Game music highlight: Intelligent Qube

Over the last month I participated in the SpeedRunsLive Mystery Game tournament, which just wrapped up this weekend and proved to be an exceptionally fun experience. I plan to write a more detailed post about the event shortly, but for now I can say that it’s something I highly encourage people interested in exploring a wide variety of games to participate in.

One of the games I drew (out of the four matches I played “officially”) was Intelligent Qube (“Kurushi”1 in Europe for whatever odd reason), a PSOne title that I’d heard of but hadn’t played before. It’s a very interesting game: its rules are somewhat complicated to explain but easy to grasp once you actually start playing. That isn’t to say that Intelligent Qube is easy. In fact, it’s extremely unforgiving, to the point where even minor mistakes made early on can come back and bite you in the ass later on, and a small slip-up can incur severe penalties. But every mistake you make is your own fault: the game is harsh, yet fair. It’s undeniably a clever, well-designed action/puzzle game, but it just didn’t click with me. Spatial puzzles have never been a strong suit of mine, and keeping track of the positions of multiple cubes and panels and such just kind of overwhelms me after a bit. (That, and I keep getting smooshed.) I can certainly see the appeal, but it’s not for me.

What I did really enjoy about the game, however, was its soundtrack, which took me completely by surprise. Usually when you think of puzzle game music, you think of boppy, catchy tunes that keep you alert while you’re figuring out a solution. Intelligent Qube’s soundtrack goes a distinctly different route, featuring big, bombastic orchestral pieces. Here’s my personal favorite.

Readers who were watching the stream I played IQ on can probably remember me making remarks about the music’s quality and wondering who the composer was. I suspected it was Hitoshi Sakimoto at first – it has a bit of an orchestral FF Tactics/Tactics Ogre vibe to it – but the composer is actually Takayuki Hattori, who actually does a lot of anime and live-action drama music, according to his Wikipedia entry. I suppose that’s why IQ’s soundtrack doesn’t quite give off that typical “game music” vibe.

Since I more or less stymied around stage 4 during my playthrough, I decided to look into what the game’s final stage looks like… and I’m now both impressed and terrified. There’s pretty much no way I could do this without panicking.

  1. I think this is a Japanese pun, which really leaves me wondering why the game only has this name in the EU!

The first possibly-annual Gaming.moe April 1st kusogecast!

You may have noticed a bit less content than usual this month, something I’m not particularly happy with. Chalk it up to a combination of GDC and the work resulting from it (speaking of which, check out my interview with Danganronpa writer Kazutaka Kodaka over on the Anime News Network X button column!), a whole boatload of new releases for March/April/May that need coverage and reviews, and first-time participation in the SpeedRunsLive Mystery Tournament. (I’m out of the tourney now, sadly, but the stuff I’ve been playing during the tourney has provided an inspiration for future articles, so I’d say it’s been a very worthwhile exercise!)

With all of this on my plate, April Fools Day has crept up on me – and I completely forgot about it! It hit me yesterday that we were close to the most amusing day of the year for game-related fantasies and parody (because screw the April Fools haters), and I had absolutely nothing prepared… nor any real idea what I was going to do. But since I’ve been trying to stream more as of late, I had a sudden burst of inspiration: To both make up for a lean March and celebrate a day of awesome, awful things, why not have a lengthy stream of some awesome, awful kusoge?

So that’s exactly what we’re doing. The first possibly-annual Gaming.moe Kusogecast will be tomorrow, April 1st, from 4PM to 10PM PST. Join in on twitch at twitch.tv/devilrei to watch me play carefully cultivated garbage while chatting it up with various guests! I’ll be playing different games throughout the evening, and it won’t just be the stuff I covered in the panel, either, so come to see some new obscure disasters and some old favorites! If you can’t catch part (or all) of it, fear not – Twitch VODs will be available, and I’ll also export things to Youtube for posterity.

Hope to see you there!

Rude Dudes bein’ Lewd: No, Thank You!!! BL Game review

WARNING: This review covers an adult-oriented PC game. While explicit images will not be shown in the review, the review text and/or subject matter discussed may be considered not work-safe. Reader discretion is advised.

One of the reasons I started up Gaming.moe was because I wanted to take a critical and analytical eye to games that don’t fit the coverage profile of major gaming review sites. Up until now, that’s mostly applied to under-the-radar releases, indies, and retro games. But No, Thank You!!! is something mainstream review sites really won’t touch: It’s an 18+ game, it’s a visual novel, and the central theme is gay relationships. Yes, it’s a complete 180-degrees from weird old Taito games, but it’s still the sort of game I want to experience and talk about.

“But Heidi,” you say, “Is there actually that much to talk about here? Isn’t the point of Japanese eroge as a whole just to get to the smut scenes?” And to that question (which you, in actuality, probably weren’t asking but I like my hypotheticals dammit) I’d answer “Well, yes, there’s actually a lot of interesting elements to this title, and also the genre’s a bit more nuanced than that but that’s a whole different article entirely!”1

So without further ado, let’s take a long, hard2 at No, Thank You!!!, the first official English release of a Boys’ Love game in quite a long time.

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  1. I also don’t want to cover anything that’s just 100% outright porn for a variety of reasons.
  2. I SWEAR THIS WAS NOT INTENTIONAL WHEN I WROTE IT but it’s funny so I’m keeping it

Japanese Free-to-Play Hell: Bubblen March

My dear sister recently moved into a new job out of the country, and bequeathed unto me her iPhone. Up until that point, I’d been using Android phones, and while I still prefer the Android OS as a whole, one of the big things that iOS offers is ease of switching between music/app store territories. Just make a new Apple ID account, throw in a random overseas address, and BAM! You have a new account in whatever country you please, and can download pretty much anything from their stores. Actually paying for said apps and music is another story, since you’ll need someone to buy you iTunes cards from that territory, but there’s still ample free apps for you to grab if you don’t want to go through the trouble.

As we’re well aware, Japan’s mobile gaming industry has eagerly embraced the free-to-play model, and being the brave soul that I am, I’m trying to wade through that muck in the iOS app store and see if any¬†free-to-play spinoffs of beloved franchises getting¬† are actually worth a damn. Yes, a lot of free-to-play games are garbage, and I say that having defended the model as not completely terrible: It’s all about implementing it correctly, in a way that makes the player feel satisfied, not strongarmed, to spend money on a service. Taito’s shown that they can do that well with Groove Coaster Zero, a fantastic free-to-play music game that offers numerous tracks as paid expansions. I’d recently seen a few of their upcoming mobile game announcements: a Wizardry roguelike, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders (it kills me that this isn’t out yet), and a match-3 puzzler called Bubblen March. Being the Bubble Bobble nerd that I am, Bubblen March immediately caught my attention, and it wasn’t long before it was sitting on my iPhone’s app set.

I’ve been playing for a couple weeks now, and my feelings towards Bubblen March are… complicated, to say the least.

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Interview: Cave’s Tsuneki Ikeda (IKD) from 2010

Game Developer’s Conference is this week, so I’m going to be busy hopefully gathering material both for here and for assorted freelance outlets until Friday. Seeing as how I’m not going to have time to write new material for a bit, I think it’s time to once again reach into the vault and republish a piece that hasn’t been seen in English before, and one that I’m particularly proud of.

This interview with Cave CCO Tsuneki Ikeda – known to shooting game fans as IKD – was originally conducted for France’s ig Magazine in 2010. A lot has changed since then, and not all for the better, in Cave’s case. Reading through the text now, you can definitely see Ikeda drop some hints of market troubles that would come to have a harsh effect on Cave’s shooting game development. It’s a very interesting read – but also quite heartbreaking.

And, of course, thanks to Jon Rogers for being awesome and helping to set this all up.

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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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Interview: Hifumi Kono of Nude Maker and Project Scissors/NightCry

Much as I take pride in my knowledge of gaming history, there are a few areas that I could stand to learn more about. One company whose history I don’t particularly know that well – though I’ve always meant to learn more about – was Human, a Japanese developer and publisher prominent through the late 80’s up until the end of the 32-bit era. Human was known for a lot of things: Fire Pro Wrestling (perhaps the best-regarded wrestling game series of its time), a game design school that produced fascinating experimental titles like The Firemen and Septentrion (S.O.S. in the West), the groundbreaking Clock Tower series, and a sudden collapse that left the firm in shambles.

So when I was offered the opportunity to conduct an interview with Hifumi Kono, the former Human employee who went on to found developer Nude Maker, I jumped at the chance. I was eager not only to learn a bit more about Human’s history, but also to look a bit deeper into the game that defined the company’s later legacy, the Clock Tower horror game series, and its spiritual successor Project Scissors/NightCry. Read on for a candid look at Human’s past, Clock Tower’s influence and how it symbiotically benefited from Biohazard, living on pachinko earnings, and what happens when you play a classic Western horror game without speaking the language.

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Hardware review: The New Nintendo 3DS XL

Up until Nintendo graciously bestowed upon me a New 3DS XL (how’s that for disclosure?), I had been playing the same aqua-blue system I’d owned since launch. Despite the temptation of numerous special-edition models and the XL version, I loved my little blue wonder and decided I was going to stick with it as long as I could. After going through something like five different models of the original DS/Lite/i, I wasn’t going to spend extra cash on another 3DS unless I felt it was absolutely necessary.

Of course, when Nintendo announced the New 3DS and games that would run exclusively on said platform, I knew I’d have to wind up getting one eventually simply because I need to be able to keep up with potential work opportunities. Thankfully, Nintendo sent one my way so I wasn’t forced to fight the throng of people attempting to preorder a (quite beautiful, I should note) Majora’s Mask New 3DS system.

As much as I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’m among the folks who are quite displeased that the only North American New 3DS offering is of the XL variety. I was greatly looking forward to swapping out faceplates procured from abroad and colored Super Famicom-style buttons that proclaimed to the world “this isn’t a mobile device, this is a specialized portable game machine!” Instead, I got a giant, boring black brick that looked just like every other piece of mobile kit I hauled around while commuting.

But it didn’t take long to figure out how to improve it drastically.

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Now this is a 3DS for me.

Anyhow, I’m not here to brag, honest! I’m here to look at the New 3DS and give you my impressions so you can hopefully decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth the scratch. Let’s have a look!

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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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