool Stuff. He should’ve received it by now, but I haven’t heard from him personally yet. Anyway, I have other posts I want to write and can’t wait any longer, so here’s Part Three in all its glory. Also, nama, if you haven’t done so already, open the box and check out the Cool Stuff before reading this post; not everything I sent you is mentioned here, but I would like to keep it all a surprise 😉

Read the rest of this entry »


Songs You Know By Heart

The Beatles broke up years before I was born, but I know their songs and music as well as, and in many cases better, those of the then-contemporary musicians I followed in the ’90s. Not only is my dad is a longtime fan, but seeing Yellow Submarine on TV when I was about five and hearing their songs on the radio left an impression on me. Somehow, we got old LP copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour when I was in high school. In college, I dubbed a friend’s copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be. Post graduation, it was Revolver, Rubber Soul, and The Beatles (aka the “White Album”).

"Sweet Loretta Marvin thought she was a woman, but she was another man..."

"Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman, but she was another man..."

In short, I love the Beatles.

I’d heard about The Beatles: Rock Band some time before seeing Microsoft’s E3 press conference earlier this year, but it wasn’t until that presentation—and especially that stunning opening animation—that I got excited for it. The game came out yesterday, along with the remastered versions of all their albums, and I’ve got to say… I’m not so excited anymore.

Though I’ve long liked rhythm games, I’ve never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In fact, the only rhythm game I’ve ever played that involved real instrument simulation was Samba de Amigo on the Dreamcast, and I even hunted down a used set of the official maracas to supplement it. Guitar Hero and especially Rock Band are very cool ideas, but if I want to enjoy music, I’ll just listen to it, maybe even sing along. If I got one of those games, I’d be most afraid of the peripherals gathering dust, like my real guitar and keyboard tend to do these days. (Yes, I’ve long been musically-inclined, but I’m not one of those Luddites who believes that everyone who enjoys Guitar Hero and their ilk should pick up a real axe instead. Playing a game about music and actually performing it are two very different things.)

The main thing that interested me about The Beatles: Rock Band anyway was the singing bits, since I love to sing along with the songs (when no one else is around, of course. I don’t have much of a singing voice). However, I was never all that big on karaoke, which this game would essentially turn into as a result. If I hung out with people on a regular basis that were into the sort of experience Rock Band is made for, then I suppose it would be a worthwhile purchase, but I don’t. In summation, I’m sure The Beatles: Rock Band is an awesome, awesome game if you’re into that sort of thing, but as it stands, I’m happy enough just cranking up the tracks of theirs I’ve got ripped to iTunes and imagining how I would cover “You Won’t See Me” given the chance.

The remasters, on the other hand… hell yeah, I so want those.


Final Fantasy VII, E3 2009, and the Love of the Old

It’s been a busy week. In between real-life obligations, there’s also been livestreams (and liveblogs) of press conferences to watch, previews to read, and games to drool over. As the news editor for the Final Fantasy VII Citadel, however, one little line uttered by Jack Tretton during Sony’s press conference kept me particularly busy; something about FFVII being available on the PlayStation Network’s store that same day. I was not done, though, as Europe is also getting FFVII this week.

Those of you who have known me, even for a short while, are aware that Final Fantasy VII is my all-time favorite game. There are many reasons why this is, not least of which is the game itself. The last time I played it was last summer, my first full playthrough in years; not only did I love every second of it, but I even noticed certain things which hadn’t caught my attention before. When the final FMVs played and the credits rolled, I felt a surge of emotion, a mix of satisfaction and sadness that it was all over, yet again. It’s no joke when I say that Final Fantasy VII is very near and dear to my heart.

Unfortunately, us FFVII fans get a bad rap these days. Thanks to the overall mediocrity of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII (though I hear Crisis Core’s gameplay is okay and Advent Children Complete is supposed to be decent), along the original game’s own popularity, there are a lot of haters. I don’t think there would be nearly so many these days if the Compilation hadn’t come about and added to the fanbase—and to the number of people clamoring for a “next-gen” remake, a potentially expensive and disastrous proposition. I’m not one of the remake-wanters and am in fact very much against the idea; I did advocate a remake several years ago, but that was long before the Compilation came along and made the FFVII canon into lacy swiss. That said, I am very happy that the original FFVII is now available through PlayStation Stores worldwide, both for the old fans as well as the newbies who (understandably) don’t want to pay astronomical prices on eBay.

Although FFVII was the only old game that commanded a great amount of attention this E3 thanks to its rerelease, nostalgia is hardly in short supply. This week has seen game announcements for storied franchises (Metroid: Other M, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and a smattering of Metal Gears, to name a few), upcoming franchise entries that also share an old-school feel (New Super Mario Bros. Wii), wholly new games that are decidedly old school in their approach (CliffyB’s 2.5D Metroidvania titled Shadow Complex), at least one remake (Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition), and at least one game—an entry in a younger series—which employs nostalgia in a different way (The Beatles: Rock Band).

It’s no secret that game developers are shying away from big-budget new IP; times have changed and game development costs for next-gen titles can get into the astronomical. I don’t think gamers mind much, though. For all the demands for innovation and all-around general newness from the hardcores, new sequels and spinoffs for old favorites generally seem to be met with welcome arms, provided developers don’t deviate from the familiar too much. Add an extra dash of “awesome”, as Nintendo did when it revealed that its new Metroid was a collaboration with Team Ninja, and a receptive audience is guaranteed.

There’s no shame in sequels and spinoffs as long as they’re done well and with obvious care, and while the sheer number of them at the Big Three’s press conferences was a little disheartening, at the same time, I’m really anticipating the latest Mario & Luigi game and think God of War III looks great. I know I’m hardly alone in that respect.

Now to fight back the urge to play FFVII again…

Special Stage: Here’s some of my favorite E3 videos. By no means are these the only games shown at E3 that I’m interested in:
The Beatles: Rock Band – Opening cinematic from the game. Much of the crowd animation ranges from stiff to nonexistent, but overall, it’s fantastic.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Sure, it’s more of the same, but rarely has “more of the same” looked so awesome. Plus, there’s Yoshi!
Final Fantasy VII – How often does one see a new trailer for a twelve year old game?
Bayonetta – Oh my. Now that I’ve seen this in action, it has moved from my “might want” category to my “DO WANT” one.