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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.

Psychotic Reviews: Tales of Xillia

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Tales of Xillia is a role playing game developed and published by Bandai Namco. It did not take me long to start enjoying Tales of Xillia. The characters are quite memorable, which in today’s world of RPGs seems to be less common. Or they focus so heavy on characters that they make a bland, boring, and repetitive world (looking at you Bioware). Xillia manages to avoid both of these shortcomings to create a memorable cast of characters, and a wondrous, magical filled world to explore. Artes, Rieze Maxia’s form of spirit channeled magic, help fuel everything from a healthy ecosystem to the architecture of cities, even an area’s local climate, and passing of the seasons.

The game starts with the ability to choose which side of the story you want to view. You’re able to pick between Jude Mathis or Milla Maxwell. They’re pretty much the same for over 90% of the game, but there are a few moments when the party splits up and bad things happen. Number 1 rule of RPGs, be they video game or tabletop, never split up. That’s how people get hurt, or die.

Anyway, I started with Jude’s story. He lives in the city of Fennmont, blessed under a cover of eternal night, and the capital of a country called Rashugal. Jude is studying at the Talim Medical School to be a doctor, following in his father’s footsteps. He wanders out to find the teacher he’s doing slave labor, I mean graduate study work for. He makes his way to the Laforte Research Center, where outside he sees a strange woman who can walk on water with ease. He grows curious and follows her, and she claims to be the Lord of Spirits Maxwell in a human form. Milla has control of the Four Great Spirits, and begrudgingly decides to let Jude travel through the Research Center with her since he insists on finding his professor.

For those of you familiar with the Tales series you’ll know that the combat system is where the real meat of the game is, having a nice story and interesting world are wonderful add ons. The combat system for Tales of Xillia is a real time system. Enemies appear on the screen, and the player has the option of how they approach the enemy. Do you run and strike them from behind for some damage? Do you give them the run around until they stop chasing and hit them from behind for even more damage and a stun? Or do you gather up enemies to fight a big group all at once for added EXP and money? I usually chose the latter option as it coupled well with EXP and money boosting food buffs.

You can customize your combo system, using the left stick + circle button, just the right stick, or pressing down L1 for a second set of combos. Each character also controls completely differently. Jude is a very fast fisticuffs brawler, smacking enemies around the screen with his gauntlets. Milla uses a shortsword to dispatch enemies, and is great to use as an aerial combatant. Alvin is the heavy physical damage dealer, swinging a greatsword around like its nothing, as well as using a gun for added distance. Elize is primarily an artes user, being a great healer as well as an area of effect threat. Rowen is a great arte user for single target spells, the Fireball spam is strong with him. Leia shares many combos with Jude, but uses a staff for extended reach and different attacks.

And you can create pretty princesses with various fashion items!

Whoever you’re playing as can link up with another character, and as you build a battle gauge on the side of the screen you can unleash combos by pressing R2 and certain combos while linked with a specific character. The skills you must use are predetermined, and some links are more fruitful than others. When you’ve climbed this ladder enough you have the ability to unleash as many of these Link Attacks as possible in a given timeframe, even if you switch who you’re linked with in the middle of the timeframe. This game’s combat is incredibly satisfying, and I found myself turning the difficulty up to hard so I could enjoy longer fights.

This combat system is deep and rewarding for those that explore it. You feel like you’re in complete control as the player, and you can even customize your ally’s AI to help support you by healing, or go all out with their strongest attacks, or anything in between.

One of my favorite parts about this game are the villains. In a game of war, politics, intrigue, and quickly advancing military technology each antagonist has his own goals and a defined personality. Each one is much more complex than a stereotypical mustache twirling, world conquering, or slaughtering menace. Nachtigal, King of Rashugal rules through a military junta and is investing heavily in powerful technology that could be Rieze Maxia’s Weapon of Mass Destruction. Gaius, another king who has united the country of Auj Oule, united warring clans by force and has consolidated his rule by winning the hearts and minds of his most common subjects. These two powerful kings and some other unforeseen players are all ready to strike in the name of glory, power, and survival.

In the end the goal is not conquest, or destruction, but merely an ideal for how the world should be. The game’s story and narrative are centered more around philosophical quandaries amongst Rieze Maxia’s most ambitious people, be they king or a medical student on the lam. As such I feel this story is a true sign of the evolution of video gaming as a whole, growing from nonexistent stories to one of an ultimate, nonsensical evil being hell bent on world destruction or domination, with no real follow up plan. If you’re a fan of RPGs you owe it to yourself to play this game and discover some well rounded characters and a world of mixed fantasy and science fiction. I am anxiously waiting for the sequel to be localized!

NO! THAT’S NOT WHY I’M SO EXCITED! MY EYES ARE BURNING!

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