Monday, August 10, 2015

More Mellow Videogame Music

Hey, if it takes just copying a fellow Five-O-Ramaer's list to help keep myself productive, I'm not above that. Ryho's idea of creating a playlist out of some of the more soothing tracks videogames (I follow the EGM example and write it as a single word) have to offer is a good one and I plan to implement it myself.

So here are some of the songs that will definitely be on it.

*note: For this list I selected the in-game versions of these songs, foregoing any remixes or different versions like orchestral, piano solo, etc. just so that those seeing them for the first time could experience them as they are in their respective games. But I encourage you to explore different versions as well.

Here's ryho's list as well.

5. "Lazy Afternoons" (Twilight Town's theme)  - Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2) - Yoko Shimomura
Huge surprise, me picking a Kingdom Hearts song, I know. But how can a song titled "Lazy Afternoons" NOT be mellow? Backed by soft, elegant guitar  picking with the compulsory strings overlaying as the melody comes on (clarinet in the high registers), the song conveys a definite feeling of warmth and tranquility. That's what summer afternoons have always felt like to me, particularly in the later stages and particularly when I was around the age of the game's main characters.

The song also meshes well with sunsets (I must have experienced a thousand of these in Twilight Town), as it gives you a feeling of something pleasant and peaceful just about drawing to a close. When Roxas says the line "Looks like my summer vacation is over" (in the game, not the song), my heart always breaks a little bit, not just for him and his situation but also for myself, as I recall the summer vacations of my own childhood and their inevitable endings.

4. "Tifa's Theme" - Final Fantasy VII (PSX) -  Nobuo Uematsu
And now a Final Fantasy song. I guess the list isn't shaping up to be very original so far but I can't really help it. I can only assume Ryho left selections from that series off his own list because he figured those soundtracks and Nobuo Uematsu are already extremely well known and celebrated. Whatever his reasons, it was a good call because it introduced me to a couple songs I wasn't familiar with. That said, I still feel I have to put "Tifa's Theme" on here.

Now, there is a difference between songs that are mellow and songs that are more...I'm not sure how to put it, starkly beautiful? Anyway, I think the case of "Tifa's Theme" vs my personal favourite track from FFVII, "Aerith's Theme" provides a good example of that. While "Aerith's Theme" starts off very soft and peaceful, it eventually builds into a crescendo that can literally get your heart racing and give you goosebumps. "Tifa's Theme" remains slow and subdued throughout.

I know it's pretty melancholy, which is itself somewhat different from mellow, but I still feel it belongs here. "Farm Boy", also from FFVII, might have been the more obvious choice since it's pretty much all laid back peaceful days without any sadness, but I think for myself personally, I almost prefer a bit of sadness, as this list will reflect.

Much of the mood of this song is based on Tifa's past, growing up with Cloud, starting to have feelings for him that went beyond friendship, and the realization that she's going to lose him. Even though they're reunited after six years, she still carries this feeling (and this song) with her because, in many ways, the Cloud she knew and loved never really came back. Maybe by the game's finale he's actually become a stronger, better Cloud but still I think she yearns for the boy she knew in Nibelheim, when they were both innocent.

3. "Soft Tones On The Sea Breeze" - Lunar: Silver Star Harmony (PSP) -  Noriyuki Iwadare
Once again, with a title like that, how could this song be anything but mellow? Lunar's major theme is music (the other is love) so its soundtrack is even more prominent and important than in most other games. So it's no surprise that it's one of the very best game soundtracks out there. And as far as songs that are mellow go, I'd say nearly half of them would qualify as such. I re-listened to them all and picked what I feel is the best of the bunch. Like many others in the game, the song is carried by a combination of strings and ocarina. I actually do prefer the piano solo version though.

Silver Star Harmony is, of course, the second remake of Lunar the Silver Star (Sega CD), the first being Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (PSX). Additional music was added with each remake but I do recall this track was in Silver Star Story Complete as well and while I've never played the original game (although I'd buy a Sega CD just so I could), I can't imagine it not being on the original soundtrack (although it isn't listed on the soundtrack that was sold separately). In any case I've selected the newest version of the song for this list.

Listening to this song is a bit like wandering along a deserted beach in a dream. If that's not mellow, I don't know what is.

2." Xion's Theme" - Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (Nintendo DS) -  Yoko Shimomura
Ok, let's face it: for me, "mellow' is rarely just laid back and peaceful, it also has to be heartbreaking as all hell. It's just how I'm wired, I guess.

"Heartbreaking as all hell" is definitely what's required if you're going to compose a theme for Xion, as she is easily one of the most tragic characters in all of videogames. Like a lot of people, I was first introduced to Roxas, the main character of 358/2 Days, in Kingdom Hearts 2. You play his little bit and it's definitely sad. But then to play 358/2 Days is that much more heartwrenching. For those who haven't played it, I won't spoil anything specific but I do think it's fair to warn you that if you have any kind of a soul, by the time its end credits are running, you're going to be feeling a sadness and emptiness that will cling to you for days. But it's worth it.

The song is structured around a slow and sombre piano part with drifting strings eventually overlaying. An echo-y, xylophone punctuates the melody later on and things eventually get downright Chrono Trigger-esque in the middle. The juxtaposition of high notes over low without ever really much in the middle registers adds to the dreamlike quality - doubly important in this game as its major themes are highly existential and identity-based.

As sad as this song and game make me, it's important for me to relive it. That way, Xion and Roxas will always live on in my own heart.

1. "Smiles and Tears" - Earthbound (SNES) -  Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka
One of the greatest videogame soundtracks of all time - featuring tons and tons of awesome songs - requires a pretty amazing tune for its ending and "Smiles And Tears" certainly doesn't disappoint. Like most good videogame music, it's really best experienced within the game but I'll let you cheat and hear it here. Just know that within the context of finishing the crazy, emotional, funny, surprising, post modern experience that is Earthbound is really the way to go. Of course it's too good of a song to limit yourself to just this rare occurrence, I know. But believe me when I say you owe it to yourself to play through this game in its entirety if you never have before. And if you have, you need to do it again. Even twenty years after its release, it remains a truly unique game, memorable for its visual style, unconventional storytelling, philosophical themes and, of course, brilliant music.

As I said, as a final track, "Smiles and Tears" doesn't disappoint. It carries within it many elements of the songs you've heard throughout the game so, while something wholly different than what came before, still feels very familiar. Hearing it for the first time is like hearing this melody that's been with you the whole time but just under the surface. It's new to you and yet it's like you already know its every note.

One of the more pronounced and obvious themes (of which there are many, some less obvious) of Earthbound is childhood and it's expressed musically (and in other forms as well) beautifully throughout the game at various points. But the ending is where it all comes together. The first time I beat it (seems so weird to me to still use such terminology; the best games out there you don't "beat", you just complete the experience; it's not about winning - too bad Roger Ebert never wrapped his fat head around that) and this song began to play, I felt all the emotions the game had spurred in me during my journey: joy, mirth, longing, sadness, regret, vulnerability and more, all come washing over me. By the time we hear Shigesato Itoi's voice (a very surprising phenomenon on the SNES) utter the words "I miss you", it almost became too much for me. But that was just right. As I've said, it's the way I'm wired.

RIP Satoru Iwata

Friday, July 31, 2015

Most Difficult Video Game Challenges

There was a time when I considered myself pretty good at video games. There weren't many games that stumped me and I usually enjoyed a pretty quick learning curve. There were other times, however, when I wanted to tear my hair out. Here are some of the most blood-boiling moments in my gaming history!

5. Parasite Eve (PSX) - Final Battle

Playing Parasite Eve for the first time was like a revelation for me. It was Resident Evil meets Action RPG and I adored it. I can remember playing the game for hours perusing its many locations in a fictionalized version of Chicago, blown away by both the gameplay and the graphics, but most importantly the deep story.

I had spent many hours going through the "dungeons" in Parasite Eve and assumed that I had leveled myself to what the kids today would call "OP". Then I finally reached the final boss of the game and was summarily put in my place.

As much as I loved Parasite Eve, I did not finish that game because of my adoration. No. I finished that game out of sheer willpower. I must have faced off against the final boss several dozen times. Some times I'd get pretty far into the action, sometimes I'd die right off the hop. I can't say exactly why, because I'm certain I had leveled Aya very well and had great weaponry, but the many "stages" of the final boss would completely leech me of all my advantages and leave me scrounging for every little bit of Parasite Energy I had left in the end.

Then finally after playing it so many times everything came together; my tenacity met sheer luck, the stars aligned, and I finally managed, by the skin of my teeth, to kill the boss and finish the game.

I still have nothing but respect and love for Parasite Eve, but recently I picked it up as PSOne Classic on the Playstation Network and played through it on my PSP. Everything was going great and then I reached that final boss again. I'm sure I'm going through some sort of video game-PTSD, but I haven't had the willpower to boot that game up since. Someday I'll have to face my fear and take on that boss again...


4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) - Hudson River

I was born in the 80s, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I, like most kids from that era, was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So when my parents bought me the Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1990 the first game I ever owned, besides the packed in copies of  Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, was TMNT.

And I couldn't get past the second freakin' level.

Fun fact: this stage is infamously known as the Dam or Water Dam, but the manual for TMNT actually states that the second level is the Hudson River near the Holland Tunnel. In fact all of the stages, save for The Technodrome, are described as actual locations from New York. You have Fifth Ave./Greenwich Village (Level 1), Wall Street (Level 3), JFK International Airport (Level 4), and the South Bronx (Level 5).

If you aren't familiar with the Water Dam level in TMNT, it starts out as a side-scrolling stage not unlike the first level. You face off against waves of bad guys, while traversing the many platforms and ladders working your way to the top of the dam. Once you reach the top, and dispatch a couple of Foot Clan ninjas, you can see what looks like an opening in the roof's guard rail.

It's time to leap into the river of death!

First of all, swimming stages in the NES-era weren't picnics. The swimming physics were often clunky and difficult, and TMNT is no exception. Secondly, the Shredder appears to have not only planted bombs all over the river, but booby traps, as well. There are electric barriers and spinning blades strewn about the riverbed that will test your swimming abilities. But worst of all is the dreaded electrified seaweed. Combine all that with a strong tidal flow and you have the ultimate death course.

Honestly, it wouldn't be that difficult if it weren't for one small section of the map. If you've played the game then you know the one I'm talking about. It is a tunnel of electrified kelp. When you enter it you have no choice but to press forward, but each second you're in the tunnel you are losing tons of energy.

Of course many years ago I found a way around all this, which was simple. I sacrifice one of my precious Turtle brothers to continue on. You see any bombs that you've dismantled will remain that way even if one of the Turtles dies, so I would switch to Michaelangelo (his nunchuku are useless in the game), swim through the tunnel of seaweed, and with whatever little energy I had left attempt to get the bombs on the other side. Then I'd commit underwater seppuku and get the leftover "easy bombs" with a healthy Turtle.

It's actually only been this year that I've managed to get through the Dam stage with one Turtle. I have been trying TRUEandHONEST's Red Swayze Challenge (they have this weird obsession with Patrick Swayze, which I endorse) now and then, which requires a player to try and beat TMNT for the NES while only using Raphael. I've actually managed it once, but with little-to-no energy in the next stage, which resulted in death.

There's hope for me yet!

3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64) - Water Temple

The Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has become infamous in gaming culture as one of the most difficult stages/levels/dungeons in any video game. The thing about the Water Temple, however, is that it isn't so much difficult as it is confusing and long.

The temple requires you to constantly hit switches that change water levels in the dungeon. It seems simple enough, but there's no real defined way of knowing exactly what areas you've changed by hitting a switch. It takes a lot trial and error just to get an idea of the lay of the land.

Then there's traversing all of that water. In order to walk around in the underwater sections you have to equip Iron Boots. Sounds easy enough, but going into the menu to change the boots isn't just a quick click of a button. You have to enter the start menu, switch the equipment section, go down to boots, and make the switch. Again, not that big of a deal, but you're going to have to do it like a million times as you go through the dungeon. Also, when you're underwater an added challenge is that the only weapon you can use is the Hookshot, which you'll have to use to fight enemies, hit switches, etc. This is also a bit time consuming coupled with the sluggish movement you face when submersed.

Finally, this temple effectively has two boss fights: one against Dark Link and another against the final boss of the dungeon, Morpha.

If you take all of this into account, coupled with the sheer size of the dungeon, and its repetitive nature and you have one doozy of a video game challenge on your hands. I think even if you knew the whole map inside and out and were really fast on the draw with changing your boots and shooting the Hookshot, you'd still need an hour alone to finish the temple. I can recall sitting down to it and playing it for well over two hours of constantly shooting switches, changing boots, and tearing my hair out trying to get to the end of it.

The biggest kick to the sack - if you will - is that you go through all of this expecting some great reward at the end, but instead all you get for your trouble is the Longshot: an extended Hookshot. It helps you get into at least one area that I can think of, but it doesn't make you feel any better about it when you finally put the Water Temple to rest.

These days if you wanted to play Ocarina of Time, your best bet might be to get the 3DS version of the game. They've added some improvements to the UI design so you can quickly change in and out of the boots and also have colour-coded some of the areas in the Water Temple to take out some of the challenge!

2. Goldeneye 007 (N64) - Invincibility

I don't use strategy guides for video games. I never have and I never will. I have looked at and read a few, either after the fact or for a game I had never played before. I used to receive them from Nintendo Power when I held a subscription back around the mid-90s. I got one for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and one for Goldeneye 007.

Now, one thing I did check out in the Goldeneye guide was a list of cheat codes. These weren't codes you punched into your controller, though. These cheat "codes" actually required the player to perform different challanges in the game. Then they would appear in a list on the menu screen and you could apply them to your game, whether it be single- or multi-player. I guess they were more like "unlockables".

One of these unlockables was for Invincibility, and I will never forget it.

I had achieved all of the other codes on the list, doing a variety of challenges. Some were simple, some were somewhat difficult, but none came anywhere near Invicibility.

To get the Invincibility cheat you had to complete the Facility stage on 00 Agent (the highest difficulty) in two minutes and five seconds. There were other cheats on the list that required a similar feat, like Invisibility, which required you to finished the Archives stage on 00 Agent in a minute and twenty seconds. That sounds like it would be more difficult, but once you figured out what to do and where to go, you could complete the Archives pretty easily.

The problem with beating the Facility in such a short time span was that in this stage you had to interact with an NPC in order to complete the level. It wouldn't be that big of a deal, except this particular NPC (Dr. Doak, who I affectionately called "Dr. Dick") was a random spawn and could be found in several different locations in the stage.

That with the fact that the stage itself is pretty long and requires multiple objectives on 00 Agent and you have a recipe for disaster. Even after you find ways to shave off time, like performing mission tasks without waiting for NPC interactions, and barrelling through rooms without fighting any enemies (which results in having an army of baddies chasing you through the level) the stars all still have to align and the good Dr. Doak has to appear in just the right spot at just the right time to pull it all off.

I must have run this stage over 100 times, easily. I can remember my fury growing with each run through, but my completionist nature and love for a challenge fueled me to continue. I can also recall when I finally managed to pull it off; when all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and I managed to unlock Invincibility. After having to play the stage over and over again so many times there was some relief, but I can remember the win being bittersweet, because I was so sick of Goldeneye that I didn't even care that I'd managed to unlock it!

That feeling passed, however, as I ultimately played more Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 than probably any other game in my personal gaming history, but that cheat code was a nightmare to unlock!

1. Final Fantasy Tactics (PSX) - Wiegraf/Velius Battle

Final Fantasy Tactics is a game that often requires two things: patience and a lot of critical thinking. You have to plan your battle several steps ahead to ensure you come out on top and even then sometimes a third factor - luck - is a requirement for success, as well.

For the most part you get into a rhythm, however. You can keep your team well-balanced and leveled, purchase good equipment, and make sure everyone knows lots of abilities for their specific job. Follow those rules as you play the game and you'll find most of it moves pretty well.

There is, however, one moment in the game that you cannot prepare for. You will have no idea it's coming, in fact. Then it just lands on your lap and you have to find a way to survive. That battle is the Wiegraf/Velius battle in Chapter 3.

What makes this one so heinous? It's a two-part battle which begins with a one-on-one fight between the game's main protagonist, Ramza, and Wiegraf, a Holy Knight. He comes equipped with abilities that Ramza can't even learn and that can easily wipe you out in a matter of a few turns.

So now you're up against a much more powerful enemy with one lonely character and you have to find a way to survive. This part alone took me many different tries and tactics before I could master it, and even then I barely made it out of the fight.

I should note that there was another factor that made this particular fight that much more difficult for me. If you have been playing RPGs since the late-80s/90s you know the golden rule about save files: always have at least two. You will undoubtedly come across a moment in which you wish you could've gone back to a recent point, or you've gotten stuck in a situation that you weren't prepared for and need to revert to an older save. I - for whatever reason - did not have multiple save files prepared when I first encountered this battle and, as a result, had to find a way to proceed or lose my entire game. It was legitimately "do or die".

All these years later, with the help of the Internet and watching several Twitch players that rock a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics, I know of several tactics that can help you through this fight pretty easily, but at the time I had none of that. I just had trial and error. After what felt like hundreds of attempts I eventually came up on a tactic to get me through the Wiegraf portion of the fight, which is the real hump.

I saw that I had accumulated enough JP in the Chemist job class that Ramza could learn Auto-Potion, a buff that will cause the character to use a potion each time they are hit. I had a lot of Potions and Hi-Potions in my stock, but those weren't doing it for me. I needed X-Potions. What I had to do was throw away all of my Potions and Hi-Potions so that Ramza would automatically use X-Potions on each hit. I only had a few, so it still took several attempts, but I eventually managed to survive the Wiegraf portion of the fight.

After that I can't really remember specifics. The fight against Velius is definitely tough, but with my full team at my side, I think it only took me a few tries to take him out. It was all that dirty, no good, one-on-one battle that made this fight my most difficult video game challenge to this day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Looking Forward to E3 2015

Way back in 2010 and 2011 I tried to start a Five-O-Rama tradition to write a yearly post about my expectations for the upcoming Electronics Entertainment Expo. I have clearly failed in that endeavour, but with another E3 just a week away let's give it another try, shall we?

I'll be honest, when I began writing this list I really tried to play it straight and make quality predictions, but you know what? That's boring! Let's make some outlandish guesses this time around.

I have a feeling this E3 is going to be all about "retro". Some of the biggest video games companies of our time are floundering and they see all the potential dollars floating around in the collective pool of nostalgic childhood memories.

5. Battletoads

I don't know if you've noticed, but I may have mentioned Shovel Knight once or twice in the last few months. Since it was released there have been several version-exclusive features for all the different releases. On Wii U, for instance, you could leave messages and clues for other players via Miiverse, kind of like you can in the Dark Souls games. For the Playstation release you can fight one of Sony's most iconic characters, Kratos.

For the Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, released in late-April of this year, Microsoft resurrected the Battletoads as exclusive enemies for Shovel Knight to face. This, of course, stirred up some thoughts that maybe MS was considering bringing the iconic brawlers back.

If you don't know, Microsoft bought out Rare back in 2002 and as such they have become an Xbox first-party developer. Any and all characters and series owned by Rare, excluding the Nintendo titles they've worked on, are now in Microsoft's wealthy hands.

From the moment I heard that the Battletoads were making their way into Shovel Knight, I felt hopeful we'd see a new Battletoads title on Xbox One and PC. Top that off with the fact that Microsoft renewed the Battletoads trademark this year? I think this is definitely happening.

It may be little more than a teaser, but I believe we'll see Battletoads at E3 2015. What kind of game will it be? I think it would amazing if Rare and Microsoft farmed this one out to Yacht Club Games so they could make an awesome 2D side-scrolling brawler, like the series is known for. What will it most likely be? Some sort of ultra-violent 3D affair. Either way, I'm looking forward to see Rash, Zitz, and Pimple making their digital return.

4. Mega Man

This is going to seem highly unlikely, but hear me out. Mega Man was first released in December of 1987. That's 28 years ago, which means that Mega Man is having a big 30th anniversary in the very near future.

I know that Capcom has been offbeat in recent years. Cancelling several high-profile Mega Man games and letting Keiji Inafune leave the company were definite missteps. They've also gone in a questionable direction with one of their other flagship titles, Resident Evil. I think they are starting to see the error in their ways, however.

Inafune has gone out on his own and, after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, is launching the spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber this September with Mighty No. 9. I think after seeing how well received Inafune-san's idea for a new "Mega Man" game went over, the bigwigs at Capcom must have been having some serious meetings about the future of their own mighty little robot.

With the news that Capcom is producing a new Mega Man cartoon show to launch in 2017, I feel like it's a no-brainer that they'll release a new Mega Man title to coincide with 2017. How could they not!?

What will this game be like? I hope that it is an all new title that builds upon the great game mechanics the series is known for, but with a nice fresh coat of paint. I really feel like Sakurai nailed what a 3D Mega Man should look like in the recent Super Smash Bros. release and that's the way Capcom should go. I hope they don't just re-re-release some old Mega Man games or make another new Mega Man title in the vein of Mega Man 9 and 10. I think it's about time the Blue Bomber made a comeback in a more substantial way!

My timestamp of writing this post.
EDIT: I know this post hasn't even been released yet, so adding an edit seems crazy, but I just finished writing the Mega Man part of this list and Capcom has made a pre-E3 announcement regarding the super fighting robot himself.
Capcom's official announcement.
They are releasing the Mega Man Legacy Collection for PS4, Xbox One, and PC this summer, with a Nintendo 3DS release coming in winter 2016. It will include the first six Mega Man NES titles with some included modes, which appear to be remixes of those six games.

This is exactly the kind of thing I hoped they wouldn't announce and I'm pretty saddened by the news. My only hope is that since it is just a re-release and is dated to come out this summer there's still some chance that Capcom is working on something new for the 30th anniversary, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

3. Resident Evil 2 HD Remaster

Speaking of Resident Evil, what can we expect from the king daddy of all zombie horror games? I think there will be lots of RE-related announcements at this year's E3. It will come as no surprise that Resident Evil 7 will be announced at this year's show. Even after a poor showing for RE6, there have been rumours floating around that Capcom intends to continue with the franchise and hopefully return to the roots of what made the series so great. With the popularity of Resident Evil Revelations and its sequel I think there will definitely be a brand-new RE title of some sort shown this year.

That said, earlier this year Capcom also re-re-released (see a pattern here?) the original RE game as Resident Evil HD Remaster on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4. The game is an HD version of the title known by fans as the "REmake", which was a high resolution retooling of the original Resident Evil released for the Nintendo Gamecube and later again on the Wii.

Guess what? The game sold one million copies in no time and they've already announced an HD remake of the Gamecube and Wii-released prequel Resident Evil 0.

If I know Capcom, and I think I do, they are going to be all over this and I think we are going to see an HD remastering of what many consider to be the best game in the series, Resident Evil 2.

It won't be a straight-forward affair, though. RE2 did make an appearance on the Gamecube, but basically as a straight port with some graphical clean up. It was not the complete makeover its predecessor received. Nevertheless, I think that they'll put in the extra effort to get RE2 HD out as soon as possible and that we'll at least see it teased at E3 2015.

Now let me go check the Internet and make sure they didn't announce this while I was writing, as well...

2. Metroid

Every E3 there are two games that gamers, especially Nintendo fans, clamour for and they are Star Fox and Metroid. I can't tell you how many prediction lists I've seen over the years with those two games on them and every single year Nintendo disappoints.

Then at last year's E3, Time Magazine dropped the bombshell that a new Star Fox game was in development by none other than the great Shigeru Miyamoto himself. It was kind of a snafu, actually, because Nintendo hadn't yet teased the game themselves!

Now, it is a fact that we're going to see Star Fox at this year's E3. Miyamoto has confirmed that himself. What I think will shock people is that Nintendo will also finally reveal a new Metroid game at this year's event!

It's no secret that Retro Studios is hard at work on a new Nintendo title. Are they working on a new Metroid game? It would make sense. They successfully rebooted the series with Metroid Prime on the Gamecube back in 2002. Although we can't say for certain that Retro is working on the new Metroid title, I think it is likely.

I'm going to go out on a limb with this one, but I think that we're going to see a new Metroid game released on the Nintendo 3DS. I think that this game will play more like Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion and that it is being developed by Monster Games, the company responsible for the 3DS port of Donkey Kong Country Returns.

It's been a long time since we got a real traditional Metroid experience. Metroid: Other M from Team Ninja left a funny taste in gamers' mouths and I think the best way to continue with the series is to full return to its roots.

Will it be a new Metroid Prime game from Retro Studios? A new 2D side-scroller from Monster Games? Or both? We'll see in a few short days!

1. Final Fantasy VI 3D Remake

This one is a serious reach, and more of a personal wish than anything else, but here goes nothing.

As part of Final Fantasy's 20th anniversary, Square Enix remade Final Fantasy IV in 3D and released it on the Nintendo DS in 2007. The game was successful and saw subsequent releases for PC, iOS and Android in 2012. This was the second 3D remake of a Final Fantasy title on the DS, following Final Fantasy III, which had previously only seen a release on the Famicom in Japan. It was also released on iOS, Android, and PC by 2012.

After the remake of FFIV, the focus was laid squarely (see what I did there) on Final Fantasy VI. Square Enix themselves said that they were looking into doing a remake of FFVI on the DS, but had changed their focus to remakes of FFV and FFVI on the then newly released Nintendo 3DS.

I've laid in wait all these years expecting Square Enix to see the light and realize that they need to produce a 3D remake of what I consider to be their best RPG. It's 25th anniversary came and went, however, and I was starting to think it just wouldn't happen. Square Enix has released a new and highly successful franchise with Bravely Default and with its sequel on the way I just couldn't see them having the resources around to produce a 3D remake of FFVI.

Then just a few weeks ago, Square Enix did something I hadn't expected! In 2008 they also released a sequel to Final Fantasy IV known as FFIV: The After Years. It was released as an episodic mobile title initially, but eventually found its way to WiiWare in North America. It was wildly popular and was finally released as a complete title on the PSP in 2011.

Now, stay with me, I know I've been throwing a lot of dates and releases around here. In 2014 Square Enix ported their 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV to PC with optimized graphics. Then on May 11, 2015 they released a new 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years for PC!

That means that they have some resources dedicated to releasing a new 3D remake of a Final Fantasy game and my hope is sparked anew that we could potentially see a 3D remake of Final Fantasy VI hit PC and modern consoles by at least 2016.

I know it's a bit of a pipe dream, but I just can't seem to let this one go, so for my Hail Mary of E3 2015 I'll be sitting and watching Square Enix announcements with the hope that I will finally see FFVI get the love it deserves.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Star Wars Prequel Rumours

When George Lucas first began making Star Wars in the mid-70s there were many scenes that he stated he wished he could film, but due to budgetary concerns, as well as the state of visual effects at the time, they had to be nixed. Nearly 20 years later, after seeing the revolutionary computer generated effects being used in contemporary films, he believed he could update his original series with those missing scenes and imagery and began development of the now infamous Star Wars: Special Editions.

Regardless of what you think of the subsequent updates to the Original Trilogy, in 1997 my teenage self was stunned and awed as he watched Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on the silver screen in all their glory.

With all the Star Wars hype surrounding the re-release, and fueled by the newly booming Internet, news quickly surfaced that Lucas was to begin filming a brand new Star Wars film that summer for release in 1999! And with that came the inevitable slew of rumours surrounding this new film.

Here we are almost 20 years later and we're seeing history repeat itself, while The Force Awakens looms in the distance. The rumour mill is churning once again and the Internet is awash with what we may or may not see in J.J. Abrams highly anticipated sequel.

What were some of the stories swirling around The Phanom Menace back in the mid- to late-90s? Here are a few of the biggest rumours I remember cropping up before George Lucas brought us back to a galaxy far, far away.

5. "Obi-Wan Kenobi originally owned the Millennium Falcon"

This seems so outlandish when you look at it now, but back around the mid-90s the idea that a Star Wars film could ever be released without the Millennium Falcon in it was even more unbelievable. It didn't take long before forums and message boards were teeming with talk of who the "Han Solo" character would be in the prequels and who would own and pilot the Millennium Falcon.

Lucas was revealed to have been writing the new Star Wars movie as early as '93, so when inklings started surfacing of what would become Shadows of the Empire - an "interquel" story set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - there was the belief that Dash Rendar, Shadows' protagonist, would play a "Han Solo"-esque character in the prequels and would be the original owner of the Falcon.

Those rumblings were quickly quashed when Shadows of the Empire hit in '96 and featured Dash Rendar in the continuity of the Original Trilogy. So who would own the Falcon then?

Well Obi-wan Kenobi, of course! As unbelievable as it sounds, Star Wars fans were absolutely certain the Solo void would be filled by none other than ol' Ben. The word on the street was that Obi-wan would end up an exceptional pilot and would be the owner of the Millenium Falcon. He would even have a small Ewok sidekick that would accompany him, which would allude to the Solo-Chewbacca combination that would become famous in the subsequent stories.

What actually happened:

Obi-wan was shown to be a poor pilot that couldn't care less about having his own ship. He left all the piloting to his pupil, Anakin. The Millennium Falcon was basically a no-show in the Prequel Trilogy, briefly making an almost unnoticeable cameo in Revenge of the Sith for the hawk-eyed, avid Star Wars nut.

4. "Boba Fett will be featured in the prequel films"

One of the most popular characters in Star Wars history has always been Boba Fett, which seems surprising considering how little screen time he gets in the Original Trilogy. From the very beginning there was a lot of fascination surrounding Fett as fans learned that originally Lucas had planned on having a group of Supertroopers in the film that wore white armour (much like Storm Troopers), but scrapped the idea, colouring the armour and using it for Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back.

I, for one, always felt there was so much intrigue surrounding the character and I always wanted to know more about him. I wasn't alone, as the history of Boba Fett, and concept of Mandalorians - a renowned group of warriors - became the focus of many books, comics, and more in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It seemed like a no-brainer that Boba's character would take some part in the prequels and we'd finally learn more about this provocative character.

There was talk that there would be a slew of Mandalorians in the movie and that there would even be a massive war featuring Mandalorian Supercommandos versus a Clone Army. Also, Boba Fett would turn out to be... a woman!

What actually happened:

We got way more than we bargained for. It turns out that Boba Fett is the cloned son of Jango Fett, a Mandalorian Supercommando turned bounty hunter and the specimen chosen as the basis of a Clone Army created in secret by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. That Clone Army would become what we know in the Original Trilogy as Imperial Storm Troopers.

Interestingly in filming The Phantom Menace a female character was created titled "Babe Fett", and appeared in one scene during the Pod Races for all of a second. That character would take on a mythos all of her own and would eventually become Aurra Sing, who is featured heavily in the Clone Wars cartoon series, and shares a history with none other than Boba Fett himself.

We actually learned little to nothing about Boba Fett in the Prequel Trilogy. That however will be rectified in the upcoming film Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One, which is believed to feature Boba Fett in the time between the Clone Wars and the events of Empire Strikes Back.

3. "Liam Neeson will play Anakin's father"

Before filming began for The Phantom Menace it became known to fans that Liam Neeson would have a role in the planned Prequel Trilogy. Once photography started, some scenes from Tunisia surfaced that showed an unnamed character, portrayed by Neeson, and Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.

So who was this mystery character? What was his relation to the boy that would become Darth Vader?

Very quickly the talk began that Neeson would play Anakin's father, and himself another Jedi in the Skywalker clan. What's interesting is that in most of the versions I've read Neeson's character would die, probably in the second film. He would be murdered by the Emperor so that he would not be able to stop Anakin from joining the Dark Side of the Force and becoming a Dark Jedi (the concept of the Sith wasn't around yet). It was believed that Anakin would see his father die at the hands of another Dark Jedi, would take up his father's lightsaber and fell the murderer, beginning his path toward the dark.

What actually happened:

These rumours weren't really that far from the truth. Of course, no one could foresee that Lucas would make Anakin a Christ-like figure created from the Force itself (by midi-chlorians... ugh), so the idea of a father wasn't that off-base.

Neeson would play Qui-gon Jinn, who actually played a father-figure to Anakin, in a way, and was killed by the Emperor's apprentice. Anakin's relationship with Qui-gon isn't really explored, but Anakin does begin his descent into the dark side after his mother, Shmi, is killed by Tusken Raiders and Anakin slaughters her murderers.

2. "Amphibious Storm Troopers will have a massive underwater battle"

Again, before the prequel films hit the big screen, the concept of a Star Wars film that didn't feature Storm Troopers as the expendable army of whatever evil plot was afoot seemed incredible far-fetched. It was assumed, almost universally, that Storm Troopers would be in all of the prequels.

George Lucas said that he had always wanted an underwater battle in the Original Trilogy, but there was no way to make realistic water and water rippling effects at that time. So when the new prequel films were announced, fans immediately began speculating what this underwater battle might be like.

The story that gained the most traction was that a group of Amphibious Storm Troopers and an army from the Republic would do battle on a water planet known as Sedri. The Republic would pilot V-Wings, which were ships that had the ability to submerge underwater, so they could attack the Storm Troopers in their submarines.

What actually happened:

Technically there were no Storm Troopers in any of the Star Wars prequels! In Attack of the Clones, however, we meet the Clone Army, which would become the Storm Troopers of the Original Trilogy, as I mentioned above.

There was an underwater sequence in The Phantom Menace, however! We follow our heroes as they travel underwater to meet the denizens of Naboo's watery depths, the Gungans. Their race is infamous for Jar Jar Binks, the most reviled character in the Star Wars series.

Was there an underwater battle? Not really, The Gungans attacked a droid army in The Phantom Menace, but it took place on a huge grassy field. There were some underwater action scenes, but not what the fans had been expecting.

Also, no V-Wings made an appearance in the prequels. A V-Wing ship is featured in the Star Wars: Battlefront video games, but it isn't the semi-aquatic ship that was expected, but instead a precursor to the Imperial TIE Fighter as well as the Rebel A-Wing.

1. "R2-D2 is a Jedi Knight"

This is my absolute favourite rumour that was ever associated with the Star Wars prequels. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever fathom this concept, yet the story persisted before the release of The Phantom Menace put it to rest.

There were many outlandish rumours surrounding the beloved droids of Star Wars; R2-D2 will be Anakin's personal droid and C-3P0 will be an interpreter for the Empire, C-3P0 was a con-artist before he became the butler-like robot we all remember, and another wonderful belief that in the Prequel Trilogy R2-D2 would be the protocol droid and C-3P0 would be an astromech! This one, however, takes the cake.

In the third film of the new trilogy a dying Jedi would somehow use the Force to imbue his life force into an inorganic object, in order to preserve it. That inorganic object would be none other than little R2. Why would anyone ever come up with this idea? The belief was that this explained why R2 would have that spirit of adventure that we see in the little astromech droid throughout the Original Trilogy.

It was also generally accepted that R2-D2 and C-3P0 would probably have their minds wiped at the end of the Prequel Trilogy in order to keep continuity with the original films. For this reason it was believed that because R2 would have a Jedi's mind that our favourite little droid's memory couldn't be erased and he would have an "insight" of some of the events that would unfold in the first three films.

What actually happened:

They were right about one thing; R2 and 3P0's memories would be erased after the events of Revenge of the Sith. However, C-3P0 remained C-3P0 and R2, R2.

R2-D2 was initially an astromech for the Naboo forces, but did essentially become Anakin's personal droid for his starfighting scenes. C-3P0 would end up being built by a young, brilliant Anakin Skywalker! That's right, Darth Vader built C-3P0...

Of all the rumours I've listed here, I bet no one saw that coming!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mellow Video Game Music

I often find the stresses of my job, and day-to-day life, can be soothed almost instantly by the right song. I've created a playlist of music that helps me mellow out and it is entirely comprised of tunes I've picked up over my many years of gaming. I thought I'd share some of those songs, so kick up your feet and get ready to chill!

5. "The Starlit Wilds" - Shovel Knight (Wii U) - Jake Kaufman

I've written about how much I enjoyed last year's retro indie release Shovel Knight in my last list, so check that out for more on the game. I mentioned in that list how much I enjoyed the music in Shovel Knight, but there was always one song in particular that stood out above the rest.

"The Starlit Wilds" was the music that accompanied all of the campfire scenes in the game (you'll have to play it to know what I mean!) and every time I made it to one of those moments I would instantly relax and take in the pseudo 8-bit world of Shovel Knight. It's a really beautiful piece from Jake Kaufman aka virt. I'd never heard of his name before Shovel Knight, but he's been in the business since 2000's remake of Q*Bert.

I don't know if there are plans for a Shovel Knight sequel at Yacht Club Games, but I'd love more retro-inspired games with music from Mr. Kaufman!

4. "Colony 9/Night" - Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) - Yoko Shimomura

Although I loved my Nintendo Wii from the moment I opened it back in 2006, nearing the end of its lifecycle the "Little System That Could" received some serious titles, and none so famous as Xenoblade Chronicles, which many can thank Project Rainfall for having released here in North America.

There is so much to love about Xenoblade Chronicles, but I think anyone playing it for the first time will be gripped by two things: the spanning, gorgeous landscapes and the beautiful orchestral soundtrack that accompanies them.

There are a great many tracks from composer Yoko Shimomura's Xenoblade Chronicles soundtrack that stick out in my mind, but none so beautiful as "Colony 9/Night". It's a moving, calming piece that I typically don't go through my workday without listening to at least once.

Yoko Shimomura has had a mind-blowing career, which includes creating music for such classics as Street Fighter II, Parasite Eve, and the Kingdom Hearts series, but make sure to do yourself a favour and listen to some of the tracks she composed for Xenoblade Chronicles.

3. "Conquest" - Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS) - Hiroki Morishita

Another game to knock my socks off in recent years was 2013's Fire Emblem Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS. I had only played one other Fire Emblem title many years previous on the Gameboy Advance and the time was nigh for a new tactical/strategy RPG experience.

The soundtrack for FE: Awakening has many stand-out titles to choose from, but the moment I heard "Conquest" by composer Hiroki Morishita - whom from what I can tell is a relatively new composer with a handful of Nintendo titles under his belt - I instantly had to search the song out and add it to my aforementioned video game music playlist. In fact, it is the first song I listen to from that playlist daily.

From what I can tell "Conquest" is only played when you take on random encounters with enemies and in some of the DLC battles from FE: Awakening. If you were to play the entire game only battling the story-required fights and didn't play any DLC you might never hear it, which would be a crying shame!

2. "On the Beach of Dreams (Another World)" - Chrono Cross (PSX) - Yasunori Mitsuda 

The first time I played Chrono Cross was with a sense of trepidation. I had a great reverence for Chrono Trigger on the SNES and I knew that this game was not a direct sequel to that, but some sort of spiritual successor and I wasn't sure how to feel about that.

I remember that all those thoughts were dashed away in an instant the first time I booted up that game on my Sony Playstation. The music that plays in the intro of the game is called "Scars of Time" and you are instantly swept up in it. Created by Yasunori Mitsuda, composer of hit games like Xenogears and Chrono Trigger itself, "Scars of Time" takes you on an emotional roller coaster and coupled with the exciting video montage from the game I knew in a matter of moments that I was going to enjoy Chrono Cross.

And I'm not even here to talk about that song! It's far from mellow, but you should most definitely check it out.

It's been about 15 years since I've played Chrono Cross, and the details are a little hazy, but I believe "On the Beach of Dreams" is the main theme for the world map in Another World. If you want to know what I mean, you'll have to play the game!

It's an incredibly soothing piece comprised mostly of guitar and violin, but most definitely captures the feel and beauty of El Nido and the world of Chrono Cross.

1. "Aquatic Ambiance" - Donkey Kong Country (SNES) - David Wise

There are a lot of songs from video games that hold a very dear place in my heart, but I don't know if any hold a candle to "Aquatic Ambiance". The instant I hear it I'm drawn back to another time and place; to my Mom and Dad's house in 1994, a cold, wintry setting outside, the houses on the street lit up with Christmas lights, and my little sister and I warm in my bedroom wiling away the evening playing Donkey Kong Country on my Super Nintendo.

The soundtrack to DKC, by composer David Wise, stood out for me as something I'd never heard before in a video game. He so perfectly captured each setting in the game with a different theme; in the mines everything is industrial, in the cold, mountain settings the music is desolate and foreboding, and in the underwater, swimming stages you have "Aquatic Ambiance", which perfectly captures the quiet of the deeps and its constant ebb and flow.

I have such an attachment to this song that I can often have different reactions upon hearing it, depending on my mood. I listen to it almost every day while I work and it has an instant calming effect, but also some times it can play on my nostalgia and make me very homesick for those old days back at my Mom and Dad's without a care in the world.