Tag Archives: rhythm

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

You are now believingSo what’s wrong with failure?

PaRappa the Rapper is a phenomenon that is hard to explain to modern audiences. Look, it was like this: for a long, long time, videogames were just beeps and boops and graphics that were blocky as hell. Or, perhaps, it was just a matter of, for many “gamers” of the time, this had been all anyone had ever known, and that “ever” was our entire childhoods. Studies have been performed that have proven, without a doubt, that, when someone is a child, a year lasts approximately eleventy billion millennia. Meanwhile, when you’re older, a single weekend lasts roughly as long as one cheese sandwich. This created the lopsided imagining that videogames would always be no better than what could be pumped out by an NES or Sega Genesis, and the concept of a theme song or graphics that existed in three dimensions was little more than a pipedream (the old videogames did have a lot of pipes, incidentally). This meant that when PaRappa the Rapper was released stateside in the fall of 1997, players went unexpectedly nuts. In 1997, in one game, you had a CD that featured what many hailed as the culmination of an entire franchise, another disc (or four) showcasing the future of the JRPG genre and what was possible for storytelling, and, finally, here was this weird little rap game that went in another, amazing third direction. The graphics were distinct, bright, and colorful. It had voice acting for every scene, level, and character (in English!). The gameplay was wholly new, or, at the very least, it felt new. Rhythmic button pressing wasn’t new by any means, but this didn’t feel like FMV nonsense or some earlier attempt at guitar heroing. PaRappa was an unexpected feast for the eyes, ears, and thumbs.

Of course, nowadays, everything that made PaRappa unique is completely mundane, and it has been for nearly twenty years. If you’re still excited by voice acting in 2020, you were either just beamed here from the distant part, or you finally figured out how to crank your hearing aid. Or maybe you’re just excited a fighting game finally earned an English dub

Let's rapBut PaRappa was an unexpected success in 1997, and that inevitably meant it was time for sequels. And that’s great! Because the original PaRappa the Rapper sucked. Yes, the characters were memorable. Yes, it was charming as all get out. And, yes, the nonviolent setting that managed to tell a compelling story was and still is a breath of fresh air. But have you ever actually played PaRappa the Rapper on the original hardware? Practically constructing the entire rhythm genre from raw materials comes with its own share of problems, as so much that we take for granted today is nonexistent in this maiden voyage. Button prompts sometimes appear microseconds before they’re relevant. “Hit detection” is scattershot, and it’s difficult to know exactly why “U Rappin’ Awful”. And, for reasons that no one has ever understood, the instant feedback of a congratulatory tone when you do something right (or perhaps a punishing buzz when something is performed incorrectly) is replaced with… farts. Seriously! I can’t figure out a way to describe these noises in any other way. I’m trying to press triangle at the right time, failing, and the only indicator as to what might be going wrong is some dude slightly off-screen taking his shirt off and going to town with the armpit noises. It’s not helpful, Musical Mike!

So, yes, from a gameplay perspective, PaRappa the Rapper had some significant issues. It was very easy to lose, and, given you had to repeat the entire stage after every bomb, every loss grew more and more frustrating. Was this by design? Was the game “artificially padded” to prevent immediate progress so as to obfuscate the fact that there are a total of six short stages? If you know what you’re doing, you can complete PaRappa in less time than it takes to watch a television show (granted, this is true when speedrunning most games of the era, but this is without even trying). Was the advanced difficulty meant to extend the length of the game? You gotta!Or was the lack of relevant feedback meant to simulate learning a “freeform” skill like rap? It’s not just about pressing buttons at the right time, player, there’s a je ne sais quoi that cannot be captured by a simple tutorial or… anything but a fart noise. PaRappa the Rapper is exasperating, yes, but it may be for a reason. And if it isn’t for a reason, then they’ll fix it in the inevitable sequel. … Right?

PaRappa the Rapper 2 certainly went in… some kind of direction.

On the surface, this is the same game, just a generation of hardware later. PtR2 is an adventure starring PaRappa where, in an effort to see a dog get deflowered by a flower, you must guide PaRappa through a series of rap battles wherein he gains confidence and the ability to buy a hamburger. All of the raps are new, there are a few more levels on top of the original count, and everything looks and sounds better than it did on the old hardware. There are even escalating, clearly labeled difficulty levels to add a little more replay value to the experience. PaRappa the Rapper 2 did everything PaRappa the Rapper 1 did, but better (give or take your subjective feelings on whether or not a moose driving instructor is better than a moose drill sergeant). But was it easier? Did the directors make more of an effort to help the player through a rap or two? Well, PtR2 did at least give us this guy…

Let's practice!

Come on, PaRappa, relax, it’s time to address this weirdo from your second game.

That’s Boxxy Boy, and he appears at the start of every level. It is his purpose to provide a “simple”, beat-heavy version of samplings of the song, so you’re granted an opportunity to practice before starting a level. You cannot fail Boxxy’s training sessions, and you are welcome to test out your phat beats in an environment where you either pass or keep trying (and are never told you’re being awful). It is a safe space, and, frankly, it’s a great concept for inclusion in a rhythm game. The Hatsune Miku games of today (and games based off the same basic concept) have major problems with starting a featured song with 40 required inputs before you even have a moment to figure out the BPM, so a little “here is what this is like” is welcome. Nobody likes to see a game over five seconds after the “level” starts!

Proof I can do thisBut… would that be so bad? Obviously, it sucked whenever you failed a level in PaRappa the Rapper 1, but, nine times out of ten, that wasn’t because of errors in the opening seconds. It takes time to get to a complicated bridge! And what was the punishment for failure in PtR1? Nothing. You had to repeat the level, but you didn’t have to repeat every previous level, or insert a quarter, or search all over for your missing turtle friends (I’m probably thinking of something specific). Failing sucks, but you’re always a quick restart away from trying again. PaRappa the Rapper 2 is no different, and its additional emphasis on scoring and replays means that there are even greater reasons to ignore any botches that would happen without the omnipresent training tutorial. What’s bad about failing except knowing that you failed?

Or is simply knowing you can suck enough?

According to interviews, Boxxy Boy’s tutorials were implemented because Rodney Greenblat, the man responsible for fashioning PaRappa and his world, was bad at playing Um Jammer Lammy. Thus, Boxxy was implemented to offer a “gentle” tutorial for anyone that was desperate to make it through the “real” game. And that’s a noble goal! Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that Boxxy only repeats one distinct section of the song, and does not prepare a player for pushing through those final beats. So ol’ Rodney is probably still going to lose, except now he knows there’s an entire, useless “mini stage” attached to his failures. Is this why we haven’t seen any new PaRappa characters since? Rodney is too demoralized by Boxxy?

You gotta love?And is that the fear here? That people will give up on PaRappa the Rapper because it is too easy to fail? Is failure so disheartening that people won’t even try? You could claim modern games that revel in try and retry, like Dark Souls and its ilk, disprove this theory. Everyone is chasing that Dark Souls pie right now! But, on the other hand, Souls and the entire “rogue-like” genre is wildly divisive. So much as coughing out the words “Dark Souls” on a forum (they still make those, right?) will lead to a thousand gamers explaining why DS is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen since the Power Glove. And a significant reason for this is that you know there are hundreds of players out there that tried this fancy shmancy new genre, died 70 times, and made up their collective minds to never “waste time” like that ever again. Failure may be upsetting, but squandering your precious time on something that will never lead to success is even worse. Isn’t that why you have a day job? And what is the point of playing a game if you are never going to “beat it”?

And maybe that’s why Boxxy works. Failure sucks, and you absolutely cannot fail when practicing with Boxxy. There is no game over, there is no “thou must not pass” (as you can always skip the lil’ dude with the start button), and Boxxy does not judge you. Boxxy is a safe, friendly buddy, and, while you might not beat the next level, at least you can have a little entertainment with this sentient boombox. Is it as much fun as the “real” game? No. But at least no one is going to judge your skills here. Pass? Fail? You’ll be fine just pressing buttons.

There’s nothing wrong with failure, but it is nice to have a place you can avoid failure. Boxxy is here to help.

But he won’t be back again, because PaRappa the Rapper 2 was a failure, and the franchise never returned.

… So maybe it is a good idea to avoid failing.

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

  • System: Playstation 2 initially, and then Playstation 4. I don’t think there was a PSP/Vita version, but I would not be surprised.
  • Yummy!Number of players: Invite over a friend for a rap battle! … I have never subjected anyone I know to this fate.
  • Favorite Level: Stage 5: Hair Scare features Um Jammer Lammy and her band, Milk Can. I like Um Jammer Lammy so much more than the little dog in a beanie, so I appreciate that stage. Look, Lammy is just objectively better, as she gets through her entire game without trying to get laid every five seconds, while PaRappa is just a horndog.
  • Play it Cool: Every one of the teachers (save the friendly ghost of Stage 1) encourages PaRappa to freestyle until he hits “Cool” ranking. I have never understood what exactly makes PaRappa go Cool, as I have no sense of rhythm, and I only know how to make raps good through excessive rhyming. I’m a writer! Not a musician! … Do you think Boxxy could give me a tutorial?
  • What’s in a name: PaRappa Town might sound like one of those lame “the planet is named after the main character” situations (Nobody lives in The World of Lufia, dammit), but “PaRappa” just means “paper-thin” in Japanese, so it’s appropriate for this 2-D environment. Now nobody render anything in 3-D, or it’s all going to fall apart.
  • Very Concerning: Beard Burger Master is rapping from beyond the grave in an effort to help PaRappa construct hamburgers. This is a vision of Hell, right?
  • Did you know? Rodney Greenblat, the character designer that is responsible for PaRappa’s iconic look, Let's Jamalso was responsible for the album art for They Might Be Giant’s self-titled debut album. Put your hand inside the PJ Berri head!
  • Would I play again: It takes a whole hour to complete PaRappa the Rapper 2, so the fact that it is loaded onto my PS4 means it might see play again. It’s a fun little game, Boxxy invasion or no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cadillacs and Dinosaurs! It’s like Jurassic Park! But with cooler cars! Please look forward to it!

FGC #523 Blues Brothers 2000

Gonna sing the bluesYou have to understand just how impossible it is that Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64 exists.

As one might expect, this long, sordid story starts with The Blues Brothers, the 1980 film. Ever seen it? It’s a great movie! It’s a comedy featuring two comedians at the top of their game, and it is also, incidentally, completely bonkers. It’s a movie with a plot, an easily followed story, and clear, well-defined characters… but it’s also a bunch of dudes just messing around and seeing what they can get away with. This was the movie that originally held the record for most wrecked cars in a single film (a title that would eventually be stolen by GI Joe, apparently). James Brown, John Hooker, and Aretha Goddamn Franklin all turned in amazing performances that proved they had no idea how to lip sync to their own songs. Dan Akroyd claims to have included cocaine in the film’s budget to “help the cast stay awake during night shoots”. This may have had an impact on some of the actors involved, as there is this anecdote (compliments of IMDB) involving John Belushi:

John Belushi disappeared while filming one of the night scenes. Dan Aykroyd looked around and saw a single house with its lights on. He went to the house and was prepared to identify himself, the movie, and that they were looking for Belushi. Before he could, the homeowner looked at him, smiled and said, “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The homeowner told them Belushi had entered their house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and then crashed on their couch. Situations like that prompted Aykroyd to affectionately dub Belushi “America’s Guest”.

Despite the Vatican approving of the film as an official “Catholic Classic” in 2010, there may have been some sinful behavior occurring during the creation of The Blues Brothers. And, unfortunately for the world at large, some of that behavior may have caught up with the iconic cast. John Candy, the marginal antagonist of the film, passed away at the far-too-soon age of 43. John Belushi, milk and sandwich fan, passed earlier at 33. And Dan Aykroyd, most tragically of all, made a guest star appearance on Home Improvement. The pillars of The Blues Brothers had fallen into oblivion since their amazing movie that had grown from little more than a Saturday Night Live sketch, so it was unlikely we would ever see the iconic characters ever again.

And then there was Blues Brothers 2000.

Press it my friendThe troubled creation of Blues Brothers 2000 could fill an entire article all on its own, so let’s just hit the bullet points. First of all, John Landis (director/writer) and Dan Aykroyd (Grosse Pointe Blank) originally created a script that was essentially exactly the first movie, just with slightly different guest stars. That was scrapped, but, somewhere between that and the final product, Landis & Aykroyd reportedly reached a point where they were convinced the “studio changes” made to the film would guarantee Blues Brothers 2000 would be a bomb. And it was! Ten years after the release of Blues Brothers 2000, Entertainment Weekly named the film #4 in the Top 25 Worst Sequels Ever Made. Why? Well, a pretty obvious reason is that Blues Brothers 2000 went in a wildly different direction from its origins, and adopted a very “magical” and arguably “kiddy” tone. Apparently this was a side-effect of that previously mentioned “studio meddling”, as the edict for Blues Brothers 2000 was to create something more child-friendly. Yes, somehow, somewhere, someone thought that it would be a good idea to make the sequel to a movie where the entire cast was high on cocaine into something that was an all-ages romp with a new, child Blues Brother that had previously starred in 3 Ninjas Kick Back.

But… well… it wasn’t a super terrible idea? After all, Dan Aykroyd had also starred in Ghostbusters, a film that took off in a surprisingly child-friendly direction. What was a movie that included harsh jabs at the concept of mortality, bureaucracy, and at least one instance of a protagonist preparing for some date raping became an animated series starring Garfield and produced enough toys to fill a (my) basement. Even now, the “child-friendly” Ghostbusters became more enduring than the “OG” versions of the characters, as you sure don’t see anything but Egon’s pomping rat tail on the comic shelves. Ghostbusters 2 seemed to lean into this child-friendly version of the Busters, so it made a certain amount of sense to hope for similar success with wee Buster Blues. It worked once, so let’s see if we can get Blues Brothers 2000 to the same point as Ghostbusters and its toys, spinoffs, and videogames.

Or you could just create the tie-in videogame regardless of movie popularity, and hope for the best. Let’s go with that option.

NEVER!There is evidence Blues Brothers 2000 was originally going to be a much more ambitious project. It was going to span multiple systems (aka the Playstation 1, and not just the N64, though this was also the era you could never rule out a Gameboy tie-in…), include some distinct racing/car chase segments, and, at the very least, contain many more locations from the actual film. Unfortunately, much of what was showcased in previews for BB2000 was never to be. What wound up being the final product was little more than a collection-based 3-D platformer that loosely followed the plot of Blues Brothers 2000. Elwood Blues has to get the band back together, and, thanks to a little clerical mix-up, he has to fight his way out of a prison and then against the mob to do it. Blues Brothers 2000 might not be an exact adaptation of its source material, but it’s the kind of thing that could work for a videogame. There’s a good chance it could be a successful movie tie-in product.

Of course, that would assume the game wasn’t released a solid two years after the release/failure of the movie. Hey! At least this Blues Brothers 2000 finally came out in 2000!

Big FightAnd Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 could have had a chance if it released concurrently with its movie. In 1998, we were a mere two years past the release of Mario 64. 3-D platforming collectathons were still fresh and new! Camera controls were difficult, but even Mario had an issue with his Lakitu a time or two. There would have been a lot more forgiveness for a janky 3-D platformer in 1998. But in the year 2000? This was after Banjo-Kazooie had demonstrated that Mario wasn’t the only jump ‘n collect in town, and then Donkey Kong 64 exhausted all that good will. In fact, 2000 was just about the end of that console generation, so the likes of Perfect Dark, Majora’s Mask, and the entire Dreamcast library were hitting the shelves. This meant Banjo-Tooie was there, too, a title many claim is one of the best N64 games available. 1998 could have worked, but two years later was not the time to release a game where a malformed 3-D dude collects musical notes. It draws… unfortunate comparisons.

And if you think those extra two years of production were dedicated to making a more polished experience, you’ll be disappointed. Blues Brothers 2000 has some interesting ideas, like a pile of varied minigames, “hub areas” that are more than haunted castles, and powerups that only spawn while a gramophone are playing (it’s inexplicable, but at least it’s interesting), but all of them are more than a little half-baked. First and foremost, there is a mandatory PaRappa-esque rhythm game that pops up on occasion, and it is impossible. This could have been Guitar Hero before Guitar Hero, but, nope, it’s a haphazard “press A now” affair with terrible beat-detection and absolutely no indictors as to what you’re doing wrong. It’s “difficult” entirely because there is zero useful feedback on what the game wants. The combat of the game is similarly difficult, as the hit detection is atrocious, so you can never be quite sure if you’re losing because your timing is off, or if Elwood is being tossed across the room because his opponent suddenly gained the same attack range as a Belushi-sandwich search. And there’s no invincibility frames for poor Elwood! The odds of him being instantly obliterated by some errant door laser are high! There’s a skeleton of a good idea here and there, as this isn’t just a “stupid” collectathon that treads the exact same ground over and over… but that skeleton probably needed another 2000 years of playtesting.

ZAPAnd, while we’re considering what it would take for Blues Brothers 2000 to become an actually good videogame, also consider whether or not Blues Brothers 2000 was ever supposed to be, ya know, Blues Brothers 2000. Surprisingly enough, there is not much information from the creators of Blues Brothers 2000, so we’re left to wonder what happened here. The first stage is Elwood breaking out of Jail? Great! That makes sense for the often-incarcerated Elwood. And Chicago? That’s a gimme of a level for the Blues Brothers. The Louisiana Swamp makes a certain amount of sense considering the film’s finale (even if it mostly looks like a more mundane Bob-omb Battlefield most of the time), but “Spooky Graveyard”? That is about as generic as a videogame level as you’ll ever see, and could have been imported from literally any other title in production. Both Blues Brothers films featured a variety of iconic locations and set pieces that could easily be converted to videogame scenarios, but Elwood was never afraid of no ghost. Was this some generic platformer that was eventually married to a movie property? Was this something that happened during production? Did someone just need another level, and “haunted” was what came up on the ol’ genre roulette table? Titus isn’t offering any answers, presumably because they are still working through the backlog of unanswered questions regarding Superman 64. That’s a Clark Kentian task all by itself!

Big funBut, whether Blues Brothers 2000 was a random hackjob or a very dedicated piece of licensed software, Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 happened. It is a very late 90’s Nintendo 64 title based on an ill-conceived sequel to a beloved classic starring many actors that were dead before said sequel was conceived. There is no way anyone should be able to control Elwood Blues with an analogue stick, but, apparently, here we are. Despite literally everything, there is a Blues Brothers 2000 game for the Nintendo 64.

The Nintendo 64: it missed out on the entire Square catalogue, but it had Blues Brothers 2000.

FGC #523 Blues Brothers 2000

  • System: Nintendo 64. Sorry, Sony fans, Nintendo has got a lock on Blues Brothers fun.
  • Number of players: The main campaign is single player. However, the rhythm game (which is a crime against humanity and basic decency) is available as a two player mode. I do not care for it.
  • Pak Watch: This is one of those N64 titles that would be capable of saving, but, nope, you need a N64 memory card controller pak to do so. Luckily, the whole of the game only takes like two hours, so you don’t really need that save feature. And additional lucky: no one will ever bother to play Blues Brothers 2000 through to completion, so don’t worry about it.
  • Just play the gig, man: You’re collecting musical notes to play music actually from the movie. And the background music seems to be N64-erized versions of familiar songs, too. The soundtrack of Blues Brothers 2000 isn’t quite as iconic as the original Blues Brothers, but, hey, it’s not bad hearing some bastardization of John Popper while hopping around.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea what happens if you reach the final area and haven’t found every last collectible. Presumably, you’re barred from seeing the true ending that involves a skeleton playing the trumpet.
    Jug band!

    Can’t miss that!
  • Say something nice: Elwood Blues looks kind of cool in a N64-polygonal cartoon character kind of way. And the enemies seem vaguely reminiscent of the later Psychonauts. Does this mean Double Fine drew inspiration from Blues Brothers 2000? Probably not.
  • Did you know? “The Warden” is the first big boss of Blues Brothers 2000. In the actual film, the warden is played by Frank Oz. By association, this means that, without question, Elwood Blues has beaten up Yoda.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. This is not a fun game in any real way. It is absolutely passable, but should not be played over any other game for any reason.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2! Whip it good, Miriam, it’s time to show the moon whose boss. Please look forward to it!

BONK

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