February 27, 2012

Music Monday: Dajil

It's odd, how I often hear talk about what an incredible epic Xenogears was back in the Playstation era -- and how full of marvelous character Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack was in 1998 -- yet, rarely do I ever hear mention of Creid, its excellent arrange album. Perhaps only a scant few have ever heard of it, or maybe it just doesn't resonate with many folks as much as it does with me. However, rarely does a return to a classic, well-known soundtrack result in an album that expounds, expands, and explores the original material quite so colorfully as Creid.

Title: Dajil
Game: Xenogears (released 1998, Playstation)
Album: Creid
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

February 22, 2012

We Won! The Last Story to be Released in North America

Nintendo officially announced today that The Last Story will indeed see release in North America, after all. Whether this has been a direct result of grass-roots internet movement Operation Rainfall remains a mystery -- but I'm sure it played a part in the decision, and news coverage of the movement was integral in spreading awareness.

The Last Story, for those who don't know, is a Japanese RPG developed by Mistwalker, which is helmed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. It's garnered a lot of praise, although until now it was doubtful whether the game would be available outside of Japan and Europe. Today's news is particularly exciting for fans of Japanese-style RPGs, myself included -- the genre could arguably use a shot in the arm, and both The Last Story and the similarly-embattled title Xenoblade Chronicles look like they're going to provide that.

February 20, 2012

Music Monday: Iron Fossil

Why does so much remarkable music come from games I have no access to whatsoever?

Dariusburst Another Chronicle is a recent arcade title in a series of Japanese horizontal shooters. While the Darius series has been around since as early as 1986 and spanned multiple gaming systems, it doesn't seem to have ever made any big waves among the gaming community at large.

Dariusburst's OST is made up of the Photosynthesis Suite (or Suite Photoconductivity, depending on translation) -- a dynamic, six-movement flow of tracks which blend into each other and centres on the wordless voice of singer REMI. I have no idea if the in-game music melds into these different movements as seemlessly as on the disc, but it's not unthinkable, and would make for a rare and interesting experience.

Title: Iron Fossil
Game: Dariusburst Another Chronicle (arcade, released December 2010 in Japan)
Composed by Shohei Tsuchiya

February 18, 2012

Has Link Been Coasting for Too Long?

There's a common sentiment among long-time Zelda fans that the series has become far too comfortable in its own skin. The foundations of its core mechanics, the flow of its narrative, the array of tools and abilities Link is given -- tired and predictable clich├ęs are often included as tokens to satisfy an expected formula. Somewhere along the line, Nintendo became uninterested in asking "How should we create the next Zelda?" There are so many common elements now, that the question is answered for them already -- an answer that we, as players, already know before we pick up the controller. Playing through a Zelda game now is somewhat like seeing a series of contractual obligations being laboriously fulfilled, with the player holding the controller serving merely as window-dressing.

Tevis Thompson's essay Saving Zelda sums up a lot of my feelings on the series, even if I don't agree with all of his points.

Modern Zeldas do not offer worlds. They offer elaborate contraptions reskinned with a nature theme, a giant nest of interconnected locks. A lock is not only something opened with a silver key. A grapple point is a lock; a hookshot is the key. A cracked rock wall is a lock; a bomb is the key. That wondrous array of items you collect is little more than a building manager’s jangly keyring.
Almost everything in Zelda has a discrete purpose, a tedious teleology. When it all snaps into place, some call this good design. I call it brittle, overdetermined, pale. It’s the work of a singleminded god, a world bled of wonder.

Criticisms that could be inflicted upon a number of games, surely -- but there's something about the Zelda games that is just so cynical and in-your-face about its routine, especially if you look back to the first few games in the series and realize how fundamentally different they were to each other. There was once a time when the arrival of a new Zelda was something rare and special -- you didn't know what you were getting into. Nintendo has failed to really surprise or challenge players for decades -- no, scratch that -- refused to challenge or surprise.

Article: Saving Zelda

February 13, 2012

Music Monday: Ovelia's Worries

This week's piece was selected for a few different reasons:

1) Hitoshi Sakimoto's unforgettable music in Final Fantasy Tactics has never received a "piano collections" album (or any additional attention outside the OST, actually). I still remember the first time I played FFT on the Playstation, and having two distinct feelings: first, that the game was way more complex and difficult than any FF game I'd handled before -- and second, that the music matched this sophistication. The gameplay refused to dumb itself down for those who couldn't survive the trial-by-fire of its intricate, strategy-based battles -- and indeed, it wouldn't think twice about leaving stragglers behind. The music served meritably as a reward in and of itself for those who kept up.

2) The featured piece, Ovelia's Worries, is just one of a handful of piano arrangements by Casey Ormond. His YouTube channel hosts a variety of game music that he's adapted for piano, and it's worth listening to as well. Ormond has proven himself as not only a skilled performer, but someone who can rewrite a piece, add his own touches and decorations, and expand on the source material in a fitting manner.

3) Ormond's talents haven't only garnered the admiration of fans. Thanks to his proven skills, he was hired to rework more of Sakimoto's music in an official capacity, through the Valkyria Chronicles: Piano Pieces album. I'll definitely be grabbing this one soon -- apparently it's available on the US iTunes store (though not on the Canadian store, so I'm still figuring out what I need to do to access it).

Title: Ovelia's Worries
Game: Final Fantasy Tactics (released January 1998, North America)
Originally Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto
Arranged by Casey Ormond

February 6, 2012

Music Monday: Unknown World

Dragon Quest (originally known as Dragon Warrior in North America), is one of the first RPGs I ever had contact with. I may have played the original Final Fantasy at around the same time, but its abstruse rules and systems proved too esoteric for a kid who was used to Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. Dragon Quest introduced my tiny brain to the most basic of the basics, and held my hand the whole way: the game was a free bonus with a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine, and it came included with a full guidebook, dungeon and world maps, level chart, and bestiary, among other embellishments. Looking back, the game's setting was a laughably small world by today's standards, and the battle system was so shallow as to stamp out any depth of strategy. Still, at the time, it was accessible enough that it made me appreciate -- and completely buy into -- the epic, fantasy adventure it was trying to be.

True story: I was walking around the mall downtown once, and a random stranger started whistling the overworld theme to Dragon Quest. I was probably the only person around for miles who would have recognized the tune, but given that this would have been at least 10 or 15 years after the game came out, it seems I was not the only one this game made a lasting impression on.

Title: Unknown World
Album: Dragon Quest 1 & 2 Symphonic Suite
Game: Dragon Quest (released as Dragon Warrior in North America, August 1989)
Composed by Koichi Sugiyama