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Composer Compendium: Motoi Sakuraba Part 2: Man of Many Series

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After finishing work on Beyond the Beyond, Camelot continued working with Sega on more Shining games for their ill fated Saturn console. Camelot gaining their independence is a unique story from Sega’s history, they’re the only internal Sega studio that gained independence, not even AM 2 could pull that off. Camelot, and Sakuraba, finished work on Shining The Holy Ark and Sega released it worldwide in 1996. Camelot followed this with an epic three part series, all under the Shining Force III name. Only the first part in this trilogy was released outside of Japan, since the Saturn just didn’t have the audience for continued support by the time the games started releasing.

Camelot’s independence let them continue developing games for other consoles, and they started work on Everybody’s Golf (Hot Shots Golf in North America). Future games in this series would not be developed by Camelot, as they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. Future Camelot golf games would be for Nintendo starting with Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64. Nintendo was interested in branching out into other sports as well, and Camelot was also signed on to make Mario Tennis. Since Shining Force went into dormancy after the trilogy of Shining Force III, Camelot was not making a role playing game of any kind, and that’s how they became known in the first place! Nintendo published two handheld RPGs from Camelot for their Game Boy Advance, Golden Sun, and Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

Wolf Team kept themselves busy with a follow up to their first game in the Tales series. Since Tales of Phantasia released so late in the Super Famicom’s life they would move on to Sony’s Playstation. Tales of Destiny was released in Japan in 1997, and was the first in the series to be localized for international release. Tales of Destiny’s North American release came the following year, sales were lukewarm overseas, but not bad enough to discourage all future localization efforts. The series was a hit in Japan from its first release, so the series quickly became Namco’s flagship RPG series. Tales of Eternia followed Destiny, and in an odd move it was renamed to Tales of Destiny II for its North American release. An actual Tales of Destiny 2 was Wolfteam’s next release on the Playstation 2, which was not localized for a Western release, likely to avoid further confusion. Instead, Westerners got to play Tales of Symphonia for Nintendo’s Gamecube, which was more marketable as the first 3D release in the series. By this point the name change from Wolfteam to Namco Tales Studio has happened.

On the third arm of this history are the releases of tri-Ace. Star Ocean was also a successful release, even if it came after Tales of Phantasia and was also for the Super Famicom. As a smaller company tri-Ace was mostly limited to this first series. Like many other companies that stayed with Super Famicom to the end they made the seamless transition to the Playstation for their next generation, and Star Ocean: The Second Story would follow up the first game, but would be the first in the series localized for Western release. For this series the name was not changed, leaving many shoppers to ponder, “Where is the first Star Ocean?” while they looked at the display. The company would branch out and release the classic Valkyrie Profile the following year. tri-Crescendo was spun off from tri-Ace during Valkyrie Profile’s development, and they would handle sound for most tri-Ace games afterwards, and branch out into their own game development. This only continued to branch Sakuraba’s work out even further in the industry.

Like many other developers tri-Ace would move onto the Playstation 2, where Star Ocean: Till the End of Time released in 2003. By now Sakuraba was established as one of the great composers in Japan, but internationally may have been less easily recognized. His work spans many series, for many systems, but a lot of his early work is buried on systems that are largely considered failures in the West. This third Star Ocean game was quite popular on its release, and is one of the easiest RPGs to find for the PS2, so this, and the first two Golden Sun games, are likely a few of his first mass market exposures to the West outside of Camelot’s Mario sports games.

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Psychotic Reviews: Panzer Dragoon

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Sega’s surprise launch of the Saturn in North America caught retailers and developers off guard. As a result the pickings were slim. The Saturn’s Japan launch happened only six months before the North American launch so most Japanese third parties did not have anything ready for international release either. The originally announced launch date was in September of 1995 for North America, but then they decided to launch it in May, right in the middle of E3! For a gamer that was anxiously anticipating the Saturn that might sound like a good deal at first, but that also meant that many games would be a full four months behind the launch. As a result, only Sega’s own first party games were available at first, but there was a decent spread of genres available. Panzer Dragoon was Sega’s cinematic action game for the North American launch.

After playing through Panzer Dragoon a few times I can say that it feels heavily inspired by Sega’s own arcade history. This game feels like a modernized (for the mid 90’s), cinematic version of Space Harrier. There’s even a code to put in at the title screen that will derender the dragon and let you fly around by yourself, and its called Space Harrier Mode because of this! Team Andromeda was founded specifically to develop this game, and they delivered one of the all time classic launch games.

Panzer Dragoon is so well polished that it shouldn’t feel like a launch game, and to be fair it was not available at the Japanese launch. The Japanese Saturn launch was dominated by Virtua Fighter. In Panzer Dragoon you fly on a dragon, unless you decide to go in Space Harrier Mode, and your mission is to stop the Black Dragon. There are six levels, called episodes to fly through, with five of them having bosses to fight at the end. The sixth boss is in the seventh episode, and that episode only carries the final fight against the end boss.

The game is set far into the future, long beyond the modern pinnacle of technology and into an apocalyptic view of a world post industry and with only a tyrannical government adding any new technology to the world. Of course these new pieces of tech are only available to the military to keep the government in power. Since old tech is much more advanced they are ravenous in their search for it in ruins that are scattered across the landscape. The unnamed character, or Keil Fluge in other versions, is approached by the dying rider of a blue dragon after he is shot by a black dragon. Keil then carries out the rest of the rider’s mission, stopping the black dragon! Enter the player, and you’re off to the first episode.

Remembering that this game is an early 3D game is kind of hard at times. It runs smoothly and the graphics in the world and characters are quite detailed for an early Saturn game, especially with its lacking 3D capabilities compared to its competition. The controls will pan the camera slightly from side to side as you move the dragon. The aiming reticle that pans moves quite smoothly during this panning, and while I only played with a D-Pad it would likely feel better to play it with a Saturn arcade stick. This game does feel like it would be right at home in an upright cabinet with a stick, fire button, zoom button, and camera switch button. Those are the only three controls in the game, movement, shooting, and moving the camera to see your flanks, behind you, and zoom in and out.

The weapon’s mechanic does have a lock on feature. By holding down any fire button you can lock onto any enemies you swing your reticle over, and then launch your lasers when you release the button. The firing button does not autofire, but you can alternate presses of A, B, and C to get a series of rapid fire shots. Depending on the area it may be more useful to lock on, or it may be better to use rapid fire. The shoulder buttons are used to switch the camera’s focus from side to side. L swings it left, L again swings it behind the dragon, L again goes to the right flank, and one more press of it brings you back to the front quickly. After one press you can slowly aim your way around your flanks and back as well, but the shoulder buttons are useful for quick switches. Finally, X, Y, and Z set to different camera zooms.

This is a game about memorization. Its not overly difficult, but each level does increase the difficulty over the previous level. You should not have much trouble getting through the first level the first time you play the game, but getting through level 5 or 6 the first time you see them is a more daunting task. Panzer Dragoon does offer different level difficulties, but playing on Easy only lets you get through level 4, you have to play on Normal to actually get the chance to beat the game. Easy can be used to master those first four levels so when you do move up to normal you will know the enemy patterns. Taking out a high percentage of enemies will give you an extra life, or continue in this game, at the end of each level. Getting close to a perfect will give you two continues. If you want to see the real ending of the game you have the beat this game on Hard! The best way to beat the game on hard is to memorize everything in all six main flying levels so nothing can threaten you.

Thankfully the game is short. Each level only takes a few minutes, and the bosses don’t take long to defeat once you figure out their pattern, where their weak spot is, and what attack method works the best on them. A playthrough of the game takes around an hour from start to finish. The challenge comes from having to memorize the game and then increase the difficulty to get the true ending. Since the game is so fun and easy to pick up and play with a short time constraint I can forgive it for all this memorization.

Psychotic Reviews: The Legend of Oasis

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The Legend of Oasis is the followup/prequel to Beyond Oasis. It was also developed by Ancient and composed by the studio’s founder Yuzo Koshiro. It was released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn and was built off of the same engine that powered Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor for those outside North America). The Legend of Oasis keeps the same feeling and exploration style of the first game while introducing new puzzles and a new map.

The Legend of Oasis features beautiful, hand drawn 2D art and characters and shows off the system’s 2D capabilities quite well. The first game looked great on the Genesis, and the followup also looks great on the Saturn. Despite being scored by Koshiro, the music seems to take a backseat for the most part. Its rather quiet and reserved, and there are long pauses between tracks, even when the track is on a loop. The voice samples used are of high quality and Koshiro makes good use of the available CD audio, both of which put his accomplished sound design abilities on display.

In The Legend of Oasis, there are more spirits to recruit and use. On top of the original four from Beyond Oasis (Bow was renamed to Bawu for this game), there are two additional spirits, Brass and Airl. Brass has the power of sound, which can shatter crystals and break up electrical currents, and Airl has the power of air. The four returning spirits play the same roles as they did in Beyond Oasis. Bawu has some added voice samples including a chuckle when he gets bored and a sigh when he doesn’t have anything to eat.

One significant change in The Legend of Oasis is that weapons no longer break, and level up by finding newer versions of them in dungeons. There are also scrolls that unlock special abilities for the weapons, and orbs which can power them. The use of food items has also changed in that now you are instantly healed when you pick them up instead of being stored as inventory items to use when you need them.

Unlike the first game, there is a much greater emphasis on the dungeons instead of a more balanced mixture between dungeon diving and overworld exploration. I feel like this is a step back, given that the outdoor areas in Beyond Oasis were filled with secrets and mini games. The overworld also served as a great way to separate dungeons from each other and give the player some breathing room. In The Legend of Oasis there are dungeon entrances within the depths of other dungeons, such as Shade’s Shrine of Darkness located within Brass’ Forest of Sound.

Overall, it feels like The Legend of Oasis was a step down from its Genesis predecessor. The Story of Thor series was laid to rest in only two games and ended on a rather mediocre adventure. However, one highlight of this game is that it does show you how the additional two spirits were to be used, since that weren’t in the Genesis game.

Psychotic Reviews: Magic Knight Rayearth

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Magic Knight Rayearth is an action/adventure based on a popular manga and anime series of the same name. Come to the Sega Saturn where we get going back down the Working Designs road!

Working Designs and Sega had quite a close relationship at first. Sega could make some money by licensing the rights to a game out to Working Designs that they themselves did not want to localize and release. Looking at the lineup of Working Designs Saturn games a staggering 4 of their 6 games for the Saturn were actually developed by Sega (5 if you count Camelot’s Shining Wisdom since the company was founded by Sega, but they had broken away from them the same year it was released in Japan) including our game this week.

Magic Knight Rayearth was first released in Japan in 1995, but did not make it to North America until late 1998. In fact this is the very last Saturn game released in North America. What was the cause of this delay? In the manual Working Designs simply states that it took 30 months to fix everything that they wanted to or could fix. Well, that story actually goes back to around 1995 when Working Designs was interested in working with Sony. Bernie Stolar did not like the company or its president Victor Ireland, and quickly shot them down for the rights to Arc the Lad. When Stolar moved from Sony to Sega Working Designs was quick to move back to Sony, since their relationship with Sega soured very quickly. I don’t think they took three years messing around with an already finished game for no reason. Stolar was well known for his dislike of RPGs, especially at Working Designs. Nevertheless, the game was released and sits as a curiousity for a company known for putting as much work into packaging as their actual games.

As a result of this nearly three year delay between releases Rayearth was not reviewed well when it launched. Many criticized the graphics as being akin to an early Saturn 2D game (it was), and the game’s release window (months after the other final Saturn stragglers). But, does this mean the game itself is not worth anybody’s time, or is it just a case of bad timing mixed with a sour relationship?

I previously reviewed Sunsoft’s Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean from Working Designs where I praised that game’s voice work. Rayearth has much more voice acting in it, and its all top notch quality that other companies should take some lessons from to this day. Each of the three main heroines keeps a diary of events as you progress through the game. Most of these are multiple sentences and are fully voiced. Cutscenes are fully voiced as well. There are hundreds of lines of spoken dialogue for the major characters, and you can hear how well directed the actors and actresses were, as well as the quality of Working Designs’ recording studio. Sega America could have taken some pointers from these guys.

Now let’s dig into the meat of this game. As an action-RPG combat takes place in real time. It takes quite some time for the game to really ramp itself though. There are three playable characters, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Hikaru and Umi use short range swords while Fuu uses a bow. Fuu’s charged attack homes in on enemies, making her by far the most useful character. About the only time you’ll switch characters is to use magic to progress, or blast the boss with your strongest spells until they’re out of MP. Then you’ll just switch to Fuu, run in circles, and use her charged attack until the boss is dead. Its not a deep combat system.

The progression system is mostly related to the the Zelda system. Your heroines get better armor, weapon upgrades, and spells by getting to certain parts of the game, and not by spending a lot of money. Money in this game are gems, and they’re actually quite hard to come by. Most enemies will not drop much, most of these gems come from treasure finds.

The story is about a kidnapped princess who summons a few Magic Knights from another world to save her own from being swallowed in darkness. So the world of Cefiro is being taken over by dark forces and starts coming apart at the seams as a result of the princess’ lack of protecting prayers. Our three heroines have been prophesized in this world’s mythology for eons, but these Magic Knights were always assumed to be male. This type of gender identity and societal roles plays a crucial part of the story. Almost everybody is surprised that the Magic Knights are a trio of fourteen year old girls in short skirts. This story does take quite a few twists and turns despite using this rather simple and trite formula.

In the end I felt like the game was a mediocre Zelda clone. Even though it had some nice twists and turns and the game actually functions quite well it just does not stand out too much other than being a Working Designs game. There are a few places in the game where the frame rate plummets and the game almost grinds to a halt. Thankfully these places are not in the middle of a dungeon where you’re surrounded by enemies, but they really stand out and show poor optimization on Sega’s original team. I enjoyed the game overall but there was a distinct lack of polish in places and it was just too easy for my tastes. Given its price tag I would say pass on this unless you must find and own every Working Designs release or every Saturn game.

Gaming Dramatic Read 2: Rampage World Tour

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This is a series where I read the story and sometimes the character section of the manual of some random video game, in a dramatic fashion. The main goal is to bring attention to how good or bad some of the manual stories can be, and also how well they can prepare a player for a game.

Of course sometimes the dramatization ends up being completely uncalled for, and that’s where the real fun begins.

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Psychotic Reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

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Right then, we’ve all had our fun with the ol’ point ‘n click right? Well we’re not going to monkey around ‘ere and take a good, wholesome look at Discworld, released for almost everyfin’ out in ’95. You can find this ol’ game for DOS, Mac, Playstation, and the Sega Saturn (if you live in Europe or Japan).

Ok, I’ve had my fun trying to act like I have an unspecified English accent, my fake accent is better in person I swear, you twat! Since the game is based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels you can expect the same writing from the books. The plot is mostly based on the novel Guards! Guards! but Rincewind is the main protagonist of the game. No complaints in the writing and story department.

Already puzzling just to leave the room!

I recently found the Playstation version, which was only ever pressed and released in the old longbox form in the USA. This is an incredibly early game in the Playstation’s lifecycle, but it was primarily developed for DOS. Even though the game is 2D the optimization for the PS1 is not smooth, and slowdown occurs seemingly whenever anything of note happens, even if it repeats constantly.

Saving and loading is annoying in this game, to save the game you have to reformat the save seemingly randomly, which erases the file, just so you can save another file. Its strange and just too many steps to save a game to a memory card. Loading is also stupid, you have to let a new game start, open the menu, then load the game from there. This just shows how poorly optimized the game is, but since its one of the first PS1 games ever can it really be blamed? I say yes.

I will say that the voice acting in Discworld is amazing. The game was developed by British companies Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions, and published by future Sony studio Psygnosis (RIP). The British is strong with this one, and the cast shows its brilliance throughout the game. Rincewind is (mostly) voiced by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, who is a great fit for the humor of Pratchett’s writing style.

He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways.

Like any point and click adventure you will be charged with solving many puzzles, both large and small. Some of these puzzles are insanely easy, the item to use will be glaringly obvious, other times you’ll have to really sit down and go through your entire inventory to exhaust all your options before you come across the correct answer. If you’re a fan of Pratchett’s work you may enjoy this game if you have any bit of love for point and clicks, if you can’t stand the genre at all then this game could become quite the nuisance and annoy you.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that despite its technical problems I still find the PS1 version to be quite playable. The bad news is the price. If you’re going online to buy this the cheapest and easiest option is to buy the Playstation release. The price could still run you $30+ though if you’re wanting the box and manual, and its sequel is not far behind. If you luck out like me and find it in nice shape, and complete, for $5 at a thrift store then take that sucker home!

Now I’m really in the mood to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Happy 2013 to my followers! Here is my gift to you while I go watch the full movie.

Retro Video Game Christmas Commercials: The 90’s

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I am a child of the 90’s, a love child. This was the age of Mode-7, Blast Processing, 3D, Playstation, and encompasses the rise and fall of Sega. So let’s take a look at as many Christmas commercials from the 90’s as we can possibly fit on our monitor.

Nintendo

What exemplifies the early 90’s more than the constant playground war of Nintendo vs. Sega? So it makes perfect sense for retailers to pick one side of the other in this argument or face everybody’s wrath!


Gee, would you look at the time? I missed the memo that I must write in rhyme! When it comes to your games, Sears has them all days. In the front or the back, come buy your new cartridge pack, and play the kiosk in store to curb your hunger for more.

Seriously, Sears kicked ass in the 90’s for gamers. What the hell happened?


This is just amazing, if there is one piece of media that makes me remember what it was like being a kid in the 90’s it is this right here. Entitlement of youth, grungy attitudes, snarky remarks, and a desire to sit down and play video games. I like how the rhyme goes, “South Park will be fine,” as if they’re just settling for it. “Yeah I’ll take it, but I really wanted Mystical Ninja you dumbass parents!”


A nice, generational war, of course. Then as soon as the douchey 90’s teens find out that grandpa likes to roll with some Tetris they decide that old folk aren’t bad. If grandpa’s hearing aid worked he might learn that Tetris was made by a dirty Communist!

Sega

So those were some pretty entertaining commercials from Nintendo’s side of the ring. But does Sega always do what Nintendon’t? Can they top the Big N and encourage people to buy any of the 3 systems they released in the 90’s? How about the add-ons?


Sega advertising at its finest, if you want your kid to be the cool kid on the block then go out and buy him a Sega Genesis for Christmas, then every kid in the city will want a piece of that Blast Processing action.


As a constant follower of Midget Wrestling this is one of the quickest ways to grab my attention, and they have good taste in video games since they just made a ton of money selling the game to Sega, somehow.

Ok, now let’s move away from North America for a moment and take a look at what Sega brought out for their Japanese commercials.


This may very well be the greatest thing I have ever laid eyes on. I am going to perpetuate the story of Segata Sanshiro as Santa Claus to my children, citing this commercial as definitive proof. If you’re unfamiliar with Segata Sanshiro and why he helped the Saturn dominate the Japanese sales charts then just check out this playlist.

Word of warning, the American Saturn commercials are weird as all hell, and incredibly frightening in some cases. Search at your own risk.

Sony
A newcomer on the scene of home video game hardware in the mid 90’s, Sony and their Playstation quickly rose to global dominance and kept its grip firm for over a decade. Is it because their commercials were great?


Yes, yes they were. Oh that sound and the PS logo really take me back, excuse me while I nostalgia-gasm all over my room. Again, this commercial shows what the 90’s was all about, trying to find your own voice, going against the grain, and supporting Bill Clinton.


What’s awesome about this commercial is that everything the singers say about Crash Bandicoot: Warped is 100% factual. This is one of the greatest parodies of a Christmas carol I’ve ever heard, I might start singing it this year. I feel bad for Canadians though, $50 for a new PS1 game and its already $10 off? Man, you guys will hate when I say brand new PS1 games in the States were $40. What was the exchange rate in 1998? Tell me Crabby!

Let’s head back to the Land of the Rising Sun.


Crash Bandicoot and PaRappa walk up to a random guy bearing Christmas gifts, just another thing to add to my list of things to experience before I die. Cosplayers, make this happen!


Kick! Punch! its all in the mind.

Well that about does it for the nostalgic video game Christmas commercials. I will be going on a small hiatus until 2013 rolls around. Until then, please share if you’ve enjoyed this post and my others, comment with feedback, and hit that follow button on the sidebar. SirPsycho out!

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