Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Tender Glow from I am Setsuna

Song: Tender Glow
Game: I am Setsuna
Composer: Tomoki Miyoshi

I have an undying love for Super Nintendo RPGs. Chrono Trigger is my absolute favorite game of all time. The characters and the adventure that they went on will stay with me forever. For some reason modern JRPGs just don't do it for me like they used to. I can't explain it, but something is missing.

Square-Enix put together a new studio called Tokyo RPG factory to try and make Super Nintendo era RPGs on modern consoles. Their first project 'I am Setsuna' released in the United States this past Tuesday as a digital only title. I am around ten hours into the game and am enjoying it a whole bunch. It has the same ATB battle system as Chrono Trigger, so it was an automatic buy for me.

However, more than the direct nods to Chrono Trigger it actually does feel like a SNES RPG. The story is simple, but the characters have a lot of heart. They may not all be as fleshed out as I'd like, but I can see what the writers were going for. On top of that it's not a sprawling game and is supposed to clock in at around 20 hours of play time. 

I read an interview with the director of the game and remember him saying that the overall theme of the game is sadness. This definitely comes across, because everything in the game is fairly sullen. To add to that effect the entire game takes place over a series of snowy islands. So while the snow is falling slowly on the land the thing that puts the somber feel over the top is the piano only soundtrack. At first I thought it would be grating, but now I actually kind of like it.

There's something about walking slowly through a town in a light snowfall while slow piano music plays i n the background. It's weird, because it doesn't make me sad, but instead makes me very reflective. As I play through the game I can't help but think back on games like Chrono Trigger and it makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy. Tokyo RPG Factory hit the SNES feels for me, and Tender Glow is one of the songs from the game that actively makes me feel right at home. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Podcast Episode 17 - Crowdfunding and Video Games

In the 17th episode of Game Time With Manny I talk a lot about crowdfunding and various video games that have come out of it. There are  a ton, but I focus on a select few.

I discuss what it takes to have a successful Kickstarter (Shovel Knight), and how to totally botch it (Mighty No. 9). People often don't know how much money and time it takes to create a video game, so I try to shed some light on that as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Map Music from Yoshi's Island

Song: Map Music (Not the actual name)
Game: Yoshi's Island
Composer: Koji Kondo

I have always, and will always have a place in my heart for Yoshi's Island. It's one of the few video games from my childhood that I have vivid memories of. Long before The Ocarina of Time doomed me to play video games for all of eternity I rented SNES games from the local Video King. On multiple occasions I picked up Yoshi's Island and tried to get Baby Mario home!

It controls like a dream, and has a distinct sense of style. We're here today to praise its music though. I love almost every song in Yoshi's Island, but its map theme sticks out to me the most. After every stage you're thrust back to the map screen so that you can pick a new stage. This wonderful music plays every time, so you hear it quite frequently. It never quite gets stale though, because it changes as you advance. Each new world adds a new layer to the song. 

If you listen from the beginning you can hear the central theme. Then the weird bongo beat makes its way into the song. Each following addition is subtle, but in the end you get what sounds like a full band playing the tune. It's a really cool effect that I think adds a lot to this otherwise simplistic song.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Game Time - June 2016

This month I didn't play very many games. I was traveling around, going to concerts, getting sick, and building a hot new PC.

That's right, I built a PC and it works very well. I'm typing this up on it as we speak. Potentially I will now be able to play all the shiny new PC games that are released over the next few years. I'll tell you all about my build experience and what I got.

I did play a few games as well. I was trying to save money this month, so I ended up selling my tablet and used that money to buy the PS4 remaster of Odin Sphere. I also played Mighty No. 9. I backed the Kickstarter years ago and now it's finally out. Whether or not that's a good thing I don't really know yet.

It was an exciting month, so let's get right into it. It's game time!

I Built a Real PC

I've been saying for years that I was going to build a PC, but a few things were holding me back. The first, and most important was the money aspect. While you can build a relatively affordable desktop that's got a lot of power now $1,000 is still a lot of money. I set out with the goal of building everything I wanted on a budget of under $1,000. I ended up doing just that. All of my parts and the operating system cost me around $930. So far I've been very pleased with the results. I don't want to just sit here and list the parts, but the important pieces are that I got a 3.3 Ghz quad core I5, a GTX 970, and 8GB of ram. It's a solid build.

So, I've been putting money aside for this PC for a long time. The other reason I didn't end up building it until now is that I was scared to build it. That sounds dumb, but I've never built a PC before. Normally I'd be totally up for a learning experience, but if I somehow blew up a $350 video card I'd be totally screwed. Despite that crippling fear I decided to buckle down and build the thing anyways. I ordered the parts and they arrived within three days, which is insane. With all my parts gathered I watched no less than six build tutorials to make sure I didn't screw anything up.

In the end it wasn't really that bad. You just need to make sure you're not statically charged. You can get anti-static bracelets for super cheap. Overall it's just knowing where to plug everything into. It's kind of like super complicated Legos that you can totally destroy if you're not careful. I had a laptop handy so I could look stuff up any time I had a question or didn't really understand what I was doing.

After being stressed for like an hour I now have a fully functional desktop that can totally play video games. Well, I guess it didn't all go so well. One of the USB ports doesn't work. I am going to look into that at some point. Still, it's the first gaming ready PC I've had since around 2008! That's eight whole years without a proper PC. So obviously I'll be able to play all the hot new games, but it will also help out immensely with streaming. My streams will be able to look a bit better, and I can actually have chat open on the PC and not have it run my CPU off the charts. Praise be!

Now to close it out I've got some hot pictures. Note: I didn't really do any cable management.

Front view.

Side view, with my reflection in the glass.

Mighty No. 9

When the kickstarter for Mighty No. 9 showed up in 2013 I was excited. I was so young and naive then. Only now in 2016, has this game finally been delivered. It was delayed multiple times due to quality concerns. At first the delays were frustrating, but they eventually became comical. To make matters even worse every trailer put out for the game somehow made it look worse. Everything culminated in the trailer Deep Silver put out for the game a few months ago. There was an over the top announcer that would make anyone cringe, but on top of that the game looked bad.

Before I go any deeper into this I want to say that the game isn't awful. It's been getting railed on in reviews, and the beatings it has been taking are well deserved. Even I joined in to beat on it a little bit as I streamed my entire playthrough. I don't think it's a good game, but I can see what it was going for. It's disappointing that it turned out the way it did, but sometimes things go wrong in development. You'd think that a spiritual successor to Mega Man made by series creator Keiji Inafune himself would be a slam dunk, but it isn't. 

"Hey, it's me. Not Mega Man!"

That's what Mighty No. 9 is. It's an unabashed Mega Man wannabe. You play as Beck, who is Mighty No. 9. Instead of fighting robot masters you fight the other mighty numbers, who are robots. They used to be good, but have been infected by some kind of virus. It's your job as Beck to purify them. In doing so he gains their power, just like in Mega Man! Normally I wouldn't make this big a deal out of it, but the similarities are endless. Here, I'll list a few.

Mega Man - Rock and Roll
Mega Man - Dr Light and Dr, Wily

Mighty No. 9. - Beck and Call
Mega Man. - Dr. White and Dr. Blackwell

I mean seriously, he might has well have just named them the exact same thing. I'm not going to get into the fact that the DLC character Ray looks exactly like Zero to the point where it might as well be copyright infringement. The point is that Mighty No. 9 is like Mega Man. There is one major differentiating factor though. Beck has a dash ability, which is the core of the gameplay. If you shoot enemies enough they will glow and Beck can dash through them to absorb them. Doing this will proper timing will net you a high score, and give you a bit of a power boost. You want to do this to every enemy and not get hit so that you can "combo". The higher your combo the more points you get, and the longer you keep your power-ups. It sounds cool, and sometimes can even look cool in practice. It falls short when you mess up. The fast paced action immediately stops and you're slowed down to a glacial pace. I bet speed runs will be really fun to watch though.

To make matters even worse I don't think that the level design is very good at all. I often found myself dying because I had to make blind jumps, or enemies started shooting me before I could even see them. Mega Man had instant deaths as well, but at least I felt like I could have prevented them. The difficulty in Mighty No. 9 is all over the place. Sometimes I'd struggle to complete the level only to annihilate the boss on the first or second try. The best part is that if you die, then you get to hear all of the cringe worthy dialogue again! Boy is all of the dialogue terrible!

This is a game that came out in 2016! Look at these graphics!

What's even more baffling is that the game looks like a 360 launch title. It's running on Unreal Engine 3, which is one of the most highly optimized video game engines at this point, yet somehow it still manages to run like garbage. This game should run at 60 frames per second at all times, but it doesn't! It sometimes slows down to 40 or below for seemingly no reason. However, what I think Mighty No. 9's biggest crime is that it isn't really trying to be its own thing. It's one thing to pay homage to Mega Man, it's a completely different thing to try and BE Mega Man. Mighty No. 9 has a solid foundation, but its execution falls short on almost every level. If they do end up making a sequel I hope they try to make it its own thing other than a soulless Mega Man clones. I also hope it looks and runs a whole lot better...

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Odin Sphere originally came out on the PS2 in 2007. Back then I really wanted to try it out, but never got around to it. A few years ago they re-released it as a PS2 classic on PS3. I picked it up, but couldn't get into it. While the game looked beautiful and handles like a dream the frame rate just couldn't keep itself together. In many fights the game would slow to a crawl, and I just couldn't take it. That's why I was super excited to see that Atlus decided to remaster the game completely and bring it out again as Odin Sphere Liefthrasir. Thanks to this new release I was able to experience the game without and hitching whatsoever, and the combat was even made to be a little bit more user friendly.

Developer Vanillaware is known for making beautiful hand drawn games. Odin Sphere is probably their most well known work to date and for good reason. The art is incredible.. It looks like a story book that has come to life. It helps that Odin Sphere is just that, a fairy tale. The plot relies heavily on Norse mythology.

No game about Norse mythology is complete without Odin.

Initially I thought I was going to have a lot to say about Odin Sphere, but now that I'm here I'm kind of drawing a blank. It's an action RPG that takes place on a 2D plane. You use your weapon and skills in order to hit enemies. Skills and hits chain together for more damage, and everything flows together very nicely. You play through the game as five different characters and the events of their stories all overlap. At first it's novel, but by the third person I was already tired of retreading the same story over and over. The voice acting is all excellent, and the visuals never stopped being a pleasure to look at.

It's a well put together package, but I don't think that the combat ever really evolves enough to hold itself up for the 30-40 hours it takes to complete the game. Each character controls very different and learns quite a few skills. However, I ended up finding a few skills that worked well for me in order to shred through enemies as quickly as possible.

The visuals in Odin Sphere are quite spectacular.

I had a lot of fun playing through Odin  Sphere, but I definitely think it went on for a bit too long.

Monster Hunter Returns....

Normally the summer is a bit barren when it comes to video game releases. July doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of things I want to purchase except for Monster Hunter Generations...

Now that Monster Hunter seems to have gained a bit more popularity in the West I feel like we'll end up getting every new release that Japan gets, which may be devastating for my social life.

Next month you can expect me to talk about Monster Hunter, and maybe Overwatch? I don't know. We'll see when we get there.

Memorable Melodies: The Concept of Love from Jet Set Radio Future

Song: The Concept of Love
Game: Jet Set Radio Future
Composer: Hideki Naganuma


There was a point in time when Sega was putting out awesome video games. That time has largely past, but that doesn't mean that their old games are gone. The Dreamcast may have tanked, but in my opinion it was ahead of its time. Sega put out a ton of good stuff on the platform and its early demise was a complete shame. When I first saw gameplay of the original Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in the U.S.) it completely blew my mind. It was a game with attitude. Roller-blading rebels who used spray-paint against their oppressive environment took the forefront. 

When Sega put the Dreamcast to bed they transferred the work from a majority of their working projects onto the original Xbox. One such game that made the transition was Jet Set Radio Future. I didn't own an original Xbox, so I never ended up playing the game until quite a bit after its initial release. I was going through a phase in college where I wanted to buy a bunch of games I had missed out on, so I picked it up cheap. It's the only original Xbox game I own.

The cel-shaded graphics and gameplay actually hold up. However, the thing that really stuck out to me about the game was its music. It's essentially all funk, and hip-hop. At first it's kind of weird, because a majority of video game music doesn't have any lyrics. However, once I heard each song a couple of times I was bobbing my head along to the beat as I performed dope skate tricks.

I still listen to the JSRF soundtrack on a regular basis. I love all the songs in the game, so it was hard for me to choose one to feature here. However, I think the most recognizable song is The Concept of Love. On top of being a great song it's also a solid question.

Man, Jet Set Radio Future is such an awesome game. I think an HD re-release of the game would be incredible, and it seems that series creator Hideki Naganuma feels the same way. The series has a defined sense of style, and I love it. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Song from Trails of Cold Steel

Song: I have no idea what it's called, and I did as much research as I possibly could. They released an official OST for this game, but I can only find the track listing in Japanese. I am led to believe it's the 21st track on the album, but the name in English track listings does not match the song. It plays during summer. That's all I know.

Game: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Composer: Can't find one. 

I honestly tried to look up all the info I could on this song. Due to the fact that I couldn't find anything I thought about not using this killer jam for Memorable Melodies. However, It's been in my head for weeks, so I decided that it needed its time in the spotlight. Just so we're clear it's from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. For some reason information about this game is very scarce, I have yet to beat it, but I might just write down all the information in the credits and dump it onto the internet. I can't even find a list of the English voice actors. As for the composer, it may be the same as the other Legend of Heroes games, but I didn't want to make an assumption.

For the past few weeks I've been playing through Trails of Cold Steel with a friend. I am very close to completing it, and can't wait to see how it wraps up and sets things up for the sequel. It started off very slow and I didn't know if I was going to be able to get into it, but I ended up growing to like it quite a bit. You play as Rean Schwarzer a student who is attending Thors Military Academy. He and his classmates were chosen to take part in a special new class. Since it's a smaller class each character ends up being very well characterized over the course of the game. There's a lot of classism, and military conflict to be had. 

The music in this game is killer, which is why it makes me so angry I can't find any information about it. A lot of the battle music is well orchestrated and makes encounters feel epic. Then, when you're at school you get catchy pop-like songs like the one I;m featuring here. The first time the song plays is during the summer months. It played a lot then, but now plays much less frequently. It's got a lot of xylophone in it, and I'm all about the xylophone. There's also some flute stuff going on, which accents everything perfectly. 

So yeah, sorry I can't tell you what it's called or who made this amazingly catchy tune. Definitely check the video out though. If you know any of the info I'm missing please hit me up. I will gladly edit the post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Memorable Melodies: On the Champs - Désolés from The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Song: On the Champs - Désolés
Game: The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (DLC)
Composers: Marcin Przybylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Piotrek Musial 

The final expansion for The Witcher 3 came out a few weeks ago and I've been playing it nonstop ever since. I played the base game for over 100 hours, and absolutely loved my time with it. Rarely do video games depict a world doused in such profound sadness. Choices in this franchise are never binary good and bad choices. Everything sucks, but it's okay so you're playing as an emotionally devoid mutant killer, Well, Geralt isn't totally devoid of emotion, but he definitely isn't as animated as a normal person. He was made into a Witcher to hunt monsters, and that's what he does.

On top of the superb writing and world building The Witcher 3 has some incredible music. What's cool about the newest DLC Blood and Wine is that it has an entirely new score. On the Champs - Désolés is heard pretty early on in the DLC and got me very excited. The Duchess of Touissant and Geralt rush off as they realize that someone else is about to die to the monster plaguing the land. There's no build up to the song. It just starts up and you know things are popping off. There's a freaking accordion solo in the song! It's appropriately ominous and really got my blood pumping.

I thought it would only come up in story sequences, but the song also plays when Geralt is taking on some of the stronger monsters in the DLC. It comes in to signify a life or death scenario and I absolutely love it.