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It has been roughly a month since the momentous end of Comiket 88. The event happened during the weekend starting on August 14th, 2015, and it gave us a glimpse into the grassroots dōjinshi movement in Japan. Most importantly perhaps, Comiket 88 marked the release of the fifteenth installment of the Touhou series: Touhou Kanjuden (Ultramarine Orb Tale): Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom. I have talked about the Touhou series before, and it’s my sincerest hope that the reader will forgive me for repeating myself so soon; but having only recently finished the main scenario of Lunatic Kingdom in its entirety, there’s this feeling that the game demands to be looked at in a very careful and meticulous way.

As mentioned before, the Touhou series are a franchise comprised for the most part of shoot ‘em up games. Touhou is famed for being the work of a single man named Jun’ya Ōta, also known as ZUN. Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom is no exception; every single line of code, pixel, musical note, etcetera were created by ZUN himself, which makes Lunatic Kingdom maybe a bit more impressive overall. As a friendly reminder, this review contains spoilers, as it encompasses the almost the entire game. Sparse as the story in the Touhou mainline games may be, the reader has been warned. Special thanks go to Pazzy, for providing the gameplay screen captures.


The cover art for Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom.

At the start of Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom: our two perennial women of the hour, Reimu Hakurei and Marisa Kirisame, are joined by up-and-coming nouveau-protagonist Sanae Kochiya from Mountain of Faith, the tenth Touhou game; and by Reisen Udongein Inaba, stage 5 boss from Touhou 8: Imperishable Night, who makes her debut as a playable character in Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom. This unlikely quartet of heroines discover that a strange extraterrestrial probe has crashed into a nearby mountain in the land of Gensokyo. Suspecting a possible invasion from powerful beings that dwell in the moon, known as “Lunarians”, the girls go investigate this incident. And in this ominous tone, the game starts.

As usual, the player has to pick one of the four protagonists mentioned above. Each one of the girls has different bullet patterns and bomb properties that might make the game easier or harder depending on preference. Sanae is generally considered the “easier” way to beat the game, while the rest are roughly equal in terms of difficulty, with Marisa slightly edging everyone out in terms of challenge. After that, you are given another selection between “Pointdevice Mode” and “Legacy Mode”. Legacy mode functions similarly to the previous Touhou games, where you have a limited amount of lives and there is no way to save your progress other than finishing the stage you’re playing. Pointdevice mode removes lives entirely from the equation, instead opting for adding chapter checkpoints throughout the stages. When hit by an enemy in Pointdevice mode, the player is returned to the latest checkpoint, and the game resumes as normal. This was a much debated addition, as Pointdevice mode supports the suspension of play sessions, and allows you to continue right where you left off the last time you closed the game in frustration due to being stuck in a particularly tricky part.


The cast of playable characters. From left to right: Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame, Sanae Kochiya, and Reisen Udongein Inaba.

Finally, after much ado, you’re placed at the start of stage 1. There’s a beautiful background of greenlands and a forest, along with a charming, extremely energetic tune called That Unforgettable Greenery of Connection which completes the setting marvelously. Typical for a stage 1 theme, That Unforgettable Greenery of Connection, is incredibly upbeat, and ignites these feelings of adventure and wanderlust inside the player. ZUN’s trademark trumpets roar stridently and powerfully in the refrain of the song, following the playful beat of the drums and snares. The stage is as short as the song itself, but regardless of length, you’ll soon find yourself bobbing your head to the quirky melody.

It’s over too soon though, and the boss of the first stage appears. Her name is Seiran and she’s a Lunarian; a creature from the moon, specifically a moon rabbit. Our heroines question Seiran’s motives for coming to Earth, and the only thing she reveals is that she’s with the Lunarian Military Infiltrators. Seiran works alone and she’s tough as nails, wielding her fearsome mochi mallet as a form of intimidation. As the conversation between Seiran and our heroine winds down, her theme begins playing and battle begins. The Rabbit has Landed is the name of Seiran’s song, a reference to the phrase uttered by Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Clever references aside, the piece is fantastic, it exudes a cool confidence and has a certain frisky tone that is generally present in stage 1 boss themes. The fight in itself is fairly straightforward, but by no means easy. There are no remarkable patterns to see here, nor does Seiran have a gimmick like some Touhou bosses seem to have at times. It’s pure concentration and pattern memorization cranked up to eleven in the higher difficulty levels. Seiran doesn’t give you a whole lot of room with “easy” bullet patterns, also called “Spell Cards”, a staple of the series at large.


“This is Seiran. I’ve made contact with a belligerent earthling.”

For veterans of the series, the first thing you may have noticed is that if you selected Pointdevice mode, the game is significantly harder than its predecessors. You may not have to worry about lives, but the game is not a downhill cruise down leisure lane. ZUN himself has stated that he implemented Pointdevice mode as a way of making the game as challenging as it could be, and he delivers fully and convincingly. This is where some people might find fault with Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, as the game sometimes feels as if it is now to be an exercise in frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, much like Super Meat Boy and the Souls series among others.

Once Seiran is defeated, she reveals the fact that she’s part of an invasion force sent to Earth from the moon, and points our heroines towards one of her superiors. And so stage 2 begins, the scenery changes to a blood red moon reflected over a dark body of water, and before long the name of the theme for stage 2 makes perfect sense. The Lake Reflects the Pure Moonlight is a much more serious piece when compared to the previous theme, the intro gives off this feeling of pure determination and unflappable resolve. The instruments may remind you of a fanfare, the brass is incredibly pronounced and there’s an almost royal tinge to the notes in this stage 2 theme. The tempo increases as the stage progresses, highlighting the large amount of bullets being sent your way. And just as the notes of the song are about to hit a crescendo, you get a hint of what you’re about to face as the boss appears throughout the stage to remind you of her presence until it’s time to face her.

Ringo is the name of the boss of stage 2, and she awaits at the end of the stage when the heroines finally manage to defeat her minions. After a short conversation, Ringo reveals she is in charge of “Information Management”, which is a way of saying she’s a spy for the Lunarian Military. The moon is no longer only visible on the surface of the lake, and is clearly and prominently displayed above the horizon. Ringo’s theme, Pumpkin of September, begins playing, and Ringo begins her attack. There’s a bit of an interesting contrast between The Lake Reflects the Pure Moonlight and Pumpkin of September, while both are much more refined and less exuberant than their stage 1 counterparts, Pumpkin of September feels much more delicate during the intro, the piano notes to begin the song give it an unearthly inkling. The fight against Ringo gives the feeling to be orchestrated against her theme song, as the tempo seems to increase whenever she launches a barrage of bullets your way, and goes back to the piano riff whenever there’s a lull in Ringo’s attack. Pumpkin of September is a excellently characterized song, because through it we can see that Ringo is more of a thinker as opposed to a fighter. If one listens closely, you can feel the doubt plastered all over the song and during the battle. It’s very likely that Ringo ponders whether invading Earth is the right thing to do. This hesitation is what ends up being Ringo’s downfall, our heroines defeat her, and she tells them that the shortest way to the root of the problem is through the Dream World. Our heroines are going to the moon to try to end this invasion once and for all, but first, they’re gonna need to have a nightmare.


The red circles are bullets from the enemy, homing into the player to attempt to score a hit.

Stage 3 is a major thematic disconnect from the rest of the game so far. Since our heroines are walking the path to the moon through the World of Dreams itself, dream-like scenery is to be expected, but it’s jarring all the same. The background of the stage is a strange square grid of contrasting colors: red on black, and pink on blue for the most part. The curiously named theme, The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space, is a delight to listen to. The bright piano melodies, along with the synthesized drums come together extremely well in a most ZUN fashion, and create a beautiful harmony with the rest of the instruments used in the song. As the stage progresses, you’re assaulted by beautiful patterns of bullets that form stars and flowers. The background evolves to show the shadows of cranes taking flight, much like our heroines flying through dreams to get to their destination. Throughout the stage, the “manager” of the World of Dreams, and boss of stage 3, appears every so often to shoot bullets at you. However, she doesn’t fully reveal herself until the moon shows up in the background, gigantic, looming and ominous.

About as foreboding as the moon on the background is the stage’s boss, Doremy Sweet. As soon as Doremy introduces herself as the overlord of the Dream World, the music changes from the relatively placid stage song to her incredibly agitating theme, Eternal Spring Dream. From listening to Doremy’s theme, you can feel as if it’s almost a warning of what is to come. A sense of apprehension and dread hangs heavy in the air as she launches her opening salvos at you. Doremy has a set of beautiful bullet patterns, complemented perfectly by Eternal Spring Dream, making this particular boss fight the high point of the game thus far. The absurdly frantic pace that Doremy sets with her attacks is unrivaled in terms of stage 3 bosses in the entire franchise. The stage 3 boss one of the most difficult fights in the game overall to go in blind, as some of her patterns need either a ridiculous amount of brainpower to read properly, or knowledge from previous failures.


Doremy Sweet really doesn’t like trespassers coming into the World of Dreams.

Eventually, Doremy relents, and lets our heroines through to the passage that leads to the moon, but not without a warning that the difficulties to come might be the most trying yet. On that note, our heroines arrive at the Lunarian capital, only to find it completely abandoned, seeming even frozen both in time and temperature. The song for this stage is called The Frozen Capital of Eternity, explaining perhaps in part the appearance of the Lunarian city. At first, the theme paints a picture of a perfect calm atmosphere, a peace that lasts forever if you will. But lunacy begins to take hold little by little, it creeps into the notes of the theme and the pace picks up as more and more enemies appear on screen and begin to attack our heroines. Stage 4 may be considered a lull in the game, or perhaps the calm before the storm, as it has a much more laid-back aura than the stage that came before it and will come after it. The euphonious brass that makes its appearance early in the song is noticeably more muted and subtle than the usual ZUN fare, until the trumpets explode into a blaring refrain that highlights the aforementioned lunacy and the boss appears.

Sagume Kishin is the name of the boss of stage 4, and at first this mysterious character does not say much, only admitting that she’s in charge of the invasion forces sent to Earth. Our heroines decide that the only way to make the boss talk is to defeat her, and as such begin to fight her in earnest. Anyone who has played the previous entry in the series, Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character, will perhaps raise an eyebrow to the familiar sounding tune that begins to play. The Wheel of Fortune Turning Over, this game’s stage 4 boss theme sounds intriguingly similar in both composition and tempo to Reverse Ideology, the stage 5 boss theme of Seija Kijin from Double Dealing Character. However, while Seija resorted to a plethora of cheap tricks and infuriating gimmicks, such as reversing your controls so that left is right and right is left; Sagume seems to be a fair bit more restrained in that aspect. Not to say that Sagume is an easy boss, on the contrary, she’s very difficult to defeat and resorts to her own brand of underhandedness. During one of the phases of the fight, Sagume sends a barrage of homing enemies towards the player, and destroying them creates an unmoving obstacle bullet that will not disappear until the phase is over, potentially caging the player into an incredibly small space if caution is not exercised. The Wheel of Fortune Turning Over fits Sagume’s trickster paradigm perfectly as the song has this certain level of flimflam configuration to it; this, along with the fact that Sagume has some strange gimmicks that she uses against the heroines, gives you the feeling that the boss of stage 4 isn’t really taking the fight seriously, but is instead testing the player for her own purposes.


The start of Stage 4. The Lunar capital sits frozen on the background.

As the fight with Sagume winds down, she reveals the reason why the invasion of the Earth was orchestrated by the Lunarians, and why she speaks so little. For the latter, Sagume is a divine being with the power of changing the world with her words, she has little control over this strange power and anything she says for the most part ends up getting reversed. For the former, the moon is under attack from a force that renders the Lunarians unable to counterattack, so as a backup plan, Sagume had decided to “purify” Earth so that the Lunarians would be able to migrate there if their enemies were successful in capturing and destroying their capital. However, Sagume realizes that our heroines are strong enough that they could help save the Lunarian capital from the invaders and as such makes a deal to call off the invasion of Earth so long as the Earthling girls help her attacking the enemy’s home base in the Sea of Tranquility. In an ironic twist of fate, Sagume reverses the fate of the lunar capital by enrolling the aid of the people sent from Earth to stop her.


With renewed determination, Reimu and the others head towards the Sea of Tranquility. And so stage 5 begins. Right at the start of the stage, a character clad in an all-too-familiar stars and stripes pattern speaks and whips the enemy troops, mainly composed of fairies, into a lunatic frenzy. The game’s climax is rapidly approaching and the stage music Faraway Voyage of 380,000 Kilometers reflects this in an amazingly appropriate way. There’s a sense of chaotic hysteria behind the song in the stage. And as you progress through the waves of enemies in front of the desolate moonscape background, you get the sensation that you’re in the middle of a tumultuous battlefield. The infamous lasers of Touhou 12: Undefined Fantastic Object, are back with a vengeance, these red, white, and blue beams of power are a challenge to dodge without cornering yourself into an inescapable situation. Regardless if you’re playing on Pointdevice or Legacy mode, Stage 5 is where most every player will die repeatedly in increasingly inflaming and baffling ways. Among all this madness, the boss’s stage finally appears. What happens next, nobody could have ever predicted, and the fanbase was out-of-sorts for a good while after.


An adorable machine of murder.


Her name is Clownpiece, a fairy from hell; she’s clad in a star-spangled outfit, much like the flag of the United States of America. The fight with Clownpiece takes place on the area around the Sea of Tranquility, so it comes to reason that Old Glory was found somewhere in her jaunts across the lunar surface, a souvenir left over from one of the many Apollo missions to the moon. This eccentric character is the captain of the fairies causing so much chaos and destruction in the moon’s surface, and it’s our heroine’s job to stop her once and for all. At first Clownpiece seems to be scatterbrained and ditzy, but once her theme, Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner begins playing it becomes clear that she’s an incredibly dangerous opponent. The song’s intro is overwhelmingly sinister, and quickly takes on a melody that on the exterior appears playful and merry, but if you listen closely you can feel the balefulness creeping beneath the surface. Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner stomps, stings and rings along a forbidding gothic road that few songs in the Touhou series dare to tread. The song is an absolute masterpiece in terms how it fits Clownpiece’s character, because as challenging as the game has been so far, everything pales in comparison to the spectacle you’re about to behold. Yes, the boss fight with Clownpiece is hard; unfairly so, frustratingly so, and terrifyingly so. Her bullet patterns require pin-point accuracy and near-photographic memory to avoid getting hit. She uses a great deal of treacherous patterns to blindside the player, often creating situations near impossible to escape without using a bomb or getting hit. Her leitmotif persists through the boss battle, as she uses star-shaped projectiles to flood the battlefield while lasers representing the stripes cut the space available to maneuver to a fraction of the screen. At some point in the fight she even throws a trio of gigantic moon-shaped projectiles that spit out more bullets as they traverse the screen. All in all, Clonwpiece is one of the biggest challenges to ever exist in the franchise, and it requires all of the player’s skill and patience to succeed, and defeat her.

Now, the reason why much of the fanbase was astounded by Clownpiece was because it seemed that ZUN was finally acknowledging his western fans by giving them a nod with her design. ZUN had always being somewhat of an iconoclast, retelling and reshaping histories and legends from East Asian lore to suit the purposes of his games; now that the Apollo Missions and the Stars and Stripes were heavily referenced in Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, many western fans were thrilled. To add to this, Clownpiece’s appearance came shortly on the heels of the announcement that Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character would be available through a western publisher as a downloadable game. For the first time ever, a Touhou game would be obtainable in an official and sanctioned-by-ZUN manner in the west. Before, fans would have to resort to importing physical copies of the game from Japan, buying memberships to Japanese doujin distribution websites; or in the worst case scenario, Piracy. It’s obvious then, considering all these factors, why Clownpiece is such a beloved character regardless of the interminable frustration and absurd challenge her stage and boss battle present.


Stripes of destruction. Dodging this is a lot more difficult than it seems to be from a still image.

To get back on track, after Clownpiece is defeated, our heroines interrogate her and find out there’s a mastermind behind the fairies’ invasion of the Moon. After being pointed in the right direction, the girls continue on and the final stage of the main game begins. The background changes to a placid sea, with a few waves rippling through its surface, as our heroines have arrived in the Sea of Tranquility proper. But the song playing is, for lack of a better word, disparaging. The Sea Where One’s Home Planet Reflects, is an extremely calm, relaxing melody. After the crucible the player was subject to on the previous stage, this change of pace is a bit startling to say the least. Even the enemies seem to be a bit more lax, being disappointingly straightforward in their attempts to destroy the player. Honestly speaking, the stage is a bit of a letdown overall. As maddening as stage 5 was, it was exhilarating at the same time, and if the energy level had been kept up for stage 6, it would’ve conjured the perfect storm to finish the game in the highest note possible.

Thankfully, the calm doesn’t last for long, stage 6 ends as the final boss of the game appears lamenting the fact that our heroines have been able to overcome every obstacle placed in front of them. Unexpectedly, the ringleader of the invasion admits defeat almost immediately after the girls begin talking to her, saying how she did not account for an Earthling potentially saving the Lunar capital. Regardless of that, the woman reveals her name is Junko, and that even though her will to fight the Lunarians has more or less disappeared, she will show our heroines what she’s made of. From her pre-fight speech, we can glimpse that Junko has a terrible grudge against the goddess of the Lunarians, a mysterious character only known as Chang’e. If Junko is to be believed, Chang’e’s husband is responsible for the death of Junko’s child. As such, Junko used her powers as a divine spirit to purify her very own essence until nothing of her remained but pure spite and an overwhelming desire for revenge. Pure Furies ~ Whereabouts of the Heart is Junko’s theme, and it depicts her vindictive nature in an astonishingly accurate way. Junko is out to kill you, there is absolutely no question about it. While most Touhou characters fight each other in a good-natured way, generally rooted in a set of rules to avoid dealing permanent harm to their counterparts; Junko gives no quarter at all, made evident by the names of her spells such as “Lilies of Murderous Intent”, and “Pristine Danmaku for Killing a Person”. Pure Furies fills you with awe as you attempt to avoid Junko’s simple yet precise attacks. ZUN wanted to give the player the unmistakable feeling that you were fighting a final boss, and accomplished it perfectly. Junko may not be as tough, or underhanded as Clownpiece was, but the atmosphere of the fight definitively gives the “final boss” feeling, in addition to making you feel as if the heroines are fighting for their lives. The battle is long and drawn out, Junko seems to refuse to surrender to lowly earthlings. But in the end, something’s gotta give, and the girls defeat Junko and she disappears, bringing the main scenario of Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom to a close.


There is nowhere to hide when Junko wants your blood.

As the game ends, however, it seems that the invasion of Earth by the Lunarians has not stopped; Sagume Kishin is unable to do anything as someone is pulling the strings from behind the scenes and is forcing the Lunarians to continue their encroachment upon Earth’s lands. It is then, that the Extra scenario is unlocked, a story best left for another time.

Overall, Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom is a great game. It has its flaws admittedly, as ZUN tried to experiment with Pointdevice mode and some parts of the game were beyond difficult, even for veterans of the series used to some of the more challenging facets of the franchise. The trial-and-error mechanics of “Torturedevice mode” as some fans called it, were at times too much and not rewarding enough. The atmosphere of the game is amazing though. ZUN’s talent as a composer shines throughout the game and some pieces like Pierrot of the Star Spangled Banner and Eternal Spring Dream are among the best in the series. Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom is definitively one of the hardest if not THE hardest game in the series, and finally finishing it, despite its shortcomings, is one of the most rewarding experiences this year in video games. It’s definitively recommended for anyone looking for a challenge, or any fan of shoot’em ups. If the genre of the game is not something that appeals to you, consider giving the soundtrack a listen or two; maybe, just maybe, ZUN’s music will win you over as it has done so with thousands, maybe even millions of people around the globe.


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!


Last week, while the eyes of the world were busy ogling Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, NIS America quietly released the latest installment of the Danganronpa series, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. Now, many might not be familiar with just exactly what this curiously titled series of games actually are; but if you don’t, you’re seriously missing out. There are three games in the series, and they are known in the west as follows: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and the aforementioned Another Episode.

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The box art for Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls.

The first two games follow a peculiar formula: A group of high-school students are trapped in a particular place (a school in the first game, an island in the second.), and they are forced to kill each other until the last person stands, much like in Battle Royale the cult classic book by Koushun Takami. However, a set of rules are in place to prevent wanton carnage. Every time that someone in the school or island is murdered a trial is held, if the culprit is caught, he or she is summarily executed. But should the culprit get away with it, and someone innocent is found guilty, everyone else dies and the culprit gets to go free. Another Episode is a spinoff that has very different gameplay, but today, we will be focusing on the first two games for the most part.

Listen: Danganronpa OST – Discussion -HOPE VS DESPAIR-

There’s a few different facets of gameplay to the main two Danganronpa entries. For the most part, the games “play” much like a hybrid of a visual novel and a point-and-click adventure game, you look around the game world and meet the characters, “socialize” with them, and gather useful items. Then the inevitable happens, a murder happens and sends shockwaves through our colorful cast of characters, and as the protagonist, it’s up to you to solve the mystery and find the culprit. After gathering evidence, the game turns into a set of mini-games set in the mock-courtroom of either the school or the island. The minigames range from finding contradictions in statements made by witnesses by shooting said statements with a “truth bullet”, to hilarious and literal “leaps” of logic in a snowboard-like game, all of which are set to an astounding soundtrack.

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The cast of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

Masafumi Takada is the genius behind the OST for every Danganronpa game. Although you might not know him by name, Takada was the composer for classics such as Killer 7, God Hand and No More Heroes. In the Danganronpa series, Takada really shows his wide array of talents as a composer. Considering the gameplay itself is sparse, there was a need to create a powerful soundtrack that kept the players suckered in the whirlwind of despair that Danganronpa creates, and it was accomplished beautifully. The tunes in the soundtrack consist of a chilling fusion of sounds: suspenseful electronic melodies that set the murder-mystery atmosphere, techno-like beats of immense energy and power to accompany the mock trial frenzy, jazzy rock themes that are meant to relax before a big moment takes you unawares, and sorrowful piano melodies that embody the feelings of loss and despair that are so prevalent throughout the game as the characters learn to deal and cope with their situation.

Listen: Danganronpa OST – Discussion -HEAT UP-

The cast of the games is always unique and interesting, with perhaps the exception of the (mostly) plain-joe protagonists. There’s the gung-ho macho motorcycle gangster, along with the freakishly buff ogre-like strongwoman in the first game, just to name some. Because of their eccentricities, the characters in the Danganronpa games are very unique and a fair bit of them will resonate with the player one way or the other. This gives the games a very strong emotional impact, as a great deal of the characters in the game end up murdered, or dead one way or the other. Which brings me to probably the most recognizable face of the franchise, Monokuma the bear. This strange looking, monochrome mascot is the main antagonist of the series, one of the major plot points is to try and find out just who controls it, and what exactly this person is planning to do with the students trapped in the school or island.

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Anyone could be a murderer. The cast of Danganronpa 2 looks suspiciously at each other.

Monokuma is a brilliant antagonist, a toyish figurehead of despair that talks and act in such a chipper and almost child-like way. The contrast of his “puhuhuhu” laughter with the evil, sadistic way in which he treats the students is about as jarring a juxtaposition as the black and white tones of his skin. Monokuma steals the show pretty much every time he’s on the screen, and the punishments that he doles out to the murderers when they are caught by their fellow students are nothing short of tremendous masterpieces of creative cruelty.

Listen: Danganronpa 2 OST – Ikoroshia

Danganronpa, much like Monokuma himself, is not shy about what it sets out to do. The theme and atmosphere in the games are brutal, almost unforgivingly so. At times, the series is torturous to play; despair, being the central adversary of the franchise, coats pretty much every single game. Every murder, every trial, every stage of the game makes the characters and the players feel a certain amount of despair that’s just about enough to bring them to the brink of oblivion. Even so, Danganronpa makes something abundantly clear, Hope is stronger than Despair. What makes the game feel so satisfying in the end is that glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. This is good for a couple reasons: not only does this give our beloved characters something to believe in, but is an ideology that perhaps the world at large could really get behind. Even in a world as black and cold as Danganronpa’s, hope survives, and that is enough to shine a light on the darkness of the human condition.

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The evil sadistic mastermind himself, Monokuma.

In a set of games as story heavy as Danganronpa, it really is difficult to make an assessment of the story without revealing details that may potentially ruin the experience for a potential player. But overall, they are excellent games that immerse you in a way few games can. The visual novel-esque gameplay of the first two games may be a turn-off for some, but if you can get past the austereness of it all, you will be rewarded by one of the best and most creative stories in modern gaming. It’s definitively recommended, although it would be best to start from the beginning with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, as both Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls will not make a lick of sense.


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!

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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


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!


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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


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.


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:


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


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.


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


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.

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