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6:17 PM on 06.03.2012  

Return from Hiatus

It's been nearly a year and a half since my last blog post here on Destructoid.

There's been several reasons for that. The first and most prominent being that I just graduated from college and my senior year was full of scheduling, application-filling, term-paper-writing insanity that you all probably don't want to hear about. But in the meantime I had precious little time to play video games, and as a result found myself in a dearth of material to comment on.

Now that I'm out and taking a break to realign my life between school and a real career, hopefully that can change. I've been thinking a lot about new topics to discuss. I'm planning on continuing my Critical Ear series although that seems moot now with the return of The Sound Card, but before work and school caught up with me I was planning on writing about the Nier soundtrack because it's just so awesome. There's a couple other soundtracks and composers I was planning on discussing, so keep watching this space for new updates in the upcoming week or so.

But other than promises of new content in the future, I don't have much to offer you other than an apology to the few people that consistently followed my posts, and to say that this community is awesome and I hope it hasn't changed much (other than for the better!) in the year or so I've been away.

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12:41 PM on 01.12.2011  

A Critical Ear #7: Thinking Outside the Sound Chip



(Author's note: This article was originally posted back during the switch over to the new Destructoid format. When the site was reverted to the old style of blogs, it got lost in the transfer and I only now found the time to re-post it. The previous entry into this series, episode #6, got borked in the transfer as well and I'm currently in the process of fixing the formatting for it. In the meantime, enjoy!)

Games have certainly changed a lot of the years, due to the advent of new technologies that allow for faster processing, more memory, and greater graphical capabilities than before. Game soundtracks have also changed due to these advances and now sweeping orchestral music is practically the norm in the industry, rather than the exception. But sound fidelity isn’t the only thing that has changed with these soundtracks as technology improved; if you pay attention, the way the songs themselves are constructed has also been heavily influenced.

In the early days of game systems, composers had very limited technology to work with. More conventional ways of storing music on cassette tapes or records were too expensive and fragile to use en masse, so developers instead used digital methods. A specialized computer chip would produce the electrical signals that were converted into sounds by the speakers. However, the sounds that could be reproduced by the system were limited by the power of that computer chip, as well as the person who programmed it. Still, many composers found a way to utilize the limited range of possible sounds from early system to create many memorable pieces of music.

The most famous pieces of music from this era probably are so memorable because the technology was so limited. With only five channels available for sounds on the NES (probably less for the actual music, considering that sound effects also used those same channels), composers were forced to focus more on the actual melody and harmony of the songs to make something that was pleasant to listen to. Now that full, live-recorded performances of songs can be stored directly on the game and be accurately reproduced by the game system, composers have infinitely more options available for the songs they create. Some of them still create catchy tunes, but more ambient and atmospheric tracks are becoming increasingly common. Game music can be less strictly constructed and still be enjoyable to listen to because we don’t have to wrangle with chirpy electronic sounds anymore.

The Pokémon series provides a very good example of this gradual shift in composition style. When it first started on the Game Boy, the composer for the games, Junichi Masuda only had three sound channels to work with: low, mid, and high range. However, each channel was used to create complex melodies and countermelodies that give the music a special intricacy and fullness that easily sticks in the player’s mind. This is especially apparent with the battle themes, which are stuffed to the brim with almost baroque-styled flair. Lightning fast arpeggios and runs, countermelodies, and ornamental flourishes all contribute to make songs that transcended the limited hardware of the day.

Some examples:

RBY Gym Leader Battle


GSC Trainer Battle (Johto)

In the later iterations of the series, the songs began to evolve with the new systems that they were hosted on. By the time the DS generation of titles comes around, the songs now have the benefit of better quality samples, as well as an increased number of sound channels to take advantage of. The different parts of the melody are now spread out between numerous instruments, and the individual voices aren’t nearly as complex when isolated from the rest of the song.

Examples:

DPPt Battle with Galactic boss Cyrus


DPPt Champion Battle

RSE Elite Four Battle

With more varied instrument samples, the songs even take on different genres of music to evoke different moods for the areas or events that they correspond to. In the Game Boy titles, the melody itself had to be changed drastically to differentiate more between different areas of the region. In Diamond and Pearl, we have a town with a swanky jazz theme, a town with a solo piano piece, and even a town theme that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a western!

This difference in compositional style is even more apparent if you compare the original tracks to their overhauled versions in the remakes, and it shows the reason why the shift in styles occurred over time.

Quite honestly, I don’t like most of the remixed battle themes in FRLG and HGSS at all mainly because they’re far too busy. They take songs that are already stuffed to the brim with intricacies and add even more on top of it all. HGSS is a bit better with this, mainly due to the better quality of sound samples, but also because they somewhat dialed back the extra ornamentation and unnecessary layers. The songs made specifically for the third and fourth gen titles had different voices that flowed together far more organically. These remixes feel more like the original songs have been cut up into pieces and haphazardly stapled together with random materials to make a gaudy sort of musical patchwork quilt.

To illustrate this point, take the Champion battle from the original Red/Blue/Yellow version:


And now it’s remix in FRLG:


This doesn’t mean that the original dot-matrix quality from the Game Boy days is somehow better than the sound we enjoy now though. Great soundtracks can (and have) come from both styles. This just demonstrates the difference in the way songs are composed now that musicians have more options available. One stresses the complexity of each voice within the song, the other focuses more on harmony and sharing the responsibility of carrying the song between all of them.

Soundtracks are not just tied to the narrative flow within the game, they also are integrally tied to the limits of the system on which their respective game is played. The best soundtracks know how to use the range of reproducible sounds for the hardware to its fullest extent to craft an appropriate musical backdrop for the game. However, now that data storage and speaker quality has gotten to the point where composers can do just about anything they want, this point is rendered moot, but it’s still a good way to look at soundtracks from older games. The best ones took limited technology and used to craft a unique experience, and still remain memorable even when compared to the high-fidelity sound we enjoy today.

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4:39 PM on 11.05.2010  

A Critical Ear #6: While I Play Unfitting Music



Music is one of the primary methods by which video games evoke an emotional response in the player. In order to elicit the response that the designers want, a piece of music is usually played during an event that appropriate syncs up to it. Happy songs are played for happy roaming around a quiet peasant village, celebrating after overcoming a difficult challenge, finally getting the girl and riding off into the sunset, and so on. Sad songs are played during sad deaths and defeats that the characters must face along their journey. Music can run the gamut of emotional expressions, it can be pensieve, optimistic, mischievous, and even scary, and which emotion it conjures up in the player is dependent not only on the song itself, but in what context it's heard.

Just like how paints on a palette can be mixed together and juxtaposed to create contrast that defines objects, the juxtaposition of a song and the event which it accompanies can be adjusted to make new and unique combinations. If a game designer wants to evoke a feeling that is more complex and multifaceted, they often will have a song play in the background that doesn’t fit the action on the screen at all. If this song is associated with a specific person or place in the player’s mind, then that association will also be brought to the forefront and further highlight a specific contrast that the game is trying to make.

The most common variation on this technique of soundtrack dissonance is when a pitched battle or action scene is accompanied by a softer tune. This is used all the time in action movies, when the sound cuts out of a frenzied fight and is replaced by one woman wailing a dirge in the background, or a quiet piano or violin piece. The contrast between the beauty of the music and the gritty image of war can be very powerful if done correctly.

While this technique has become something of a cliché due to overuse recently, there are a few specific scenes in video games that illustrate how to do it correctly.

(Note: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VII. You have been warned.)

Chrono Cross is known for a few things among gamers: having an amazing soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and an impenetrably, unnecessarily convoluted storyline. Despite the sheer density of its pseudo-philosophical pandering though, CC does manage to have quite a few very emotional scenes. One of the most memorable is the fight against Miguel.



It already has one important contrast in the setting of the boss battle: in front of Nadia’s Bell from Chrono Trigger, now among the ruins of a destroyed timeline and a bright, glaring sunset. To see something that was a symbol of peace and prosperity in the first game among such destruction is striking to say the least. Then Miguel shows up and starts a monologue on time, death, and the nature of free will and predestination. It’s a lot to take in, but then out of nowhere, after declining to stay forever in a place where time stands still, he attacks you and you’re forced to fight for your life.

During the entire previous scene, the song “People Imprisoned By Destiny” plays. A slow, mournful tune, it’s very appropriate for the introspective navel-gazing it accompanies. However, once the battle starts up, the song never cuts out to the actual boss battle theme, and it continues to loop through one of the most frustratingly difficult fights of the entire game. This continuation also makes the player think more about why they’re fighting the battle in the first place, since a song that first accompanied sad thoughtful scenes will make the player think of those same sad, thoughtful events, as well as Miguel’s words about destiny and fate not five minutes before. The contrast between all of these elements helps to make this boss fight one of the most memorable of the entire game.



Another example (from another Squaresoft game, no less) that is also widely recognized by gamers is the fight against Jenova LIFE in Final Fantasy VII. What makes this fight notable is that it happens immediately after Aeris gets shish-kabobed by Sephiroth in City of the Ancients. Personally, when I played this game, it wasn’t the actual moment of her death that made me start crying, it was this boss fight with her theme playing in the background instead of the normal Jenova boss theme. Hearing that music just twists the knife in deeper, and drives home the feeling that she’s gone and will never fight alongside you again. What also makes it very powerful is that Cloud and the rest of your party is probably thinking the exact same thing.

Good storytellers show the audience instead of telling them in exact words, and the use of Aeris’ theme here shows us just how disconnected the characters are from the actual fight at hand. Instead of the expected boss music firing you up for an important struggle, her theme instead evokes memories of the past, defining her character by the hole she leaves behind.

The previous two examples gave particularly important fights or events extra depth by having a song accompany them that guides the player’s thoughts towards other times, and contrasts those memories with the grim reality of the current struggle. Both of these instances work because of the specificity of the memories evoked (with Chrono Cross) or the song used (Final Fantasy VII). This technique can also be broadened and adapted to play off of more innate expectations on the player’s behalf, rather than triggers that are specific to events wholly contained within the game. Bioshock and Fallout 3 both do this by making use of recognizable, old songs that are often associated in pop culture with happy nostalgia for the “good ol’ days.” These songs are then played while you explore deserted wastelands, war-torn ruins, and see the sharp contrast between the optimism of the past with the gritty, decayed reality of the present.

These golden oldies are only a shallow veneer for the rotten state of things, and quickly wears thin the farther the player digs into the dystopian setting. In a similar fashion, happy and bright songs can almost sound mocking when the world in which you find yourself isn’t happy or bright at all.
Sometimes these upbeat songs are just another way that the game takes sadistic glee in your suffering as you push forward, only to be punished time and time again. Like a child pulling the wings off of a fly, the game will make your life as painful as possible, but always do it with a smile on its face, not caring one bit about the torture it inflicts on its victim.

Because some games take pleasure in your pain, and some games are I Wanna Be The Guy.



Fuck you, Green Greens. YOU LIED TO ME.

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3:01 PM on 10.06.2010  

Changes: SERIOUS BUSINESS



”Critics who treat "adult" as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence....When I was ten, I read fairytales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. “
—C.S Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Looking around my squat little dorm room that I call “home” this year at the university, you might never know that I’m a gamer. My laptop isn’t really powerful to run any games without horrible framerate issues, there’s not even a TV to be seen, let alone any game systems hooked up to it, and the walls are void of any of kind of posters, art, figurines, or other gamer-related paraphernalia. I have no game-related shirts or hats or other merchandise to show off my gamer credentials as I walk to my classes.

The truth is, for the majority of my time here at the university, I’m not a gamer. Studying for a biology degree and the MCAT placement exams, as well as serving as a tutor-mentor for the university, doesn’t leave a lot of time (or money) to play as much as I used to. Here at college, my professional role is as a student, whether I like it or not. As a kid, you have all the time in the world to dive headfirst into games and explore to your heart’s content, but as you grow older it becomes harder and harder to afford the costs of living inside of a virtual world. Sooner or later you have to climb back out and face the real world and take on the adult responsibilities that come with it. It’s a hard fact of life

…Or so they say. Growing up to many people often means leaving “childish” things behind us. And while it’s true that I’ve had to forgo actually playing them seriously for awhile now in order to pursue a serious career, the absence of that physical aspect of playing games has really forced me to look at the medium as a whole in a different light. As I have grown up, my thoughts on games themselves have also grown and matured into something that I can take with me and share on an academic level, not just with other gamers.

I’ve realized that “growing up” in truth doesn’t mean forgetting video games entirely, but instead finding a way of balancing my love of the medium with real life concerns. If anything, growing up has instead reinforced my love of gaming now that I’m able to apply deeper levels of critical analysis to titles that I previously only enjoyed on a shallower level. As a kid, I would know whether a game was “good” or now, but now I’m able to sit down and write a multi-page discussion on why it’s good.

For example, I’m taking a class on Chinese and Japanese Religions at the university this semester. While discussing Shinto, the class got somewhat derailed by discussing how Japanese mythology and religious practices were incorporated into games like Okami and Persona 4, and influence many other parts of games that are made by Japanese developers. It then got derailed even more when a debate between me and my professor started about the artistic merit of video games vs. other visual mediums.

But then again, all the philosophical dissertations in the world can’t capture the sheer joy and sitting down a playing a good game yourself. So while I can take my interest in games wherever I go in life, I haven’t forgotten that the reason why I have that interest in the first place is because of that one day, years ago, when I defeated Master Hand for the first time. And to me, that’s really the mark of a true gamer, someone who understands the advantages, limitations, and development of the medium, but doesn’t forget that the point of playing a game is to HAVE FUN. That part of being a gamer to me at least hasn’t changed over the years.

As long as I have video games to add some fun back into my life, whether through playing them or merely talking about them with others, my life couldn’t be better. 10 years ago when I just started playing games, I wouldn’t have had nearly enough breadth of experience to participate in this kind of analysis. I’ve been exposed to a lot of other works and influences as I’ve grown up that now allow me to look at games that I love in a whole new way. The professors I debate with may not personally see the value of this particular medium, but now I have the knowledge and experience to effectively defend my passion. And even though I’m technically an adult now, I’m not about to give up that passion anytime soon.

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3:12 PM on 08.11.2010  

A Critical Ear #4: Fight On!



There are two types of “epic” boss themes in video game soundtracks: those that say “Oh my god we’re facing down an avatar of phenomenal cosmic power that could easily grind us into dust if we piss it off”; and those that say “…and we’re going TO KICK ITS ASS!!

I’ve mentioned many boss themes in previous articles, but they all fall underneath the first category. This is mainly because I’ve discussed how well they play up the fight itself and the bad guy that the player confronts. Those boss themes are memorable because they relate to your opponent so well, but how many instead emphasize how awesome you are? Which pieces of music make the player truly feel like the dragon-slaying badass they control, and provide a fitting backdrop for your victory over incalculable odds? Today, I will illustrate several themes that give you the courage and determination to keep on fighting against the strongest of enemies.

Many plots in video games follow a linear path of defeating consecutively stronger enemies until you beat the strongest of them all and win the game. However, while linear, it’s not always a smooth road nowadays, and many games will have you stuck in a seemingly impossible situation where the heroes are defeated and all hope seems lost, after getting beaten up by the Big Bad….until some plot element decides to show up and give the heroes a second wind to rise up and defeat the boss for good. This is the form that most of the themes in question take, providing a victorious mood to match the determination that keeps the main characters in the game fighting.

(Author's note: No major spoilers here this time, feel free to read the article in its entirety!)



For example, the 3D Sonic games have used this starting with Sonic Adventure, and has been a recurrent theme (for better or worse) in every 3D iteration of the series since then. You defeat what the game initially frames as the final boss, find out the world is still doomed because a bigger boss is still alive, unlock the True ending, turn into Super Sonic, and grin as the main theme of the game kicks in for the final final boss fight. These games are interesting in that the songs have vocals, where the vast majority of music in video games is instrumental (it costs extra money to hire good singers, you know). The lyrics may be cheesy and clichéd, but the plot of the Sonic series is cheesy and clichéd already, so one hardly notices the difference.

The Sonic series doesn’t have a monopoly on this style of final boss music either, it can also be found in Elite Beat Agents, where the agents are de-stoned and deliver the final blow to the evil music-hating aliens to The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. It’s also appears in the Subspace Emissary mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the fight against Tabuu. The entire roster of Nintendo fighters (save for Kirby, Ness, and Luigi), have all been wiped out by his super-powered rainbow-wing-wave attack , but they come back to the brink, defeat the evil, neon-colored….um, entity, and save the world of Smash Bros. from the encroaching subspace. The song used here is decidedly more upbeat when compared to the "normal" final boss theme, the Final Destination music that plays during the fights with Master Hand. Perhaps this difference in moods for the respective themes symbolizes Tabuu as a tangible villain that can be defeated with finality, whereas the struggle against Master Hand continues for as long as the game itself continues.

Another type of “uplifting” boss music also occurs where a boss theme initially starts out dark and oppressive, but transitions into a more victorious movement later on, sometimes triggered by a specific action in the fight itself. This is usually found during longer boss fights, where even the player can get worn out by the endless battle. When the triumphant part occurs in the song, it gives the person behind the controller a morale boost, and thus spurs the character they control to keep fighting as well.

This isn’t just relegated to final bosses either, it’s used in Twilight Princess against any dungeon boss. As soon as you stun your opponent or gain access to its contractually-required weak spot, the normal boss music transitions into a variation on the Hyrule Field theme (see here at the 3:00 minute mark). Super Mario Galaxy does it during the Bowser fights when you knock him on his shell and boot the spiky turtle around the arena for massive damage. The already-epic music gains an extra layer of vocals that signifies a specific turning point in the battle.



The best example of this occurs during the final boss of the True ending for Persona 4. It’s a stupidly difficult fight in a franchise that’s already well-known for its stupidly difficult fights, and the song used for this particular boss is roughly 7 minutes UNLOOPED. However, around the 5:30 minute-mark, another recognizable theme from the game enters. After hearing it for so many fights in so many dungeon crawls, the original version of “Reach Out To The Truth” starts to go one ear and out the other, but the chorus in the final boss theme, “Genesis” brings back its message with renewed vigor and reminds you of everything you’ve been fighting for throughout the events of the game.

I won’t lie to you, it made me cry tears of happiness the first time I heard it. The build-up to the 6:46 mark is just so goddamned perfect. It starts with everything else fading out, then the main melody is played slowly on one lone trumpet before the rest of the orchestra swells and joins in to encourage the player to keep on fighting through the fog.

These are the boss songs that really make you feel that you can take on the world and win, that when you reach your darkest hour, the dawn is only a short while away. Video games are all about escapism, and what better way to go on a power trip than with these themes declaring your undeniable awesomeness for the world to hear? When used correctly, this particular type of fight music not only portrays the in-game character as capable of taking on the world and winning, but also the player that controls the protagonist as well.

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6:06 PM on 04.11.2010  

A Critical Ear: Analyzing Music In Video Games



My article on Final Fantasy VI’s “Dancing Mad” got a lot more attention than what I was expecting, and it seemed like a lot of the readers in the comments wanted to see me write more on the subject of video game soundtracks. So I finally decided to start a regular, monthly series here in my blog doing just that. In this column, called A Critical Ear, I plan on analyzing specific soundtracks and songs in games that are particularly memorable or well-crafted, and explain why they stick with the player even after the game has been finished.

Like any audio-visual medium, video games rely on music to build a specific atmosphere, mood, or impression that the player can understand and respond to emotionally. By having a better understanding of the music underlying the main action of the narrative or gameplay, one can arrive at a deeper understanding of characterization, general mood, or even foreshadowing that may not be readily apparent otherwise. Through this series, I hope that I can give you all a new way to enjoy playing through games, and better illustrate how the background music fits into that experience as a whole.

The (official) first episode of the series should be up later this week. I just wanted to provide a quick introduction here to explain the purpose of this series before jumping straight in.

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1:32 PM on 04.03.2010  

"What Would Mario Do?": Messianic Characters in Video Games.



Spring is upon us here in the Northern hemisphere, and with Spring comes warm weather, MTV showing footage of topless, underage girls on break, hay fever, and of course Easter, which is officially celebrated tomorrow. This holiday represents different things to different people, but in the Christian tradition it’s regarded as the celebration of the day when Jesus Christ came back from the dead after dying on the cross. Make as many jokes about “Zombie Jesus Day” as you want, but the Messianic archetype has been around almost as long as the heroic tradition itself. And, as a medium of storytelling, video games are no different. “Messiah” essentially means “chosen one” in Greek, and the characters that fulfill this role generally are half-human, half-divine, and often have to save the world through a great sacrifice. While there are numerous examples of characters that fit these qualities in games, this list will outline the ones that I believe best qualify for this role.

This list will be full of spoilers, naturally. You have been warned.



Colette, Tales of Symphonia

Colette is first introduced in Symphonia as a sweet, polite young girl who has been chosen to regenerate the dying world of Sylvarant. Oh, and she’s rumored to be the daughter of an angel, Remiel. Despite the hardships on her journey, she always remains optimistic and cheerful, willing to sacrifice her humanity to become an angel in order to restore Mana to her world.

However, Colette is an arguable deconstruction of this archetype. She hides the true cost of her journey from the rest of the party, and accepts her fate, even though everyone else tries to dissuade her and is horrified at the personal consequences of her journey. This normally would be a sign of great inner strength and determination, except that her sacrifice ends up leaving her a shell of her former self, with no love or empathy left for any other living being. Not to mention that succeeding in her quest means dooming a different world, Tethe’alla.

Not all sacrifices are for the greater good, and Symphonia hammers home the fact that one needs to understand both sides of a conflict, instead of blindly following what you’re told to do. Colette is still a good example of a Messianic character, but the unfortunate consequences of her journey and sacrifice put a different spin on what is supposed to be a heroic figure.



Serge, Chrono Cross

Let me state this for the record: I really, really hate the plot of Chrono Cross. It’s overly complex and stuffed full of needless symbolism, pseudo-philosophical bullshit, and unimportant characters and side plots. However, despite my personal feelings for the game’s story, Serge is a pretty blatant messianic figure. Although things start off simple enough with the main character just trying to find a way to get back home, it quickly spirals into an epic journey to save all worlds and timelines.

“But how can Serge be on this list?” you might ask, “He never dies, unlike Chrono in the original game!” That’s a good point, but not all sacrifices have to involve death in a literal sense. Serge sacrifices himself by losing his identity by having his body switched with Lynx (who is also his father, I think….somehow). He then is “resurrected” by being reborn into his old body, after proving that he is indeed the one who is capable of saving the world.

However, the most notable reason why he’s on this list is the way he defeats the final boss in order to receive the “best” ending. If you simply whack the Time Devourer with pointy Rainbow weapons over and over again, you defeat it and save the world, but kill Schala for good in the process. The best ending is achieved by redeeming the ultimate cause of destruction instead of simply obliterating it. By playing the Song of Time, you finally free Schala from her madness and hate that possessed her while she was merged with Lavos.



Aeris/Aerith Gainsborough, Final Fantasy VII

Do I even need to describe this one? Aeris is the purest of the pure in world of Final Fantasy VII, especially when compared to the other party member’s motives like revenge, or money when the game first starts. The symbolism is pretty obvious too. She’s half Cetra, is raised by a humble foster family, and is even first encountered sitting in a church in a beam of light with flowers growing around her! Her death at Sephiroth’s hands is still regarded as one of the most moving moments in video game history, and deeply impacts the other characters for the rest of the story. However, it’s also heavily implied that by dying she became one with the Lifestream, allowing her prayer to finally stop the meteor Sephiroth summoned.

Although she’s not resurrected like many other Messianic characters, she lives on in what the ancient Greeks would call “commemorative immortality”. The impression she left on Cloud and the other characters still remains, even though not even phoenix downs can bring her back physically. This appears in the movie Advent Children, where she appears to Cloud numerous times, and helps to guide him through his recurring angst.

Final Fantasy loves using this type of character, and the series has many examples from other games. I could write a whole article just naming examples from this franchise alone, but Aeris is really the best known, and most fitting one.



Minato Arisato, Persona 3

If there’s one franchise that loves Messianic characters more than Final Fantasy, it’s the Shin Megami Tensei series. Nearly every single game from SMT1 onwards involves you playing the role of a character that must pay a great sacrifice in order to free the world from the tyrannical rule of Chaos or Law. However, the sacrifice of Persona 3 is much more meaningful because of the inclusion of social links. By getting to know on a deeper level the people you are fighting to save, Minato’s (or whatever name you gave him) sacrifice to seal away Nyx at the end of the game strikes the player on a deeper level. The thoughts and prayers of everyone that you have formed a personal, unbreakable bond with gives you the strength to save them all from complete obliteration.

I really think that Persona 3 uses this archetypical character the best out of any other video game. In a series rife with religious symbolism (Hell, one of Minato’s ultimate personas is even named “Messiah”) and theological debate, the inclusion of such a symbolic sacrifice fits in a more organic fashion within the context of the game, and doesn’t feel forced. Plus, the addition of increased player immersion by directly controlling the character and choosing which social links to pursue also makes the ultimate conclusion of culturing such connections more emotionally compelling.

So regardless of your religious beliefs or affiliation, the Messianic archetype is widespread throughout storytelling tradition. Whether used metaphorically or literally, it will most likely remain a recurring trope in great epics for as long as such tales of sacrifice and redemption have the capacity to move us. Happy Easter, everyone!

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7:46 PM on 08.22.2009  

There Will Be Brawl - Episode 7 is out!

Finally, after more than two months of delays, the seventh episode of the web series There Will Be Brawlwas released on The Escapist this Friday.

And holy shit, it is definitely worth the wait. My jaw was open for about the last third of this episode. I can't even imagine how they're going to top this with the final two installments of the series. The plot thickens and our protagonists find themselves launched out of the frying pan and into the fire when they discover more clues regarding the serial killer and the corruption plaguing their own Mushroom Kingdom. New allies and old enemies appear, but will Luigi and his friends be able to save themselves and uncover the truth in time to save what they hold dear?

Unfortunately, that's about all I can say without including MASSIVE SPOILERS in this post. Just enjoy the show and pay some respect to the amount of effort that goes into this project.

If you're not already familiar with the series, watch the whole thing from the beginning first because it's very plot-intensive, and nothing will really make sense if you try to jump in with this episode.

Original link


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9:39 AM on 08.06.2009  

I Suck At Games: Charge!

Hello, my name is SWE3tMadness, and I suck at strategy.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know simple tricks like “Always aim for the eye,” and Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, but that just means my whole meta-game principle pretty much amounts to “Hit it’s weak point for massive damage!”





For example, I’m currently doing another run of Ocarina of Time this summer out of boredom (and lack of funds for new games…), and when facing down a boss, a veteran gamer’s first instinct would be to keep your distance and wait for an opening to appear.

Well, fuck that shit. LEEEEROOOOOY JEENKIIIIIINNSS!



Hey, I may have only one and a half hearts left after using up one fairy-in-a-bottle, but at least the big bad monster is dead now, right? It’s a small sacrifice to pay for saving the world.

It’s not just adventure games though. Real-time strategy? Human wave tactics (We have reserves.) RPG’s? Level-grind until you can defeat the boss in one or two hits. Shooters? Set your gun to automatic and strafe.

This also is my greatest undoing when facing off against human opponents, and where the meta-game aspect of playing is crucial to doing well. Take Pokèmon for example. After four generations of games, you’ve got almost unlimited options for customizing movesets, stats, and overall strategies to guarantee victory. Unfortunately, a lot of these strategies rely on you being able to predict an opponent’s moves and plan accordingly.



Did I mention I’m also terrible at chess?

It’s honestly not that I’m stupid enough to take advantage of meta-gaming principles or try to formulate better strategies, it’s just that whenever I try it, I end up getting so frustrated that I get killed anyways. It’s unbelievably hard for me to try and memorize attack patterns while running around an enclosed space trying desperately trying to dodge said attack at the same time. I’ll try to beat boss battles and enemy encounters the “right” way, but eventually, I find it’s just faster to find the biggest sword you can get your hands on, boost your health as much as possible, and load up with healing items. And if I’m going down, I’m taking this fucker with me.


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8:25 PM on 07.29.2009  

The Rest of GH5's (Official!) Setlist + Video Links



Activision finally announced the final tracks of the Guitar Hero 5 setlist today, so - as I said in my earlier post - here are the video links (and commentary) to go with them. Enjoy!

3 Doors Down – Kryptonite (Eh, not the most challenging song, but I still like it.)

Blink-182 - The Rock Show (I’m always happy for more blink 182 songs, although it’s too bad Rock Band beat you to it.)

Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing (I’m a sucker for all classic rock tracks like this. Although they may not be on the same kind of difficulty as some other songs, they’re still fun because they’re just really well-constructed. Never repetitive or dull, and just fun to listen to as you’re playing.)

Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American (I still have no clue what this song is supposed to be about. Nothing really notable about it otherwise.)

Megadeth - Sweating Bullets (Oh, I fucking love the solo in this song. \m/)

Mötley Crüe - Looks That Kill (Heh, they just don’t make campy music videos like this anymore. It’s a shame, really.)

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (About. Fucking. Time.)

The Raconteurs - Steady As She Goes (This is really the only song by this group that I actually like. It sounds like it’d kind of boring to play in Guitar Hero though. )

Well, that’s it. As much as I love some of the songs in this setlist for GH5, like Spirit of the Radio, Sultans of Swing, Smells Like Teen Spirit, etc, those few songs aren’t worth a full 50 bucks to me. Activision/Neversoft seem to be putting a lot more emphasis on more modern pop-rock, and while those songs may be great otherwise, they just aren’t that fun to play in-game. Plus, it seems like the majority of these songs are already available on Rock Band 2 in one form or another, so if you already have that game, there’s really no reason to spend extra money to play it here. Sorry, Activision, I stuck with the franchise for awhile, but it seems that Smash Hits will be the last one I’m willing to pay full price for.

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10:19 PM on 07.21.2009  

Video links for (almost all of) the Guitar Hero 5 announced setlist.




The full setlist for Guitar Hero 5 hasn’t been released yet, but I’m running into the same problem as the GHWT tracks: I have no utter clue about what half these songs are like. So like the GHWT setlist, I did some research for anyone else scratching their heads and compiled all the announced tracks for GH5, YouTube links for the individual songs, and some random comments from a veteran GH player.

ScoreHero keeps good track of new updates for the game as well, so check back there for more info on the setlist and an alternate list of video links for songs.

Band of Horses--Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
Beastie Boys—Gratitude
Beck-- Gamma Ray
Billy Squier-- Lonely is the Night
Blur- -Song 2
Children of Bodom-- Done With Everything, Die for Nothing
Coldplay--"In My Place"
Darkest Hour-- Demon(s)
David Bowie—Fame (Can’t go wrong with David Bowie.)
Deep Purple-- Woman from Tokyo ('99 Remix) (Can’t find the ’99 remix, oh well.)
Elliott Smith--L.A.
Iggy Pop-- Lust for Life (Live) (Yeah, there’s about bajillion live versions of this song on YouTube, but this one’s good quality, and pretty damn entertaining too. Whether or not it’s actually going to be the one used in GH5, I don’t know.)
Jeff Beck--Scatterbrain (Live) (Again, which live version of this song they’re going to use, I don’t know.)
John Mellencamp--Hurts So Good (Blah, could care less about this song. I don’t like John Mellencamp particularly.)
Queens Of The Stone Age-- Make It Wit Chu (There’s far better and more well-known songs from Queens of The Stone Age that they could’ve used, this one I don’t care for too much.)
Rose Hill Drive-- Sneak Out
Santana-- No One to Depend on (Live) (Same problem as all the other live versions, there certainly are a lot in this setlist, aren’t there? I love Santana though, so very much looking forward to playing this one.)
The Bronx--Six Days a Week (And then the only version I can find for this song is live. Very funny.)
Thrice-- Deadbolt
Vampire Weekend-- A-Punk (Song sounds boring to play, but I can’t deny that I love this music video.)
Attack! Attack! UK - You And Me
Bon Jovi - You Give Love A Bad Name (I probably don’t even need to link to a video for this one, you all should know this regardless. )
Darker My Love - Blue Day
The Duke Spirit - Send A Little Love Token
Elton John - Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) (I’ve actually been waiting for this song to be a Guitar Hero/Rock Band game for awhile. Woo!)
Face To Face - Disconnected
Garbage - Only Happy When It Rains
Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss A Beat
Kiss - Shout It Out Loud
Love and Rockets - Mirror People
My Morning Jacket - One Big Holiday
Nirvana - Lithium (Live) (I like Nirvana fine, but their songs are just…really boring to play. )
The Police - So Lonely (Okay…so with all the awesome songs by The Police out there, and they pick this one? Activision, what are you smoking over there?)
Rammstein – Du Hast (Same problem here. Rammstein is fucking awesome, but this song is just weird for a Guitar Hero game. It’s really repetitive and has lots of empty places where the guitarist won’t be doing much.)
The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil (Again, of all the Rolling Stones songs out there, they use this one? It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong, but the studio version that I’m used to hearing doesn’t have the guitarist do much until the solo near the middle. )
Sonic Youth – Incinerate (For those of you who remember the Sonic Youth song used in GH3, don’t worry, this isn’t nearly as horrible as that selection was. Nothing too spectacular about this otherwise though.)
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Sublime - What I Got (Oh, HELL YES! “Santeria” was pretty much one of the few highlights of GHWT, so I’m very happy they got another Sublime song for GH5. )

The Sword - Maiden, Mother & Crone (Hm, between Metallica and Smash Hits, The Sword is getting a lot of attention in the Guitar Hero series. Is someone on the developer staff a huge fan or something? Not that I’m really complaining, there’s far worse bands out there.)

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (Woohoo! Guitar Hero can always use more classic rock. Sounds easy to play, but still a good choice in my opinion.)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - American Girl (Oookay, here’s an exception to that “MOAR CLASSIC ROCK” statement. Good Lord, I hate Tom Petty. D:< )
The White Stripes - Blue Orchid (This music video really creeps me the fuck out. Don’t care much for the song either.)

A Perfect Circle - Judith (I was a little disappointed to learn that Tool wasn’t going to be in Guitar Hero for a second time, so I guess this will have to do instead. Maynard James Keenan is amazing, but this song’s thematic material seems a bit…controversial to include in the setlist. The lyrics do involve shouting “Fuck your God” after all. Not complaining, I’m just surprised that Activision/Neversoft picked this track instead of something else.)

Arctic Monkeys – Brianstorm (I’ve honestly never heard this song before but it sounds like a whole lot of fun to play. I’m going to have to check out more stuff by this group.)

Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself
Brand New - Sowing Season (Yeah)

Bush – Comedown (Same issue I had with “So Lonely”, there’s far better songs by this band that they could’ve picked instead. This just sounds like it’ll be boring to play. Like the song itself, but not a good choice for the game.)

Duran Duran - Hungry Like The Wolf (This is the Rock Band 2 chart, just to be cheeky.)
Eagles Of Death Metal - Wannabe In L.A.
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc. (Another “WTF was Activision smoking?” songs.)
Gov't Mule - Streamline Woman
Grand Funk Railroad - We're An American Band (Ooh, this song I’m excited about. Classic rock song from a band that I actually like. Sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun to play.)
Iron Maiden - 2 Minutes to Midnight (Sorry, can’t type, too busy headbanging. \m/ )
King Crimson - 21st Century Schizoid Man (Well this is something completely different. It sounds very Pink-Floyd-y.)
Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire
Muse - Plug In Baby (Can’t argue with more Muse.)
No Doubt - Ex-Girlfriend
Peter Frampton - Do You Feel Like We Do? (Live) (I really hope that this isn’t the live version they’re going to be using. The Mercyful Fate medley song from GH: Metallica was bad enough at about eleven minutes, this one clocks in at about 14 total.
Queen & David Bowie - Under Pressure (Another classic song. I wonder how fun it’ll be to actually play though.)
Rush - The Spirit Of Radio (Live) (YEEEESSSSS!!! Oh, you all have NO IDEA how much I’ve been wanting to play this song in GH/RB. I’m just wondering why it took so long to get it into a game!)

Scars On Broadway - They Say (Ick, repetitive and annoying. Not looking forward to playing this one. )
Smashing Pumpkins - Bullet With Butterfly Wings (This kind of makes up for the above track though. Almost.)
Spacehog - In The Meantime
Stevie Wonder - Superstition (Hooray for funky bass lines!)
Sunny Day Real Estate – Seven
T. Rex - 20th Century Boy
The Killers - All These Pretty Faces
TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
Weezer - Why Bother?
Wild Cherry - Play That Funky Music (Even more funky bass lines!)
Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire (Same as “Under Pressure”, classic, but I’m iffy on whether I’ll actually want to play it repeatedly.)

Bob Dylan - All Along the Watchtower (Yet another installment of “What was Activision/Neversoft smoking??” First off, I really can’t stand Bob Dylan, but the question still stands why they didn’t use the Jimi Hendrix version, which is more recognizable, and most likely would’ve been much more fun and interesting to play.)

Wolfmother - Back Round


For some reason I couldn’t find a good video for “Meditate” by AFI, “Younk Funk” by The Derek Trucks Band, or “Bring The Noise 20XX” by Public Enemy feat. Zakk Wylde. If you want to hear them that badly, look for it somewhere else.

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2:56 PM on 06.03.2009  

Leaked Concept Art of New Legend Of Zelda Wii!



It may not look like much, but as far as I know this is the only picture available of the art shown off at Miyamoto's roundtable at E3. Let the Internet matlocking commence.

Picture credit goes to Nintendo World Report.

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