Game Commercial Music Highlight: Shakunetsu no Fire Dance

I made my third guest appearance on Laser Time’s Vidjagame Apocalypse podcast this week to talk about all manner of subjects. Since the show actually isn’t live yet as of this writing, I’m going to try not to spoil too much, but at one point I start going off into the history of Compile and the Puyo Puyo puzzle game series. Puyo Puyo Tsuu/2 was a massive hit in Japan and still considered a pinnacle of the series by many, but it also marks the apex of Compile’s meteoric, Puyo-fueled rise and fall into massive financial problems.

But that’s not the focus of this little featurette, given that I babbled about it at length on the program. Instead, I’m here to talk about Puyo Puyo Tsuu’s commercials; Specifically, a song that was used in them: Shakunetsu no Fire Dance (“Red-Hot Fire Dance”).

51mAoCqFjUL._SL500_SX300_

We’re used to songs being used to promote products in North American television commercials, but usually it’s stuff that’s already established as familiar through months or years of airplay. Japan has a tendency to tie new songs and talent more directly to products, often launching singles to accompany a shiny new ad campaign for a product. This is beneficial to both parties involved: the product being advertised gets association with a potentially hot up-and-coming talent, and the artist/song get additional exposure as people remember the catchy song snippet that played on TV and think, “hey, I should seek out the whole thing!” (The commercials display the song title and artist name specifically to help people remember what they heard.) Games utilize this tie-in strategy fairly often. Just look at Final Fantasy as an example: All of the single-player installments since 8 have prominently featured a vocal song in Japanese advertisements and in-game.

Puyo Puyo 2’s advertising hopped on the song tie-in bandwagon even earlier than Square did. They didn’t look too far outside of the firm for composition and vocal talent, however – they enlisted Katsumi Tanaka, one of their in-house composers,1 to do the vocals for the song they would use to promote Puyo Puyo 2 in various ads (and sell as a CD single later on). The result is Shakunetsu no Fire Dance, an infectiously catchy little dance number that ranks among my favorite pieces of promotional game music.

Since commercials are so short, however, you could only hear the whole thing on CD, in music videos,  and in live show. Here’s a  bonus video from the Saturn version of Puyo Puyo Tsuu featuring a (very heavily compressed) FMV of a live performance:

Even better: There are multiple language versions of the song! First off is the Korean version:

And guess what, there’s an English version too! Turn on the Japanese comments on Nico to see the subtitles with the transcribed English lyrics – they’re definitely off in that grammatically incorrect direct translation way, but at the same time, they actually do make sense. That’s more than you can say for a lot of English versions of Japanese songs.

The song’s legacy didn’t end with ads and performances in the mid-90s, however: it also features as Arle’s theme in Puyo Puyo Da!, the (rightfully) ignored dancing game spinoff of the Puyo series.

That’s more than anyone else has written about this weird little footnote in Puyo history in English, I think. How about we wrap this up with a Vocaloid cover?

  1. He composed the fantastic Musha Aleste soundtrack, among many other things!

Smooch First, Ask Questions About Your Past Life Experiences Later: The Amnesia: Memories Review

Part of the Gaming.moe mission, as I’ve said before, is to look at and review games that would likely get passed over by bigger review sites for various reasons. Visual novels as a whole are generally passed up for reviews on many big outlets, and that goes doubly so for visual novels that have some element that puts them way out of mainstream accessibility. In the case of No, Thank You!, which I reviewed a while back, that element was gay romance and explicit content, but in the case of Amnesia: Memories, it’s because it’s an otome game targeting a primarily female player demographic.

I’ve written about otome games in the past – it’s a genre that interests me on many levels. Since I wrote that piece a few years back, we’ve started to see a more steady flow of localized otome games come westward, particularly on mobile platforms. They seem to be doing well, as the labels Shall We Date? and Voltage had a very noticeable presence at this year’s Anime Expo, MangaGamer’s bringing over OzMafia!!, and there are hints that Sekai Project might be looking at otome titles as well.

Japanese publisher Idea Factory does some of the most well-known otome games on the market under their Otomate label, some of which have been licensed to US publishers like Aksys for translation. Since Idea Factory now has an official US branch, however, they have an opportunity to publish English versions of more of these games themselves – an opportunity they seized with the English release of Amnesia: Memories on PS Vita and Steam recently. Since IFI kindly provided me a review code for the Vita version, well, I certainly wasn’t going to pass up a chance to take a closer look at one of Otomate’s most enduring titles.

Amnesia6

Buckle up, readers, it’s time to mack on some digital boyfriends!

Continue reading

Interview: Tatsuro Iwamoto, Ace Attorney Art Director

When your games are as heavily character-driven as visual novels are, having memorable character design is an absolute necessity. One of the best examples is the Ace Attorney series, which has delighted players worldwide with its engaging, distinctive casts of characters. The man behind many of character designs in the earlier Ace Attorney titles was one Tatsuro Iwamoto.

Iwatamoto is now freelance, doing jobs like creating the hunky dudes for Comcept/Idea Factory’s otome game Sweet Fuse (published abroad by Aksys Games) and, most recently, the character designs for the upcoming Monster Strike anime adaptation.1 Though he’s branching out quite a bit, it’s still Ace Attorney that is his most prolific work to this date. I had an opportunity a while back at Japan Expo USA 2013 for a short chat with Iwamoto about his time with Capcom and his work on Ace Attorney in particular. Read on to learn more about some of Capcom’s most endearing characters… and maybe some Michael Douglas movies, too.

Continue reading

  1. Those Capcom ties must be pretty strong.

Incompletionism: The Games I Wanted to Review

One thing I’ve learned as a professional reviewer is that people will give you a huge ration of shit if they even think you haven’t beaten a game you’ve reviewed. In most cases, I feel like this shouldn’t even be an issue. Yes, you should certainly make a good-faith effort to play through as much of the game as possible, because there are many excellent games that are slow starters – and some with midgame sequences that are miserable and drag the product down. There are extremely few games that come to mind where the ending sequence really, really damages the product to the point where I’d actually give the game a lower score as a result (looking at you, Devil Survivor)1. Really, when you sit down and think about it, saying something like “I didn’t finish this game because of reasons x, y, and z” can be very helpful in a review context! But that doesn’t matter – unless you were totally thorough to some nebulous standard in your playthrough, your opinion is invalid in the eyes of many a reader.

Even when I’m writing on here, my personal site, I still feel like if I don’t spend as much time with a game as possible, I’ve somehow “failed” the criteria for reviewing it. I’m always looking for stuff to cover on this site that wouldn’t really fit with any of the pro outlets I work for. I’ve started and finished quite a few games that I intend to write about more thoroughly (like Phantasm, I swear!), but there are other games I picked up with the express intent of reviewing them on the site… and then never finished them, and have no real desire to finish them. So instead of writing “proper” reviews for these games where I give a general overview of a product and evaluate various aspects of it, I’m going to tell you why I’m not going to finish them. Short and to the point… mostly.

Continue reading

  1. I bet somebody who is still REALLY ANGRY about Mass Effect is gonna come barging in here, I can feel it. Time to let it go, buddy.

Talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Well, to be specific, I’m talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure parts 4 and 6. If you’re following the anime adaptations but not the manga, there will be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them under toggle. (Click the tiny pluses to show them!)

In the last, oh, six months or so, I’ve been revisiting parts of Jojo I haven’t read in quite some time – stuff that hasn’t yet seen an anime adaptation, and won’t be published officially in English for a good while yet. I read through all of part four again and am a little over halfway through part six. I feel like it’s always good to revisit stuff like this after a long period, because it lets you re-examine it under the different perspective that years of partaking in other media gives you. In my case, re-reading Jojo part 4 after having played Persona 4 was rather eye-opening: it’s very clear the influence the former had on the development of the setting and progression of the latter. That’s not to say P4 wholly ripped off JJBA in an unflattering way – rather, it utilizes a lot of the same elements that make this portion of the manga so great to make one of the best JRPGs of the last decade.

In fact, I remember not liking Part 4 all that much when I first went through it, but now that I’ve finished it off again it might be my favorite piece of Jojo in terms of how it handles its setting and character development.

Continue reading

Do Run Run: The Overlooked Runs of Summer Games Done Quick 2015

Last week, another fine Games Done Quick event went down in the books, and as always, there were plenty of highlights: Swordless Zelda! More high-speed Tetris TGM! Races upon races with photo finishes! We watched, we stared in awe at amazing gaming skill, and we collectively raised $1.2 million dollars for Doctors Without Borders – a new record for the SGDQ events. But, as always, there are a lot of fantastic runs scheduled during an event that goes on for seven straight days that people with jobs and sleep schedules have to miss, particularly of games that might not be headliners like the Megamans and Marios and Metroids of the world. I’ve gone through and picked out some of my favorite runs from the event that you may have overlooked. Grab a drink, sit down, and watch some awesome folks play through some obscure (and a few not-as-obscure) games with amazing speed!

Continue reading

Interview: Hisayoshi Ogura of Ogura Hisayoshi Ongaseisakushow and Taito/ZUNTATA

(日本語版はここです。) La traduction française est ici.

One of the biggest names in classic game music – and one that persists to this day – is Taito’s house band/music production arm, Zuntata. Among the many storied composers who have worked for Zuntata over the decades is Hisayoshi Ogura, known to fans of the group as OGR. Ogura and his avant-garde game music was crucial in establishing Zuntata as one of the pioneers of arcade sound design with soundtracks like the Darius series, Ninja Warriors, The Legend of Kage, and Galactic Storm.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ogura’s work for a very long time, and I’m elated to finally have the opportunity to talk with him about his amazing body of work and present it to readers. Ogura’s compositions don’t get quite as much admiration in North America as they do in Japan and Europe, and I hope by bringing awareness to his work through this interview that more people will listen to his amazing classic game music. (To that end, I’ve included links to iTunes and Amazon music stores in places to help facilitate the acquisition of soundtracks he’s worked on!)

Very special thanks to Zekuu for helping to arrange this interview, along with Jason Moses and Feelwright and Co. for helping with translation/editing.

Continue reading

The Gaming Figures of Summer Wonder Festival 2015

Oh boy, it’s Wonder Festival time again! Yes, Japan’s twice-yearly figure and modelling extravaganza just had its annual summer outing, and there’s plenty of great new stuff on display – especially if you like games! It’s a bit tough to find the interesting gaming figures amongst the massive amount of goodies on display, however.

That’s where I come in to help! I’ve been carefully searching for info on gaming-related figures from the show, and I’ve collected everything I’ve dug up here on this page to serve as a one-stop information source to know what kind of delightful game character figures you can expect to see go up for preorder from your favorite importer/exporter in the near future.

You might notice that this list doesn’t include *all* the gaming figures shown at the event. Like I said last time I did this feature, I understand that I’m omitting a lot of stuff from series like Im@s, Love Live, KanColle, Tony’s Shining stuff, etc. I’m not going to argue something stupid like “these properties aren’t games” because they are, obviously! But there are just so damn many of them that they’d dominate the list. I’d rather give the focus to more obscure stuff because hey, obscurity is our lifeblood here! I’m also skipping over stuff that’s already out for preorder, was shown elsewhere very recently, and/or hasn’t changed significantly since its last showing (i.e. that Orchid Seed Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown that still lacks a color prototype).

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby (possibly NSFW), Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, the Hobby Search blog, and the AmiAmi Blog. As always, if I’ve missed anything, let me know and I’ll add it ASAP!

So normally I try to sort by manufacturer, but this time I’m going to put what are by far the MOST IMPORTANT figure announcements first. I’m not even “Read more”-ing them, this is how important they are!

wf2015_082_cs1w1_400x wf2015_083_cs1w1_400x

Yes, it’s Sarah and Akira! From the original Virtua Fighter! In their beautiful circa 1993 blocky polygon glory! In figma form! Holy crap, FREEing, you know how to get this girl’s attention (and, inevitably, money). Besides the crazy Sega nostalgia on display, this also means we are that much closer to the Vanessa figma thousands of fans are craving! (I count for thousands of fans, trust me.)

And now, everything else.

Continue reading

Thank you, Iwata

This is going to be much more stream-of-consciousness than most posts on here, but that’s the way writing from raw emotion is, I suppose. I’m writing this the morning after news of Iwata’s death broke.

I’ve talked with a fair few folks from Nintendo over the course of my career, but I never had the honor of speaking to Mr. Iwata himself. I already know that this will go down in my list of life regrets. People like Iwata are rare in the modern game industry.

I’ve made it very clear that I dislike most of the corporate leadership at game publishers. I loathe the fact that these people who don’t play games, who’ve never played games, and have no idea what makes a game good are telling the rank-and-file developers and coders beneath them what to do based on charts and buzzwords that cross their desk. These people have never written a line of code in their life, but are sure they know that you can ship a product with expansive features by a certain date, and if it’s still a buggy mess then screw it, release now and patch later! Employees, morale, creative energy, and quality products that actually work when you take them out of the box mean nothing to these people in search of the coveted bottom line to please shareholders.

I can see why investors like Michael Pachter hated Iwata’s business style. Just look at some of the questions Iwata got at investor meetings – people didn’t seem to understand why he ran Nintendo like he did. (Hell, we’ve all criticized Nintendo for being stubborn and old-fashioned at times.) But Iwata’s philosophy was clear: make consumers happy first and foremost. Pleasing investors was lower priority than pleasing the people who actually bought games.

It’s sad that this thinking seems so incredibly rare in the current game industry. After all, happy customers that stay happy for a long time become devoted fans, of which Nintendo has some of the most fervent out there. It was never a sprint, it was a marathon.

When Nintendo hit a rough patch a few years ago, rather than lay off employees, Iwata himself took a pay cut. He explained why:

Regarding why we have not reduced the number of the personnel, it is true that our business has its ups and downs every few years, and of course, our ideal situation is to make a profit even in the low periods, return these profits to investors and maintain a high share price. I believe we should continue working toward this ideal. If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, however, employee morale will decrease, and I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world. I believe we can become profitable with the current business structure in consideration of exchange rate trends and popularization of our platforms in the future. We should of course cut unnecessary costs and pursue efficient business operations. I also know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to improve their financial performance by letting a number of their employees go, but at Nintendo, employees make valuable contributions in their respective fields, so I believe that laying off a group of employees will not help to strengthen Nintendo’s business in the long run.

This is something you don’t really understand if you haven’t worked in a rank-and-file development position, as Iwata did during the 80s at HAL. Cutting you off from the people you’re creating something with abruptly is soul-crushing, and development team layoffs rarely accomplish anything but contributing to the industry’s notorious instability and career churn rates. Iwata was the rare executive who knew the game industry from numerous perspectives, from that of the lowliest code monkey to the highest public-facing representative of a major company, and that had a tremendous impact on how he ran the show at Nintendo. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he needed to, either: the stories of him shedding his executive clothes to do some hardcore coding on games like Earthbound, Pokemon G/S, and Super Smash Bros. Melee have been making the rounds.

Having experience as a coder has another benefit when running the ship at a game company, too: you know what is and isn’t feasible to accomplish with various tools and hardware. It helps you set realistic goals: there’s a big difference between “tough, but do-able” and “literally impossible given the time and tools.” People like Iwata have the ability to push for the former and avoid the latter. Sadly, there are very few of these people in management positions in the business, leading to the disappointing, half-finished, buggy AAA releases that seem to be clogging up the shelves (both real and virtual). Every Nintendo title – even if the game turns out not to be that great – still feels like a polished, complete product, something Iwata and his peers at the company knew was important.

One of the big things on my mind right now is – did Iwata know how bad his condition was? Did he tell anyone? The former I can’t be sure about – he had his first operation for “removing a growth” on his bile duct in 2014, which was phrased to make it sound fairly benign. Obviously, it wasn’t – and looking at the terrifyingly poor survival rates for bile duct cancer, I feel like he may have known his time was coming. In retrospect, his not attending E3 this year seems less “I have to stay and handle business for the Japanese side” and more “I am literally dying here but I can’t cast a pall over what is supposed to be a really fun show.” It seems like a very Japanese thing to devote yourself wholeheartedly to your work and colleagues even in the face of death, facing it stoically as you do your duties to the very end.

But even if he did know, did anyone else? It’s hard to say – some tweets and blogposts from Iwata’s dear friend Shigesato Itoi indicate that he was as blindsided as we were. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t want to tell anyone. Itoi talks of Iwata’s selflessness; perhaps Iwata thought that telling people he was terminally ill would be an undue burden on them. That also strikes me as a very Japanese way of thinking.

Of course, it’s still just conjecture on my part. Unless Iwata’s widow outright says “he knew but didn’t tell anyone,” we can only theorize.

I hope that we, as an industry, will do more than pay lip service to Iwata’s memory. He was exemplary, a person in the game industry not for profit or pure personal glory, but out of a genuine love for the medium and its potential. What we need in this business is more people like him. Thank you, Iwata, for being a beacon of joy in an increasingly cynical industry. Let’s keep his light shining onwards.

Swinging on a Star: Toshinobu Kondou interview (Agatsuma/Studio Saizensen)

Umihara Kawase is perhaps the very definition of a cult game: a title that will never be part of the mainstream gaming zeitgeist, but something that a very devoted group of fans worldwide hold in a very special place of reverence. It’s very much a series made for a specific type of gamer, one who savors mastering complex mechanics to zip through levels with stunning speed and precision.Being able to play Umihara Kawase like a pro, however, is something that takes lots of practice. These are difficult, physics-heavy platform games that require a great deal of dedication to learn the ins and outs of, but once you do, the results are amazing – and immensely satisfying.1

Since its debut in 1996 on the Super Famicom, Umihara Kawase has been brought to life by a small team of artists, programmers, and designers. The lead designer, Kiyoshi Sakai, is currently employed by Agatsuma Entertainment, a company that acts as both a publisher and a go-between for developers and publishers. They’re responsible for the Guardian Heroes-inspired Code of Princess on 3DS, and more recently, they’ve put out the latest (and possibly final?) Umihara Kawase game on 3DS and PS Vita, Sayonara Umihara Kawase. The Vita version, published by Agatsuma themselves, is called Sayonara Umihara Kawase Plus and is available on PSN worldwide.

A key figure in the creation of these titles is Toshinobu Kondou, whose distinct character and art designs have come to define the beautifully surreal visual landscape of these titles. He’s also a part of Studio Saizensen, an independent development company.  We talked over e-mail a bit with Kondou-san (and Sakai-san a bit as well) about the Umihara Kawase series as a whole and just what makes it so special.

Special thanks to GSK, Rica Matsumura, and Jason Moses for their assistance with this interview.

Continue reading

  1. If you haven’t already, check out the AGDQ run of the SFC original from earlier this year. It’s amazing (and hilarious).