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A few weeks ago, Arc System Works announced that the newest installment of the BlazBlue series, Central Fiction, was in development. People unfamiliar with the franchise might look at the art-style and character design and dismiss the franchise as yet another Japanese flight of fancy. At a glance BlazBlue does seem like a cacophony of anime cliches from the mid 2000s, but that really doesn’t tell you the whole story. BlazBlue is an incredibly in-depth fighter, with a great number of nuanced mechanics and a high execution barrier. Sickeningly fast paced, exhilarating to both watch and play, it’s really little wonder that BlazBlue is one of the kings of arcades in Japan.

 

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Newcomers Naoto and Hibiki (Mid left and right) join old schoolers Ragna and Noel (Far left and right) in Central Fiction.

Admittedly, the franchise does not have the same high-class pedigree some other fighting games do: Street Fighter, for example, has been around since 1987; Namco’s tekken since 1994; and even BlazBlue’s older heavier cousin, Guilty Gear, has rocked arcade cabinets since 1998. In contrast, BlazBlue’s first release, Calamity Trigger, came out a scant 7 years ago in 2008. The game was originally intended to be a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear, since the franchise had been in limbo for a while and Arcsys wanted to inject new life into the fighting game genre. It was a long shot, since Guilty Gear was one of the golden children of the Japanese fighting game community. But somehow, all the right pieces were in place; Calamity Trigger had the vision of director Toshimichi Mori injected into it, as well as the incredible talent as a composer of Daisuke Ishiwatari, mastermind behind the Guilty Gear series. Ishiwatari was a particularly critical piece, because you really only need to listen to the soundtrack of the Guilty Gear series to know that this man knows rock the same way a geologist does.

 

Listen: Noel Vermillion’s Theme – Bullet Dance

 

The soundtrack in Calamity Trigger was no less remarkable than Guilty Gear’s. Ishiwatari had poured his soul into the music in the game, and the result was a penetrating, mind blowing variety of sensational songs that gave you the sense that the world was crashing around your ears. In the devil-may-care style that perhaps only Japanese composers can successfully deliver, Ishiwatari went from the hard-rock tones of Rebellion, to the post-industrial bass of MOTOR HEAD, effortlessly and flawlessly giving depth to every dramatis personae in the game. Fans were drawn to BlazBlue due to the characters, which in contrast to good old Ryu or Ken, seemed to grow throughout the story of the game and with every iteration afterwards. While perhaps a bit cliched at first, every character in BlazBlue was unique both in gameplay and drama. For example: You had the gruff protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge that, while his name may sound like the try-hard attempt of a teenage kid to sound badass, is just really a guy with a heart of gold, tremendously bad luck and penchant for catastrophe.

 

Listen: Nu-13’s Theme – Awakening the Chaos

 

And so it seemed that BlazBlue had managed to recapture some of the magic that Guilty Gear had originally possessed, thanks in no small measure to Ishiwatari’s brilliance. But Calamity Trigger wasn’t exactly a competitive masterpiece. The game was poorly balanced, felt sluggish at times, and the UI was an eyesore for the most part. Some fans also felt that the story, while good for a fighting game, was over-the-top convoluted and difficult to follow at times. However, the game was a resounding commercial success, and the seed had been planted for the continued survival of the series. Eventually, the game made it to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 in 2009, increasing the popularity of the franchise even further, and making it accessible to fans worldwide.

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The cast of Calamity Trigger.

 

Arc System Works saw that they had a gold mine in their hands, and worked tirelessly to keep BlazBlue fresh and exciting. ArcSys adopted a near yearly release schedule for every version of the game, always improving over the previous release one way or the other. Some fans found this objectionable, but regardless of that, by August 2012, the franchise had sold over 1.6 million copies of both Calamity Trigger, and the three versions of Continuum Shift (Original, 2, and Extend). Then, in November 2012, after extensive testing and fine tuning, BlazBlue finally hit its full stride with the release of Chronophantasma. Boasting the largest roster of the series to date, as well as revamped mechanics and a much faster game pace than its predecessors, Chronophantasma was a runaway hit in Japan, quickly becoming the most played game in arcades nationwide during the first few months of its lifespan. The game’s popularity increased even more when it was released for consoles a year later, in October 2013, going as far as being featured in EVO, the premier fighting game tournament in the United States. (The finals were one of the most exciting events of the year, and showcased an amazing set of skills from both combatants. Highly recommended.)

 

Listen: BlazBlue Chronophantasma OST – Theme of the Six Heroes

 

It is now, then, that the fanbase waits with bated breath for the release of Central Fiction. It’s a game that certainly can’t be missed if one is a fan of fighting games. It promises to be faster, bigger, better, and grander. And considering how far we’ve come since Calamity Trigger, it’s a sure bet that Arc System Works will deliver. In the meanwhile, one can always find a willing sparring partner online with the current iteration of the series Chronophantasma Extend. The wheel of fate is turning!

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Playing video games since he has a conscious memory, Bernard has fond memories of the Super Nintendo and the 16 bit MIDI symphonies emanating from it. Since then, he has acquired fairly atypical tastes in games and game music. Nowadays, you can find him dodging bullets and bobbing his head to the music in the Touhou Project, or fighting against gigantic monsters in Monster Hunter, God Eater, or Toukiden. Deep down, he believes portable consoles are king, long live the PS Vita and 3DS!

 

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SNK: The Allure of The 90’s Advertisement

SNK is dead. Well, not DEAD, but more… quiet mahogany dead. I realize that these statements are erroneous as in actuality, the company is somewhat alive through a litany of signed paper documents, but effectively in my mind, the human element has just been completely removed from the equation. Recently, I’m not sure you heard, because I almost missed the announcement altogether and ran into the gagging newsreel very much by accident. In short, SNK was bought out by the Chinese corporation Leyou Technology, who now wields the rights to all and every classic SNK IP from Metal Slug to Kizuna Encounter. I don’t know why the disclosure hit me as hard as it did, because really all it is is money changing hands, but something’s been lost in that exchange, and warranted or not, you can paint me utterly despondent. Where is the caution on SNK’s side? What happened to their dry erase board of tentative releases? What will happen to King Of Fighters? It’s a TRAP! To quote singer song-writer Bert Jansch:

“I know that I might die from poison, invisible hanging there in the sunlight, and don’t you know your creator is running out of ideas.”

Hmm, familiar. BUT! That’s enough Nasdaq talk, this isn’t the 5:00 news.

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 Believe not the negative things you’ve read: SVC Chaos IS AMAZING!

 

I guess I feel like the fight is finally over, because the folks who ran both SNK proper and then SNK Playmore, fought a truly spectacular bout for independence without any sort of meddlesome interference from the outside. They did EXACTLY as they pleased: Come on, they released the original Neo Geo AES system for $599 United States dollars in 1990! This thing was and STILL is something to be slack-jawed about. The idea of owning an AES for me was an unfathomable proposition all those many years ago, and it remained an elusive piece of fiction, until I physically got my hands on one in 2007. It only took 17 years. With that in mind, did I ever happen to tell you about the time I bought my Neo Geo AES? NO! Well, this will only take a minute.

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 Samurai Shodown 2: Still something to behold

The guy who sold me my Neo Geo unit (boxed, complete and with fabled universal unibios already on board) was by all accounts a strange breed. He was selling his AES simply and for no other reason than to free up space! SPACE ? WHAT? So whatever small insignificant cube of his apartment lot that was dominated by this gorgeous relic was too much to bear? He must like to be sad, someone who enjoys the taste of his own tears; it’s the only logical conclusion I can draw.

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A Slice Of SNK/ Neo Geo History

I looked around and immediately eyed a short-list of things he could indeed jettison directly from his balcony window, as we spoke. He could do it NOW, his problem would be solved, and he would thank me for changing his mind, I’d have no machine, but I would have done the RIGHT thing. To be fair, he did have a fully functioning Gorf machine next to his bathroom, and a stack of in box mint Sega Saturn consoles hanging out on the bar in his kitchen, but I mean, what did he need all those cumbersome lamps for? Light? Has this guy heard of track lighting? Flashlights? There were ways around his dilemma, but there was no convincing him; he sold me the set for $220 after I cautiously, casually suggested the amount from his counter $250. No haggling, no caveat, he just wanted it GONE! He then tried to persuade me to buy his Gorf and the Saturns; I entertained the notion, but I actually had a plane to catch some 45 minutes away from departure. I’d driven to the furthest end of Austin with no hope of making it to my flight. I had to change my reservation, had to pay an exorbitant fee to do so, but I finally had my Neo Geo, EVERYTHING else could wait. And for EVERYTHING else, I’d likely favor making it to the airport saying to myself: there’s always a next time. For this though, I stood unmoved, stock still until the deal was done. That’s the effect SNK has on me both past and present tense, it still feels behemoth, larger than life, and something I’d count myself lucky to take part in and to own.

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If You Like Nam-1975: Try The Super Spy

So, I just wanted to express my love and appreciation for SNK; they’re definitely not dead, but it’s my fervent wish not to see their legacy torn apart by conglomerate entities. Sadly, these companies’ only concern is something driven by dollars in the bank and the number of mobile phones they can reach with pachinko Nam-1975’: that’s no way to go out.

Leave SNK and the Neo Geo sacred for God’s sake…somebody just bought New York Seltzer back to market. Man, nothing gold!

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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.

You could be easily forgiven for not knowing who Jun’ya Ota is, he is a reserved Japanese man with little interest for being in the spotlight. It would be, maybe, less forgivable to not know his Magnum Opus; a humble shooting game series that started back in 1996 with a delightfully recherché title: Highly Responsive to Prayers. Jun’ya Ota, the man, is also known as ZUN, and his brainchild is known as the Touhou Project.

Picture this: Japan circa 1996. There existed, in those golden years, a burgeoning market of independent games mainly focused and centered around NEC’s PC-9801 platform. Among these games was a barely remarkable Arkanoid-esque game called Tōhō Reiiden with the English subtitle (as it was chic to do back then in Japan) Highly Responsive to Prayers. While this game might have been ordinary, the people around it most definitely not. Amusement Makers was the name that the developers of Highly Responsive to Prayers had chosen for themselves. Rookies without exception, these young students of Tokyo Denki University were connected by dreams, wires, and pixels to their idols; the biggest names of the time such as Hironobu Sakaguchi, Masaya Hashimoto, Hideo Kojima. Names that upstarts like Amusement Makers could only look up to in bewilderment and admiration as they toiled away in their old PC-98s, trying to make something out of nothing.

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The box-art of Highly Responsive to Prayers.

 

A couple of years, four releases later, and a shift in genre later; after failing to reach the heights of their heroes, Amusement Makers split off, each one of them went their own way. Some created other games, dismissing their previous work as childish and immature; some pursued a “respectable” career after graduating; others just simply sank into the day to day life of Japanese urban ideologies. Perhaps knowing he was sitting on a mine of gold, perhaps out of pure stubbornness, perhaps out of an obdurate sense of duty towards the franchise he helped create, one man decided to stick with what by now was known as the Touhou Project.

The year was 2002. Jun’ya Ota, by now a veteran of five games and completely immersed in his ZUN persona, decided to go it alone. Leaving the obsolete PC-98 behind, he decided to test himself and make a completely new game from scratch, by himself, assuming the roles of artist, composer, programmer, director, and many others too mundane to mention. And out of nowhere, magic. The Sixth Touhou game, known as Embodiment of Scarlet Devil in the West was a runaway hit, beyond ZUN or anyone’s wildest expectations. The game had the blood and tears of a man who refused to leave his franchise to die. The game had a sense of humor that made the corners of the mouth twitch often. The game had a hell of a kick and was bitterly unforgiving. And perhaps most importantly, the game had soul.

Stage 2 Boss – Cirno’s Theme: Beloved Tomboyish Girl

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Screenshot of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, it’s about as hard as it looks, very.

Embodiment of Scarlet Devil was remarkable in many ways, but people were quick to notice just how much the music spoke to them. ZUN had somehow managed to leave behind the FM Synthesizer of previous games and make a grandiose, bold statement. Themes such as Beloved Tomboyish Girl, Septette for the Dead Princess, Shanghai Teahouse ~ Chinese Tea, and U.N. Owen Was Her? have been constantly remixed, rearranged, orchestrated, vocalized, and even performed live countless amounts of times since they found their way into our eardrums in 2002. It was impressive, in several baffling levels, how a man with absolutely no formal musical training had been able to create melodies that inspired so many different feelings in so many different people.

Final Boss – Remilia’s Theme: Septette for the Dead Princess

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It was then, in 2002, that the Touhou Project had really begun. Purists could argue and throw tantrums about how the previous five games are ignored or brushed aside. But in 2002, the ZUN era had commenced, and it had sparked such a massive movement that it’s actually just a tad bit difficult to swallow. A short 13 years later, 8 more mainline Touhou Project games had been created by ZUN, a veritable one-man-army by now. Countless fan games spanning every genre imaginable (yes, every genre, this is not hyperbole), a dozen official spinoffs, two gigantic yearly conventions in both sides of the Pacific Ocean (Touhou-con for the West, Reitaisai for the East), a massive media franchise with hundreds of official and unofficial books and manga, and even an entry to the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Prolific Fan-Made Shooter Series” make the Touhou Project special to millions worldwide. Because Touhou, in the end, is all about how it provides something for everyone. And believe that, if nothing else, this will not be the last you will hear of it.

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Playing video games since he has a conscious memory, Bernard has fond memories of the Super Nintendo and the 16 bit MIDI symphonies emanating from it. Since then, he has acquired fairly atypical tastes in games and game music. Nowadays, you can find him dodging bullets and bobbing his head to the music in the Touhou Project, or fighting against gigantic monsters in Monster Hunter, God Eater, or Toukiden. Deep down, he believes portable consoles are king, long live the PS Vita and 3DS!

I’ve put many hours into my Aldmeri Dominion Khajiit dual-wield assassin. She’s kind of amazing, and her name is Juunyth. I enjoy playing the game, yet I feel like ESO is the Lite beer of the Elder Scrolls universe. Not that Skyrim was Cristal, but many of the experiences I have in ESO feel empty compared to what I enjoyed about the previous games in the series. Having said that, I drink Lite beer on occasion. There’s a place for everyone, here.

Here are the things I miss about Skyrim while I’m playing Elder Scrolls Online

1. Solitude (the noun, not the city in Skyrim, although that’s quite a beautiful place)

There are occasions, like the dolmen and anchor fights, where I like having a group of strangers around to kill stuff. Those instances are fun, although I’m never quite sure at whom or what I’m swinging my daggers. However, if you approach an item out in the world, like an ore vein, an alchemical or fibrous plant, a locked chest, or a rune, someone else can take it right before your eyes. The other night, I took the time to unlock a chest, but my inventory was full so I had to destroy something or eat something in my inventory to open a space. I exited my inventory screen just in time to watch some other super-mean character with no tact take everything in the chest I’d just unlocked. I’m still not over it.

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2. Farming stuff

Materials, not livestock. Do you remember in Skyrim, you could approach some giant boulder and there’d be 10 different ore veins to mine? I’m level 28 in ESO at the moment and I’m constantly out of materials for the level of clothing and weapons I want to craft. Remember how you’d walk into a field, and there’d be 900 flax plants for your potion-crafting? Nope, not in ESO. Firstly, in ESO, flax is a crafting material, not an alchemical one. The alchemy plants are virtually impossible to find. I flat-out gave up on alchemy, and I’m starting to put points into provisioning instead (making food, like stews and cocktails).

3. Dungeons

I understand quite well how giant ESO is. It’s like a million times bigger than Skyrim. I know there are plenty of dungeons out there, but the dungeons in ESO are a bit disappointing. There’s never much loot, there aren’t many chests, and there are usually 1,923 other people in there with you. I love unlocking those stupid chests. I’ve always enjoyed Bethesda’s unlocking games, whether in the Fallout series or the Elder Scrolls series. I like this one too, but I rarely have the opportunity to use it.

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4. Loot

Remember in the Dwarven ruins how you could grab 29 dwarven gears and haul them back to town to sell? ESO isn’t nearly as interactive in this regard. I miss picking everything up. Do you remember how you could fill your inventory, drop a bunch of sh*t, go back to town, clear out your inventory, then go back and get everything you dropped? For obvious reasons, you can’t leave a bunch of stuff lying around ESO. That horrible character who stole my chest would come and take my pile of booty.

5. Sneaking

In ESO, it appears that sneaking generally exists to steal and pickpocket. When you’re in public places, the tank characters and high-level chaps simply run and gun, so to speak. There’s so totally zero point in sneaking.

6. Archery

There are many players that use bows. In Skyrim, I loved loved LOVED using a bow and arrow. Aim, then fire, using two buttons on the controller, as if shooting a weapon. These mechanics are different in ESO, which is why I ended up as a dual-wield assassin. I enjoy my dual-wield character, but I deeply miss the archery mechanics of Skyrim.

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Activities I enjoy in ESO:

1. Roaming around

It’s a gorgeous game. There are some weird things, lots of clipping (which is easily forgiven in such a large game).

2. Crafting

I’m a crafter. I like building my own weapons and armor, improving them and enchanting them. It’s fun in ESO, if you have the right materials.

3. Listening to the music

Seriously, Brad Derrick did an amazing job with the soundtrack. The music is fabulous. Jeremy Soule contributed a new iteration of the Elder Scrolls theme, and that’s terrific too. Here’s one of my favorites from Brad, called The Three Banners: Fanfare (especially the fanfare part after the intro).

4. Everything

Or I wouldn’t play it. I have my frustrations and I still enjoy the game’s beauty, content, story, quests, crafting, horsing around and music.

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Truly though, I wish ESO was a single-player experience. Thankfully, we’ll all get that soon with The Elder Scrolls 6.

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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.

Today we reach the end of our summer long countdown chronicling the 25 greatest NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: The Duel (Opening)

  1. Ninja Gaiden / Composer : Keiji Yamagishi / Release Year :1989

It’s plausible (indulge me), to say that without Keiji Yamagishi’s 1989 album for Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, the video games industry might not have made it this far, or at the very least, we’d be sitting in a very alternate version of 1985. Story would have remained an afterthought, music in-game treated as some exorbitant luxury: some would have it, and others wouldn’t. It’s that simple. Where certainly there had been fine examples before Yamagishi’s treatise, his peers were indeed vocal: Konami’s 1987 Castlevania and Nintendo’s 1985 classic Metroid immediately spring to mind, neither matched Yamagishi’s fetish for scale .

Ninja Gaiden is one of the first records to truly capture the character of its franchise: loose and nimble, stark and conflicted Ryu Hyabusa is given such an articulate baritone that people stopped dead in the streets, simply to breathe him in. He could be reading penny saver advertisements, Publishers Clearing House propoganda, the latest polls that no one seemed to care about: it didn’t matter; when Yamagishi’s foil was flapping his jaws, the public remained entranced.

You’d heard action and drama scored in games before, but really, you hadn‘t; no one had until Yamagishi’s platter arrived at their door. His union brought something filmic, a depth far beyond the general discord, his sound outclassing even the most high end titles and stymieing, once and for all, the noxious potpourri found to be emanating frequently from Nintendo’s more bottom feeding scores.

Playing back the tapes some 26 years later, you’re still likely to be caught up and transfixed by Yamagishi’s multiple ticks. The tracks aren’t all that long, and they’re quick to reach their refrain, but for what they lack in excess, they replace with a kind of fixation: you’re more than happy, insistent even to hear Ninja Gaiden’s main cues for hours, maybe even to complete nausea. You’re convinced that there is no other way to hear these tunes. I’m here to tell you: of course not, you might miss something, and so what’s another go around?

It’s a dare really, find something better than Yamagishi’s Information and Coercion ; try to top Masked Devil. What intro level music surpasses Pushing Onward? How about Unbreakable Determination? Go ahead, I’ll wait here….(years pass)………..Time’s up!

So, I entreat you, be thankful everyday for Keiji Yamagishi, and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Without them, your idea of video games might have been irrevocably skewed. It’s difficult, I know, but imagine games today being as bare bones and empty as the worst Atari 2600 shovel ware. Those lengthy stories, that character development, that cinematic touch, and of course the music all gone! Crisis averted.

Listen, I hear Yamagishi’s a real sucker for mail and stickers, and I think it’s time we all sent over some thank you cards, don’t you?

Essential Tracks: Information and Coercion/ Evading the Enemy/ Masked Devil / The Duel / Rugged Terrain / Seeking Truth / Unbreakable Determination / Nowhere to Run

Update: Keiji Yamagishi is part of the fantastic creative collective Brave Wave. He currently has a new record that can be found here. Spoiler: it’s incredible!

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Listen: Good Weather

  1. Mr. Gimmick / Composer: Masashi Kageyama / Release Year: 1992

Composer Masashi Kageyama’s score for Sunsoft’s Mr. Gimmick is neither the product of a script, nor of action, nor of canned applause and least of all not something built from a predetermined and circumscribed path. The NES employs a rather hollow core for use in the creation of its music, a stingy meridian that utilizes a pitiful gratuity of sound samples and carries even fewer channels with which to screen its broadcast.

Its design, seemingly in perpetuity, is partially responsible for muddling every composition ever written for it. That is, of course, with the exception of one: Mr. Gimmick. (Gimmick in Japan)

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Listen: Happy Birthday

 Writing for the NES requires constant adaptation, as the movement from organic strings to sound type to numbered values removes a vast number of the elements that make it accessible to the public at large. Not everyone can understand nor decipher, nor appreciate your love for this music, and it is because, for better or worse, the fact is that many of its human elements have been stripped away.

When you think of these compositions, hear them playing, you’re most likely to envision machines, and not the people who actually wrote the songs. One’s personal enjoyment of 8-bit chiptunes is tied to a process of surrender and acceptance, and it is an invitation that few willingly grant passage.

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Listen: Lion Heart

It’s with all of this in mind that I’d like you to forget for a moment the litany of restrictions I’ve just painstakingly described, because as I stated in the beginning, absolutely none of it applies to Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. Catharsis is not a term I’d assign to many of the forebears of this genre, but I do so without reservation. On top of that suspension, I’d like to add an indulgent, rather liberal heaping of praise when it concerns Kageyama’s 1992 score.

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Listen: Slow Illusion

 Again the NES, solely judged on its sound chip, has but a few splintered emotions to explore, and such a small percentage of its composers understood exactly how to fully manipulate it. Kageyama, however, is one of the VERY select few to cultivate such a flush and widely versed terrain of play despite these limitations. While most will hit a particular type of note over the head, beat it to death even (the action game score, the joyous platformer, the haunted house, and the space mission ), Kageyama plays naturally and without repetition in response to changes in the situation, but he’s also a person, a friend who’s alive and in the room: someone you can see, someone you find ease in talking to, and someone you can reach out and touch.

Kageyama realizes, like any truly brilliant musician does ( and I’ve said this many times before), that music cannot be directed nor come from a place of convolution or duplicity: People will always see right through it. It has to be real, and it has to be come with a willingness to speak with and to counsel as many people as is conceivable.

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Listen: Cadbury

Close examination of Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick reveals a deeply personal tale, one that is easily identifiable, but one that’s told with such affably sweet tenderness, and with gentle, but unflinching introspection that it can be emotionally overwhelming. Kageyama speaks at times low, describing the pained frustrations to be found within his own past, things he‘s perhaps not proud of, outbursts he’d rather forget, and if could dial back a clock to a certain moment in time, he’d do so without a second glance. It’s universal.

And yes, I’m getting a sense of all this directly from his score.

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Listen: Just Friends

This is but one single angle of this particular recording though, and many times, more than can accurately be accounted for, he’s prone to beaming. Kageyama is nothing less than effulgent in his recollections, snapshots recalling everything from the bizarre inconsistencies in the shapes and colors of fall leaves, wind on his face during bike rides on isolated strips of road, being surrounded by friends; all their separate bonds, and how during the winter if you stand a VERY certain way, half slouched, hands out to your sides but still in direct sunlight, it can make you forget the cold. His tales fly at you with such charisma and warmth that by the night’s end, you’ve felt you’ve known him your entire life, already sharing inside jokes betweeen the two of you and having exchanged phone numbers, the logical next step is becoming best friends. Kageyama’s happy to oblige.

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Listen: Sophia

 Probing the album even further, you begin to realize how all-encompassing Mr. Gimmick truly is. Our composer shies away from nothing; if it is something to be found in daily life, he’s included it here to sumptuous effect: birthday mornings, falling in love, the paralysis of a sudden tragedy, grades of sunshine, family around a table, afternoon breaks, trying to fall asleep and friendship. There’s more though, throughout Mr. Gimmick’s entirety, its lengthy musical sojurn, Kageyama holds your hand. It is unprecedented, the feeling of closeness that he creates, it’s amplified, radiant even, and it bests the typical separation anxiety that comes with most albums from the NES library. There are no words for it, and it’s the only one of its kind that has ever left me sobbing and in tears.

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Listen: Good Night

So, what makes the difference here? What makes Mr. Gimmick the very best NES soundtrack ever made? Well…there’s a thing about nostalgia, and nostalgia is something that’s tied to each and every game on this list. Let us take an example, The Legend Of Zelda’s over world theme; it’s amazing, but it’s a permanent memory. If you heard it today for the first time, you’d probably still love it very much, but I’m not sure that you’d be able to relate to it as readily as you would to Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. While Zelda’s theme remains completely incredible, my guess is that if you found both Zelda and Mr. Gimmick together in a play list you might in fact skip over Zelda’s theme in favor of Mr. Gimmick. Why?

It’s simple, Zelda is a recollection tied to very specific moments, and in the given scenario you might not exactly be feeling its very explicit pull. Mr. Gimmick on the other hand, regardless of any lingering sentimentality, remains something stunning and unsurprisingly current. Kageyama’s album plays more like the records in your own collection, and when called upon, has the ability to not only scratch the more familiar of your itches, but also encourages further experimentation in the pursuit of new retrospection. It’s what elevates his work over all others. Kageyama’s not the product of some blurring reminiscence, and he’s not stamped by time. He’s physically always going to be there with you when playing his songs. He’s not separated by language, not hamstrung by the actual distance between himself and his audience, and not at all afraid to share with you personally: there‘s both trust, and love there. Masashi Kageyama and his music never seem to concern themselves with the preoccupations of this industry: it is never about dungeons, shoot-outs, evil undead hordes, or aliens…his primary concern is making music that fosters a direct connection with the audience he cares so much about.

He’s happy playing his saxophone, content in between to joke loudly , or listen intently all the while, smiling…the only living boy in New York.

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Listen: Paradigm

It is for all these aforementioned reasons, for his genius and inspiration that Masashi Kageyama and the music for Mr. Gimmick earn without question the award for the Nintendo Entertaiment System’s single greatest soundtrack ever made.

Essential tracks: ALL OF IT…don’t miss a single beat.

Update: At the time of this writing Kageyama is currently in preparations to record a brand new album, his first in years. He’s also joined the spectacular roster of artists commissioned by the wonderful folks at Brave Wave. Please look forward to 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.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

bionic_commando_nes_box_art

Listen : Heat Wave

  1. Bionic Commando / Composer: Junko Tamiya / Release Year 1988

To aptly describe the overwhelming sensation of Junko Tamiya’s Bionic Commando score, I’d like to borrow a lyric from Smog singer-songwriter

Bill Callahan’s tune, Diamond Dancer:

She was dancing so hard, she danced herself into a diamond.. dancing all by herself, and not minding…doing the thing as she dreamed it.

These lines illustrate to perfection the devotion Tamiya placed into this work, realizing that when you deliver to your audience, you don’t deliver silver nor platinum…to those you love, you give diamonds.

Bionic Commando showcases Tamiya’s superb registry of dexterous italics: her sense of extending a dip or climb, that rolling sound at first LONG and gorgeously scenic, but whose final revolution becomes both an intricate coil of serous and choppy flutter, all tracked and sequenced over the top of one other. It’s truly lyrical, and what’s more, Tamiya makes it all sound so effortlessly natural, like the original written notes had not undergone the rigor of translation from strung guitar to compressed sound files

Capcom’s Bionic Commando is also somewhat of a signpost for Kamiya. In under a year, she’d be on board for compositional duties for 1989’s Strider; that same year she’d suture the loose ends that still remained for the iconic Final Fight. She wrote 1990’s Sweet Home, Street Fighter 2010, and finally Little Nemo. This wave of brilliance, rather cruelly, went un-credited, as was common practice in the 80’s. Tamiya spent a considerable amount of her career under the pseudonym Gondamin.

Bionic Commando’s score is an opulently versed yield, a richly potent seed of things present and to come for Tamiya, and as it stands, a critical, a defining moment for the framing of video game portraits as complemented by the color of their soundstripe.

Essential Tracks: Heat Wave / Albatross Encounter / Leap Of Faith / BC theme / Ok, We’ll Move / Intro Film

mmman22

Listen: Bubble Man

  1. Mega Man 2 / Composers: Takashi Tateishi / Release Year 1988

In 1988, Capcom composer Takashi Tateishi had every reason to feel emboldened. The scoring work he had done along with his partner Manami Matsumae for Mega Man’s 1987 baptism, effectively wrote the prologue to the eight-bit sound bible, a genre still swaddling about in its infancy.

The reaction to their work resonated with players on such a deep and fundamental level that Tateishi began fielding requests from his fans on the streets. Naturally, some level of hubris and celebrity also seemed to follow suit.

When recording sessions began, for unknown reasons, the pair splintered a-la Sam & Dave, and the duo was a duo no more.

Tateishi was now a single artist, brazen, impudent and determined to deliver THE follow-up expansion to the preface he had co-written almost two years earlier.

Tateishi’s initial scrawls were frenzied, desperate even…a string of stillborn compositions. Banging away on a quickly detuned piano, drifting aimless solos on clarinet and harpsicord…Tateishi, thinking the magic would somehow coalesce quickly, labored over fruitless months.

Tateishi was however under the erroneous belief that the sequel would remain a near facsimile of the original: simple, short and quickly turned around to market. That was until he received THE call: the size of Mega Man 2 would be TRIPLE that of the original.

The melodies he’d abandoned in favor of their truncated version, the multiple act opera he’d dropped because he’d be short on money to pay the troupe of tenors he’d hired, and the stunning finale ensemble of players he’d assembled, dispersed like a crowd in a riot: It was all fair game now, and everyone was invited back.

Mega Man 2’s soundtrack could and indeed would be made without sparing a single expense. Armed with an inspired and impressive cache of instrumentals, Tateishi went to work assembling his a,b,c, and d sides of vinyl. If he was going to do it, it would need to encompass at the very least, two records. It makes sense that the rest of the biblical text he had spent so much time fleshing out found life as the world’s first video game double album. This is how fortunes change, world order is altered, and history is made permanent…written.

It’s tough being the seer, the burdened prophet…you’ve got an awful lot to say and such a tiny window in which to decree it.

Essential Tracks : Bubble Man / Metal Man / Air Man / Crash Man / Heat Man / Wood Man / Quick Man

Don’t forget, that you can purchase both Bionic Commando and Mega Man 2 right here, and right now on Sumthing.com

Next week, the end of our countdown, see you then.

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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.

So…………….. my latest obsession is Fallout Shelter. Seriously, Bethesda couldn’t have come up with a more brilliant way to generate hype for this fall’s Fallout 4.

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Fallout Shelter is a mobile game, currently available for iOS but forthcoming on Android. It’s a free-to-play sim, where you act as the overseer for a vault. The vault runs on power, and your “dwellers” require food and water. You build your vault accordingly, creating rooms that generate those resources to keep the vault powered and the dwellers fed and watered.

Beyond building rooms that make your resources, you can build rooms that train a dwellers S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which is Fallout’s character skill set. Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intellect, Agility and Luck.

Your vault faces a variety of dangers, including raiders, fires and radroaches. To combat raiders and kill the radroaches, you need weapons. To acquire weapons, you can send dwellers out to the Wasteland. They’ll also stumble upon outfits for your dwellers that boost certain SPECIAL skills, and they’ll bring back caps (money).

vault overview

There are goals for you to reach – these vary widely from “Collect (amount) of Water” or “Send 6 Dwellers to the Wasteland”. Many of these goals reward you with caps, but occasionally, you’ll get a “lunchbox”. Each lunchbox contains caps and a chance to get a fancy dweller with great skills or a powerful weapon.

And that’s how you can spend your own personal money on the game – buying lunchboxes.

My first vault was a delightful failure. Everyone died. There were fires and raiders and roaches and death and sickness and starvation. I tried to go too fast with too few resources, and not enough dwellers.

My second vault has been a stirring success, helped largely by my checking account. I bought two lunchbox packages, which started me off with some serious caps to invest in my vault. It cost me $19.98 of my own cash and it was completely worth it. I’ve spent far more on games I enjoyed far less. Although, if you have patience, there’s no need to spend real cash on the game. You can “rush” rooms to produce resources, and you receive a tiny caps bonus for doing so. Each time a dweller levels, you get caps. Your explorers bring back caps. Completing goals gives you caps. It’s not unreasonable to expect success for free in this game.

Currently, I have 146 dwellers in my vault (Vault 878). Occasionally, dwellers will come to your vault looking for shelter, but you can also make new ones! If you put a male and female dweller in a room alone, they’ll produce a little kiddo dweller, who grows up into a productive adult dweller. If you have a couple of dwellers with high Charisma, this happens really fast. Like, put-them-in-a-room-and-two-minutes-later-the-female-is-pregnant fast.

You get to name the baby once he or she is born. I name all of my children after classical composers, although this gets tricky with the ladies (in a soul-crushing way), so I name a lot of the baby girls after my cat June.

I’ve accidentally placed siblings in a room expecting them to copulate, but the game says NO to incest. It’s hilarious, actually:

family

The animation is fantastic, the dwellers say funny things, the concept is old but this game is so fresh. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. The MUSIC is excellent, with that mid-20th century jazz sound so integral to the Fallout universe. Here’s a look at my Game Room, where dwellers hang out to increase their Luck skill (high Luck means more caps):

vault close up

I have two minor complaints: sometimes, it’s difficult to navigate around the vault without picking up and dragging dwellers on accident. I don’t have a tablet, so I’m on a tiny iPhone 5s screen. If you’re in a hurry to move someone, it can be frustrating.

Also, BATTERY SUCKER. Big time. I used to make it to the end of the day without charging. No longer. Too bad one of the vault rooms can’t generate power for your device.

Play this game. It’s insanely fun. Be patient. Train your dwellers. FALLOUTSHELTERFALLOUTSHELTERFALLOUTSHELTER

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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.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Tropics Of Torture

 

  1. Super C / Composer: Hidenori Maezawa / Release Year 1990

It’s Contra you remember most, but it shouldn’t be. Konami’s late 80’s action iconography turn stands mostly pale, absent of lips, a bust formed of fictile adjoining parts: A mannequin decorated for windows. While wholly serviceable, pleasing to the senses even, it’s useless in any form of function or utility. You play dress up with it, and so what? 1990’s Super C is a moment ignorant, forgetful of all this needless preening. Fact is, Contra’s action shuffles slowly, stops frequently, and poses, mostly making a spectacle of its many inconsequential shades of eyeliner. We’re talking music here, right? Absolutely. Contra’s first record is all of these above things: My God it’s beautiful, but why SO many photographs? Super C is Contra high on the muck, and the evidence is everywhere…starting with the cover art.  Contra’s glossy finish, its fatted, contented cover stars replaced with Super C’s oozing alien gurgle bubbles: Goodbye style council.

Composer Hidenori Maezawa’s flawless reworking of the arcade’s original score retains all of its savage cuff, and avoids becoming some pared-down, balding affair that’s struggling to simulate the full wig.

Less the stately glitz of its predecessor, and more the busy hands of men  hastily running an unbroken sprint through fields of terrestrial slop,

this is how you do left to right.

Essential Tracks : Gates Of  Fort Firestorm / Lair Of The Jungle / Fruit Of The Doom Defense / Red Falcon’s Poison Palace / Tropics Of Torture

nes_Batman

Listen: Stage 1

  1. Batman / Composer: Naoki Kodaka / Release Year: 1990

The reality of Batman’s 1990 NES score is that it is not made for action.

This however is the entire point of this work, which is concerned primarily with the study of deeply pronounced flaws of character or of the physical body: a man pondering his disfigured limbs, subjugating his need for control and justifying his perverse addictions. Its level of melancholy is categorically startling, and rarely does Kodaka see the necessity to veil or shroud his intent. Everything is touched with a sense of overcast, a sensation that feels not simply heavy but burdensome. Madness is a delicate thing to entertain, but Kodaka gives ample room to both cerebral persuasions( sickness and clarity) as they vie for place at the forefront of every moment as it changes. Batman NES is long seeded turmoil at the moment of its transformation into a path, where despite a chosen side, every action bears whispers of the other.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2 / Intro Scene / Game Over / Stage 3

The final four entries are here…stay tuned.

——————–

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 to purchase a new headset out of necessity (in a gamer sense) last week. My roommate sat on my Turtle Beach Ear Force PX4s and broke them. Bummer.

I decided to give Sony’s PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset a try. Here are my impressions of both, beginning with the Turtle Beach PX4s.

Firstly, the PX4s sound fabulous. I liked the depth of the audio, and I felt present in the game. I have zero complaints about the audio quality out of the PX4 headset. Good job, PX4, you sound nice on my PS4.

The PX4s are comfortable on top of my head, too. The headpiece didn’t dig into my skull, the ear pieces held up great considering how often I had the thing on my head. Granted, if given the choice, I prefer gaming with my stereo on, not a headset, but if I’m chatting with friends, it’s on. Speaking of chatting…

px4

Stupefyingly, the PX4s aren’t Bluetooth compatible with the PlayStation 4. I’m not sure if that ridiculous oversight falls on Sony or Turtle Beach. This is what that means: if you don’t want to chat with anyone, you’re fine. You can use the headset without connecting it to anything, so long as it’s charged. If you do want to chat with anyone, you need to plug in a 24” or so cable from the headset to the controller.

Want to get up and refill your water? You either take off the headset for the short trip to the kitchen, or you bring your controller along for the ride, but it’s connected to the headset so you constantly have to carry it around and can’t set it down for lack of mobility. DUMB.

Does your cat want to be in your lap? Move the cable first or the cat will lay on it because the cat doesn’t give a s**t, and then you have a 20 lb. cat impeding your movement.

Even better, let’s say you need to charge the headset while you’re wearing it. Now, you have one cable coming out of your right ear connecting the headset to the PS4, in addition to the cable coming out of your left ear connecting the headset to the controller. It’s a tangled mess, and it’s frustrating and needless.

The PX4s aren’t exactly elegant in their appearance, either. I looked like an air traffic controller, but from the ‘80s. The mic isn’t internal, so it curves down in front of your mouth. Not that I’m an advocate for eating while playing, but c’mon, we all do it on occasion – I bet my mic is disgusting, now that I think of it. It’s probably best off in the dumpster.

The PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset has a giant advantage over the PX4s in that they’re made by Sony, and therefore really super duper compatible with the PS4. When you hit the PS button on the controller to bring up the home screen, you’re given icons indicating both the charge your controller has and the headset. With the PX4s, I had to wait until the low battery indicator started beeping (LOUD) before I knew to charge the set.

gold

Initially, I didn’t have the audio settings tweaked to my liking, and I felt like the game sounded distant. I’ve messed with the settings and the Golds sound much, much better now. I feel like the PX4 has a slight advantage in terms of audio quality, but the perks of the Gold Wireless make up for any small degradation of sound.

And yes, they are completely wireless. I felt like a free woman walking around the house, chatting with my friends as I grabbed a drink from the kitchen or stepped outside to check if the cat was getting rained on or not. The range isn’t fabulous, but I don’t have a giant house, or even a big one, so it works fine for me.

I don’t think the Golds are as comfortable as the PX4s on my head – I’m literally speaking of on my head. The Golds seem to dig into my skull a bit. However, the Golds kill it in terms of having an INTERNAL MIC. There is no mouthpiece stretched in front of my gaping maw. Liberating! I don’t have to move a mic to take a drink!

Oh, and the price? The Golds are cheaper, which brings me to what I imagine will be my obvious conclusion: if you’re looking for a great headset under one hundred dollars that’s actually wireless and sounds great, buy the Golds for sure. They look neato too.

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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.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Bloody Tears

  1. Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Composers: Satoe Terashima and Kenichi Matsubara / Release Year :1988

There are those who argue in favor of the soundtrack Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse over Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I’m not among this camp…not at all. While still excellent, Castlevania 3’s musical accompaniment somehow feels forced. You can’t shake that disease: the sinking feeling that it has been worked over numerous times, changed hands, redrafted then abandoned, then yet again further retuned; the band has simply been playing too long. It tends to happen when you’ve been commissioned to follow up the sounds of a genre landmark, a masterpiece: everything bitter.

Simon’s Quest, as judged solely by its accompaniment, is an invariably fascinating narrative, where every hundred to thousand listens only enhances the nature of its perfectly metered, yet fleeting couplets. In theory, simplicity such as this usually begs some level of ephemera, but it is that same concise use of assonance, that fluidity of the tongue that extends its lifespan infinitely. Simon’s Quest, more so than residing incumbent entries or past manipulators, equips the series with a true identity, and makes incalculable inroads on every single sound made in its name going forward.

More proof? How many more times can you possibly remix Bloody Tears?

You see my point.

Essential Tracks: Bloody Tears / Message Of Darkness / Monster Dance (night theme) / A Requiem (ending) / Silence Of Daylight / Within These Castle Walls

stridernes

Listen: Transmission Screen

  1. Strider / Composer: Harumi Fujita / Release Year: 1989

One of the more unlucky recipients within the late 80’s Strider trifecta (part manga, part arcade game, part original NES title) had to be the team behind Strider NES. The game, completely stripped of ALL the glamour of the headlining arcade machine, being piloted by a truly baffled collective left to interpret the still burgeoning, unwritten lore, and minus ALL the trademarks of a then single entry series, would make any sane individual reach for their transfer form, or at worst, accept terms of severance from the company. The story of NES Strider’s island of mock-ups and submission rejection letters remains an untold legend.

Despite the numerous setbacks and the scant prickly thistle with which they were given to work with, Strider NES was an ambition given light by the smallest band of only the most zealous of believers within Capcom. Composer Harumi Fujita makes her unforgettable, one of a kind monotype print from a combination of every scattered, impossible, and nonplussed moment: a scramble to set tone and create enough plausibility for Strider Hiryu to exist in the frame.

Fujita drags in every last favor ever owed to her, making adjustments and taking payouts in real time, forcibly projecting her still gargling sing-song onto Hiryu. It’s an INCREDIBLE ride as she’s unfazed and ready to set over the top of Strider’s world, whatever the moment brings, whether a conscious stream or a rambling cuckoo’s nest of flying irrelevant debris. Scope is not something Strider is left wanting, and Fujita’s lens has covered the world, all of it, brilliantly.

Pyramids, future world, dictators, red dragons…Africa: whatever, just toss it on the pile, and give her a minute.

Essential Tracks: Transmission ScreenKazakh Theme / China Theme / Africa theme / Red Dragon Theme / Title Theme

A break next week, but the list comes ever closer to the end.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go play some NES!

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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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