Playing: Earthbound (SNES) (GBA) (WII U)

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There’s no doubt in my mind that I simply love retro gaming. I do have a long list of all the best games that you all should totally play, but for today, I’d like to let you all know of the priceless antique known as Earthbound (Also known as Mother 2). I remember playing this on an emulator at a very young age and I’ve probably replayed it more than 10 times throughout my years. And I must say, this oldie never truly gets old.

The story opens with our silent protagonist, Ness (Fun Fact: Ness is an anagram of SNES), waking up after a meteorite hits a nearby hill on Onett. When the annoying kid next door urges you to follow him, he meets an alien known as Buzz Buzz who tells him he will embark on an epic quest to rid the world of evil. With the story taking place in, well, practically all four corners of the world, Ness and 3 other chosen heroes set out to defeat the evil entity known as Giygas.

Now for a game that was made in Japan, it certainly feels like a JRPG… but also doesn’t. Whilst traditional games during that era were predominantly set in the middle ages and featured wizards and swordsmen, Earthbound had kids armed with baseball bats and frying pans. It’s chock-full of references to pop culture (Like an interesting Yellow Submarine) and is, as a whole, a bright and colourful take on epic quests.

The story is certainly out there – 4 Kids against the world. Literally. The alien entity known as Giygas basically exerts his evil influence on everyday people, animals, machines, zombies, coffee cups and records to name a few. The world of the game, Eagleland, is based on the United States (With a name like that, who knew?) and gives rise to myriad of quirky comments and interesting remarks about Western and Eastern cultures. The game itself is pretty simple to play though: it has an ordinary levelling up system, a turn based battle system, status effects that affect the party in and out of battle, an ATM to store the money your dad gives you… Wait, hold on a minute.

Music is definitely an integral part of the game, and many of the 8-Bit tracks are unique in their own way. It’s definitely an engaging part and it just works so well with the visuals. The graphics evoke distinct moods in the player, evident in the happiness felt as you travel along the streets of your home town, the melancholy in leaving it, the excitement of the big city and the fear in traversing through dark dungeons. The countless sprites and objects that lay throughout the world of Earthbound are without a doubt interesting to look at and provide an interesting sense of humour. Especially when you decide to talk to it (like a black sesame seed in the middle of the desert).

Honestly, it’s hard for me to choose my all-time favourite retro game – it’s always a tie between Final Fantasy V and Earthbound. But despite that little toss-up, this game will forever be a timeless classic in my heart. It really does have it all for me –  JRPG elements, an interesting plot, humour and art all in an excellent blend of retro goodness. It’s disheartening knowing that it may never get the glory it truly deserves, although the recent port into the Wii U warms me up just a little. If you’re a fan of good old games or just want to experience something hilarious and different, please give Earthbound a go. You’ll feel better than a bunch of “Fuzzy Pickles“.

Bry Rating: 5/5
Recommended? Avenge Buzz-Buzz! Play this now!
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Ape ; Hal Laboratory

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Listening To: The World Ends With You Original Soundtrack

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I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still on the Video Game Soundtrack high, and this week I’d like for all of you to take a listen to the Soundtrack of the amazing DS game The World Ends With You. Now I talked about the music of the game briefly before in it’s review, but I feel that the music needs to be talked about – and you should too.

I like to think of the music of TWEWY as a gift from the creators. It’s hip, refreshing and contributes greatly to value of the game itself. Different songs evoke different emotions in player, an idea that was used initially to represent the complex nature of the real-life town Shibuya. The primary styles of music include rock, hip hop, and electronica.

Takeharu Ishimoto took advantage of the various moods of Shibuya by incorporating a range of voices to perform the tracks. Artists that featured in the compositions include Sawa, Makiko Noda, Leah, Ayuko Tanaka, Mai Matsuda, Wakako, Hanaeryca, Cameron Strother, Andy Kinlay, Nulie Nurly, and Londell “Taz” Hicks.  Rather than posing a risk in making the overall soundtrack cluttered, the range of voices the artists provide… just seem to fit. When the soundtrack is listened to as a whole, the songs, although unique, act as a collective, creating an amazing masterpiece (Hats off to you, Mr. Ishimoto.).

I have to say, I’ve listened to this soundtrack time and time again. I can’t seem to stop – its uplifting and just manages to put me in a better mood. More energetic, in a way. I don’t know how else to tell you, but please, do yourself and your ears a favour and listen to this soundtrack. If you’re looking for something to listen to to just brighten up your day or to encourage you to do something, then I say “Look no further”.

And you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Songs to look out for:

  • Twister (Vocals by Sawa) 
  • Long Dream (Vocals by Makiko Noda)
  • Calling (Vocals by Leah)
  • Hybrid (Vocals by Sawa)
  • Someday (Vocals by Hanaeryca)
  • Owari-Hajimari (Cameron Strother)
  • Game Over (Vocals by Andy Kinlay)
  • Twister (Gangster Ver.)

Note: Although it is not included in the soundtrack, the ending theme, “Lullaby For You” by Jyongri, should definitely be added to your playlist as soon as possible.

Playing: Record of Agarest War (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC) (Android)

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The Japanese role playing game Record of Agarest War, also known as Agarest: Generations of War, has become a project for me for awhile. Although it sports amazing storyline visuals and the overall plot is interesting, the game (And mind you I’ve never quite said this) drags on for far too long.

The story spans five generations of heroes, starting with Leonhardt – a knight that is disgraced after he saves an elven girl. After sustaining a fatal blow from the mysterious Dark Knight, he manages to live through a pact that ties his destiny, and the destinies of his children, to the end of the darkness that plagues his world.

Before you keep reading, please understand – this is a hardcore strategic JRPG. For those familiar with games like these, play throughs typically last 50+ hours. For those less experienced, you’re looking at about 100+ hours worth of playtime. This would most likely be due to the level of customisation in the game as it quite literally depends on it.

The gameplay of the RoAW is an interesting mix of different games – it’s essentially a Final Fantasy Tactics – type strategy game with elements from dating simulators and choice-driven games. At first, it can be extremely overwhelming to deal with all the battle and story related game mechanics. These are, as always, quite useful though, but only later in the game. 

Battles are fought in a generated board with a 2D team the player can construct. Characters have distinct roles in their style of fighting, something the player must take into account when building playable characters. The player must also be aware of other things such as the concepts of AP costs, Combined attacks, Fields,  Extended fields and SP. These things, which are trivial at first, can mean instant defeat or victory near the end, especially if characters are under-leveled or the battle has taken more than an hour.

In the over-world, destinations are either towns, dungeons, battles or story points. The number of “turns” are taken into account and can affect certain the story in different ways. In towns, players can visit the shop to purchase items, the Blacksmith’s Guild to create and enhance items, the Adventurer’s Guild to earn titles and the Horoscope to see the compatibility between the hero and his love interests. The “Soul Breed” system is also of particular interest in the game: at the end of each generation, the player can choose to wed one of the three available girls. The catch? Depending on who you choose to marry, the stats and weapons of the future heroes are affected.

Although the battle visuals are disappointing and the story itself can be long, the storyboard art is excellent, as is the CG images that can be obtained if the player makes the right choices. The music for the game is also great, but the best part of the game must be the voice acting. It’s extremely well done and gives all characters distinct personalities and qualities.

Overall, RoAW is an average JRPG balanced by its pros and cons. With an interesting plot, high level of customisability and exceptional art and audio, it fails in its length, battle mechanics and nearly unfair “True End” path (Which must be followed to a tee to fully complete the game. It can be found here if needed). Although I mostly enjoyed it, it is virtually unplayable after one full play through. I only recommend it for those absolutely in love with JRPGs, but be warned – this is not a game one can simply complete on a weekend.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Only for the Hardcore JRPG Gamer
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Idea Factory; Compile Heart; Red Entertainment 

Watching: Faces in the Crowd (2011)

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I stumbled onto a trove of Milla Jovovich films a few days ago on Netflix and sifted through what it had to offer. She’s one of my favourite actresses, so I had high hopes for Faces in the Crowd. A little research uncovered a few facts of the film that made sense after watching the film – like how it was a straight to DVD film.

With the leading star being Milla, the high hopes that I had for the film were soon crushed. It was unbelievably saddening – a film with a good premise, great actors and directing style being watered down by the predictable plot advancements and unbelievable character relationships. And when I say unbelievable, I mean it in the sense that they were unconvincing.

The film opens with the idyllic life of Anna Merchant and her boyfriend. She has it all – a loving partner, a wonderful job and a set of quirky and unique friends. Whilst she spends her time playing away on Facebook’s Farmville, a serial killer dubbed “Tearjerker Jack” murders innocent women. In a (not-so) surprising turn of events, she stumbles upon the killer slashing the throat of another victim. A short struggle ensues and Anna, waking up awhile later and suffering from prosopagnosia (“Face Blindness”), must come to terms with her illness and the paranoia of being under the constant watch of the neighbourhood murderer.

Julien Magnat, director and writer of the film, initially introduces an interesting and engaging story. Characters are given life, the setting is incredibly appealing and the story has direction. To give the audience an understanding of what the protagonist is going through, characters are constantly changing their faces, which is both unsettling and unfamiliar. But then it starts going downhill. Why is it that the lead cannot recognise voices or body shapes? Come up with reasonable solutions to help her illness? Why do characters make obvious mistakes, almost immature choices? Questions like these, coupled with the predictable nature of the film lower its value.

Make no mistake, I love Milla Jovovich and I will continue to love her. Although the film isn’t too bad, it is by no means a landmark in film history. The story is annoyingly predictable (I called so many things. Scratch that, I called the entire film), and the acting from most of the cast is in a word, subpar. I suggest watching this movie only if you’re a fan of Milla Jovovich – and even then, don’t expect to enjoy it too much.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Strictly Jovovich-Fans Only.
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

Listening To: Rule Of Rose Original Soundtrack

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It’s been a while since I last heard the soundtrack of the rare Atlus horror game Rule Of Rose. Only a few copies of the game exist within North America and its release in Australia and the UK was cancelled, making it one of the rarest PS2 games in the history of gaming. Despite this, it has gathered its own worldwide cult following, praised for its controversial plot, dark undertones and most importantly, its music. The official soundtrack, which only contains 6 tracks, showcases a mere portion of the musical masterpiece of the game.

The game itself is remarkably complex, filled with a variety of characters (most of which are children, save for 3 adults) that are unique (and nearly always sinister) in their own right. Rather than being a horror game filled with gore and violence, it plays on the mental and suspenseful aspects of horror, as indicative of Japanese horror games. These two facts are translated into the music of the game – all of the instruments used consists of string instruments, pianos and striking vocals rather than electric sounds. Yutaka Minobi, composer of the musical score, attempted to bring out the “human element” into the music as directed by the developers – and completely succeeded.

The result was a track that evoked a harsh sense of despair and darkness, an overriding theme in the game. It doesn’t stop there though – a sense of danger, distress and even paranoia comes through the music. It can be said that while the game already builds suspense through its plot, the music adds depth to our own humanly fear, creating the game into that can only be described as… unhinged.

As of lately, I’m still on my “Video Game OST” high. Sifting through the myriad of games I’ve played through, I immediately attempt to experience their soundtracks once again. Rule Of Rose is that exception – I’ve never played it (As I said earlier, it is banned here), yet I feel enamoured with its music. Although I’ll probably never play it, let alone find a copy, I’ll always have its soundtrack. And that alone is a victory for me.

Songs to look out for:

  • A Love Suicide
  • Piano Etude  I
  • Backbiting
  • Fear II
  • Bullying

Playing: Bayonetta (PS3) (XBOX 360)

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Let’s face it: SEGA’s games have lately been on the decline, not only in quantity, but in quality. Of the few gems that it has to offer, Bayonetta stands out in all its raunchy, addictive and intoxicating glory. It’s an action packed, hack-and-slash third person shooter – so naturally, its was impossible to pass up.

Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch that has lost her memories, sets out to uncover the mysteries of her past and the “Eye of the World”, a jewel she has owned from as far as she remembers. Sporting a wide of range of weapons, four guns being her favourite, she battles the armies of Paradiso Angels who impede her progress. Why they do this delves deeper into the world of Bayonetta (which is in turn, beyond the realm of this blog). She meets a handful of character who she seems to be connected to somehow – of interest a small girl named Cereza who calls her “Mommy”.

Bayonetta herself is a fiery, smart-mouthed, glasses-wearing woman with a flare for… sexual innuendo. Whilst on the surface she may seem like eye-candy for the teen male, her character is fleshed out through her relationships with other characters. Her development as a selfish character to one that acknowledges the value of compassion demonstrates not only the way people can change through life – but also how “sexual” characters in games (Especially women) can have a perfectly good story that adds depth.

Admittedly, the story of the game is hard to follow, choppy at best. In “compensation” players are given the satisfaction of an extremely intriguing and flashy form of fighting. The player controls Bayonetta as she glides across the screen performing amazing combos. It’s awfully satisfying – gaining momentum, performing timed backflips and executing a string of commands that makes her dance (Seriously). The game also has two additional mechanics when fighting – Witch Time and Torture Attacks. With Witch Time, the player has to narrowly dodge attacks to slow down the passage of time whereas with Torture Attacks, players complete a series of QTEs to finish of their enemies  (in an ever-so-flashy manner). Items that can be equipped consists of an array of weapons (ranging from katanas to magical ice skates) and magical ornaments whereas consumable items appear in the form of lollipops.

The visuals of the game are definitely encapsulating, especially when you consider that this was pre 2010Enemies are detailed and interesting to view, although in the later game colour pallets are swapped to make room for new enemies. Character designs in particular stand out though – they range in shapes and sizes but are all believable and executed well. As for the music in the game, all I can really say is that I’ve downloaded “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Let’s Dance Boys” and both are on the top of my playlist my phone. And computer. And music player.

All in all, Bayonetta is remarkable game that utilises incredible fighting mechanics, powerful visuals and a striking soundtrack. Although the story lacks a sense of clarity and is begging for more (Pst, Sequel), the characters in the game more than make up for it through their quirky personalities and backstories. If similar games like Devil May Cry bother you, or you have an unreasonable hate towards the rings from Sonic (Oh Sega references), then this game is probably not for you. But if you’re more than happy to experience the diamond that is Bayonetta – “Let’s Rock Baby!”

Bry Rating: 4.25
Recommended? Of Course
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Sega ; Platinum Games

Listening To: Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu) was one of the first anime I ever watched to completion – and one that I still adore to this day. I recall completing a few of my art assignments in school on Haruhi, learning the dance sequence of Hare Hare Yukai (which I can still perform) and attempting to learn the opening song. I was beyond words when I learnt there was a concerto version of the music of the anime – and even more so when there was a CD of it available.

Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou, or the Symphony of Haruhi Suzumiya, is an incredible concerto rendition of music from the anime performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It was definitely interesting – fond memories were stirred up from the unfamiliar classical harmonies.  I must admit, whilst I have an appreciation for the classical genre, the renditions felt slightly unfamiliar – in a way too polished.

Don’t take it the wrong way; it was by no means terrible. In fact it was the opposite. The orchestra excellently executed the pieces with a sense of flair. But there was a lack of feeling, a lack of relation in the performance – It was technically perfect, not emotionally. In the DVD version, there were a few nods to the anime (which were admittedly pleasing) and Aya Hirano, voice of  Haruhi herself and Lead Singer, even performed the vocals for a few tracks (And mind you, she was amazing although I prefer the original tracks). It was things such as these that made the performance more believable and definitely more enjoyable for viewers of the anime.

As a whole, this special edition of the music from the anime was fantastic and nostalgic, albeit slightly disappointing. Hearing some of my favourite tracks in a classical tone was interesting to say the least, if not wholly uplifting. Although I believe its aimed towards fans of the anime, I recommend to give Suzumiya Haruhi no Gensou a listen if you’re interested in classical orchestra music.

Songs to look out for:

  • Koi no Mikuru Densetsu
  • The Usual Scenery ~ The Days Are Becoming Fervently Splendorous
  • Bouken Desho Desho
  • Lost My Music
  • SOS Brigade! ~ Something is Odd
  • God Knows