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Two weeks ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed last week please click here. This week, lets talk 7th place.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – Stealthy Bat

# 7. Rocksteady Studios and Batman Arkham Asylum - By 2009, I had given up completely on Batman in video games. So it was very strange to me when I found myself literally scrambling to grab the very last copy in town of the collector’s edition for Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was days before Christmas and the weather was all sleet and ice, but that hadn’t stopped me from going to some fifteen different stores even though I was freezing and utterly miserable. It took me about 5 hours with traffic and interminable lines, but I did manage to find that last one calmly perched above the register at one of the most out of the way GameStops in the city. It pays to drive around.

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Watch:  Batman Arkham Asylum’s second trailer

How I found myself in this predicament is simple: I didn’t believe in the hype. I bought a regular copy of the game upon its release somewhat begrudgingly. I shoved it to the back of my nearly stuffed Christmas vault and thought about returning it for weeks. I poked fun at it, scoffed at the idea that there would ever be another Batman game to rival the perfection that was the Sunsoft 1989 Nintendo original. I created a world completely insulated from the truth and reality that was plain for everyone else to see: Batman: Arkham Asylum was in fact the greatest Batman game in the history of the medium. Somehow, enough of this overwhelmingly positive critical reception infiltrated my semi-permeable membrane of a solution that was both exceedingly negative and bordering on outright mockery. Rocksteady had my number, and as I sloshed around in this late December freeze… they also had the last laugh.

The moral of this story? NEVER believe your own B.S.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – The Overworld

There’s not much that I can add to what has already been rapturously repeated by the gaming press about Arkham Asylum and its successively brilliant sequels, but what I really want to drive home is the fact that this IS the ONLY way for you to actually become Batman in any way, shape or form. Rocksteady’s Dark Knight places as much emphasis on stealth and restraint as it does on the knuckle-on-knuckle, seven-on-one confrontations. Batman is, after all, a detective first and Arkham Asylum forces you to drag out both pen and paper old-world style to solve its most difficult of obstacles. I could go on… unexpected branching paths, blah, blah, blah, formidable enemies; objectives are fresh and non-repeating, you’ve heard all of that before. Ugh. BUT.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – The Abyss Of Fear

What I really want to talk about is Batman’s walk, or better yet his crouch, or even better than that his grappling hook, or what about his takedown? Being. That is what is most important here, and the most fundamental too, because it is the KEY ingredient sorely missing from these twenty long years of middling-to-awful Batman games. Rocksteady are the only ones to realize that this IS the Dark Knight, and that every other hero on the planet is just some wound-up jerk who’s visited and raided thrift store aisles and happened upon some variant form of colorful Underoos. These rejects, they’ve not thought it through: inevitably, by wearing that costume, they’re going to get hit. One night of cracks to the head might not be enough to put them off, but after a week of blows, surely they’ve started to reconsider and even begin to feel silly about the whole thing. There’s only one true hero, and Rocksteady’s camera is one that captures the view from beneath Bruce Wayne’s legendary cowl, and not from the outside looking in. You feel that power because you have it… all of it.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

I had an interesting and, at times, heated discussion with two of my friends last night as we battled our way through a couple Strike missions in Destiny.

If you’ve not paid much attention to Bungie’s newest conversation starter, loot is incredibly difficult to acquire in Destiny, unless you farm for it. In Destiny, farming often involves standing with a bunch of random strangers, aiming at a cave in the distance and shooting anything that moves inside. At a certain point, everyone runs out of ammo, so you dart up to the cave, collect all the drops, run back to the standing spot and do this ad nauseam until you score a handful of interesting items. The longer you shoot at the cave, the more loot you’ll get.

It’s not a very fun way to play the game, but it’s effective if you don’t feel like playing the game the way Bungie intended.

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And that’s the sticking point, where my buddy, “Super”, got all fired up. He doesn’t think highly of grinding in a game to get loot. He thinks he gets loot the “straight” way – by playing levels and advancing accordingly.

The problem with his plan is this: Bungie doesn’t award you loot for playing well, at least not from what I’ve witnessed. If you play in the Crucible (PvP stuff), you’ll quickly note that the player with the most kills or the most impressive K/D rarely gets anything at all, let alone a legendary drop of some sort.

I farmed for a couple hours on and off yesterday, and I find it particularly boring in Destiny. A game like Diablo 3 or Skyrim is built on the presumption that players will farm until their eyes bleed. During the load screen, Diablo 3 even tells you that if you’re dying, go back and replay levels to gain XP and to find better loot. How can it be considered cheating, if the game actively recommends you do it?

Bungie, however, is most certainly not recommending that players farm for loot, which brings me to Super, and his soapbox tirade about earning loot the “right” way.

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Do you remember how you could trick Call of Duty 4 into landing in a 1v1 match with your buddy? I can’t remember exactly how, but my friend Ross and I spent hours in 1v1 together just so I could get all my headshots, and so I could prestige all the way to 50. It was much, much harder to prestige in CoD4 compared to, well, any other CoD since. I suppose I call that cheating.

And Super has a point: the players that grind the caves in Destiny and then move on to the Crucible to kill everyone with their questionably acquired legendary fusion rifle really are cheating. But on the other side of the argument was Mazey, and Mazey doesn’t have all the time in the world to “play the game right”. Mazey, who IS the dude in the Crucible who kills the most people and has the highest K/D, got sick of getting stiffed out of loot. We played together for hours Saturday night, and Mazey got ONE item after about 9 rounds of Control. I got far more loot than that, and I’m routinely in the middle of the pack (I made my peace with that years ago).

A lot of this boils down to the American way of keeping up with the Joneses. We all want to have the best, and when we see others who have what we want, we often try to find the simplest and quickest way to get it.

Given that there are 8 billion games coming out this fall, we all need to get to level 30 as quickly as possible, so we can move onto grinding the hell out of the next game.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Last week, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed last week please click here. This week, we have a two-way tie for 4th place.

# 4 Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture (TIE)

No More Heroes / No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

 

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Listen: NMH OST – The Virgin Child Makes Her Wish Without Feeling Anything

Rolls of toilet paper are what I remember most about the 2008 launch of Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes. In the games industry, big software releases are usually celebrated events, or at the bare minimum, people are taking pictures in expensive clothes. At the very least, someone’s posing, and music‘s playing. Here, minutes after the release of No More Heroes, Suda 51 has rolled out of bed, gone down to the nearest and most arbitrary of newsstands, and decided instead to grinningly push reams of two-ply into the hands of disinterested passersby. Oh…but someone DID take a Polaroid.

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Listen: NMH2 OST – Shoegazer Watched The Stars

This is Grasshopper Manufacture, take it or leave it. No solicitors welcome, and there is no room for speechless praise. You get toiletries… not Ezra Pound! Gone is that grand statement of arrival, that torturous harangue of expected social engagement, and that sliding, filtered scale of rewards for a job well done. Suda 51 and his adroit development house actually practice the tenets of Punk Rock, so rather than choose a payday of the most sordid type of lucre, and offer a worship tax to some Madonna of publisher marketing dollars… they make the game THEY want to play. And do you think for a minute that the Sex Pistols would have stood around celebrating Never Mind The Bollocks with journalists? NO! And like the house that built it, Suda 51’s No More Heroes is a deeply outspoken iconoclast whose only real desire is to pelt your house with eggs, and is thoroughly content to grate loudly on your very last nerve. This is prank calls, downed mailboxes, flatulent noises of the body and every off-color, crassly constructed joke known to man. No More Heroes isn’t a champion of the liminal, nor imperceptible game experience, and Grasshopper’s NMH protagonist Travis Touchdown knows but one type of volume: one that is raised notches higher for every five minutes of film. You’ll never forget him, you won’t ever want to, and only this studio could have smuggled this brilliant otaku, this idiot savant, under radar and onto market shelves.

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Listen: NMH OST – Shinobu

Suda 51’s brutish meta masterpiece champions and then seemingly challenges the very lowest of lowbrow humor as its full mooned 16-hour duration thrashes and writhes with such indefatigable, youthful presence that you’d not be faulted to think it a live garage performance in some rug-burn basement. Suda 51’s No More Heroes draws a rather fervent cult from those both lanky and awkward, marginalized and disaffected, shut-in sociopaths and the very cruelest of class clowns. Its humor is unrepentant hilarious grime, its political correctness lagging and non-existent, and its distillation of late 70’s early 80’s pop culture unrivaled. No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle are two of the VERY BEST games to hit shelves in the last ten years. Period. This is neither the classy starched bowtie of the musical Maurice Chevalier, the fuss of head dress as seen on Yul Bryner’s Rameses nor the celebrated masks of Tyrone Guthrie’s take on Oedipus Rex. No, not this. Abandoned drive-in showing Band Of The Hand, They Call Me Bruce and Better Off Dead on a loop? Closer.

The question really is, where would you rather be? I thought so.

Stay tuned…

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Seriously, Destiny is ruining my life, one short week after I welcomed it into my life. It’s not new for me to be consumed by a game, but I’m especially frustrated by Destiny’s hold on my soul while I face down week after week of new game releases. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve started dreading the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Sunset Overdrive, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4 and LittleBigPlanet 3.

I feel like I’m cheating on Diablo 3. All I can do is Destiny. I keep looking at my character on the app and on Bungie.net. She looks amazing.

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I’ve only begun with a Hunter, and she’s up to 21 at this point. It’s no surprise to me that I’m hooked on a game that allows you to micromanage your inventory and obsess over your stats while away from the console.

I’m still not even really sure how to deck her out. I have no idea what to buy from whom, and I’m not entirely certain what types of salvage I should try to acquire. I have about 10,982 Spirit Blooms, or so.

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I wrote an entry here when I learned that Destiny cost $500-million to make. I was concerned that a high price tag would translate into too many people with too many visions and too many directions leading to too many errors. As of now, I’ve had zero connection issues, and I’ve never encountered a glitch. My complaint thus far is the ridiculously brief story, most of which I didn’t understand. Luckily, it’ll only take me about a half a day to storm through it again if I need help comprehending the lore.

I think it’s a beautiful game. There is a balance between colorless, lifeless terrain (like on the Moon) and lush, vibrant landscapes (like Venus). And yes, there is a fair amount of repetition, depending on how much grinding you’re willing to do. I have a particularly high threshold for grinding, that I believe corresponds directly with the amount of time I’m willing to spend interacting with other humans.

Speaking of which, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with strangers on a “whenever-the-hell-I-want” basis. Other players come and go, and I get to decide if I want to help them or keep doing my own thing.

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There are exceptions to this, though, like in the Strike missions. These are co-op missions with up to three players. They’re challenging battles with waves of enemies and incredibly tough bosses. As you move through these levels, Bungie eventually restricts respawning, and if all three players die without resurrecting each other before killing the final boss, that section resets and you begin the entire boss battle over again. When you’re facing bosses that take a solid 20 minutes to kill, it gets frustrating if all three players continue to die. Strategy becomes paramount, and I enjoy that quite a bit. Ammo isn’t necessarily abundant either, forcing you to consider ammo conservation and resource management.

In my opening moments of playing Destiny, it felt like Borderlands without the humor. I still have this opinion sometimes; however, I love the hell out of Borderlands so it’s hardly a criticism.

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Here’s the bottom line for me on Destiny: if you enjoy first-person shooters, get this game. Wait until the price is lower if you want, but get this game. There are plenty of enemies – in fact, after you clear an area, the enemies respawn so quickly it’s occasionally frustrating.

I need to spend a bit more time with Destiny’s music before I review that, but look for those comments next week.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will be talking about my favorite games from the last generation of consoles (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii). If you remember, last year I made a similar list, but that particular set of favorites concerned itself with the best music tracks of the 7th gaming generation and not the actual games. Well, time is really up for these machines I’m afraid, and my catalog of its ultimate experiences is complete. It will also be done out of order. Ready? Here we go!

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Watch: Vanquish Announcement Trailer 2010

# 3 Vanquish (Shinji Mikami and Platinum Games 2010)

In all honesty, though it may not seem like it, I tend to get tired of using superlatives. If you were to even casually glance over any one of my articles, however, you’d see that I tend to polish and gloss most all of the things I talk about. It comes instinctually, due to my love of the subject matter, and believe me, I REALLY do love it. I can’t however, simply place a game soundtrack title or a game title that I like at the top of one of my written pieces and follow it with a thousand puerile smiling emoticons. That is not writing; that’s me decorating my bedroom walls (Oh if you could see them!). These superlatives unfortunately are necessary to this process. Thing is, not everything deserves to be described as something with such a beautiful sheen that it’s translucent. Except VANQUISH!

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Grandhill’s Highest Part

Few software titles from this previous generation have left me genuinely speechless, and I don’t just mean figuratively. The demo Platinum and Sega were showcasing on the E3 2010 show floor was one of the most searing, visceral and transformative moments in all of my action gaming life. Less than 10 seconds after completing the available single level, I was suddenly approached by some Sega representatives with a camera rolling. They began to ask questions: “ What did you think?” “How do you like the boost?” “What do you think of the character design?” “How do you feel.” I kept nodding in their direction, but nothing was coming out of my mouth, nothing at all. Why? I was sweating, panting like I needed to catch my breath. Their amusement turned to slight irritation as I just stood there gasping heavily. Suddenly I blurted out a single slurred stutter: “It’s fast!” Thinking that they could now move forward with their questions, their slog of inquiries continued. To each I answered “It’s fast!” Insistent, they pressed me with different angles and at each level of interrogation, I could only make the same or variant reply. Then, understandably frustrated, they thanked me for my time and walked away.

The picture below was taken moments after that botched interview.

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Tutorial

Shinji Mikami and Platinum’s Vanquish may disguise itself as some twitching Killroy come Mr. Roboto acrobatics, run and gun, but it is far less synthetics and frigid infusion and much, much more akin to James Brown: Moving it, doing it.

Like Brown, Vanquish is a gutturally vocal master of stepping on and punctuating a note; like Brown, it’s much deeper than sloppily coordinated elbows and knees and hip gyration; and like Brown, Vanquish ties its greatest rewards to YOUR delivery, the succinctness of YOUR timing and the power of YOUR phrasings. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say it. Vanquish adds such grand interstellar pop spectacle to its love supreme soul that it leaves reverent adulation to follow every minutia of movement in its full-figured repertoire. Mikami in his heart is all Rhythm and Blues, not rigid metal, pessimistic post-punk, nor bleeding, tearful slow-core. He don‘t know karate but he knows crazy! And as it stands, Shinji Mikami’s Vanquish is the transcendental Yahweh Godfather of action games, and if it doesn’t somehow manage to reach the very top of gaming’s all-time greatest of the genre, then quite simply put, there’s no real reason to keep playing them.

Namaste.

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Argus Battle

Stay tuned next week as our countdown continues!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

There are loads of Mass Effect and probably some Dragon Age spoilers up in here:

I wrote in defense of Morrigan from the Dragon Age series a few weeks ago. I’ve continued playing BioWare games lately, perhaps in a quest to find an artificial girlfriend so willingly offered up by their titles, or perhaps because I enjoy their stories. Maybe both.

I’ve failed miserably with regards to finding a BioWare mate. In Dragon Age: Origins, I attempted to romance Morrigan with my lady Grey Warden, only to find out Morrigan is straight and can’t be in a same-sex relationship. That’s cool because it’s like life where humans are a variety of bi, straight and/or gay.

However, even though Leliana’s romance meter was set to “LAND THE PLANE”, I forgot to consummate my relationship with her before starting the final mission. So my Grey Warden never experienced true bliss, as it were, before the final battle.

In Dragon Age II, I went for Isabela (every playthrough). All you need to do is be nice to her like once and she’ll spend some “quality time” with you.

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Hawke: “Hey Iz, new bandana?” Isabela: *focuses gaze, stares ravenously*

When I played through the Mass Effect series on the Xbox, I stuck with Liara the entire time. Liara is, hands down, the best romance option. Like, ever. In those early days of my Mass Effect life, I didn’t know that BioWare was all “equality” about their romances and such in games. I encountered a conversation in which my FemShep could flirt with Liara, or tell her I thought lady sex was gross. I chose to tell her I thought it was gross, because in my mind, I thought, this is a video game; they’ll never let me have a same-sex relationship, and they’ll mock me if I agree with her. So I turned her down and lost my chance. As the game progressed, my lack of BioWare know-how led me to accidentally romance Kaiden. The memory of that brings a small nugget of bile to the back of my throat.

Fast forward to now, when I’m all about Mass Effect. I’ve played all three enough times to know what’s what. Kind of.

I never played the first Mass Effect on PlayStation. Oh, dude, I tried. I tried so hard. But I got to the Citadel, and remembered how much walking around Shepard has to do, and how Shepard doesn’t have a run button, and I just. couldn’t. do it.

So I popped in Mass Effect 2 and started that. But surprise! You can’t romance Liara in Mass Effect 2 unless you did in the first one. I mean, you kind of can, but there’s no plane that lands. Liara leaves Shepard sitting on the end of her bed in the Captain’s Cabin, walking away while Shepard depressingly says something like, “Come back soon.”

It gets worse for the ladies who want to romance other ladies in Mass Effect 2. FemShep can romance Kelly, assuming you go save her as soon as the Collectors take her. Otherwise, Kelly dies.

If FemShep tries to romance Samara, it’s bleak. Samara is an Asari justicar who follows “The Code” and cannot be in a relationship. Even though Samara is intrigued by FemShep, Samara still turns her away. Truly heartbreaking, in a video game sense.

If you’re playing as FemShep and you want the romance trophy (aka the Paramour Achievement), you can’t romance a female at all. You must romance Thane, Garrus or Jacob. All of those choices suck, no matter how awesome Thane or Garrus are. Maybe if Thane or Garrus were blue, I’d be down?

Since Samara won’t seal the deal due to her Code, and Kelly may or may not die, the only other choice is Morinth, unless you kill her (which I did since I’m playing as Paragon).

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And choosing Morinth isn’t the most intelligent decision…

It’s a sad, sad state for a gay chick to play Mass Effect 2. After my failed BioWare relationships, I feel like the only true solution is to start over from scratch. Again. Force myself through the stupid Citadel, romance the hell out of Liara, and carry her along through ME2 into ME3.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Opening Title

It’s the very, very late 1990’s and as the third installment of Capcom’s Darkstalkers completes its production cycle, so too does the developer’s own dedicated house band Alph Lyla (aka Alpha Lyla). As Darkstalker’s motherboards and connecting PCBs are shipped to arcades across Japan and North America, for reasons unknown Alph Lyla internally disintegrates, implodes and disbands. Was it a partnership that ended in some bitter he-said/she-said infighting? Contractual disputes? Dueling artistic visions? Who made that final round of calls? Who dropped the axe? The truth of those final days most certainly is a truth to which we’ll never be privy. What is certain is that after almost a decade spent crisscrossing the globe playing the largest and most celebrated arcade halls, this was the end, and Alph Lyla had fully accepted what was now to come: its true death.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Demetri’s Stage

You’ve heard Alph Lyla, and seen them play more times than is even fathomable. While you may never have bought their t-shirts or purchased their records, chances are you’ve been their biggest and most unwitting fan. Stepping into an arcade, even once since 1988, guarantees you’re familiar with their brand of score.

From Strider to Captain Commando and Street Fighter 2, Alph Lyla’s rotating membership of immensely gifted players spun a black circle that defined and re-defined what could be done within the constraints of video game audio, and likewise should be regarded as THE pioneers of the genre. Today however, I am most concerned with their life at the end and that last cycle that produced six of the most bizarre, spectacular and seductive albums of their career. This is the story of their penultimate contribution to gaming audio: Capcom’s 6-disc soundtrack anthology Darkstalkers Vampire Soundbox.

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Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Jon Talbain Stag

For a moment on disc one, you’d never know that what you’re listening to is a Darkstalkers score. Over the multiple albums that comprise this set, it is this very first record that finds Alph Lyla actively struggling to create the universe of its accursed succubus Morrigan and vampire Demetri. These initial accompaniments are not at all bad, nor necessarily confused takes on the undead, but they are ones in which the group becomes saddled with the ideas and directions of the score’s objectives: no perimeter is to be present, and none of the established grids well protected. Darkstalkers’ inaugural set of character and stage themes rides its monster noir pulp to each and every cardinal point on a compass. Alph Lyla is not averse to experimentation and willfully trades musical genres as its own quick and dirty petty cash. The band barters and haggles with every merchant along the way, leaning strongly for a moment towards Amandla-esqe fusion jazz, and then quickly altering their course, steering from barrelhouse to bottleneck air guitar, and genteel monster muzak. With so many disparate demon tribes being sent to contribute verse to Darkstalkers, Alph Lyla had to carefully mediate the negotiating table, offering each and every one of its participants a first draft mock-up of their signature sounds. Vampire Sound Box’s first record offers a gorgeous yet puzzling set of pre-renderings that, while accomplished, are models and arrangements not yet fully formed.

Quality takes time though, and the groundwork laid here for Alph Lyla’s Darkstalkers starter home contains all the necessary elements on which they will build their crowning, ever-evolving masterpiece. But…so much work still remains to be done.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Morrigan’s Stage (Scotland)

At this point, Alph Lyla’s scattered collection of Polaroids, snapshots and location files had begun to overtake their studio. Those days of whittling are central to the music of discs 2 and 3 of the set. This is where each photograph would be rated and vigorously tested for its inflection of horror and Samhain musicality. You can almost see them all stretched out on their office floor debating at length about which of the hundreds of theme sketches will take lead. Are these heroes or villains? What was missed in the first go-around? “Anyone here ever been to Egypt?“ What most people don’t realize is just how quickly Alph Lyla had to evolve. Regular pop or rock groups are usually given the benefit of advances on salary, holidays between releases, and the artistic carte blanche of “It’s done when it’s done.” The traveling distance between 1994’s Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors and its sequel, Vampire: Darkstalkers Revenge is less than one year, with Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior debuting early in 1997. Alph Lyla’s now cancerous and terminal sound evolution would have to be a very, very quick one. BUT. The immense pressure placed on the group begins to produce seed and on the second disc, the series’ iconography begins to take shape. Yes, that IS Morrigan’s theme in its purest and barest form. Yes, the Bishamon, Hsien-Ko, and Sasquatch themes have clearly turned their own corner. Yes, that’s Demetri’s theme dictating the full terms of sound tone for all future sequels. From this point on, Alph Lyla’s stew of magical arts and skeleton hodgepodge ceases full stop. There’s not only focus here, but a fervor, an excitement .You can see the band collectively starting to grin, walking together, being in on their secret, and functioning as a truly exclusive unit. If you doubt me, just take one listen to Lord Raptor’s concrete slab of metal-heavy soloing and tell me that’s not chemistry.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Felicia’s Stage (U.S.A.)

Alph Lyla isn’t satisfied with simple grade school chemistry though, finding its array of mole, Torr and Kelvin as something both cursory and unambitious. As such, discs 4, 5 and 6 of the Vampire Sound Box stand as a revelatory treaty of the blackest holes, the most unexplained of anti-matter, the darkest of space. The contents of these recordings are beyond all expectation, boldly vanquishing even the very best of Alph Lyla’s musical catalog. Here, the group’s earliest Darkstalkers workings now sound absolutely timid. What’s most interesting about this slate of material is how clearly they now understand the world for which they are scoring. It goes beyond that though, to ownership, to signing over the castle deed. Alph Lyla becomes the only set of individuals who can make music for this series from now on. Genius bandies about between all, myself included, but it’s the only assessment of intelligence to accurately describe Alph Lyla’s metamorphosis from Australopithecus to modern Homo sapien.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Vanity Paradise

On this concluding trio of discs, all musical concerns are thoroughly addressed, corrected, and admonished. In their dealings with Darkstalkers, Alpha Lyla’s most pronounced blockade to full musical realization was tempo. In the two previous games, the group seemed to struggle to match the intensity of the onscreen demon-world brawl, oftentimes falling out of synch completely with not only the pace of the match, but with the flavor of their characters’ identity. Darkstalkers 3, perhaps taking cues from lessons learned by Alph Lyla’s own members on other projects like Street Fighter Alpha 3, makes considerable impact in this final Darkstalkers installment.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Tower Of Arrogance

Secondly, weight and muscle are important things in life, and time and time again, Alph Lyla seemed determined to starve itself, refusing even to eat the smallest of portions. Pale and emaciated, the band’s set lists grew harder and harder to slog through as even modest heat burned up what few calories they consumed. They needed more gristle behind these compositions if they were ever to last, and so Alph Lyla somewhat begrudgingly made that crucial change: they beefed up.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Feast Of The Damned

Where once you could have easily grabbed these arrangements by their frail and dainty wrists, Darkstalkers 3’s sudden weight gain, its amply muscled girth makes this an all-out impossibility. Alph Lyla’s very last collaborations were a collection of menace, speed, and dangerous corrupting shadows falling directly in line with the house of the devil. While the band’s increased speed of tempo, dialed-up bass, and downplayed treble all seem like simple fixes, they actually work as a bottomless flow of currency to fund the group’s apocalyptic second coming. The band’s mixture of obsidian chaos, underworld, blood pacts, and soul-sale imagery go beyond mere sweat and cowardly desperation –  Alph Lyla finally makes Darkstalkers’ creatures an integral and permanent part of the night. And what comes with night? FEAR!

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Deserted Chateau

Lastly, there’s one facet that has yet to be explored here musically, and that’s the game’s heavy emphasis on nobility, beauty and sexuality. There needed to be an elevation of these characters from just your simple monster movie archetypes. Some of these playable fighters are charged with the keeping of bloodlines, oral histories, and realms free of opposing factions, and above all else, preserving their own physical beauty. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ final score should reflect that judiciously. Alph Lyla correctly made no assumptions that the additions spoken of in the last paragraph would be enough to convey this as muscle does not smoldering nor dignified make, and so the group proceeded to add all shades of lipstick, blush, and slow-rising mist to their soundtrack’s already well supported curves. Characters’ walks become more elegant, their costumes more decorated, and their accomplishments more embellished. The band’s end result is an anesthesia so hypnotically bewildering and powerful, its true feat is that anyone can even play the game without simply staring fixatedly upon it. Darkstalkers’ score is a highly potent, near-toxic spell of crossed desire lines, carnal yearning and forsaken allegiances. Even the logo screen (the unparalleled and now famous opening “Dirty Beret” teaser) has the ability to captivate, narcotize and enslave.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Dirty Beret

Not a single moment inside Vampire Sound Box’s compilation fails, and that’s saying quite a lot. This being their closing set of recorded tracks together as Alph Lyla, they’ve placed emphasis on every snippet of film intro, plot device and win/loss hook. Not a moment is silent, and nothing is left to be repeated. This is poring over their legacy, their last written word in stone. It captures their towering scale at its highest point and provides the clearest, most thorough memoir of one of video games’ greatest and most revered groups at the moment of their passing.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Red Thirst

From Darkstalkers onward, sound duties for a varied and great number of Capcom titles fell to single, past members of Alph Lyla. With a decade of recordings in its portfolio, their carefully constructed body of work would find its way onto a numerous number of compilations and retrospectives. There was a small tremor after their demise in the form of a BioHazard Drama album done in 1999, but it didn’t amount to a reforming of the group. It’s of no matter though, I suppose, because with Darkstalkers: Vampire Sound Box, Alph Lyla ends its career with the truest sound of night. And night, as it’s understood, seems to be stronger than death.

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Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Fetus Of God

To purchase the entire digital Vampire: Soundbox click here. This ends our Summer of Capcom, if you missed any of the previous articles, please click here…..here….here…..here and here.

And remember, Darkstalkers are not dead!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Another PAX Prime is in the books, and this was a big one. So many people. So many games. So many lines.

Saturday, I hosted two panels. The first, at noon, was called Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved – From 8-Bit Soundtrack to Gameplay, and involved Chris Nicholls (Executive Producer of Fantasia: Music Evolved), Gwen Riley (Head of Business Affairs Music at Disney Interactive), Inon Zur (composer) and Eddie Kramer (producer/engineer).

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The panel was fabulous, but my favorite part was playing the game. Disney teamed up with Harmonix for this one, and Harmonix proved again that they have a handle on creating fantastic interactive music games.

I chose to try the game out by playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Much like the very first time I played Guitar Hero, I didn’t nail many notes, but all I wanted to do was try it again and again. It was addicting, fun, challenging, colorful and engaging.

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Composer Inon Zur channeling Wizard Mickey

The bummer of it is that it’s an Xbox One exclusive, but between Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved and Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, I know at least one person who’s buying an Xbox One before October. (me)

I finally want an Xbox One! That’s good news for Microsoft, as I’m sure I’m not the only one excited by some of their upcoming exclusives.

The afternoon panel I hosted was called Maestros of Video Games, and included composers Martin O’Donnell, Darren Korb, Sascha Dikiciyan, Oleksa Lozowchuk, Jesper Kyd and Boris Salchow. All six of those composers are fabulous in their own right, and they were a delight on the panel. That panel ended at 5:30, followed by a 2-hour signing session from 7 PM – 9 PM.

All six have exciting projects – some are announced, some are not. Jesper’s newest music will be heard in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. You’ll hear Sascha’s music in The Long Dark, Boris’s in Sunset Overdrive, and Marty’s in Destiny. Darren’s newest tunes are in Transistor, and I highly encourage you to listen to every single note written by Oleksa, whether it’s from Dead Rising 3 or any number of amazing projects he’s scored.

Saturday was a lonnnnnng day, but easily one of the best days of my life.

The lines, as I mentioned, were as epic as ever. When I finally had the chance to walk the floor Sunday afternoon, every single line was capped and said “Please come back in 5-10 minutes, and no, you can’t make a line for the line”.

But there was no line for LittleBigPlanet 3, at least not at the instant I walked by it. I played it, loved it, I can’t wait to buy it. LBP3 was set up at Sony’s PlayStation exhibit. They happened to have a couple PS4s set up running Far Cry 4, so I played that without a wait also, standing not 50 feet away from the 2+-hour-long line at Ubisoft’s actual Far Cry 4 booth. I will buy that without hesitation as well.

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Sunday, I bumped into Peter McConnell. He was at PAX Prime to do a panel about Grim Fandango, which Double Fine is re-releasing. Such good news!!!

All in all, PAX Prime was fantastic. PAXtastic. Hard to believe it was my fourth PAX (2nd Prime)! I met some great people, fans and industry folk alike. I look forward to the next adventure!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Saturday, August 30th, I’m moderating a discussion called “Maestros of Video Games” in Seattle at PAX Prime. As usual, I’m pretty frickin’ excited about this. Here’s a bit of background on each panelist, along with a couple of my favorite samples of their music.

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Sascha Dikiciyan

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Sascha’s Mass Effect 3 music hits me with such nostalgia that all I need to do is see the title of one of those tracks and I’m hit with a wave.

Here’s the character creation music. Sascha is great at creating the illusion of spacious landscapes in his tracks. He worked on both Borderlands games; here’s one of my favorites from Borderlands 2.

Lest we forget Dead Rising 3, a soundtrack with more than five hours of music on it. Sascha isn’t responsible for all five of those hours, as you’ll learn below. He contributed a lot of music, though, such as “Infected”, which you can check out on Sascha’s website.

Darren Korb

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Darren is the audio guy and composer for Supergiant Games. His soundtrack for Bastion pretty much blew everyone away. He came back with more amazing music for Transistor in 2014. Both games are all but unplayable without the soundtracks. Here’s a favorite track from each:

Slinger’s Song” – Bastion

Sandbox” – Transistor

Jesper Kyd

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Oh man I love this dude so much it hurts. I mean no disrespect to the other incredible talents on the panel. One of game music’s greatest tragedies was the separation of Assassin’s Creed and Jesper, although I tell myself this opened up opportunities for us to hear his music elsewhere.

One of my favorite “elsewheres” is Darksiders II, which quite possibly will forever remain a favorite soundtrack of mine. Here’s that.

He’s done much since then, as he did much before AC with his Hitman music. Borderlands, Borderlands 2, State of Decay, and the TV series Metal Hurlant Chronicles. Here’s some awesome Borderlands 2 music.

Oleksa Lozochuk

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Oleksa joined the Dead Rising series for Dead Rising 2. Oleksa is a pretty great songwriter, for one. Check out “Halfway Dead”. It’s amazing.

I adore this track from Dead Rising 3 in so many ways, too. Yay Prince!

Not all his music has words, such as this.

Martin O’Donnell

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What honestly to say about Martin, the king of Halo, that hasn’t been said? My favorite soundtrack from the Halo series is from ODST. My favorite other Halo track is “Luck” from Halo 3.

I kinda can’t wait to hear more Destiny music, and I’m bummed that won’t happen until after the panel (Destiny releases September 9). Here’s a taste, though!

Boris Salchow

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Huge huge huge Boris fan. I loved his music for Resistance 3; he’s written amazing music for Ratchet & Clank, and I cannot wait to hear what’s up with Sunset Overdrive.

However, if you want to hear a hidden gem, I highly, highly recommend you listen to his score for a film called Germany from Above (Deutschland von Oben). It’s fantastic, and you can hear it on his website.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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Listen: Prologue

Video games save lives and a few months ago we looked at the first two entries on a list of games that have personally saved mine. Today we will look at the third and final title in this series, and how exactly it helped me through crisis. Today it’s Fumito Ueda and Team ICO’s Shadow Of The Colossus. First though, I need to tell you a story that goes back over a decade ago.

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Watch: Intro Movie

In 1997, if you had told me that I would be the first to leave my old band, I would have fallen over laughing at you. How could you know about the oaths I had sworn in my head? This group was about a lifetime of allegiance. It was a duty born to ensure the survival of something I had helped to create. The band needed four good men, and I never pegged myself as THE deserter. I also never suspected I would walk away from that duty early: Who could have known that I was the Ides of March? I was. So the end came.

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Listen: Prohibited Arts

It’s August 23rd, 2005; I am on stage for the last time as a member of the group.  I picked the day of our eight-year anniversary to leave. When you separate from people, nothing makes any sense. I did feel a very clear sense of acrimony. A distinct betrayal. My musical ideas within the band had started going unheard, and the conversations stopped including me. I began as this group’s front man, and I still sang, but only just barely. The quartet we had felt like a trio, with me relegated to what was essentially tambourine duty. I couldn’t help but feel abandoned by these people around whom I had built my life.

My role in those final months can be likened to that of a sickly dog. Quite literally, I limped into a corner and died a slow mute death.

In this our final show, before our last song had even ended, I turned off my equipment and jumped off the stage. I watched the end of the performance instead of participating in it. I was done. The night ended with few tears, I felt almost nothing, and said even less.

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Listen: Resurrection

The problems with the band of course had two sides. It wasn’t their fault, and I was in no way blameless. I had been miserable company for most of the time I had lived in Austin with them, and I was not around when I needed to be around. I was homesick… mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I worked three jobs and never left my house.

I was not living for myself; I was living for them. I knew these men would always be my family, so I got out.

There was one caveat for which I had not prepared. With the group, I had felt like my own heroes. I was Marty Mcfly saving Doc Brown from the Libyans. Batman telling Commissioner Gordon, “You don’t have to thank me”. I was invincible, worthwhile, and important. Now at best, I was just some guy with a funny walk who had once been a part of something bigger. I was a nothing, a has-been at age 26.

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Listen: The Opened Way

I left Austin, but coming back home did very little to ease my mind. I had just experienced the biggest breakup of my entire life. I had whittled away a good portion of my twenties, damaged my hearing, and compromised my own sanity for something I was no longer a part of. I was completely heartbroken, and heartbroken people are usually vampiric insomniacs who actively diminish the value of a daily shower.  I lived in my bedroom, playing Street Fighter 2 and only went out when I wanted to see Batman Begins… which I saw some twenty times in theaters. I was not on earth; I was floating in a haze! Then the walking began.

Walking became everything to me. I circled neighborhoods and paced in front of convenience stores. All this mobilized meandering held such value – as long as I was walking, I was in control. This is also, might I add, when interventions needed to happen. In short, I needed therapy.

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Listen: End of the Battle

I had been in therapy before when I was about ten years old. This one morning, between breakfast and Nintendo, I wanted to die. Then, overnight, I became afraid of everything and everyone.  Therapy, if you haven’t experienced it, can be a completely alienating experience in the wrong hands, or it can be permanently, positively transformative when administered by a skilled practitioner. Your therapist is someone who wants to take that sick bullet for you, bending and curving the wind to scatter the remnants deflecting the shrapnel. It comes at a cost, though – they WANT answers, and they WANT action. The truth, however, is that the answers they seek can be vicious, uncomfortable, and downright mentally excruciating to produce.

My therapist, in case you’re wondering, saved my life and I will always love him for it.

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Listen: Idol Collapse

Back to the present… this walking I’m doing desperately needs attention. While I never thought that I would find myself back in the position of needing therapy again, here I am. Unbeknownst to me, Shadow Of The Colossus would be both my intervention, and my therapy.

How on earth did Shadow Of The Colossus make me feel safe, how did it save my life (are you still there)? The simple and most obvious answer would be the space and silence it afforded me, much like the other games on this list. There is one major difference between those experiences and Shadow; this time you’re not alone. Shadow is a game of lengthy clinical examination: long stretches of probing one-on-one analysis via your horse Agro. On the many trips, the rides to each of the 16 Colossus battles, I was given jarringly pointed and sobering assignments. I cried a LOT, through a good 90% of the game even. I don’t mean tear up, I mean sobbed. It was nothing short of physical. The other ten percent of Team ICO’s sessions revolved around actually battling its Colossus.

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Listen: Lakeside

This video game, this inanimate plastic object, knew I had just lost the love of my life. It saw me pounding her chest, actively searching for a way to revive her slowly festering corpse. Even after the fiasco, the end of my involvement in my band… I still wanted to be part of it. I still wanted it back. The fear of letting go requires facing the actual fear, and Shadow Of The Colossus held my arms and legs restrained, my gaze forcibly narrowed and jammed down the fish eye of my assailant in the form of those Colossi. In order to reach that point, however, you guessed it… there must first be some time spent riding around in the dark.

So mounting Agro meant I had to first seek out these creatures, working through my problems as I rode to their lairs. Then I had to go close-quarters with the actual beast in their second, more leviathan-like form: The colossus.

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Listen: Silence

For game software to competently masquerade as a therapist, it has to be many things. Foremost, it has to be breathing. Shadow inhales, exhales, coughs and has its own history of questionable and reprehensible choices. It is one of the few games that I consider to be a living being. Shadow is also no fan of hoarding, and it sees no value whatsoever in the collecting of aged and piling newspapers. This title is one of focused ambition, and successfully steers you away from your desire to acquire useless baubles as is customary in most video games. No plunder, no dawdle, no distraction. Here you are tasked with very specific things and its single goal is a straightforward one: best the entities paralyzing you.

If Shadow Of The Colossus is actually human, then by definition so are the few characters that inhabit its world. If you have not played the game: there are a few spoilers ahead, begin reading again at “Lastly“. It all begins and ends with Agro, your horse. He’s your therapist and thankfully, a competent one. All your trials are cataloged, examined, and medicated by Agro’s prescription pad; he is always there. This poor horse takes you from sand dunes to the hinterlands, never wavering, never tiring. I grew so attached to the horse that I tried to minimize my attempts to make him run faster. When my character would dismount, I would always gently pat his mane (which the game allows you to do), never wanting him to feel that I was someone who could not be trusted. If he felt it, I felt it: his bruises, his exhaustion… all of it.

When Agro dies in a final act of loyalty to you, it was too much. I stopped playing for days. The bond was such that when death came for Agro, it was the first time I ever actually mourned a video game avatar, and his death signifies Shadow’s last and painfully capitalized push to make you finally go it alone.

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Listen: The Sunlit Earth

Lastly, the game’s soundtrack as scored by composer Kow Otani builds upon game director Fumito Ueda’s garishly dotted landscapes with contrasting cycles of panoramic silence and broken verses intoning fear, mourning and helpless paralysis. Otani’s instrument is one of the game’s most essential mechanisms. His work here is a profoundly emotive and densely passionate set of pieces, without which Shadow might have failed to translate the onslaught and weight of its slow and piecemeal collapse. While Ueda’s scenes have been carefully orchestrated and expertly blocked, they still require Otani’s guidance to make them traversable, unscrambled and enduring. Without his material, it is quite likely that my therapy would have failed. Tackling problems with only the vision and limited black and white perspective of Ueda would have been a single pronged approach that would have failed to understand the full prognosis and broad spectrum of my troubles, which Otani was more than capable of translating.

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Listen: The Final Battle

When I finally reached the end of the game, I just felt better… enough even, to start moving around before sundown. The lift Shadow provided was a genuine one, wholly altering the course of my descent, creating a viable, steady path forward. It’s likely your experience will differ from mine, meaning substantially more or less to each player. Regardless, Shadow Of The Colossus will still be something I am certain you will feel the need to talk about some 40 years from now.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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