Sunday, March 27, 2016

Top 5 Pokémon Battle Themes

Welcome to my list of the Top 5 Pokémon Battle Themes! Let's just state straight away that this list is wholly subjective, biased and completely unprofessional. It also focuses on the battle themes from the main series games, so no anime or spin-off games. Many tunes are simply remixes of older versions but are for this list treated as their own entry which means I've picked the one I prefer. I can say there isn't really any battle theme in the Pokémon series I don't like, so choosing only five for this was actually not an easy task. Overall I feel like the OST for the Poksémon game series is among the strongest game OSTs out there, mostly because they continously hold a high standard and there are just very few outright weak tunes (I can't actually think of one off the top of my head).
Hope you enjoy!

First pokémon many saw and owned -

5. Wild Battle from Red/Blue/Yellow
Not only is this the very first battle tune that was ever heard in any Pokémon game, it's also a damn good one. I love how it makes you feel like it's serious business whether you fight those damn Rattata or a much cooler Scyther. The background baseline implies that you need to give the situation some thought while the high-pitched tune urges you on. It definitely makes all those battles against Zubats a lot less horrible, and makes a good job at not outstaying its welcome. That is no easy feat for a tune heard so often and it requires quite a lot of skill to make it interesting enough to keep your adrenaline going for even the most mundane battles without grating on your patience.

4. Gym/Elite 4 Battle from Fire Red/Leaf Green
This tune starts out so brilliantly, immediately letting you know "ok brace yourself, you're in for a hell of a fight". Eventhough it gives you time to breath and feel like you've got time to think tactically, it keeps up its pace and sense of danger. Overall the pacing is great in this tune, going so smoothly from thrilling to slightly slower and more swaying bits like its nothing, you barely even notice it before you're back in the action again. It really says "ready or not, here I come", which suits this one-on-one tune perfectly.

Don't bring a camel to a shark battle -

3. Maxie & Archie Battle from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald
It's something about those trumpets, or whatever instrument it's trying to immitate, that makes this tune manage to balance on the edge of bombastic without tipping over onto pathetic. I love how it's fairly simplistic and in a way generic but I can still listen to it over and over without getting bored. It has all the elements needed for a good boss tune - a cool, slick, crispness, like it doesn't need to do more to make you shit bricks in the presence of these leaders. It only adds to their personality and makes you feel all the more awesome when or if you beat them.

2. Trainer Battle from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald
It was so close between this one and the trainer battle theme from Fire Red and Leaf Green. I love the arrangement of this tune, it feels like so much thought went into where each part goes and what it does to the feeling of the battle. Listening to it it's easy to imagine two Pokémon duking it out, first flailing wildly, backing off to take a breather, scrutinizing eachother and then at it again. It's a tune that tells a story and it's cleverly balanced so that it will enhance whatever happens in your battle. It takes real skill to be able to write a tune that sounds like it was made exactly to fit the specific battle you're in and still be generic enough to actually fit any.

Must need a lot of wax -

1. Lysandre Battle from X&Y
This is almost in a league of its own. If you have a playlist of Pokémon tunes and this comes on, not only do you get a bit of a shock at its absolute awesomeness, but my first thought was "wait a minute, is this from Pokémon?". It's such a short part of the entirety of the game that the tune doesn't get anywhere near the exposure it deserves and so it would be easily forgotten if it wasn't for the fact that it is the best of them all. What I really love about this tune is that it could fit pretty much any boss in any RPG and do it justice. Just as with Maxie and Archie's theme, it's fairly simple in its layout, especially compared to some other battle themes in the series. But it immediately grips you and just doesn't let go. And when you've heard it once you're not even sure what just happened and you want to hear it again. And again. It's simply a beautifully composed tune.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An Unfinished Look At Grandia - Admirably Confusing

Grandia II is one of my favorite J-Rpgs, but considering that, I've spent surprisingly little time with the other instalments of the series. I know absolutely nothing about Grandia III and Grandia Xtreme besides that they exist and until recently that was also true about the first game. Then my bf gave me Grandia for my birthday last year and I was excited to see where Grandia II had come from.

It seems the rule of J-Rpgs to not be direct sequels to eachother, but rather take place in the same world concept - Final Fantasy is a good example of this, Star Ocean another. The characters will be different, the world will be different, but there will be core concepts that are similar. In Final Fantasy it's mogs, someone named Cid and chocobos. For the first two Grandia (because I haven't played the other two and can't say) it seems to be primarily the style of combat, because other than that they don't have very much in common.

I haven't finished the game yet, eventhough it's been over half a year since I got it. I definitely don't dislike it, it's actually quite fun but quirky (more about that shortly) but it's currently the only console game I play and so it means setting up a bit before getting started. It's probably the lamest excuse you'll hear all week coming from someone trying to avoid doing something they actually enjoy, but there you have it. Another big factor is that it's true to the J-Rpg style and has save points, something that I am trying to avoid since I'm in a position where I need to quit what I am doing at any given moment. It basically means I need to know that I can devote an hour (the longest I've played without reaching a save point was two hours though) and that just doesn't happen often enough.

I've at least come to the second disc, so you'd think I'd be a good way into the story. What makes Grandia a bit special from your average J-Rpg however is that it has a pretty original way of playing out the story. You play as Justin, a tween something kid who wants to be an adventurer like his father so sets out to fulfil his dream of being one. Early on in the game it turns out Justin has a special artifact left by his dad, which puts him on the track for said adventure and more than a disc in that is still where the story is at. You find out there is an old civilization that's long gone, Justin tries to find it for no other reason than "why not", he finds some friends on the way that don't seem to have much better things to do with their time either and the story doesn't progress much from that point even after 30 hours of gameplay.

I am a bit torn as to whether I love it or don't love it so much. On the one hand I find it extremely refreshing to play a J-Rpg that doesn't cast you as the savior of the universe within the first half hour of playing, where the evil is the evilest there ever was and wants nothing but death and destruction for no reason. In Grandia you play someone who just wants some fun and who finds himself in interesting situations and with interesting people because of it. There isn't really a main antagonist and definitely not an EVIL DARKNESS that you need to collect [insert generic crystals here] to thwart.

At least not yet - of course huge disclaimer for the fact that I haven't actually finished the game yet and so fully expect this storyline to come crashing down on me sooner or later, it is a J-Rpg after all. It is very surprising however how long the game designers decide to hold out on actual suspense. Like I said I am roughly 30 hours into the game and there is still very little to go on. They do some setting up early on that leaves you with promises but it quickly turns into the feeling that this is just a game about exploring.

They also level completely unevenly -
But like I said, it is far from bad. The combat style I love from Grandia 2 was first used in Grandia. Firstly it means there are no random battles but enemies can be seen and generally avoided on the adventure screen. Once you do enter a battle, your characters and the enemy characters activate depending where they are on a meter. Once the meter reaches the end your character can choose to do all the regular stuff like use a magic or item, attack or run for instance. The big difference to other RPGs of the time like beforementioned Final Fantasy is that your characters aren't stationary but run around (very similar to the "Tales of" games) which adds another level of tactic to the fighting. So far the game has been pretty easy but the fun combat makes sure that you never tire of entering a battle. The game also does a Phantasy Star 4 in that it provides you with a very strong character mid-game, further alleviating exploration. Overall the style of battle seems to encourage an explorative behavior and there are a lot of items lying around waiting to be found.

The characters are also very likable. They're not particularly memorable in the way Sephiroth or heck even Millenia from Grandia 2 are. In fact for this post I had to google what their names were because they're so generic you forget them immediately (mainly Justin, Sue and Feena). But they're easygoing and fun, they never grate on you and eventhough the dialogue is simplistic it never makes me ashamed of the writers like in FFX.

The areas are fairly varied yet graphically drab, I don't expect or demand much else from the Playstation however and it's not really something that bothers me or takes away from the gameplay. They've made a lot of the surroundings interactable adding light puzzle elements to the game (and we're talking very light). A lot of other J-Rpgs developers could take note from the travel system - the world map is basically just areas that you've visited and once you've been to a place you can travel back to it from anywhere on same contintent. Running on the world map is such a huge time sink in some Rpgs that they've pretty much completely done away with in this game. There is also an arrow in the game to point you towards your next objective, which is a brilliant idea! Unfortunately it doesn't always update which had me running lost for quite a while before I realized how it worked.

So I am definitely having fun with the game, but I can't help but thinking in the back of my head "what is this game even about?". It feels so without direction I end up both admiring it and get confused by it. It's like the game creators thought to themselves "why can't we do an rpg where you just run around and do fun things, rather than try to avoid cataclysm?". And yeah I guess, why not? We'll see what I think once I am done with it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Thoughts - Demos and Shareware

I downloaded and tried out the Yo-Kai Watch demo the other day and thought it was pretty alright. I actually thought the "watch" part referred to watching the yo-kai but apparently the main character has an actual watch... I quite liked the combat system, where you can get as involved as you want to be. Far from Pokémon where a lvl 3 Rattata and a lvl 50 Mewtwo take about as much effort to fight because of menus and text. I think it's a game I would have fun with, but it didn't wow me enough for me to want to buy it right away. The fact that I had just played a demo probably gave me more thought than the actual game did. I tried to remember the last time I played a demo of a game, I can honestly tell you I thought they were an extinct beast of the video game industry because I have completely missed them.

I could be completely wrong about this, but my idea is that demos used to be a thing of the computer game scene and has more or less switched to the console scene. I haven't heard of a computer game demo, or trial if you prefer to call them that, in ages. I could just have been living under a rock regarding that though, maybe they've been around all the time. I know of online-game trial periods of course, in a sense they are definitely like demos, but for some reason limited to the online games nowadays. Back in my day you got demos and sharewares (remember them?) for computer games and you rented games for consoles if you wanted to check them out. I don't recall being able to rent computer games, but maybe that was just a backwater Sweden limitation. I would mention playing games in video game stores, but since they're disappearing as well that is becoming less and less of an option. Not to mention, they might not front the game you're interested in.


Speaking of shareware, apparently also known as demoware, I haven't really come across that in video games anymore either. It was actually a style I quite liked as it often let you try a lot of, sometimes all of, the features of the program but limit it in some crucial way. My best memory of this was playing Escape Velocity (an amazing game that would get a remake if I ever became president), and if you didn't pay for your copy an enemy space ship would become increasingly annoying until it just flat-out destroyed you, thus making playing the game really difficult. But up until then, which I assume was triggered either by some sort of built-in timer or area in the game, I wasn't limited in any way. I would love this system for modern games, does anyone still do this?

The last demo I can remember playing was Wolfenstein 3D, we're talking mid 90's here! Admittedly my little brother did most of the playing since he was way more into shooting things than I was back then. The demo only contained the first three stages but I'm not even entirely sure that we realized this was only a tiny part of the game because we definitely treated it as a full-length game and played it over and over, yet never asked our parents to buy it. That might be because they probably never would have although I wonder why they let us play the demo in that case... The "final boss" of the demo was a dude so hardcore it required full blasting of the secret miniguns to get down, but he was probably not particularly difficult in actuality.

Always felt sorry for the dogs though -

And now it seems consoles have taken over the demos, or at least Nintendo has. I think it's great. I often end up watching gameplay videos online before buying something to get an idea of whether the game will be fun for me or not, even if the trailer/information on the game seemed really promising. I've made too many mistakes in the past of judging a game by its cover, getting overly excited about something only to be crushingly disappointed when starting to play (yes I am looking at you Unlimited Saga). So what better than to actually get to try some gameplay? For me it's only win-win.

But I do miss the times when you'd get a demo-CD with your favorite video game magazine, the best thing about that that gets lost a bit with the modern style of downloading demos, is that you got a bunch of games that you might not have tried out otherwise. Since they were on the demo-CD you probably ended up checking them out and so there was a chance to find fun games you'd never look twice at otherwise. I guess the modern equivalent are the bundles in which at least I have found loads of great games I would've never had heard of otherwise (Darkout is a great example).

I don't know why computer games don't do demos anymore, or if they do I don't know why I seem to have completely missed it. All I hear is about pre-ordering stuff. But before I pay 60 euro for a game I might not enjoy, couldn't I get to play it for a little bit?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Toddler & Game - Whip The Hair Back and Forth

My son is almost 2,5 years old and so far I haven't actively encouraged him to play video games. We don't own any kind of tablet and I won't let him use my phone or PC (because he messes everything up!), so he's left to the consoles we have standing around. It's not that I'm worried he'll be too inactive, he spends about 80% of his awake time running around, but rather that I am worried about the well being of my consoles. The level he's been at so far is turning the consoles off and on again and as long as that was the case I prefered him doing other things.

But that is changing, and it is very interesting to see. It started with Yoshi's Story. I'm not sure how he got interested in the game to begin with, I was probably playing it at some point or other - but he loved the intro sequence and especially the music. After that it was impossible for me to try to play the game, he reset the console after the first minute or so of intro, rewatched, reset, rewatched and so on until I told him we'd go do something else (it didn't take long before I felt sorry for my N64). Same thing with Sonic on the Mega Drive (my bfs favorite game).

Eventually he would press a button on the controller, because hey! buttons are totally fun to press. And they are! In video games all kinds of things happen when you press the controller and he quickly figured that one button would make Yoshi eat stuff and the other would make Yoshi jump. So we licked and jumped a lot. But obviously he still had no grasp of the concept of the game, to get to the end of it. And when you're that age you make up your own rules and try out new things all the time. It's one of the most charming aspects of the age and I normally let him to it until he figures something out that he likes. Besides, who says you have to play games a certain way? The main focus is to have fun with them. I used to play Settlers 2 completely without enemies after all, simply because I enjoyed building up a society without the hassle of adversaries.

Sometimes however, I like to try things out and see what he thinks. Because the controller is way big for his wee little hands (they're totally cute), he can't push the buttons and make Yoshi walk at the same time. I decided to see if we could co-op play the game where I would make Yoshi walk and he would jump and eat things. And it was actually really fun! It was a huge challenge for me, since I needed to avoid dangers and make sure to not run into enemies/pits until the son was pressing the right buttons, and he was having a blast getting to eat fruits and jump over pits. Great success. Although resetting the console and watching the intro sequence is still what he enjoys most so far.

He had less trouble when it came to my N3DS, something I have been lending to him only very reluctantly because that is 150 euro of hardware he could decide to throw into the floor at any second. Not to mention my fear that he would accidentally erase some data from it, I've been through that horrible experience before (yes I am looking at you little brother!) As I was sitting next to him and supervising his every move I realized that there is actually a lot more for a toddler to enjoy about a 3DS than I initally thought. For instance I didn't have a clue that most main menu icons are sound triggered, in which they will move faster if you blow or speak into the mic. My son discovered this quickly and will sit yelling at the 3DS for a while before moving on to other things.

Next he discovered my Shantae and the Pirate's Curse in which he could shoot and hair-whip as Shantae, which he loved for some reason. It took him quite some time before he even tried to run around, and because he was at my end-game save he ran straight into the final boss... which he BEAT! I'll be completely honest and admit I activated Pike Ball for him, but other than that I didn't touch a single thing and he managed to finish the final boss of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse just by pressing things randomly (because I really doubt he knew what was actually going on).

He also found a drawing program I didn't even know the 3DS had (turns out it's the Letter Box feature where you can draw your own letters and also replay your drawing, it's quite cool) and the camera. Next time I checked he had taken 20 pictures of his feet and drawn 30 letters full of squigglies.

And that's the level we're at at the moment and it'll be interesting to see how that develops further on. I'm still not in a hurry for him to get any kind of hooked on video games, as I am certain the Minecraft curse will affect him too soon enough. But I am also not against him playing some every now and then as it is in fact interactive entertainment just as with any other toy. Who knows, I might let him inherit my Game Boy Advance SP for his third birthday. He would probably just look at it and wonder why there isn't a touch screen or camera though.