Super Suda 51 Brothers

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(Relatively abstract spoilers for Killer is Dead and the first two No More Heroes games. Honestly, these are hack-and-slash games, so knowing about certain story details does not detract that much from the actual game.)

Killer is Dead was everything I love and hate about what video game director and writer Suda 51 touches. I expected a hack and slash action game. I got it. I expected tons of assassins. I got it. I expected character’s winking at the camera. I got it. I expected catchy rock music. I sort of got it, as Killer is Dead’s soundtrack feels different, but none of the tracks stayed with me. I might be a Killer is Dead stan, but I won’t defend it too hard. One of the earliest missions features government assassin protagonist Mondo Zappa on a job to kill a man living in a mansion on the moon. Nonplussed like a parent reading a magazine in a dentist’s office as their kid gets a routine check-up, Mondo walks along the moon’s surface with a space helmet but no space suit. His target, owner of the moon’s sole mansion named David, ends up being the game’s full-of-himself villain, and also Mondo’s long lost older brother.

Wait a minute, Mondo’s an emotionless automaton affixed in a fancy suit and David is an egotistical smug bastard dressed like a golden bondage king. Did Suda 51 just pull a fast one and simply take Travis Touchdown and his older twin brother Henry Cooldown from No More Heroes and swap their personalities and roles?

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Dungeon Dice Monsters’ Rogues Gallery of Yu-Gi-Oh! Manga Villains

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After debuting within Weekly Shonen Jump, Kazuki Takahashi’s original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga would quickly receive Konami-developed videogames. The games in question areYu-Gi-Oh! Monster Capsule: Breed and Battle for the original PlayStation and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters for the original Game Boy in 1998, only two years after the manga’s 1996 start. It seems fitting that a manga so focused on games would lend itself to videogames, especially during the early parts of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga where children’s toys were often platforms for dangerous Shadow Games. The US would not see a Yu-Gi-Oh! game until the 2002 Game Boy Color release of Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories (the far less interesting title of the original Japanese second game in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series, instead of using the metal-as-hell Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters III: Tri-Holy God Advent title). While that was a continuation of Yu-Gi-Oh’s long tradition of video games based off the card game, a more interesting game arrived in 2003. Yu-Gi-Oh! Dungeon Dice Monsters, based off a mini-arc, showcased heroes, school friends, and villains from an almost-secret segment of Yu-Gi-Oh!, and those villains in particular deserve some attention.

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Based on this tile layout, this match is going to take a while.

Having started reading Viz’s English magazine of Shonen Jump by the time Yu-Gi-Oh! Dungeon Dice Monsters was released, I was already familiar and surprised with the manga’s schoolyard violence. Ha ha, no, I was actually more surprised by how horny manga Joey (Jonouchi) and Triston (Honda) were (potentially throwbacks to Tooru Fujisawa’s Great Teacher Onizuka’s prequel Shonan Junai Gumi manga and its delinquent leads Eikichi Onizuka and Ryuji Danma), and how no one would stop harassing Téa (Mazaki). This era of the manga is often known for Yami Yugi’s (Atem/ Dark Yugi) screwed up Shadow Games and penalties. From getting a high school hall monitor to stab himself in the hand or blowing up an okonomiyaki chief with an ice hockey puck containing an explosive chemical, Yu-Gi-Oh! was more Kakegurui or As The God’s Will than children’s card game.

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Silent Hill and the Stationary Terror

This article contains potential spoilers for both Silent Hill 3 and Silent Hill 4: The Room. Also, a ton of gross gnarly images. You reader have been warned.

I want to talk about this…thing.

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A child’s fairy tale simply calls it “The Glutton”, this more-object-than-monster works as a puzzle boss in Silent Hill 3. Described on the Silent Hill wiki as “ While it is a major obstacle in Heather Mason’s escape from the Otherworld Hilltop Center, it doesn’t pose a legitimate threat to her”. Heather Mason’s long journey home to her father Harry Mason is no longer restricted by rabid dogs or a giant worm, but something closer in shape and size to a large refrigerator. Glutton is terrifying. This might come off as glib and a little obvious when discussing a Silent Hill monster, a world rife with no limit of messed up antagonists made of broken limbs and melted flesh. But Glutton is uniquely scary, especially since it can never actually hurt Heather (or simply, the player).

Glutton’s home, is the Hilltop Center, the Otherworld version of Silent Hill 3’s most mundane location. This “scary” small business location (Japan’s big building answer to an office park) is too poorly lit to fully see Glutton’s collection of shapes and jerky motions. Simply put, it’s a circular cage with either skin or metal slats draped over a sharp mouth-shaped front. Inside it looks like a twisted body, with noticeable dangling feet and a torso. The worst part though are Glutton’s two screw top heads, which unnaturally twist in unsynchronized movements. The kicker is that if the puzzle is done correctly the first time or with a walkthrough, Glutton only needs to be seen once, if at all. In other words, it’s one final messed-up speed bump before reaching home.

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When Less is More: The Problem with Too Many Party Members

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Roughly a year ago, I managed to finish playing Chrono Cross, the interesting but messy sequel to Chrono Trigger. While I have plenty of issues with CC, one of the more glaring problems I noted with the game was its bloated cast. Yet, looking back on my criticisms of CC made me question why I had this specific problem, compared to other games with many characters, such as Suikoden or Fire Emblem. It turns out that this problem is more multifaceted than it initially seems.

I want to discuss Chrono Cross’s cast specifically. The various party members you can recruit in Chrono Cross fall under three specific categories: a) are heavily involved in the story (Harle, Viper, Karsh, Zoah, Marcy), b) are involved in the story only during specific points (Guile, Nikki, Korcha, Irenes, Sneff), and finally have little to no direct involvement with the story at all (Poshul, Draggy, Starky, Skelly). To give specific examples, you encounter gruff guy Karsh and his band of goons early on as an antagonistic force, but they end up teaming up with protagonist Serge later when story points shift. Meanwhile, German mermaid Irenes is only directly involved in a specific story point involving the help of a certain pirate, while the undead clown Skelly is linked to an optional sidequest. Chrono Cross has an interesting plot conceit by way of jumping between two different versions of the same world, but the bloated cast (and some of the game’s bizarrely confusing/cryptic writing) takes focus off the more relevant characters.

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You wouldn’t expect a skeleton dressed like this to have one of the most heartbreaking sidequests, hmm?

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Sweet Pool Review: Pool Runnings

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This review contains both extensive discussion on the topic of sexual assault as it relates to both plot progression, character interaction and an untypical increase in profanity for this writer. If such topics are considered unpleasant, please consider sitting this one out, dear reader.

I have a love/hate relationship with visual novels, and while I have a ton of games I like, visual novels as a whole can leave me lacking. Visual novels as a medium have this cool way of letting the player reside inside the characters’ heads and shared experiences. But they often feel narratively padded or suffer, as I like to call it, Otome game cover boy syndrome, a pushed canon relationship. In other words, any visual novel with a dating factor really has a steep hill to climb with me. That hill is even steeper when it comes to the relationships in Nitro+chiral’s Sweet Pool.

High school second year Youji Sakiyama has spent years in and out of the hospital. He doesn’t eat much, has a sleep problem, and if it wasn’t for the fact that all the character designs make every character marble white, Youji’s also looking awfully pale. Plot summaries in visual novel reviews feel like giving boss tips in the middle of a review of a character-action game, so I will keep it brief with things aren’t going great for Youji in his super Christian Japanese high school besides is failing health. Youji’s currently lives alone in an apartment he use to share with his adult sister, because his parents are dead because plot. This provides appeal alone/kidnap time with Youji’s lovely classmates/love interests: wholesome hungry boy Makoto Mita, quite to a genuinely annoying fault Tetsuo Shironuma, and beer can licker and shit head son of a Yakuza Zenya Okinaga. What fun merriment will befall these boys?

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Really strange how this game got the license to play Duran Duran’s Hungry like the Wolf just for this burger shop scene.

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Real Soundtracks for Fake Games

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Video game soundtracks never fail to amaze me with how varied they’ve been able to become in recent years. Touching on everything from heavy synth chords, ominous symphonic choirs, powerful classical tones, and urgent electronic suites, the diversity in sound is endless. Nonetheless, I had an overly-specific query regarding video game soundtracks: what about soundtracks for fake games? Finding Equip’s Synthetic Core 88 (which I discuss more in detail later) set me off on a bizarre quest to find concept albums themed around this idea. This was harder to find than expected, but I figured this idea was too cool to not discuss anyway, so I’ll go on what I was able to find.

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The first album I’ll showcase is bird world by Leon Chang. While I mostly associate Chang with his wonderful regular twitter posts reminding everyone to play Star Ocean: The Second Story, his music work is a different (but neat) creature of the feathered variety.
bird world is the soundtrack to a cute tiny bird-themed RPG about an avian fellow named Leon (ha) who sets out on an adventure after meeting with a mysterious, amnesiac stranger. Chang even went as far as to include a little illustrated PDF with the album download that harkens back to the good old days of video games including physical manuals with little blurbs about the settings and characters. He even includes gameplay tips and level-up skills for the characters! That’s dedication, folks!
leonThe best way to describe bird world is damn catchy. bird world feels like an unrestrained love letter to thematic video game sub-levels with a heavy smattering of indulgent sampling ranging from Ape Escape monkey sneezing to the Metal Gear alert sound. The result is a varied, upbeat mix of music that lands straight into the realm of embodying the game’s worlds themselves. Off the bat, the relaxing main menu theme and quirky welcome to bird world song quickly plop you into the grasp of the ‘game’, right after you’ve torn off the plastic wrap. From the tropical and floaty notes of lychee beach to the mellow and cozy side of winter melon valley, Chang does an exceptional job giving each track a specific flair. My personal favorite track, noodle cave, blankets you in fast-paced beats that get you pumped as the end of the ‘game’ approaches.

My only complaint with bird world is the soundtrack’s overall form, which, while fun and amazing to listen to, doesn’t quite feel like an actual soundtrack. If anything, bird world feels like a remixed version of an already existing soundtrack, though I’m not sure if Chang was trying to evoke a specific era of video games or a console. By no means is this a bad thing, and I don’t think Chang was purposely trying to evoke an older-sounding soundtrack by using something like older recording technology or chip-tune music. Just be aware that bird world is its own distinctive beast that tries more to evoke the general structure of a video game soundtrack.

The next album of interest is Synthetic Core 88 by Equip. I found this piece through Yetee thanks to Drew Wise’s eye-catching cover art for the vinyl and cassettes, which are stylized after Japanese soundtrack packaging and even include fake screencaps for the ‘game’. Like bird world, Synthetic Core 88 is conceptualized as an RPG soundtrack, this time centered around a girl named Flora getting lost in a dreary post-apocalyptic future world and fighting for survival. Synthetic Core 88 takes heavy cues from SNES-era games, with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI being obvious influences, yet Equip manages to give the soundtrack a distinctive, smooth flair.
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As Equip states on their bandcamp page, vaporwave and new age sounds are a major influential factor within their work, and it shows. While Synthetic Core 88 embodies a lot of respect towards old-school RPG’s, there’s still a sense of unique mellowness that Equip manages to incorporate in many of the tracks, such as in ‘New GAIA’ and ‘Flora Awakens’. Even the more upbeat tracks such as ‘Wholehearted Elation’ and ‘SILPH6’ evoke feelings of urgency mixed with a certain distance. There’s a strong sense of dreaminess tinged with nostalgia that permeates many of the tracks.

While I wish it was easier to find more ‘fake videogame soundtrack’ concept albums, I was pleased with both bird world and Synthetic Core 88. Both albums’ artists manage to take the concepts in different directions, resulting in some cool and catchy musical work that harken back to various flavors of video game sounds. It’s definitely a neat concept that I’d love to see grow as time goes on.

Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Unlockable Costumes

Recently I’ve been trying to return to my childhood years of early YuGi-Oh! videogames. Mixing nostalgia for the only trading card game I ever really got into and a desire to play a handheld game that was not another RPG, I recently played through both Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Tag Battle for the PSP and Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Caller on the DS. While I grew tired of Tag Battle’s Persona-style dating sim mechanics wherein I fed weird sandwiches to the high school cast of Yu-Gi-Oh GX’s duel academy, I did complete Spirit Caller.

Spirit Caller’s big draw for me was the character customization, which was mostly a superfluous addition to the game that would allow me to dress up my hapless Slifer Red duelist child prodigy into someone the rest of the campus respected. In Spirit Caller, the player can unlock different outfits and duel disks after winning against certain characters. An early example is beating old Ra Yellow dorm Professor Satyr; I had to beat his easy Japanese curry-themed deck over thirty times before he gave up his Ra Yellow student uniform. Yes, I was going to have to work overtime, dueling these other characters dozens of times for something as basic as a cosmetic addition to a player character I was expected to stare at for a rather long game. My Obelisk Blue dreams died that day.

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I wanted to beat high school boys and girls, and their professors, at a card game, in that jacket sooooo badly.

What is the point of burying unlockable costumes? Similar to my old video game room article, unlockable costumes are one of my favorite non-essential aspects of videogames. Costumes are the sole reason I played the job class-focused Final Fantasy X-2 with its dresspheres, where in the Gullwings’ Yuna, Rikku, and Pain all got their own version of the Dark Knight armor. They are often a selling point when it comes to longer games.

Many games like to put unlockable costumes on the same level as a secret bonus dungeon or optional boss. In other words, a prize to be given to players who either play though the game multiple times or seek out pure difficulty. Sometimes, costume changes are even restricted to the post-game, a no-man’s land for lots of players such as myself.

Take, for instance, survival horror games like Silent Hill 3 and the early Resident Evil games. SH3 restricts all of Heather Mason’s amazing outfits, which range from 2003-era video game websites and magazine t-shirts, a magical girl costume and the superior god of thunder outfit, to the post-game. Nonetheless, SH3 makes the costumes easy to unlock. On top of that, SH3 is also a short game with new-game plus weapons like the doorknob saber, and multiple endings which gives the player opportunities and incentives to wear the new outfits.

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Best character costume in a videogame. I do not make the rules, I just enforce them.

This is not so with RE and its hidden costume rooms. These cheeky secret rooms are only available to players who have at least beaten the game on normal. I love the RE series to death, but I am pretty bad at the games. I got through RE2 and 3 because of easy mode and infinite ammo but couldn’t beat Code Veronica due to its lack of easy mode. I understand that, back then, especially with the original RE, costumes were rewards for players who found value in beating the game multiple times on higher difficulties. But to me, was the infinite rocket launcher not a good enough reward for skilled players that snowboarder Chris Redfield also had to be bundled together?

A rather glaring example combing both Spirit Caller’s obtuse busy work with RE’s difficulty costume rooms would be One Piece Unlimited Adventure on the Wii. I really enjoyed Unlimited Adventure’s little details and design nuances (for instance, how multi hand Devil Fruit user Robin will sprout extra arms to reel in a fish) in a game that combined low-level item crafting (before it became bog standard in every early-access indie game) with Metroid-style adventure game exploration. Unlimited Adventure was a game that kept trying my patience when item crafting was an important part of providing certain Straw Hat Pirates with their best weapons and special attacks. However, when it came to costumes, Unlimited Adventure lost me entirely. To be given the “privilege” to even make new costumes, I would have to unlock and beat optional boss Mr. 2 Bon Clay (or Mr. 2 Bon Kurei for you scanlation kids), then dig up a treasure chest located in the final dungeon, build an actual costume/dressing room in the crew’s camp site, and finally craft each costume character by character.

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At least Mr. 2 Bon Clay’s disguise based Clone-Clone Devi Fruit power is thematically appropriate for different costumes. Not like the changing room had to be unlocked by beating undercover criminal Princess Vivi…wait a minute!

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