World’s End Game Hall: The World Ends With You and taking risks

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading back from MAGfest 13. It’s a rather lengthy flight from the DC metro area to San Francisco – a little over five hours – so of course I came equipped with entertainment. Last week, Square-Enix released a new batch of non-Final Fantasy DLC for Theatrhythm, including some songs from Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You, which I promptly acquired to accompany me back on my trip to the West Coast.

One of the DLC tracks from TWEWY is “Calling,” a theme that plays primarily during exploration and dialogue sequences. It’s a beautiful song, and I was very eager to play it1. What I wasn’t prepared for was an unexpected flood of emotion through me as I ran through it. As focused as I was on carefully gliding my stylus through the note barrage, I felt an intense longing hearing that music again.

But why? After all, back when I played The World Ends With You in 2008, I really enjoyed the game – but I hate, hate, HATED the ending, which I felt was an utterly stupid and transparent twist that undermined a great story concept. It made me bitter towards a game I had invested a great deal of time and emotion into. Yet hearing Calling stirred something inside of me. It made me realize what, exactly, makes TWEWY so very special: it’s a risky game that challenges players to do new things, to step outside their gameplay and setting comfort zones. And frankly, I don’t know if we’ll ever see something like it from Square-Enix ever again.

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  1. The other TWEWY song is Twister, and unfortunately, it’s the worst version of that particular piece. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

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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Interview: Donna Burke, veteran singer and voice actor

Remember watching that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailer that was unveiled at E3 2013? Do you remember first hearing those sweeping, powerful notes of the game’s vocal theme, Sins of the Father? I bet you do. But how much do you know about the amazing voice behind that and the Peace Walker vocal theme, Heaven’s Divide?

Donna Burke

You might be surprised to find out that Donna Burke, the vocalist behind those two songs – and the voice of the in-game IDroid – has a very long and storied history doing English voices and musical work for numerous games from within Japan. Her list of previous projects includes numerous classics and fan favorites, and through her music and talent agency Dagmusic – which she owns and manages – she continues to provide the Japanese game industry with valuable voiceover and sound services.

I had the opportunity to talk with Donna about her past and previous work, how she came to Japan, what the English voiceover industry in Japan is like, all those different English accents, and – of course – those amazing Metal Gear songs. Read on!

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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!

Controller Review: HORI Fighting Commander 4 for PS3/PS4/PC

If you asked me what the worst part of the last console generation was, I’d probably say “too much overproduced yet soulless design-by-marketing-committee games.” But perhaps, on occasion, you might catch me complaining about the controllers. As far as I’m concerned, last gen was the absolute dregs when it came to controller design: the 360 pad was ergonomic but had possibly the worst D-pad ever inflicted upon mankind, the SixAxis/DualShock 3 fixed approximately zero of the issues with the previous DualShocks (clunky ergonomics, still-awful D-pad, and horribly placed convex analog sticks), and… well, I mean, the Wii Remote should probably go without saying.

Then again, my taste in controllers is a little odd in general – after all, I love the GameCube controller for games that aren’t Smash. My favorite controllers are generally third-party or custom-made options, though I’ve had really good luck with HORI products in the past. (Hell, I owned – and rather liked – that crazy Dragon Quest slime controller they made!) I’ve been looking to get a new digital-input-centric pad for my PS3 for a while, but I was never able to jump on the Fighting Commander 3s when a limited amount were made available Stateside, and their aftermarket prices wound up being downright stupid.

Cut to the present day, where I have acquired a PS4 and Guilty Gear Xrd, and it’s looking like the PS4 will be the console of choice for future fighting game endeavors.  I wanted something nice to play 2D-heavy games with, but I was disappointed to see that many games still do not support PS3 controller backwards compatibility (which simply require the implementation of a freely available driver – seriously, what’s the excuse?), meaning I can’t use my custom stick. After surveying some folks online, the HORI Fighting Commander 4 emerged as a good option – I wanted a pad more than another stick right now, it was backwards compatible with the PS3, and my experience with HORI products has been overwhelmingly positive. Even better, Play-Asia had the controller on sale at the time – along with shockingly cheap overseas express shipping – so I figured now was as good a time to take the plunge as any. Did the Fighting Commander 4 live up to my high hopes?

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(Sort of) Review: Why NES Remix maddens me

It’s a feeling I think we’ve all experienced: the uncomfortable notion from withing that there is something deeply wrong with us for not enjoying a particular piece of media. It’s especially discomforting when it’s something that seems engineered to push all of our individual Like buttons, as though somehow we’re the ones that are flawed for not properly adoring this work made to cater explicitly to us.

This feeling cropped up when I started playing the NES Remix games on Wii U. Here were cleverly conceived compilations of classic NES titles with the addition of “remix” games: parts of classic titles remodeled and mashed together in unique ways to deliver bite-sized new challenges. I certainly love Nintendo history, having grown up on so many of these titles, so the concept excited me immensely. But actually playing NES Remix 1 and 2 on Wii U felt strangely unfulfilling,  even downright frustrating. I wondered if it was the platform – these sorts of short objective-driven challenge experiences, I feel, tend to work better in mobile games that you can dig out and play for ten minutes. With this in mind, I picked up Ultimate NES Remix on 3DS, but even playing it to break up long Persona Q sessions left me feeling more irritated than amused.  Obviously, it wasn’t the platform that’s the problem. So then, what is it that makes NES Remix considerably less than the sum of its parts?

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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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Anecdote: My THQ media experience

There’s a superb feature on Polygon today about the collapse of THQ, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. With all this new info about THQ’s inner workings circulating the internet, I feel like it’s time to re-share a little story of Veteran Games Journalism that I posted on tumblr a while back. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is a small account of my experience with tragic-in-hindsight company wastefulness, which I originally wrote in early 2012.

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