Tag Archives: rhythm

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWLet’s talk about stones, and how much blood you can get out of them.

It all started back on the Super Famicom with Shin Megami Tensei. The SMT series was, at its core, a JRPG about playing Pokémon while the forces of Order and Chaos battled for the very soul of humanity. It was philosophical. It was deep. It was banned in the West, because Satan may or may not have made an appearance. And it kicked off an entire franchise of titles based on the simple dichotomy of order and chaos and a general need for humanity to steer penis monsters riding chariots. SMT wound up a success for Atlus, which spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, the most popular (eventually) being Jack Bros. Persona.

The Persona series started as, essentially, a slightly less apocalyptic version of SMT. Yes, there are demons, angels, and the occasional Hitler running around, but they’re all operating on the fringes of society, and not outwardly participating in the end of the world. It was basically the Harry Potter to Shin Megami Tensei’s Lord of the Rings. Many of the SMT trappings were still all over the titles, though, and no one was going to mistake Persona for an entirely independent franchise. Then we hit Persona 3, and things started to… mutate.

Persona 3 features demons, monsters, and a particularly homicidal version of Jungian psychology. It is also Day Planner: The Game. Persona 3 has frequently been referred to as “Japanese high school simulator”, but, even more than that, it is a game about balancing your (avatar’s) life. Do you go out tonight (and fight monsters), or do you stay home and study for that test tomorrow? Are you going to spend the afternoon hanging out with your girlfriend, or your best friend? The nerds dance, tooAnd would you like to spend time with the kindly old couple that is obsessed with a tree (?), or is it time to while away the afternoon playing a MMORPG where your homeroom teacher is inexplicably hitting on you? Decisions, decisions! Persona 3 isn’t only about choosing your battle tactics, it’s also about choosing your friends, afternoon plans, and how you combine trading cards into demons that may or may not summon the apocalypse.

Persona 3 wound up becoming a pretty noteworthy hit. While there are a number of potential reasons for the success of the title, one significant factor is likely that you, the all-important player, so fully inhabit the life of this protagonist. In making practically every decision for this “hero” for one year of game life and about seventy hours of real life, it is rather inevitable that an audience would grow overly attached to their individually curated protagonist. And what happens the moment the main character is separated from the player? (Spoilers for a thirteen year old game incoming!) He dies! The protag literally cannot live without you!

The death of Persona 3’s hero is substantial for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is how Persona 3 is all about death. Death, dealing with death, and the broad knowledge that one day you too will die are all general themes that pop up again and again in this title where you can also summon Thor to cast a lightning spell. But beyond that, there is the simple explanation that this is a focused, self-contained story that starts when a strange boy enters a strange city, and ends after that man has made meaningful relationships with people that will live on after his adventure and life have concluded. Persona 3, whether by thematic or simple writing convenience, is meant to be a wholly contained, limited story about the significant, last year of a teenager’s life. Persona 3 is not a story that is meant to go beyond its own borders. Persona 3 is a deliberately claustrophobic tale that is enhanced by its own limits.

And then, naturally, we had Persona 4. And it was a success. So we saw Persona 4 Super. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game Turbo. And Persona 4: The Animation. And Persona 4: The Rhythm Game. By about the time we got to Persona 4: The Rogue-Like, a certain pattern had emerged: the enormously successful Persona 4 was, perhaps from its inception, built to be less a self-contained story, and more a franchise unto itself.

And then Persona 5 finally emerged. Persona 5’s fame may have peaked with this…

It's a whole new game

But we are also talking about a protagonist that practically launched alongside his own canon fursona…

Sonic Heeeeeroes

So it is pretty safe to say that Persona 5 was designed with a slightly different goal than the title that “started” the (most profitable version of the) franchise. Shin Megami Tensei gave way to SMT: Persona that gave way to a series that was simply known as Persona, and now it appears that individual Persona titles are attempting to be franchises unto themselves. Please look forward to Persona 5: The Shoot ‘Em Up.

And here’s Persona 5: The Rhythm Game right next to its simultaneous release of Persona 3: The Rhythm Game.

And, honestly? These twins seem to prove that both titles are equally lacking in meat on their respective bones.

SO BLUELet’s cover the good first: the soundtracks of both Persona 3 and Persona 5 are amazing, and an entire game based on their respective OSTs is incontrovertibly a good thing. Any excuse to listen to some of the iconic tracks from either series is a welcome pretext to press buttons along to the beat, and we’ve got an excellent GUI on our hands here, too. Some rhythm games can get a little confusing with their various “press this now” prompts, but there is no such screen muddling here. And you’re not expected to free-style for extra points, either. The game portion of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is excellent, and a fine way to re-experience one of the best parts of both “origin” titles.

But it couldn’t just be a simple rhythm game. No, the Persona series seems to demand that every spin-off be somehow “canon”, so there is a full introductory scene that explains exactly why the casts of both games now must dance. It’s all a dream! Orchestrated by dueling sisters! There are no consequences for losing! There are no consequences for anything! But we’ll be damned if we let one Persona title pass without a novel’s worth of words that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s not nearly as egregious as Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode (which, reminder, was an entire visual novel’s worth of dialogue and twists and turns that only amounted to “believe in yourself”), but, if you want to play the full game (and why wouldn’t you want the full experience available to you?), you must participate in “social link”-esque dialogues with various party members. Ever wanted to learn exactly what Mitsuru thinks about dancing? No? Well, too bad! It’s the only way to complete this escapade!

But the twin release of dance parties for Persona 3 and Persona 5 conveys a very telling tale: both supporting casts are boring as hell.

VIDEO TIMEOkay, that might be a bit harsh. And, frankly, it even feels wrong. In the case of Persona 3, I finished the title, and immediately wanted to dive back into a New Game+ just to revisit all my old friends at Magical Dungeon High School. Similarly, Persona 5 had an unforgettable cast to the point that its fans could talk for hours about how some characters are violently underserved by their forced interactions with other (likely misogynistic) characters. In both cases, it seems like there’s a reason people would want to see the entire cast pop up again in new spin-off titles… or at least hang around in the background of a Smash stage. I liked Futaba! I could deal with more of her!

But the writing for this rhythm game (that may or may not simply be a way to further capitalize on an unforgettable soundtrack) truly underserves these casts. They are left as simple caricatures of themselves, and certain characters blend together across titles into one indistinguishable blob of archetypes (Ryuji and Junpei are the same guy, apparently). What’s the difference between the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 3’s team and the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 5’s team? Ostensibly, not much!

The worst teamAnd this seems significant, as the cast of Persona 3 was only really meant for one (albeit long) adventure, while it is obvious that Persona 5 meant for its Phantom Thieves to go on and steal the show in other franchises and Persona byproducts. Joker is going to stop by Sonic World and the Mushroom Kingdom, but is he any more developed than Jack Frost? Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight seems to indicate that he’s not. He’s just as remarkable as the other cypher that didn’t even survive his maiden adventure.

In the end, the support conversations of P5: Dancing with the Stars and P3: Dancing with the Doomed -the entire plot of both “adventures”- prove one thing: there isn’t much difference between Persona casts. And, considering one gang was meant for bigger and better things, that is rather demoralizing. Persona 5 was built to be the Big Mac to Persona 3’s Dollar Menu cheeseburger, but, once you’ve got your order, it turns out they’re both little more than a chicken nugget.

Just remember this moral when we hit Persona 5: Shin Arena Diving Space Tractor 2 Turbo. The Persona 5 well is already feeling a might dry…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

  • System: Playstation 4 and… Playstation Vita? Really? Are you… sure?
  • Number of players: I’ll be dancing with myself.
  • Two Games? Let’s face it: the separation of these games into two different versions is a pretty obvious cash-grab. Persona fans are suckers, and pretty much every brand manager involved is well aware that those losers were always going to buy Persona: Dancing Red and Persona: Dancing Blue. And they’ll buy the special edition, too, because it comes with a plushie or something. And that plushie is still sitting on my desk as I type this. Damn fans.
  • The best teamYou’re complaining about the plot of a rhythm game? It’s not about the plot per se, it’s about that someone had the idea to make this a cool “hang out” game featuring both casts… and the “hanging out” seems less fun and more like a job required to earn a new hat. If I’m interpreting having a conversation with Ann as a boring slog now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in another seven spin-offs.
  • Favorite Track: Rivers in the Desert is severely underappreciated. Then again, Persona 5 has an amazing soundtrack all on its own, so there is some steep competition.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Most of the songs are accompanied by random characters bopping around to the rhythm, but two tracks per cast are dedicated music videos featuring either the boys or the girls. In general, one is kind of goofy and silly, and the other is sexy and sultry, complete with costumes and swimsuits. Want to guess which gender gets assigned to sexy times?
  • Did you know? There’s probably a universe where someone decided to model all the social links for dancing, but Dr. Tae Takemi still refuses to get out of her chair.
  • Would I play again: This (these?) title holds up as a great rhythm game, so I’m probably going to revisit some tracks in the near future. Unfortunately, I’m never going to touch the “plot” ever again. I have better things to do. And these Phantom Thieves should, too…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Startropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge! Oh no! Zoda is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Yuck
This is just… awkward.

FGC #357 Um Jammer Lammy

LaaaaaammyI believe in empathy. I believe empathy might be the most important thing in this world. Through empathy, we can understand each other, communicate, and build a better future. Without empathy, we are lost, and progress becomes impossible. I genuinely believe, more than anything, that if our government officials could muster enough empathy to understand people that haven’t had the safety of free healthcare or 401k retirement plans for their entire lives, we would be in a much better place. Empathy, whether it be for people with other religions, beliefs, or even just hair color, is imperative.

And, in a way, this is why I often recoil from fandoms. When I was a kid, it would feel like I was the only person in the universe that liked what I liked. Sailor Moon came on at 6 am on weekdays, and I want to say I was one of three kids in my town watching the show. And I really wanted to discuss this cool new Sailor Mars character with somebody! And even by high school, it wasn’t unusual to find another “nerd”, but it was difficult to find someone that had actually finished Final Fantasy 7. Actually, strike that, Final Fantasy 7 was popular enough, but I was probably the only kid in the county that had played Breath of Fire 3. When the internet finally got around to being the internet, it was a revelation that my younger self would never have imagined. Look at all these usegroups! Look at all these people that understand me! And look at the thousands of fights over Ranma ½! Everyone knows Shampoo is the best choice for Ranma, what is wrong with these people!?

I suppose it’s the death of Hiromi Tsuru that reawaked these feelings, but, for anyone that was blissfully unaware, Tsuru was well known for being the Japanese voice actress of not only Dragon Ball Z’s Bulma, but also Ukyo Kuonji of Ranma ½. Ucchan was one of the many suitors of Ranma in his/her titular series, and, of course, that meant a number of fan debates over which woman should win Ranma’s heart. And, full disclosure? Nearly twenty years after being wrapped up in that fandom, my kneejerk reaction to the death of Ukyo Kuonji’s VA’s death was, “good.” A real live person died tragically, and my immediate retort was joy, because it meant that my one true ship in a series from decades ago was closer to being a reality. This is absolutely insane. I wholeheartedly acknowledge this is crazy, and I regretted the thought almost as instantly as it crossed my mind, but it was still right there, first in line in the ol’ response queue. It’s further proof that I’m a horrible person, but I feel like there’s something to learn there.

Leave it to LammyTo circle back to my original statement, this is the exact reason fandoms tend to bother me. It’s great to have similar interests. It’s wonderful to share these interests with other people (Hi! Welcome to my videogame blog!). But it seems like the minute you get a sufficient number of nerds in the same (chat)room, things quickly devolve into debating minutia until the phrase “murder-suicide cult” starts becoming viable. Here’s a fun fact: George Lucas doesn’t care about your favorite Star Wars. He never made those films thinking, “Let’s make this movie 10% better than the last movie.” Sure, he was always trying to improve and change like any artist, but it was never a matter of invalidating any strides made in a previous work. But please ignore that, because someone brought up the trilogies again, and it’s time to rank every single film according to whatever crazy criteria you’ve got rattling around right now. And someone has the audacity to disagree with your carefully curated list that clearly defines why the prequel trilogy is good, actually? You cannot let such an injustice stand! Please compose a thousand word essay right now that elucidates why everyone you know is wrong. Be sure to use words like “elucidate”! That’ll show ‘em!

In short, I believe that empathy is important in fandoms, because we’re already a bunch of antisocial misfits, why not stop all the fussin’ an’ the fightin’, and just get along? Understand that people have different opinions, and don’t deliberately belittle people that happen to disagree with you. Let’s all come together, and share our mutual love, not start wars over inconsequential shipping or rankings.

Okay, that all out the way? Everybody got the warm fuzzies? Good. Now let’s move on to the main event.

Um Jammer Lammy is better than PaRappa the Rapper, and if you disagree, I will fucking fight you.

VrrrrrFor anyone that missed the late 90’s, PaRappa the Rapper made a splash on the Playstation 1 with an all-new, all exciting genre: the rhythm story game. In short, after years of gaming where the best we could hope for was one lousy voice sample or an entire FMV Hell, technology had finally reached the point where we could enjoy full voice acting and, essentially, “press X to rap”. This led to Masaya Matsuura and NanaOn-Sha producing PaRappa the Rapper in 1996 (appearing stateside in ’97). PaRappa was surprising popular for an early Playstation game, as, in a time when gaming was trying to distance itself from the “childish” likes of Mario and Kirby, PaRappa was a decidedly cartoonish hip-hop rappin’ gangsta dog that never failed to get biz-ay. Perhaps it was the rap that immediately bought PaRappa some street cred, but, one way or another, PaRappa had a lot more in common with Sonic the Hedgehog than Lara Croft. Regardless, PaRappa was very popular, and his fun and funky beats were a breath of fresh air in the early 32-bit days. In fact, even now, PaRappa is still firmly associated with the Playstation brand… or at least within that one game.

Um Jammer Lammy was a sequel in all but name, and better in every conceivable way. It featured similar gameplay, a familiar art style, and PaRappa himself even guested in a side story nearly as long as the main game. However, Um Jammer Lammy was objectively superior, as, instead of featuring a rappin’ dog trying to woo a talking flower, it starred a left-handed guitarist trying to gain enough confidence to repel burger-heisting bullies. And, frankly, the “press button to make sound” gameplay worked a lot better with a guitar than a rapper. PaRappa had a tendency to sound… odd… like an (in)human scratched record… when a button was pressed at an off moment or when attempting to “freestyle”. Lammy meanwhile sounded like someone playing a guitar no matter when you tapped triangleRock out!, so experimenting sounded a lot more natural to everyday human ears. And, while we’re at it, Lammy had a much more interesting cast, including a monochromatic evil twin, bargain basement midwife caterpillar, and a bipolar jet pilot. That beats wannabe Martha Stewart chicken any day of the week. Um Jammer Lammy advanced the rhythm genre in every way, and was clearly the Mega Man 2 to PaRappa’s Mega Man 1.

It also sold like eight copies.

I blame PaRappa.

PaRappa was popular, yes, but he was more popular for the spectacle, and not the actual game. Sad truth? PaRappa the Rapper (and its entire franchise) is harder than Battletoads. Your timing must be perfect, the GUI is rapid and imprecise, and the temptation to “freestyle” for additional points is as opaque as a fat guy wearing seventeen trench coats (I’m sorry, he might not be fat, it’s just hard to tell with all the coats). I have played every PaRappa/Lammy game multiple times, and, unlike other rhythm games, I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing to earn that high score. Go ahead and check Youtube for answers on that, and, trust me, you’ll only be even more confused. PaRappa might have been fun to look at, but it was a bear to play, and I’m pretty sure no one ever forgot that. Um Jammer Lammy and the eventual PaRappa The Rapper 2 both undersold by a petty wide margin, and, spoilers, that’s all she wrote. For all the glowing reviews and good vibes PaRappa earned, it was all for naught, and now his creator can’t even kickstart one lousy game about a feudal rapping frog (or… something). Um Jammer Lammy was doomed by the success and incomprehensibility of her predecessor, and we’re all worse for it.

It's all in your mindAnd, unfortunately, that means I hold a grudge. I loved Um Jammer Lammy, and history has forgotten the dear lamb, so I’ll be forever bitter towards PaRappa. And anytime someone mentions how much they liked that whacky dog and his onion pal, I’ll speak out against any and all such thinking. Yes, we should all just feel affection for each other, get along, and enjoy our mutual love of story-based rhythm games, but that’s impossible, because Lammy is my fandom, end of story. I have no empathy for PaRappa lovers, for they have hurt my Lammy too much.

So today’s moral is you should love each other, and treat everyone with respect. Except people that like PaRappa. Those people are not to be trusted.

FGC #357 Um Jammer Lammy

  • System: Playstation 1. There was also an arcade version that included a guitar controller well before Guitar Hero made the scene. But nobody ever mentions that.
  • Number of players: Two player rhythm action! Nobody ever mentions this advantage over PaRappa’s single player experience, either.
  • Favorite Stage: Stage 4, Fright Flight, is vaguely head-banging heavy metal. That’s not usually my genre, but it’s so damn catchy filtered through Um Jammer culture.
  • Rock itLegends of Localization: There was a period of about ten years when companies actually completely localized quirky Japanese games, voice acting and rhythm assignment and all… and then it ended. Now we’re stuck with Hatsune Miku making weird-ass noises, and we’re lucky if we get subtitles that marginally explain the lyrics. Oh well. At least we’ll always have PaRappa, Lammy, and Gitaroo-Man.
  • Required Statement: Stage 6 is a mysterious island in the American version, but is actually Hell in the Japanese and European versions. It is a strictly American belief that nobody likes to hear about their favorite heroine being sent to Hell after an incident with a banana peel, so it was changed for Western audiences. For whatever reason, this factoid must be stated every time Um Jammer Lammy is mentioned, so I’m just following the rules.
  • Did you know? Lose to Teriyaki Yoko, mistress of Hell/an island, and she’ll claim Lammy should be “banned from every game”. This is what we call foreshadowing.
  • Would I play again: This game is nearly impossible with Playstation 3 controller lag (there’s just enough to drive you nuts), and I don’t fire up my Playstation 2 nearly enough (cords, ugh). However, if I do get to playing the PS2, Um Jammer Lammy is definitely going to see some play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Feel the Magic XX/XY! Wow, a launch Nintendo DS game about seducing women with various touch minigames. I’m sure that aged well! Please look forward to it!

Drummers are unreliable

FGC #342 Taiko: Drum Master

Beat it!Going to say this upfront: I am barely going to be talking about videogames today. Random stuff is going on in Real Goggle Bob land, and I feel like using a little writing therapy to mentally work through it. So, advance warning, this one is going to be autobiographical to the max. Hell, I might delete this post out of sheer embarrassment within 24 hours. I don’t know. I just have to get these (ugh) feelings out of my head, so… I guess stick around if you feel like it.

So I’m 34 years old. I’m also a single heterosexual (mostly, I mean, I’m a little bit bi if we include Cillian Murphy and the entire cast of The Good Place [and that might just be because Kristen Bell and Ted Danson create a sort of “sex singularity” that throws off all my readings]) male. I understand people get more and more okay with such a thing every year, but there is a not insignificant portion of the population that believes being single and 34 is some sign of being a giant weirdo. And I am a giant weirdo! I once compared Sonic the Hedgehog to my first love! I have Vocaloid and Bioshock posters in my office! I’m moderately certain I once screamed out, “Play it loud!” during sex! I am not a normal guy, but that’s not why I’m single. I’m single because my parents are divorced.

Okay, I’m gonna let me finish, but I have to make a brief aside about that statement. My parents are divorced, but this isn’t some Uncle Ben-esque secret origin that explains all of my myriad quirks. No, the reason my parents’ divorce had such an impact on my psyche is that my parents got divorced for seven years. Never one to tear an adhesive strip off quickly (side note: I also spent most of my childhood wrapped up like a mummy), my parents had a “will they/won’t they” thing going on for most of my youth. On one hand, this kind of worked out for me from a parental-attendance perspective, as a combination of love and rivalry caused my parents to be separate, but practically omnipresent in my life. Unfortunately, the flipside of that equation was that every time things inevitably blew up, I got to hear both parents privately complain about the other parent ad nauseam. I’m pretty sure neither of my parents were/are good at having friends (my mother makes friends with everybody, but they seem to be shallow friendships; my father has one friend, and he sees him once a decade whether he needs to or not), so complaining to the local ten year old that just wants to go downstairs and play videogames must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh, and fun fact, both of my parents have told me that they “made every effort” to not insult the other parent while I was growing up, which proves they have the self-awareness of your average 45th President.

This is to distract you from realityAnd, while it’s not like I blame my parents for all my problems (lie), I do blame them for my singlehood. I grew up seeing the absolute worst of love. While others were listening to love songs and watching The Princess Bride, I was watching a pair of people that had loved each other for a solid couple of decades falling apart and tearing into each other like rabid wolverines at a dhampir bar mitzvah. My two best childhood friends had parents that were divorced or lived in a continual state of mutual self-loathing, so no role models there. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t until my teenage years that I even met someone that I respected and was also in a long, loving relationship. To be concise, I basically learned from a young age that love didn’t lead to bliss, it led to calling a lawyer every other day so you could properly establish custody of a coatrack (this actually happened).

But, by the time I was in college, I kind of learned to live with my own biases. While I spent most of my teenage years claiming “love is stupid” like some manner of world-weary, wizened sage (that happened to shop at Hot Topic), I did eventually come to the conclusion that love, long-term commitment, and marriage were all possible. While I personally ended a few of my own relationships because of (if I’m being honest) that previously mentioned disdain for commitment, a number of my friends have been getting married since roughly our collective twenties, and I’ve been genuinely happy for them. I realize I would sound like a monster to say otherwise, but, come on, in many cases, I was around to see these people meet, see them happy together, and, ultimately, see a future where they could be together forever. Again, can’t stress this enough: not for me. I’m broken. I piss all over the seat, like, every time. But these people, these people have a future as one happy unit.

So, suffice it to say, I kind of took it personally when two of these “ideal” couples, two distinct sets of friends, announced things were headed toward divorce. And, since I was notified of these developments involving two different couples within two days of each other, I took it all… poorly.

(Because this is all about me, and, technically, you, gentle reader, only actually “know” and care about me, I want to be clear that “taking it poorly” did not involve any Hangover-esque shenanigans, photocopying my butt for Debra in accounting, or willingly eating Hot Pocket Bites or something. I’m not cool enough to have a nervous breakdown in any interesting ways, so I mostly just had a headache for a couple of days. Oh, and then I wrote a blog post about it.)

EVERYBODY DANCENow, to be clear, I’m not some gentle flower that has never known a friend to get divorced before. Actually, I’m pretty sure I know a couple of people that wound up divorced before senior prom, but all of those situations were… is “obvious failures” too precise a term? When D’avos the Molten Man of The Fire Pits of Crytuk married Cindi the Ice Elemental, we all had a pretty good idea of where that one was gonna go (to be clear: D’avos had a drinking problem). But the relationships that are currently causing me so much mental anguish are all couples that seemed content and joyful and I didn’t buy their wedding gift thinking “Wow, I better save the receipt on this one.” I know divorce is a modern day cliché, and I know I don’t believe in marriage as an institution (People change as they grow, to expect two people to change together in a complimentary manner is… Oh crap, I’m doing it again), but… I feel like I actually had some optimism in these relationships. Christ, I really thought these kids were going to be alright. I don’t believe in marriage, I’m not certain I could ever seriously consider marriage, but these are the people that gave me hope such a thing was possible. Now that hope is dashed against the rocks. The dream is dead.

And then there’s the Chumbawamba thing.

Another personal failing: I’m immune to nostalgia. I am a data hoarder. I am a hardcore data hoarder, and I have a fleet of USB hard drives to prove it. I have a hard drive backup buried in my backyard “just in case”. I recently saw Blade Runner 2049, and the scariest thing in this very human story about robots having sex with appliances was the suggestion that there was a universal EMP a few years back that wiped out all digital data. Such a thing would kill me. I have my entire life saved in JPGs, MP3s, and ROMs. I cherish terrible cell phone videos I took of my grandparents “just in case” (“just in case” they didn’t turn out to be immortals. Spoilers: good planning). Having my entire past just a double click away is always comforting, but it does reduce the odds of me ever feeling nostalgia. Earlier this year, I was excited to hear about the release of the SNES Classic. WeeeeeeAfter all, I thought, I haven’t played Super Metroid since… how long has it been… oh yes… I haven’t played that game since lunch.

This goes double for music. I’ve been listening to the same music since high school. Literally. The rise of the MP3 occurred concurrently with my high school years, so I have been listening to the same copy of a copy of a copy of Barenaked Ladies’ One Week since the advent of Napster. Since then, the delivery method may have gotten slightly more legal, but, if I liked an album, I ripped, itunes’ed, or just plain downloaded (thanks, Bandcamp!) the tracks immediately, and wedged it into my ever growing wad o’ music (evidently around 30 GB at the moment). My most recent acquisition was the Cuphead OST, and I know that, assuming current trends continue and we dodge nuclear war, I’ll likely be listening to Die House in a nursing home. So, one way or another, that means I don’t get a sudden rush of nostalgia when I hear Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench, it just means that my music player hit #2,146 on my playlist for the 2,146th time. And, since my playlist is so unwieldy immense, it’s a rarity that I listen to anything else for my musical pleasure. I have all my favorite songs right here, why should I downgrade to a radio that wants to sell me on the latest from Taylor Swift? Ain’t no commercials on this station!

And then I sat down to play Taiko Drum Master (oh snap, it’s the featured game!). Taiko Drum Master was a longshot of a title released by Namco back in 2004. It came with a drum and sticks… Uh… ROB… can we get that up on the site?

Beat along!

There we go. It was this big, silly drum peripheral that was meant to simulate the taiko (wadaiko?), a drum that is traditionally used in Japanese festivals. You know what you don’t see much in the United States, though? Japanese festivals. While playing Taiko Drum Master is fun in only the way that banging along on drums can ever be, it was a hard sell here in the states, as you’re just not going to get the same support for a plastic Japanese drum set as you are for a plastic guitar (or turntable?). Taiko Drum Master was always going to be a fun game, it’s just a fun game that had about as much Western appeal as Gundam vs. Sumo: Sports Festival in Osaka Rumble.

But there was a concession made to us filthy Americans and our gaijin drums. The track list for Taiko Drum Master is very Western. We’ve got the Jackson Five learning their ABCs. We’ve got Queen crooning about the imperceptible Killer Queen (got bad agility? What the hell?). The B-52s are taking a visit to the Love Shack. And we’ve got modern hits, too! Well, “modern” for 2004… and on a budget. Who could Namco afford? Well, my beloved, ska-era Mighty Mighty Bosstones are on there. Good Charlotte’s Girls and Boys made the cut. And here’s that one Counting Crows song that wound up in a Coke commercial. And let’s follow that all up with the smash hit of 1997, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba.

Tubthumping hit me like a ton of bricks.

Dance along!Tubthumping is difficult to explain to anyone that wasn’t around for 1997-1998. It was technically a UK-original protest song, but it quickly mutated into a sort of divisive party song. There’s a boy singing! And a girl! Something about Danny Boy? And a really sweet trumpet! And it played on the radio roughly continuously for a period of maybe ten million years. I loved that song, grew to hate it, and then, in due course, forgot all about it. When I first got into MP3 downloading roughly a year prior to Y2K, I had already forgotten about Chumbawamba. Give or take a Namco release or two, I’m pretty sure the rest of the world forgot about that band, too.

But, today (or last week), when I was in the middle of a seemingly interminable funk thanks to the collapse of the very institution of love, Tubthumping was there for me. To me, Tubthumping isn’t about love, or joy, or UK union rights, it’s about 1997. It’s about my early teen years, when everything seemed new and exciting and I hadn’t already had my heart broken repeatedly by the boneheaded decisions of myself and others. It was a simpler time, a time when, yes, I knew my parents were gradually poisoning me on the notion of a happy marriage, but also a time when I could still convince myself that love was not only possible, but probable. Even as a child of divorce, I did see myself at thirty (you have no idea how old that seemed at the time) with 2.5 children, a pair of cats, and maybe a white picket fence on where I might hang the corpses of my enemies (what? I always envied my Uncle Vlad and his exterior decorating skills). Tubthumping came from a simpler time for me, and, for the glorious couple of minutes I spent drumming along to whatever the hell is happening in that song, I didn’t have a care in the world.

And then we hit the original, American Shuki Levy version of the Dragon Ball Z theme, and I could barely stand up. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

DANCE!Look, I know I’m a jackass. I’m pretty sure I spent a solid three paragraphs up there claiming that my parents are the reason I’m not married, when, in fact, it might have more to do with how I have a tendency to give my lovers psychological disorders (“Baby, you know I love you, and I want to be with you, but I have to defeat seven more tonberries before I unlock this Guardian Force. You understand, right? We’ll get to your grandfather’s funeral, like, soon.”). And I know I’m making the divorce(s) of my friends all about me by claiming they were some ultimate expression of love that is all but impossible in this dying world of grime, suck, and republicans. Putting that kind of burden on people I consider friends is dreadful, and being less supportive by making it all about my own issues is an issue onto itself. I know that.

Actually, I only know that now, because sometimes it takes a piece of your past to remind you that it isn’t all bad, and maybe you should step out of your own head once in a while. Remember that things weren’t always bad. Remember that, despite how you’ve framed your past, one way or another, you weren’t always as jaded as you are now, and your current situation was never some “inevitability”. Remember that your friends aren’t concepts, but people, and they’re people that might need your love and support.

Basically, what I’m saying that Taiko Drum Master reminded me of one very important thing: I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never going to keep me down.

FGC #342 Taiko: Drum Master

  • System: Playstation 2. Did this peripheral ever resurface for any other games? No? Well, I guess that seems obvious in retrospect.
  • Number of players: Two! … Did… did anyone ever purchase two Taiko drum peripherals? I envy your resolve.
  • Favorite Song: You mean one not already mentioned in the article? Oh! Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls! My first live concert was Goo Goo Dolls, so there’s some more nostalgia there. Actually, my first concert was Weird Al, but he doesn’t count. GGD was my first live concert of an artist that I wouldn’t love for the rest of my life.
  • Also a choice: Anything from Katamari Damacy. Damn, I love that soundtrack.
  • WooooA weird thing happened: So Taiko March unlocked as I was playing (decided to forgo fishing out a memory card for this one, so no previously saved data). I’m pretty sure Taiko March reappeared in Smash Bros, because I somehow knew this song in my bones, and scored a nearly impossible 98% on a song I wouldn’t be able name without its title flashing on the screen. It was weirdly exhilarating, and I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I’ve ever been to being possessed by an angry ghost (that knows songs that are unfamiliar to me).
  • Did you know? The Japanese version includes We Will Rock You. We got robbed!
  • Would I play again: No. Taiko Drum Master helped me at a time when I needed it (just now), but that damn Taiko peripheral got nothing on my bongos.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates for NES! I swear I’ll just talk about videogames next time! Probably! Please look forward to it!

What is happening here?

FGC #291 Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call

Sing itI guess this has to happen once every hundred articles or so…

Let’s talk about Final Fantasy music!

I’m a child of Napster, or, more appropriately, I was a teenager of Napster (figure out my age from context clues!). This was pretty awesome, as, when I finally hit the age where I had my own musical preferences, there was suddenly every song ever recorded available, for free, and all a half hour download away. And this was the glory days of music piracy! You couldn’t just download an entire discography in seven seconds; no, you had to carefully pick and choose which songs you wanted, as, if you tried to download a complete new CD, it would hog all your bandwidth for the next year. I can still distinctly recall my first “mix CDs”… let’s see here, there was Butthole Surfers, a healthy amount of Blues Traveler, and a surprising excess of Chicago. Dire Straits snuck in there for some reason, Foo Fighters joined ‘em, and I think I was into some noticeable Garbage to boot. Cranberries, too? Of course. And, look, I’ll level with you, readers, I was really into ska. I eagerly await the day when all hope seems lost, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers return to us, refreshed and rejuvenated, with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in tow, and then The Second Great Age of Ska may begin. Oh, and there were three Final Fantasy songs in there: Final Fantasy 6’s Mog (Moogle Waltz), Final Fantasy 8’s Laguna (The Man with the Machine Gun), and Eyes on Me.

I cannot describe the significance of the presence of those songs. … Even if one is silly J-Pop.

The Final Fantasy franchise has always had good music. While Prelude and the main theme of Final Fantasy are obvious choices from the first adventure, I still remember every time I hit a location in FF1 that played Matoya’s Cave. It plays in other caves! It is a very poorly named song! And, while it doesn’t get nearly enough praise, the Final Fantasy airship theme is still one of the most triumphant ditties I’ve ever heard. It might just be because that new craft opens up a world of unlimited possibilities without random encounters and it means you never have to go into that stupid Ice Cave ever again, but I could listen to that silly airship loop forever and still be excited.

Let's go!And, in a weird way, I feel like something ineffably “clicked” with me, even in those early Final Fantasy days. There was “Mario music”, and there was “Mega Man music” (or pretty much anything from the Capcom oeuvre that sounded like it came from Mega Man), and there was certainly “Castlevania music” (which, side note, totally rocked), but, somehow, “Final Fantasy music” not only was clearly its own animal, but it also contained what I would really call songs. This wasn’t just something you listened to while Mario was running around (“Oh, that song is called Running? Neat.”), these were actual songs you would listen to on a radio, or your super hi-tech Walkman. … And I’m not just saying that because I once used a cassette recorder to create an entire mix tape of Final Fantasy 3 (6) music in preparation for a week long camping trip that would, for some reason, be sans Super Nintendo. And you didn’t see me preserving Contra tunes for bouts of videogame withdrawal.

But to move past sixth grade and up to those halcyon teen years, precious Napster, giver of Final Fantasy music, was a gigantic unknown. Literally nothing before in human history had ever been like this “file sharing platform”. There was no standard for what was, essentially, the newest, greatest thievery network in human history. I mean, let’s not mince words here: with a good enough internet connection, you could effectively steal every song that had ever been recorded. It was all out there and available, from Abba to Zero 7, and, more importantly, no one knew how long it would be before this tower of sin inevitably toppled. There was this simultaneous feeling of “this will be awesome forever” and “oh my God this is a crime, get what you can while you can.” Hell, the entire idea of “a MP3” was basically synonymous with depravity, and we could nary imagine that, in a few short years, Apple of all companies would be peddling them like candy. In the meanwhile, it wasn’t just about free music, it was about the music being available at all. Want to know how many Final Fantasy songs I would have purchased before 1998 if I could have even done such a thing? The answer is “all of them, all of them forever”. Do you think I really wanted to buy that Jethro Tull album? Well, yes, I did, but if I could have purchased a Final Fantasy 6 album in its place, I absolutely would have. Aqualung is nothing compared to Strago’s Aqua Rake. But Napster and its “criminal web” was the only available avenue.

And, God help me, I feel like nearly twenty years later, nothing has changed. I’m still about ten minutes away from holding a tape recorder to the TV.

The Baha MenYes, you can purchase the entire Final Fantasy library on iTunes, and, yes, we now live in a glorious future where every third JRPG you buy comes with a partial soundtrack (this is why I have so many Atlus sponsored coasters). But, well, I feel like there’s a reason I’m increasingly separated from the “real” radio. As a child of Napster, I am an MP3 hog. I have gone all in on CD-ripping and MP3 purchasing over the years, and I have… let’s see here… 6,518 MP3s on my playlist. And, to be perfectly clear, this is a carefully manicured list that has been accumulated over approximately twenty years, and is not simply, “Here’s a new CD, let’s rip every song and call it a day,” as if I were some kind of barbarian. No, there are only songs I want to listen to on this playlist, and all 300 or so hours of it is good stuff. And I know, that, of those 6,500 songs, if I choose to go back to listening to the “real” radio, I will probably hear… about twenty of those songs.

I have eclectic tastes.

It may not have been true back on the NES, but by the time we hit Dancing Madly, Final Fantasy was pumping out what was obviously “real music”. But will any of that music -literally thirty years’ worth of tunes performed by real, live orchestras- ever hit the FM stations? Of course not. And, mind you, I’m not claiming there needs to be Aloha De Chocobo on heavy rotation with the greatest hits of yesterday and today, but it would be kind of nice if, out of the hundreds of songs composed for the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, maybe we could get one that plays more often than an Avril Lavigne song from fifteen years ago. Come to think of it, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been releasing the same song for the last three decades, maybe there’s room for Etro’s Champion somewhere in there.

GrrrrrI’m not naïve, I know Pitbull has more popularity and advertising clout than Lightning ever will, but when I sit down to play Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call with its 321 songs (admittedly, some are DLC), I realize that literally hundreds of brilliant, memorable songs have been ghettoized to the slums of “it’s just videogame music”. And FFTCC is amazing, because it allows you to participate in these songs (Okay, you technically always could participate, but it turns out that hitting the Fight command to the beat doesn’t actually make Cloud do extra damage), and truly realize that some of these songs have become part of your DNA. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the crazy one that can more easily recall the melody from Melodies of Life than anything by The Who, or maybe I’m the new normal. Despite the fact that a healthy portion of the population has never known a world without videogames, somehow One-Winged Angel still isn’t real music.

And it’s doubly strange, because, FFTCC, released three years ago, has no imitators. There was a Dragon Quest-based sequel that never saw our shores, and… that’s it. There are no Mega Man, Castlevania, or even Nintendo music library based rhythm games out there. And that means something. Final Fantasy is, whether through skill or marketing or some combination of both, the king of videogame music, and its own industry (and its fans) recognize that.

But, while Final Fantasy may be king, it’s king of the smallest, smelliest kingdom. It will never be invited to the big kids’ table, and will always be relegated to 3DS games or file sharing sites. Final Fantasy music may have come a long way in the last two decades, but it will still never reach the echelon of popularity dominated by Natalie Imbruglia.

SqwackIf there’s one thing that my ancient mix CDs and Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call can agree on, it’s that Final Fantasy deserves better.

Though, if you’ve read this far, I’m obviously preaching to the choir. Sorry. Okay, choir, let’s get another round of Liberi Fatali going. From the top!

FGC #291 Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Screen be damned, I would be happy to see a “complete” version pop up on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Two! I actually played head-to-head FFTCC once… and lost. Never tried again. I am a prideful man.
  • Favorite Song: And after an entire article extolling the joys of Final Fantasy music, I’m going to go ahead and name Chrono Trigger (The Theme from Chrono Trigger) as my favorite tune. What? Be glad I didn’t choose something from Nier!
  • Favorite Character: Lil’ Chaos is so adorable. That said, as much as I love this game, I kind of hate the… whatever this art style is called for the characters. Then again, I might just be biased because I had a bad experience with Flash figures back in the day.
  • Dance!Stylus or Buttons: While I understand you get more precision with the buttons, I’m a stylus guy. It just feels so much more… tactile to swipe along to the beat.
  • Did you know: Buying “additional characters” as DLC in a game where characters barely matter is robbery, and you know it, SE.
  • Would I play again: This is one game I really regret owning in cart, and not downloaded-forever form. That said, I do pop it back in the 3DS on occasion, and I always replay the game “for one more song” over and over again. So that’s a definite yes.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Brutal Paws of Fury for the Super Nintendo. That isn’t a Bubsy game is it? No? Okay, so please look forward to it.