Buying game music on iTunes: what’s out there

I’ve always been a collector type ever since my youth (much to the chagrin of my parents), and though the stuff I’ve collected tends to change over time, it’s typically import goods with some connection to gaming. These days it’s primarily doujin goods and figures, but during my highschool/college years I acquired a sizable collection of physical game soundtracks and arrange CDs. MP3s were a thing back then, but portable MP3 players like the iPod weren’t1, so CDs were really the only semi-portable way to take your music with you. Me being who I am, I wanted my favorite VGM with me everywhere I went.

The problem with game music CD collecting is that it’s a niche market, even in Japan, so only a few stores carried a good VGM selection. Another issue was the price: Japanese CDs are ridiculously pricey compared to the West due to a whole mess of factors, so you’d be spending half the cost of an actual game just to legally own the music from it. A niche market combined with high prices meant stuff went out of print very quickly and would sometimes command absurd prices in the aftermarket.

Then iTunes happened. Love or hate Apple, iTunes provided a service people wanted: a way to cheaply and easily buy and enjoy music digitally. With the power of popular portable music players behind it, the iTunes store quickly became the favorite way of many consumers to legally obtain digital music. It also provided an easy way for producers and music labels to reissue old releases without having to put up the costs to reprint CDs and packaging – a perfect fit for niche markets like game music fans. For Japanese consumers, it’s even sweeter – they get all the music for considerably less than an actual CD.

While Japanese iTunes has a pretty amazing selection of game music, there’s also a substantial amount available on the US iTunes store, including a bunch of stuff you’d likely be surprised to find is available Stateside. Here are some recommendations for you to check out!

(Since I’m located in the USA, this article mostly covers items available in the US iTunes store. Availability may be different in your territory, but I encourage you to check and post your findings here! And hey, making a US iTunes account isn’t hard, either.)

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The gaming figures of Winter Wonder Festival 2015

It’s that time of year again: a weekend where rampaging figure nerds like me mash their F5 keys across numerous Japanese webpages to get sweet, sweet pictures of pretty new plastic figures from the twice-annual Wonder Festival. Wonder Festival is a celebration of all things figure, bringing together garage kit makers and builders, prepainted figure manufacturers, traditional action figure makers, and a whole brigade of fervent otaku.

Every Wonder Festival brings with it a plethora of pictures of new wares from numerous Japanese figure manufacturers. While I’m certainly a fan of figures in general, I’m most excited when my passions of gaming and figures collide to create gorgeous pieces of three-dimensional art. And I’m sure I’m not alone! Yet with so many manufacturers large and small competing for the attention of showgoers and photographers – and with juggernaut series like Kantai Collection spawning huge amounts of merchandise – it’s hard to sort through everything to find the gaming-related goodies.

That’s why I’ve done it for you! I’ve assembled a gallery of Wonder Festival’s gaming figure announcements, both prominent and obscure. Given how much gets shown at a typical WonFes, I may have missed a few things – if so, let me know and I’ll add them ASAP!

Some notes: I’m not posting garage kit pics, because as awesome as resin kits are, a lot of them are extremely difficult to obtain (since the creator probably makes less than a hundred of them). I’m trying to focus on stuff you actually have a chance of seeing in your hands sometime in the near future. I’m also aware that KanColle/Tony Shining Series/Love Live/Idolmaster/Senran Kagura etc. would technically fall under the gaming figures category. My major excuse for excluding them, in this case, is because there are like a billion of them and I’d rather look more at the gaming stuff that doesn’t get the plastic treatment quite as often.

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby, Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, and the AmiAmi Blog.

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Awesome(?) 90s gaming hip-hop music

Ahh, the early 90s. It was, indeed, time for Klax, but also time for a sharp rise in popularity of rap and hip-hop music. Anyone who was a kid watching cartoons on North American TV during the late 80s and early 90s was well aware of how companies quite cynically exploited hip hop music and culture to look “cool” and “with it” to the youth. We got all manner of terrible faux-rap theme songs, new and improved character designs with backwards baseball caps, and some of the most hilariously awful commercials ever transmitted through the airwaves.

Game companies were no exception when it came to utilizing hip-hop’s popularity for commercial means, with predictably bad results.

(To be fair, Nintendo would eventually improve Zelda rapping significantly.)

Making a commercial with a rap theme song was one thing, but taking inspiration from hip-hop and combining it with game music was something else entirely. The rapidly improving sound quality of VGM, bolstered by the introduction of CD-ROM redbook audio, gave enterprising game music composers the ability to implement things like samples and voice into their songs, allowing for them to create original rap and hip-hop tunes for games. The songs were still predominantly hilariously bad, of course, but there’s a weird and lovable kitsch to them that makes them incredibly fun to look back on. Most of them, anyway.

So today, we’re going to be looking at several of these awkward game-related attempts at jumping on a musical fad. I’ll be leaving out one really obvious track – the Street Fighter III Third Strike character select theme – since we featured it previously. (I’m also leaving out Parappa because it’s just too obvious.) Everything else on here should hopefully either jog memories or be completely new to you lovely readers. So put on your Reebok Pumps and bootleg streetwise Looney Tunes shirts, and get ready for a game music time warp!

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Cool Runnings: The Underappreciated Speedruns of Awesome Games Done Quick 2015

If you’re anything like me, you had the Awesome Games Done Quick charity speedrunning marathon running throughout most of last week. The great thing about AGDQ is that, since it runs 24/7, there’s always something going on. However, since our frail humanoid bodies require things like “food” and “sleep” and “jobs through which we acquire necessary funding to live,” it’s almost impossible to watch everything that looks interesting on the AGDQ schedule as it airs live. While a lot of us make time to watch the speedruns of really big games, there are a lot of smaller titles with really fantastic play that get shown as well. But since they’re at odd times, or they’re of relatively unknown titles, or they’re not really viral-video material, they have a tendency to kind of happen and be forgotten. Even people who see the schedule and think “Yeah, I’ll watch this later” may likely forget them amongst all the other stuff happening that week.

But personally, I think there were a lot of really noteworthy speedruns at this year’s AGDQ that I worry a lot of folks missed out on. Yes, we all saw and enjoyed stuff like Tetris TGM and the Megaman X race and Boshy and Shovel Knight and blindfolded OoT, but just because you missed it and it wasn’t trending on Twitter doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great run. Here are some of my picks for the best runs of AGDQ 2015 that you might have missed!

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Gaming.moe year-end special: The 2014 Waifu Awards!

A while back, I did freelance work for the Shonen Jump Alpha web portal, writing a bunch of assorted gaming content for them. One of the most fun bits I got to do was the Games We Love 2012 Awards, which was basically me, another freelancer, and my editor making up ideas for wacky awards that would stand out from the typical “Best Graphics,” “Best X360 Game,” “Favorite New Character” stuff, and I think it turned out nicely.

Unfortunately, SJ’s freelance budget got gutted soon after, and I haven’t written for them since. I’m still quite sad about that, because it was a really fun gig.

But that feature stuck with me, especially when I started thinking about posting a year-end wrap-up here. I don’t really like “Game of the Year” awards, mainly because my personal tastes are utterly divorced from the popular AAA software zeitgeist. I decided that, much like those Games We Love awards, I wanted to hand out awards (and “awards”) in categories less typical. We’re all about the less typical here at Gaming.moe, after all.

I also thought long and hard about what to name said awards. I posed the question to my followers on Twitter, who had some great suggestions1, but I was convincingly convinced to stick with my original idea of “The Waifus.”

Here’s a quote that shall be forever enshrined in history

So, without further ado, Gaming.moe presents the inaugural Waifu Awards!

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  1. I still really like The Dakimakuras (or Dakis for short). Close runner-up!

Awesome Gaming Stuff: Fighting Game Vocal Songs

So as we’re all aware by this point, Street Fighter V is a thing that’s coming. From the bits of gameplay footage we’ve seen so far, there’s already a tremendous amount of speculation over what is and isn’t in the game. Are parries there? (Probably not.) Is guard crush there? (Definitely.) Are there noodle hats? (Very, very yes.)

SF fans can argue for days about what gameplay systems they do and don’t want to see in-game, but there’s one thing we can all agree on:

Ah yes, Indestructible, aka The Next Door in its Japanese-lyrics incarnation. It seemed like Capcom was trying to attach some big-name Japanese musical acts to its games for a while: Dragon’s Dogma had a theme by B’z (actually a remake of a much older song of theirs, which was one of the first J-rock songs I downloaded in my high school MP3 hoarding days), while May’n did a song for the sadly-never-to-see-Western-release EX Troopers. Indestructible was by EXILE, a massive, number-one-hit-producing band consisting of many, many dudes. (I hesitate to call them a “boy band” because the Western concept of the term is very different.) When the time came to release new upgrades for SFIV, however, Indestructible was not included – likely a casualty of a higher-up not wanting to fork over additional royalties to an S-tier Japanese band.

However, the EVO crew somehow managed to secure the rights (and pay the royalties) to use the song again in the 2014 Ultra SFIV Grand Finals intro sequence. Having been in the crowd, I can assure you that people went bonkers at those opening notes, and a massive sing-along ensued. (Of course I joined in, what kind of terrible person do you take me for?) See for yourself in this footage someone else got from the event:

As much as we love Indestructible, however, it’s one of a wide variety of vocal songs related to fighting games and fighting game characters, which I touched on a little bit in my look at Virtua Fighter Costomize Clip. It’s not even the first song by well-known Japanese singers to be used as a game’s opening theme. This doesn’t make it any less awesome, of course, but there are lots and lots of other goofy fun fighting game vocal songs out there that we all should sing along to. Let’s have a look at some!

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Obscure gaming anime: Virtua Fighter Costomize Clip

A lot of folks are aware that I am a giant supernerd for Sega-AM2, and their fighting games in particular. Besides owning entirely too much stuff related to Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, I collect various factoids and trivia about the games in an important area of my brain most people would reserve for something like remembering the names of their relatives. One such factoid has been the existence of a Virtua Fighter OVA released in 1996 by Production I.G., a 30-odd-minute outing that’s completely separate from the more well-known TV VF anime by Studio Pierrot. Called Virtua Fighter Costomize Clip, it was released in 1996 in very limited quantities, and it’s so unknown that even Anime News Network’s otherwise comprehensive catalog lacks any information about it.

I’ve been actively seeking a VHS copy out for a while (along with more chapters of Virtua Junky, a mid-90s manga about people playing Virtua Fighter 2), but actually obtaining a copy, even through a proxy, has proven extremely difficult. However, it was recently brought to my attention that the whole thing is now up on Youtube in a VHS rip. I’m not quite sure how I missed it for so long (maybe because I was looking under what its correct English spelling should be, “Customize Clip”?), but what matters now is that it’s found and oh my lord is it ever a nostalgia trip to the height of VF’s mid-90s popularity.

Let’s watch it together, shall we?

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Book review: Shigeki Toyama Works Artworks Volume by Zekuu/circle Game Area 51

First off, I apologize for this review taking so long – I haven’t been in the best of physical health this week, and that combined with the craziness of family obligations over the holiday weekend meant that I couldn’t update the site as I wanted to. I’d intended to have this up around last Monday or so, but those plans came crashing down fairly quickly. I don’t want to disappoint gaming.moe supporters with a lack of site content, but alas, sometimes real life foils even the best-laid plans. I’m working on a manner of contingency plan for the next time such a thing happens. Anyhow, on to the main piece!

A while back I wrote a piece for WIRED about the subsection of the Japanese doujinshi subculture that caters to gaming devotees. Part of the reason why doujin fascinates me so much is because of the sheer variety of stuff people create under the term, and the fact that there are other extremely passionate nerds self-publishing books about all manner of delightful gaming minutae makes me very happy indeed. I interviewed a publisher under the name Zekuu for the piece, as his circle, Game Area 51, does some of the most impressive and in-depth doujin publications on retrogames and important people involved with their creation. Thanks to his work, I’ve become more aware of the contributions of many creators to games and companies that have notable places in gaming history.

Such is the case with Zekuu’s books about Shigeki Toyama, who has a lengthy history at Namco. I was mostly unfamiliar with Toyama’s contributions to gaming, but the two volumes of doujin Zekuu published – two interview books and an artbook – have taught me a great deal about the man who designed Mappy, the iconic graphical imagery of Xevious, and several arcade cabinets and logos. He was also a robotics designer, helping create everything from small animatronics to massive amusement attractions (such as the gigantic Galaxian³ setup at the Osaka Expo in 1990). Later, he’d also be a key contributor to the design of Sony’s AIBO robot dog. After learning so much about everything Toyama had helped create, I found myself filled with a profound respect for his incredible talent. (And, to be honest, I felt a little bit embarassed that I hadn’t properly recognized it sooner.)

Out of the three books, I chose this one for review because it’s largely art-based – and since I’m writing for a primarily English-speaking audience, it doesn’t really do folks much good to recommend an interview book in Japanese. It’s 242 pages long, B&W, and contains a truly astounding amount of design material for some of the coolest, most ambitious stuff that Namco ever produced. Without further ado, let’s look over….

00_art_hyoushiShigeki Toyama Works: Artworks Volume (Toyama Shigeki Sakuhinshuu: Artworks Hen)

Cover image: A sampling of titles Toyama’s talent has touched

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Syvalion Extra Credits: Sybubblun for X68000

bbx68k

While consoles were the dominant forms of at-home gaming in Japan, proprietary personal computers were also quite popular amongst the more tech-inclined and older players (in other words, people who could afford them). Before Windows and MacOS became the standard systems most folks across the globe used, Japan had a whole mess of fragmented PC platforms from manufacturers like Sharp, Fujitsu, and NEC. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on old Japanese PCs – it’s an area of gaming I’m still actively learning about and researching, but when I find interesting things about the systems and the games they played host to, I definitely want to share.

One such thing involves the port of Bubble Bobble for the Sharp X68000, a platform that played host to both a lot of amazing arcade ports and original titles. Bubble Bobble is an example of the former, a practically arcade perfect transplant which had creator Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji himself aiding in the port.

The porting team at DEMPA didn’t stop there, however. With MTJ’s aid, they added a hidden “expert mode” with 20 brand-new levels… and a facelift connected to one of MTJ’s other titles.

Thus, Syvalion and Bubble Bobble had a beautiful crossover baby, and they named it…

sybtitle

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Moe Gaming Anime: Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls

I must admit, when I first heard the news that the KEI-designed Sega Hard Girls were getting an anime, I was not terribly enthused. Not because I didn’t like the designs – hell, when I met KEI and was offered a sketch, I requested Saturn instead of the obvious Hatsune Miku – but more because the quality track records of game-themed anime and corporate-made material featuring moe anthropomorphics are pretty abysmal. Strangely, when I heard later that the show was being made in Miku Miku Dance – an inexpensive piece of CG animation software used primarily to create visuals for short music pieces – I became a bit more intrigued. After all, the delightfully absurd show gdgd Fairies had put MMD’s low-budget glory to utterly spectacular use. I said something on Twitter (which I can’t find – thanks, terrible Twitter search engine!) to the effect of “I would be perfectly okay with it if the Sega Hard Girls anime was just gdgd Fairies with old game jokes.”

Little did I know that that’s exactly what Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls seems to want to be.

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