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About


I'm a bit of an arbitrary gamer. I mostly enjoy retro games, but not for the challenge. I like games to be a mix of a book and a movie in that they are visually stimulating but still allow the player to fill in the voices and other elements with their imagination. I'm weird and awkward, which really makes me stand out among gamers.

Outside of video games, my other great passion is music. I'd consider myself a metalhead because it is what I gravitate towards most, but I don't consign myself to any one genre or style of music. My collection also boasts healthy helpings of darkwave, visual kei, neofolk, neoclassical, classic rock, prog rock, classical, and of course, video game soundtracks, along with smatterings of whatever else has caught my attention.

My favorite games include:

Bit.Trip series
Blazing Lazers
Bucky O'Hare
Castlevania II, IV, Symphony of the Night, Order of Ecclesia
Cave Story
Chrono Trigger/Cross
Cthulhu Saves the World
Earthbound
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Fez
Final Fantasy IV, VI
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
Gargoyle's Quest
Kirby's Adventure
Link's Awakening
Lords of Thunder
Lost Odyssey
Megaman II, III, V, X
Mother 3
Rocket Knight Adventures
Seiken Densetsu series: from Final Fantasy Adventure to Legend of Mana
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Tales of Symphonia
Teleroboxer
Threads of Fate
To the Moon
Tower of Heaven
VVVVVV
World of Goo
Xenoblade Chronicles

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Xbox LIVE:Trevoracious
Steam ID:drlightateyourmagicite
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Even before the idea that Link's Awakening is the definitive series experience was broached in the original post, I immediately knew this would be my contribution to Zelda week. To date, Iíve played through every entry in the series except for Spirit Tracks and three titles that I wonít besmirch the glory of Zelda week by mentioning any further other than this obtuse reference. While I enjoy every game, Linkís Awakening has always stood far above the rest. Iíll get to the argument soon enough, but first I want to share my initial experience with this title.



I bought my first Game Boy as a Linkís Awakening bundle. For my birthday that year I was given a gift of cash from my grandparents: $50. I had never been given a cash gift up to that point, and nearly lost my mind when my dad clued me in that I could buy a whole new game system with it along with some allowance money I had been saving (with a little help from dad when my feeble ten year old mind didnít calculate the sales tax right). Playing as Link on the go that summer was engrossing, to say the least.



So much so that when the family spent a day at a Lake Erie beach, I suffered horrendous sunburns from sitting hunched over my game boy all day in the heat, never bothering to put on sunscreen: the fact of the matter was, I HAD to finish Bottle Grotto that day. Never before had any Zelda game, or any game at all caused me to sustain personal injury because I was so hopelessly enraptured. In preparation for Skyward Sword, I pulled out the old cartridge along with the Game Boy Pocket and revisited Koholint Island. Following this playthrough, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no finer game in the series, and hereís why.


The Music
Might as well start with a big one; the Zelda series had already established a strong aural component at this point, but Linkís Awakening brought it to a new level. Aside from a portion of the main Zelda theme, this title is packed with original music that maximizes the melodious purity afforded by the Game Boyís sound chip. Every dungeon has a unique theme that plays off of the atmosphere of each beautifully; from the looming sense of terror woven into Catfishís Maw to the understated eeriness emanating throughout the Face Shrine, the dungeon music alone is a masterwork of video game music.


But thereís so much more. While the main theme covers most of the outdoor locations, the mountainous areas are blessed with a gem of a tune that is still one of the more driving tunes of the series. By far though, my favorite entries are the variations on the Ballad of the Wind Fish theme. The melody shows up throughout the game, often at pivotal moments, and ties the story together. With so many outstanding tracks, the only thing left to do is wonder why the hell this game still has yet to receive any sort of OST release!

The youtube BBCode isn't working for me, so here's some links:
Tal Tal Heights
Face Shrine
Key Cavern
Ghost's House
Sword Search


The Humor
While fourth wall jokes and quirky humor have become a standard in many of the games, Linkís Awakening did it first, and still did it best. The children in Mabe Village offer gameplay advice then acknowledge that they really donít know what that means. A villager bluntly tells Link heís going to be lost later in the game in a rather subtle self-deprecating jab.



When Marin is following Link around sheíll criticize his Ocarina skills, terrorize the crane game operator, scold Link for looking inside dressers, and land on his head when the two jump down the village well. You can actually shoplift in Link's Awakening, resulting in everyone from that point on calling you THIEF instead of your chosen name. They even manage to squeeze in some slapstick when Tarin tries to knock down a beehive with a stick, resulting in a sort of Yakety Sax scene. The DX Version adds even more, with the photographer snapping pictures on the game's quirkier moments.



Sidescrolling in a Zelda game
The original Zelda used side scrolling segments, but they were little more than connecting passages. Linkís Awakening turned this mechanic into actual platforming segments, requiring the player to use acquired items to traverse hazardous terrain in a two dimensional perspective. These challenges range from jumps to dashes and melting a path through ice cubes. Best of all, two of the dungeon bosses actually occur in this view, adding even more variety to the already diverse boss lineup.




The Combat System
Zelda games arenít known for overly complex battle systems. However, this game has one simple distinction that sets it apart from the rest of the pack: your item buttons are fully customizable. While that does equate to two whole buttons, it was amazing at the time to be able to not always be holding your sword. Hell, you canít even do that now.



This not only afforded total freedom, it allowed for what I still consider the best two weapons in any Zelda game Ė bomb arrows, and the endless boomerang. The former should be self explanatory, but for those who arenít familiar with the latter, you can throw the boomerang, pick up the flying rooster with the power bracelet, then hover around as the weapon follows your path, annihilating everything below. Which brings me to my next point:


The Boomerang is an Unstoppable Killing Machine
Generally this item is used to stun enemies, retrieve far items, and activate switches. In Linkís Awakening, the boomerang demolishes almost every enemy in one toss. Of course, you have to earn it by doing a rather extensive side quest that canít be completed until well after the halfway point. And you canít even get it until you trade a greedy moblin one of your key items. But good god is it worth having.


The Best Glitch Ever
This one only applies for those who have an earlier version of the cartridge. Before it was corrected, one could warp across a given screen by applying the select button just as the screen began to scroll to the next area. While this may not seem like much, it could be used to bypass obstacles, dungeon sections, and warp randomly across the island, sometimes ending up in entirely glitched zones. When I first discovered this trick (thanks to Nintendo Power), I completed the dungeons out of order, and often had the key items even before entering them.



Of course, the gaming karma got me good when I warped into Eagleís Tower, then tried to exit and found myself lodged in a stone wall, as you have to unlock the tower from the outside before the stairs and entrance actually appear. In a brilliant maneuver, I then saved and quit, failing to realize that I would start in the exact same place when I loaded up the file later. Sure, it ruined my saved game, but I had a ton of fun and still experimented with it on a separate file on this most recent outing.


The Story


The primary plot arc is relatively simple, and all but spelled out for the player early on: Link needs to wake the Wind Fish in order to leave Koholint Island, which is the creature's dream. Waking the Wind Fish is achieved by gathering eight mystical instruments, hidden in each dungeon. It's a slight variation on the standard Zelda mechanic. On the surface, it seems straightforward enough. Looking deeper, however, opens a plethora of thought-provoking realizations. You are on a quest to destroy this intricate world - everything except for you and the Wind Fish will disappear at the end.



It's a plot device that grants a pensive portal into the realm of dreams. Is Marin a manifestation of the dreamer's longing and hope, with her desire of becoming a seagull and flying away to sing for far-away lands? Or is she simply a memory fragment of someone in the real world? Because we're never given any information on the Wind Fish, it's all a manner of interpretation. And if you just want to play a Zelda game, Link's Awakening delivers there too.




The Dream Shrine and the Ghost
Lastly, I'm bringing up two specific moments in the game that have always stuck with me. The first is the Dream Shrine. In Mabe Village, there is a small building blocked by boulders that can only be accessed after obtaining the Power Bracelet. The Dream Shrine is nothing more than an altar and a bed, an obvious nod to Zelda II. When Link hops on the bed, he enters a micro dream world, populated by bizarre creatures that mimic his movements and guard the Ocarina. While it's a short mini-dungeon, the mere idea of a dream within a dream blew my mind.



The last portion of this wonderful game I want to talk about is among my favorite moments in any video game. At one point between dungeons, a ghost begins following Link. He is unnamed in the game, but later given the name of Nakura in the Manga. He floats far behind our protagonist, and has a creepy little musical sting that plays every time you enter a new screen with it in tow. Nakura prevents Link from entering dungeons, and cryptically insists that he be taken home. Home, as it turns out, is an abandoned house by the island's south bay. Once inside (and joined by another fantastic piece of soundtrack), the ghost simply says,



As a kid, this was my introduction to the word nostalgia, and gaining a grasp on the concept was moving, to say the least. This little diversion stitches a seam between happiness and remorse that moves me every time, especially when the ghost then requests to be taken back to his grave. I've found this little episode particularly affective. The ghost clearly didn't need Link for transport - he was looking for an escort, a companion through the ghost's memories of another world, and someone to accompany him to the final resting place. And when one considers the ghost's role in the dream world, this whole side quest becomes as provoking as the main plot.


So that's my worship of Link's Awakening - the most Zelda Zelda game ever. Even if Skyward Sword surpasses it in every way, this game will always have a special place in my collection.









Apologies in advance to anyone who can't look at Mega Man 3 the same way after this.

In the original Mega Man, the robots are designed to perform industrial tasks, and conveniently double as a world domination task force for Dr. Wily. For the second attempt, Dr. Wily takes things a little more seriously and designs 8 robots who are all basically walking weapons (unless youíd like to argue that Quick Man has a nonviolent purpose). For me, the first two titles are the only stories where Dr. Wily takes himself seriously.


Formerly, I would lump Mega Man 3 with its predecessors. On my most recent play through, courtesy of the Anniversary Collection, I started to notice some peculiar characteristics on the third title. Initially, I wrote them off as products of an overactive (and Internet-tainted) imagination, and longed for the days when Dr. Wily turning into an alien at the end of Mega Man 2 still scared the shit out of me. But as I finished the game, there was no question: sure as Mega Man 6 is full of racial stereotypes, the robot masters of Mega Man 3 are part of Wily's new perverse scheme, bent on luring Mega Man into some bizarre trysts.



Rather than make an overarching argument, Iím going to go through each boss and share exactly what Iíve found when I took a closer look at the functionality of each one. But first, let's take a look at the stage select screen. In all other games, the center piece is either a static Mega Man or a sigil of the boss. Here, Mega Man's eyes follow the cursor wearily between each robot master. And upon closer look, their twisted intents are blatant: just look at how hungrily Hard Man is eyeing our protagonist!


Top Man

He clued me in, so Iíll start with him. At a young age, my friend and I would snicker about how Top Man liked to be on Top. And that really says it all. Look at that smirk on the stage select screen, thatís the smarmy little smile of mechanized rapist. His strategy is to dazzle the eye with spinning tops, and then whips himself into a spinning sexual frenzy at poor Mega Man, no doubt intending to buffet the blue bomber with a whirling steel shaft. He even grasps his crotch MJ style and throws out a fisting salute. Thatís a pose that will strike fear into robot virgins for generations to come.


Magnet Man

Atop his head is a giant U, as in ďTonight. You.Ē Like his depraved buddy Top Man, Magnet Man opts to distract and lead his prey by launching three magnets, no doubt designed to intimidate and confuse. The loud noise emitted with each launch serves to further distract so that he can deploy the trap Ė a magnetic field that drags Mega Man helplessly towards his captor. The double M can barely contain his excitement when the blue guy shows up, so much that his knees quiver in anticipation.


Hard Man

Obese and bound in leather, Hard Man is clearly a Bear in the robotic community, and he wants Mega Man as his cub. Upon entering his lair, Hard Manís animalistic urges take over, growling and thrusting his arms in the air. As his name implies, this robot master likes it rough Ė he starts by literally fisting our hero, then loses control and simply pounces, crushing Mega Man in rolls of robotic fat.



Snake Man

Green penis cannon. It's pretty obvious what those trouser snakes are searching for.


Spark Man

A younger version of myself might be skeptical at this point Ė how could a walking power plant possibly be a meant for dirty activities? Well, thanks to the Internet and an insatiable curiosity, itís quite obvious that Spark Man is all about erotic electrostimulation (hey don't look at me like that, I learned about it from Wikipedia!). He doesnít just want to put his angular dong into M squared Ė the Sparkster wants pain with his pleasure. Spark Man can be seen shocking himself through the freaking head, building his pleasure, before launching his flashy discharge. And once his helpless victim has been subdued, he leaps with reckless abandon, ready with his evil rods.


Shadow Man

Shadow Manís game is obviously bloodplay, with all his vats of the crimson liquid, brought forth by his endless supply of throwing stars. The only way to halt this vile ingress is to completely dominate Shadow Man, utilizing Top Manís trademark robot crotch-y whirlwind to beat the bastard into submission. But this clearly plays right into his desire to be a switch. Thatís why his life bar goes down so fast. Just look at how eager he is to accept it in the above screen shot.


Gemini Man

Also known as Mťnage ŗ trois man. He is only defeated when overloaded with the green penis cannon. Need I say more?


Needle Man

Wrapping up our list of cybernetic perverts is the robotic gimp. Heís sealed up in a vinyl suit, complete with a big red ball gag. Clearly turned on by piercings and injections, Needle Man flings his needles endlessly, pummeling Mega Man so that he can get close enough to launch his spiky tri-penis apparatus, allowing for maximum penetration. More than likely, Needle Man was Hard Manís cub until a scrawnier, sexier robot came on the scene. Desperate for the suffocating embrace of his lumberjack bear, Needleman is a scorned lover out for vengeance.



Proto Man
He shows up occasionally, and serves as the interlude between Dr. Wily's bodysuits and the castle stages. His pattern of attack is simple and laughable. He's obviously trying to help Mega Man from the other side, as if to say to the other robots "hey, look I'm gonna get him! Yeah look at me hop suggestively!"


Dr. Wily
Of course, we all know Dr. Wily was quick to cover his tracks, playing the whole attempt off as renewed world domination attempt once Mega Man showed up at his doorstop. So aside from the attempted Mega gang bang at the end of stage 3, the rest of the game is relatively innocuous. At least until, Wily shows up in this wide-eyed robot spewing white bursts from a flexible tube-like appendage, which just happens to be located in the nether quarters - luckily, some well placed hard knuckles can render his nefarious yogurt hose flaccid.



People refer to this as the fake Gamma, but I'm thinking once again that Dr. Wily had a quick backup plan to obscure his dirty secret. Look at what is purported to be the actual "ultimate weapon":



Yeah, it's a big mouth and some other robot's head awkwardly grafted on top who just chatters mindlessly, probably asking to be released from its awful existence of being half torso, half Julia Roberts-sized mouth with what looks like a white bra draped on top. While Mega Man dispatches this sin against nature, Dr. Wily quickly threw together a cockpit (which apparently draws eyes on the mouth-boob abomination). Then when the Doc finally shows up, it's a classic case of him declaring that if he can't have the Blue Bomber, no one can.




The only way to stop the maniacal old deviant is to give him all the robo wood he can handle. It's up to the Top Spin or Search Snakes to bring this perverted chapter in the series to a close, leaving Mega Man to wander along a grassy field, tracing Dr. Light's journals trying to figure out what went so very wrong, wondering if he'll ever sleep comfortably again.



On a serious note, what exactly is that thing floating on top of the tree?








When it comes to challenge, the general thought drifts to terms such as the number of player lives/continues, enemy health, enemy AI, ease of control, whether or not the game has cheap shots, and the presence of broken gameplay (bad cameras, mechanics). Ultimately, challenge itself is in the eye of the player. All of the above are basically deterrents Ė a common argument against newer titles is that if you have enough time, youíll get through it regardless of skill. But either way, you put in time, and how much a game succeeds in slowing you down is determined by your frustration threshold. I was only recently able to properly articulate the presence of such a thing by a couple of games Ė Iíll get to them later.


In the shortest terms, the threshold is the period of time a player stays with a game before declaring ďfuck it!Ē and hurling the controller across the room. So what determines this breaking point? As stated prior, everyone has a different tolerance, but these tend to be the common factors:



Death Screens Ė with many games, the player doesnít simply die and reappear. You are smacked in the face with a death screen, such as the flashing colors in Zelda II, Deathís piercing gaze as in Shadowgate, and probably the most discouraging, The Silver Surfer weeping in defeat. Itís basically the game pulling you aside and chiding you for dying. You already knew you had failed, and probably knew it a moment before death even occurred, but the game just has to get its say in the most jarring way possible. I always liken them to a comment once left on my old geocities website, which simply stated ďYOU MIGHT DO IT BETTER DUDEĒ.


Those effing jetpack guys are made so much worse by hearing the musical equivalent of "OOPS YOU FELL DOWN!"

Death Rattles Ė More common than the debilitating death screen is the little tune that plays when you die, the best example of course being Super Mario Brothers. Ninja Gaidenís is particularly long and caustic, as is Castlevaniaís. Again, the cue is entirely unnecessary; you know you messed up, and hearing that little sequence every single time is akin to some irritating spectator. Weíve all had an annoying onlooker who just canít help but add commentary to your gameplay, with exclamations like ďoh that sucksĒ, ďso closeĒ, ďit was a pitÖĒ Or in other terms, itís like hearing the horns from The Price is Right.


Both of these elements expedite the process of a player quitting, because thereís only so many times one can withstand hearing and/or seeing them before they crack. Some games even combine the two for maximum frustration. Goldeneye is a prime example Ė you get the long drawn out death song as the blood covers your view, then youíre shown a long death screen where your failure replays three times. Sure, you can skip the second sequence, but it always manages to squeeze in a second just to make sure you saw it.


What really made these elements stand out to me were the games that completely side-step them, and in exchange, present challenges that border on absurdity. Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and Tower of Heaven are perfect examples of this phenomenon. When you die in these games, there is no death chime, no death screen, and most important of all, the music does not stop. Streamlining the music through the death process was a stroke of genius. For me, music is a massive factor in gaming Ė I highly doubt I would have put up with all the times the Dragon killed me (or to be more accurate, all the times the auto-scroll killed me) in Mega Man II were it not for the rocking Dr. Wily theme.


The worst part of the aforementioned components is that they were so disturbing; they rip the player out of their concentration, forcing them to recollect or give up entirely. Itís like trying to see a Magic Eye poster, and some bastard kids come up and ruin it for you. Leaving it all behind allows these games to get away with such cruelty as Doing Things the Hard Way in VVVVVV or taking away the ability to walk left as in Tower of Heaven. Had any of these titles been equipped with even just a death theme, chances are good not nearly as many would complete them. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the games all have incredible soundtracks.


Look at this. LOOK AT THIS.

I experimented while writing this entry to test my theory. While playing Super Meat Boy, I had my iPod queued up with the death theme from Ninja Gaiden. When I would die, I played the theme, then exited back to the stage select screen. On an ordinary day, Iím liable to shout curses at Super Meat Boy, but still press onward. With this style of play, I gave up after a few attempts. Try it out sometime Ė if youíre anything like me, chances are good youíll go insane with rage.


When I see this, I know it's all over.

Of course, some games have done the exact opposite. Iíve never beaten a bit.trip game, and can only finish the first level of Beat. The reason being is that you not only have to endure a death throe and a death screen, but the music breaks up whenever you make a mistake. For me, thatís the perfect combination to set my threshold unbearably low. I can complete Battletoads, Iíve finished Ikaruga (though not with one credit!), but toss a game at me where itís designed to constantly poke and prod me whenever I do wrong, capped off with your paddle shrieking and a neon flashing death screen, and I crumble.


So, what builds your threshold?
Photo Photo Photo










One of the more potent aspects of music is the innate ability to attach itself to memories. Times and people long past are often associated with songs; even non-visual facets of oneís memory may be affected. For instance, whenever I hear Johnny Cash, I can smell my grandparentís study (where I was introduced to his fantastic music) - the scent of musty books, old furniture and their many cats wafts in from the past through some mental trickery. Music affixed to a visual interactive medium is naturally even more cohesive in that same way. Any gamer could probably hear one second of the Level 1-1 theme from Mario Bros. and immediately know what it is with an instant visual picture and the sensation of holding a controller. Thatís how powerful a game soundtrack can be.

Let me get it out of the way, I love video game music more than I probably have the right. As a child, I held my tape recorder to the TV to make soundtracks, and still play them on occasion. My main cell ringtone is Pokey Means Business! My text message notification is the Legend of Zelda secret chime. When my wife calls, I hear FFIVís Theme of Love. Most of my friends are set to a segment of I MAED A S0NG W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT! And when my brother calls, the Dr. Wilyís castle theme from Megaman II starts playing. When I play a game and like the soundtrack, I do whatever it takes to obtain a copy. If I canít buy the album, Iíll spend hours tracking it down online. If I canít find a downloadable version, I will extract it from youtube or wherever it may be available in some form (The Secret of Evermore OST was the most recent acquisition through that method).

With the requisite fapping off the tableÖIíd like to use this entry to discuss my absolute favorite aspect of video game soundtracks: character themes. The typical memorable theme will remind one of a certain level or an obstacle. With the advent of storytelling in video games, the themes began to expand to allow certain characters to have an aural sting. Ostensibly, it began with boss themes, not unlike villainous scores such as the Imperial March. Around the 16-bit era, we were graced with character songs that became more than just a cue for the player to know this guy or girl is the enemy. They became a summation of a character, taking their most identifiable aspects and translating them into music, and were played at key points of the story. Rather than expound on this concept generically, Iím going to use the remainder of this entry to focus on my favorite character-based songs.

Iíd apologize in advance for the heavy use of Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda penned songs, but they are the masters of the craft.

Chrono Trigger (Cronoís Theme) ~ Yasunori Mitsuda

Might as well start off the list with a piece that is the quintessential ďfuck yeah, letís go!Ē theme. Crono never utters a word through the game (sans that one ending), yet emotes so much throughout. His devotion to his friends and their quest to save the future never falters for a moment. Crono serves as a perfectly written avatar for the player, who also wants to do whatever it takes to rid the world of Lavos. Played at key points throughout the game, Chrono Trigger is the perfect blend of bravery and compassion for our favorite time traveling, spiky-headed hero.




Cidís Theme ~ Nobuo Uematsu

When it comes to Final Fantasy VII, Aerithís theme and One Winged Angel are usually the two everyone remembers. And not to take anything away from those pieces, as they are excellent by their own right, but Iíve always found Cidís theme just as moving. Here was a pilot who lived his life with a dream, to reach the stars. His seemingly one and only opportunity was taken from him when he sacrificed the mission to save his friend, who then became the focus of his anger in the following years. Cidís theme perfectly evokes imagery of a grizzled old man, worn out and strung along by his failing dreams. The song begins in sad form, yet betrays a glimmer of hope as it builds, a notion that the dream may not be as lost as all those years past. It makes the climax of Cidís story all the more powerful.




Ceremony / The Oracle (Thanatosís Themes) ~ Hiroki Kikuta.

The Seiken Densetsu series is loaded with brilliant music, but doesnít offer much in the way of character themes. However, Secret of Mana held a pair of themes for the villainous Thanatos that have stuck out in my mind ever since I first heard them. These two are hands down the most bizarre and unsettling pieces of music Iíve ever heard in a game. The dissonant bells of Ceremony and the pummeling trip-hop beat of The Oracle clash heavily with the rest of the soundtrack, as well as the vibrant art style, a contrast that is simply ingenious.

Moving from the bright landscapes to the misty drear ruins with this music playing is an example in oppressive unsettlement. You never know exactly what heís doing to the townpeople there, or why they wear those hideous masks, and it just adds to the tension. When you finally face him at the end of the game, he turns into a giant skeleton with a pink and purple robe. Sure, the colors are a bit frightening, but the music is insanity. The tolling bells of Ceremony now swirl around, driven by an infernal beat, and just when you get used to it, the song goes batshit crazy at the 1:24 mark. Mysterious, unnerving, and clinically insane, these two themes will haunt my dreams for years to come.





Celes's Theme ~ Nobuo Uematsu

I had two goals in mind with this list Ė keep the Final Fantasy to a minimum of two entries, and make one of them from FFIV. But I couldnít do it, because Celesís theme is undeniably gorgeous. Throughout the story, she promotes a tough faÁade, though often shows cracks in her emotional armor.

Side Story: In my first draft, I didn't use the word "cracks" there, I used another word that apparently sets off the filter here. I spent 15 minutes combing my draft and saving with certain paragraphs cut out, until I narrowed it to this one. It was until I had to the exact sentence that I realized this word was also a racial slur. This is why we can't have nice things...er words.

This theme is one of fragility, of a conflicted woman who has found herself between two worlds, torn by her emotions and duties. Her longing for Locke grows as the story progresses, and is arguably at its most beautiful during the opera scene. Hearing Celes sing her actual theme is heart wrenching every time I hear it. It taps a self-referential moment visible only to the player, who canít help but be swept into this love story.




Simonís Theme ~ Konami Kukeiha Club

The Castlevania series is another known for great music, but not necessarily great character themes. The fourth entry brought along the definitive theme for Simon Belmont, who is typically the flagship character for both the series and the Belmont family. Itís a perfect aural match to Simonís quest. TheÖquest, not the game subtitled Simonís Quest, oh nevermind. It begins with a slow ominous creep: fitting for Draculaís castle, with a buildup that insists more of the same is to followÖuntil that darkness gets its face whipped off by Simon. Itís classic video game heroism at its finest. And the best part is that when you finally reach Dracula, and wear down his health, it doesnít play some harrowing boss theme, the game plays Simonís theme! Itís the ultimate form of musical badassery in video games. Simon doesnít give the Count one fucking inch; he beats that bloodsucking bastard down on Simon's terms.

And I always do the air drums at the 0:49 mark.




Schalaís Theme ~ Yasunori Mitsuda

Chrono Trigger brims with wonderful themes. I could have made this list entirely devoted them, as they all perfectly exemplify the idea of compiling a character into a song. Schalaís has always stood out to me, even more so than the others. She is a latecomer to the story, and only has a few lines of dialog, yet she is a key component to both the overall plot and Magusís backstory. Her theme manages to say more than any visual cues, painting a kind, loving girl who, despite all the trouble sheís been put through, and faces a tragic destiny she canít avoid, still does all she can to help others, particularly her brother. The song retains that dreamy, magical feel that is prevalent in the Zeal theme, giving it an ethereal elegance that perfectly captures Schalaís story.




The Opened Way (Gaius) ~ Kow Otani

I know itís a stretch since this is more a boss theme, and wasnít solely devoted to Gaius, but I couldnít make this list and not include this incredible piece of music. Everyone probably knows exactly when, while playing Shadow of the Colossus, he or she was hit with pangs of guilt. For me, it was this battle, and this theme that did it. At first, the Opened Way seemed to be portraying the struggle the player was going through, but as I caught a glimpse of Gaiusís eyes Ė that look of confusion and anger Ė the music took on a new form. It was reminiscent of reading Frankenstein, when the Monster talked of trying to understand and live in the world of man and was shunned and attacked.

And that is the brilliance of this track. It plants a seed of remorse in the player that may sprout at any moment, whether itís during battle or in conjunction with the end of battle theme. For me, The Opened Way compacts all of what the player goes through into one piece. So it actually makes it more a theme for the player than any character in the game. Itís epic, tragic, and above all, beautiful.




Overworld BGM (Linkís Theme) ~ Koji Kondo

Ah yes, how could there ever be a list about memorable character themes or even memorable game music without this piece. Itís a fine place to end because like the Mario theme, I donít even need to talk about this one. If youíve played Zelda, you already have the song in your head. You can already see Link from the first Zelda game that comes to your mind. Itís a classic character theme by every definition of the word: a summation of a heroís journey, the exploration, the danger, the triumph, and it revolves on a perfect loop.



So thatís about it. I know thereís a million other character themes, and at least a few of them not in a Squaresoft game, but these are the ones that have always stood out to me. Each piece is a masterwork that bridges the player to an intangible character and ensconces itself in their memories. Often taken for granted, a working character theme is something unique to video games. Movies and TV shows come close, but never nail it. There isnít much better than when you can listen to a few minutes of music and the whole of a character and their story floods your mind.
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When I watch a movie that was based on a book, there is usually a smarmy bastard or two who canít help but incessantly remark at the differences in this adaptation. They always arrive at the conclusion that the book was better, and that anyone who hasnít read the book is inferior and probably touches their tacos inappropriately. For all the analysis these smug nitpickers pride themselves on, they never seem to arrive at the obvious conclusion, which is that the book is almost always better (the only exception I can recall at the moment would be The Shawshank Redemption).

The book is better because the reader utilizes their imagination instead of watching what equates to a summary of someone elseís interpretations. My favorite video games tread a similar path, providing basic imagery, accompanying music, and succinct character outlines/development rather than pure text over elongated descriptions and dialog. But one characteristic will curdle my demeanor like the aforementioned smarmy bastards, and that is voices in videogames.



To preempt any knee-jerking for the sake of Kratos, Iíll preface myself by stating that not all voice acting in video games is awful or unnecessary - just a majority of it. Hearing some stilted, monotone voice spit out dialog sours a good script and makes a questionable translation unbearable. Iíve suffered through enough embarrassingly horrible death throes, attempts at drama, and wooden narration to give me an aversion to any game where voices are prevalent. The most recent example is Arc Rise Fantasia. I was interested in the game until I watched gameplay footage and heard the voices: the awkward dialog, the irritating endless chatter in battle. Luckily the game does have an option to silence the pitiful woes of the under skilled (and likely underpaid) actors, but increasingly few games offer this reprieve.


These scenes would have been ruined by voice acting.

Whatís the point? To continue this semblance of bridging two mediums, making interactive movies? Are games with actual voices more credible or mature because they are blessed with bad acting like so many piles of fetid shit shoved into theaters every year? I could argue that there needs to be a better sense of quality control if this standard is to continue, but Iíd rather it discontinue altogether. Iíd gladly trade the few and far between for pristine silence, or even just minimal voices in the vein of Ocarina of Time or Okami. Playing through a game and giving the characters voices has long been part of the experience for me, as is filling out back stories. Any good story telling medium allots the viewer/reader/listener a certain degree of imaginative freedom Ė why should we besmirch an inherit strength in video games that cultivates this freedom?


This one too.

The novelty of voices wore off for me fairly quick, somewhere after Resident Evil. Itís always seemed entirely unnecessary, an afterthought to make the game ďnext-genĒ at worst, a misguided attempt to propel the medium forward at best. Sure, adding actual voices does advance gaming from a technical standpoint, but itís in the wrong direction. Itís too often that a potentially emotional scene is shattered by hammy acting. I loved Lost Odyssey, but felt many scenes lost much potency due to the acting. Worse, piss-poor writing can be glossed over by overacting the same way so many glam bands glossed over their shitty ballads with an overdone guitar solo Ė Heavy Rainís Ethan Mars comes to mind as a prime example.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulbotKa5LnM
I'll concede that some good comes out of bad acting
(or I would, if the embed would work).

Memorable and emotional moments prior to the advent of voices in games relied on maximizing the mediumís potential. Voice acting could be a fine accent to these established tactics, but instead itís used as a crutch. This is why I shudder when I realize a gameís dialog is exclusively delivered in voiceovers. Give me a game absent of voices over something like Heavy Rain any day. Writers and developers need to focus on making a memorable story, an atmospheric world, an evocative narrative, interesting characters, and great gameplay. Let the player take care of the voices.
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Originally, I had intended to draft an entry comparing the two Mario Galaxy games. I finally played the first game a mere seven months ago and recently finished the second, which gave me a fresh comparative perspective. However, the two are obviously similar and the only blatant differing aspect I found was the scope and design of each respective game world. The abbreviated version of the never-composed article is that the first had a more fleshed out and better crafted world while the second felt more like a series of those little side galaxies from the first title.


In gathering these thoughts, another topic bubbled and rose to the top of my mind: the boss battles. As I completed both titles, I couldnít help feeling disappointed in some of the major fights the Galaxy titles offered. Itís a stigma Mario 64 suffered from Ė repetitive boss design. Iíve never been a fan of the Nintendo 64ís flagship game, and while my list of problems in the game is crowned with the myriad of control issues, the fights with Bowser are certainly in a high position. The primary pratfall is that the player is given the same exact battle circumstances over and over again. Iíll concede that Bowser isnít likely to be the most creative of villains (though his sequel makes a fine attempt), but it should be conceivable that heíd try a different tactic when one fails.


The slow moving fist of death isnít quite as infallible as it appears.


And with that in mind, Iím accepting of Bowser spurring the same style of attack at the end of each worldÖup until the final battle. To preface the next few statements, I have never played a Mario game for an engrossing story or especially memorable ending (Super Mario RPG being the one huge exception); I wasnít one of those foolish fans who sent angry letters to Nintendo Power when Mario 64 ended with the baking of a cake. That said, the treatment given to the final battle with Bowser in the Galaxy titles is absurd, particularly in the sequel. Playing through that fight and realizing it was in fact, the last go around was akin to watching the final episode of a series and it being no different from any other episode.


Progressively building the same attack didnít work out so well back then either.


Consider Super Mario World and Mario 3. When you finally reached Bowser in those games, he hurled crazy new attacks at you never before seen in the game. Iíll never forget that moment of panic in Mario 3 when the music kicked in and Bowser began a relentless attack. In World, he had a bit more finesse, again striking fear as one had to figure out how to damage him as he floated around out of range. With Mario Galaxy 2, the moment Mario is thrown onto that same old asteroid with Bowser looming behind, you know exactly what to expect. Sure, they change the pattern his fist strike makes on impact, but everything else follows the same gambit. And after heís beaten once, it appears the game is finally dispensing a worthy final showdown, but instead itís a simplistic reprise of the previous fight.


I love this last line so hard though. It almost makes up for the letdown of the final battle.


The Galaxy titles boast arguably the best platform level design conceived this far. Each area is unique, challenging (often to a controller-tossing magnitude) and above all else, a blast to play. Capping off these games which are highly likely to become legendary landmarks in gaming history should have been equally memorable closing showdowns with Marioís nemesis. While not horrible by any stretch, these fights offer little challenge because by the end, the average player could probably trounce the giant turtle on their first attempt. All the buildup over an epic final level, and this was the best the main villain could muster? Bowser deserves better.
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