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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: "That One Song" from B-Tier (or Lower) Fighters

Back in mid-2015, I did the very first Obscusion B-List, and in it I celebrated six small-name, at best, fighting games that had soundtracks that were simply stellar. Simply put, it can be argued that if a fighting game doesn't have a truly memorable soundtrack, then it almost doesn't matter what kind of outstanding mechanics, flow, & gameplay it has. Granted, this does sound a bit like hyperbole, but consider some of the most iconic fighting games of all time, & then try to deny that at least one song from each of them won't suddenly start playing in your head. Almost any Street Fighter (even the first, honestly), King of Fighters, Guilty Gear, SoulCalibur, Vs. Series, & Tekken game, among others, has a wide variety of instantly memorable stage or character themes to them... Even if it's really just "That One Song".

Therefore, let me give credence, respect, & credit to six lesser-known fighting games that aren't quite known for their soundtracks as a whole, but each have "That One Song" that transcends their limited notoriety & should be celebrated. And since I ended that first B-List with a Toshinden game, let me start this list with another.

Recently, Sony announced the complete 20-game line-ups for the two versions (International & Japan) of this December's PlayStation Classic, and one pick that got people talking, for various reasons, was the original Battle Arena Toshinden. Originally released alongside the PS1's launch in every territory, the 3D fighting game was Tamsoft's second game ever, the first was the Game Boy version of Samurai Shodown a couple of months earlier, but Sony hyped it up beyond all belief as a killer app. I had polygonal graphics that were notably more detailed than Sega's original Virtua Fighter (VF2 just came out in arcades, & wouldn't be released on Saturn for another year), & its use of a sidestep maneuver made it the first "true" 3D fighter. Once more advanced games, like Tekken, came out, though, Sony dropped it like a hot potato (except in Europe, where SCEE would release up through BAT3), and reaction towards it since has been mixed, mainly due to its stiffer gamplay & how it's aged compared to some of its contemporaries. It also didn't help that Tamsoft was already working to port the game to the Saturn, which would see release in late 1995 in Japan as Toshinden S, & internationally in 1996 as Battle Arena Toshinden Remix.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Night Head Genesis: Carry On, My Psychic Sons... Wear Your Weary Minds to Rest...

Previously on the Sci-Fi Harry Review:
"Watching this show definitely makes me interested in watching Night Head Genesis, so that might just be a future review one day... There's always next Halloween, right?"

Five years later is "next Halloween"... Right? Oh well, better late than never. Happy Halloween!

Back in 2013, I celebrated All Hallows' Eve by putting out a review of Sci-Fi Harry (you can put the lead character's name in all caps, if you prefer), which was the creation of Joji "George" Iida. Today, the man is known as a master of supernatural movies, like Rasen (the original sequel to The Ring), Another Heaven (based on one of Iida's own books), & Dragon Head (based on the manga). Before all of those, though, there was the series that made Iida a name in Japan, Night Head. Airing from October 1992 to March 1993, Night Head was a supernatural live-action drama series featuring psychics & the like that ran for 21 episodes via late-night, because the producers felt that stories featuring espers weren't as appealing at the moment. Luckily for Iida, the series became a surprise hit, especially with women, so it received a side-story TV special, Night Head: The Other Side, half way through the show's run, and in November 1994 there was a theatrical film, Night Head: The Movie, which told a new story that took place after the TV series.

Being a writer, Iida also wrote various novels based on Night Head, either retelling the series, retelling the movie (NH: The Trial), telling another side-story (NH: Deep Forest), & even telling a brand new sequel story (NH: Inducer). There were also a few manga adaptations during the 90s & early 00s, a PS1 game (NH: The Labyrinth), & even a cell phone app for i-mode-compatible phones (NH: The Gods of Misofagata)! As for where 2000's Sci-Fi Harry fits into all of this, the only explanation I can find indicates that it's the original concept that Iida thought of back in the day before refining it into Night Head, kind of like how Go Nagai's Devilman was a refinement of Demon Lord Dante before it; admittedly, Harry's US-based storytelling would have been impossible to make in Japan. Anyway, Iida would make one last return to his breakout hit in 2006 with Night Head Genesis, a TV anime remake of the original series, where he'd handle the writing. The anime ran for 24 episodes throughout the second half of 2006, & like its originator also aired in late-night, and from 2008 to 2009 Media Blasters released the anime on sub-only DVD; there was also a three-volume manga version that Del Rey licensed, but only two saw release. So, to close another loose thread I've left open for years, it's time to finally check out Night Head Genesis.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: GamePro Presents The PlayStation 2 & PlayStation Encyclopedia

With "retro gaming" being as notable of a market as it is today, it's not surprising that some people have published their own "comprehensive" books detailing all sorts of old gaming subjects, especially about how specific games hold up. Hardcore Gaming 101 has published its own series of books covering specific publishers & genres, Pat "the NES Punk" Contri has his "Ultimate Guide" to the NES library (with one for the SNES in the works), & you can find books of this ilk for things like the North American Master System catalog & even the entire Game & Watch roster. Over a decade before all of these, though, was a curious spin-off published by IDG's GamePro magazine, then self-described as the "World's Largest Multiplatform Gaming Magazine", that dared to compile reviews for every game for a single console, the Sony PlayStation.

On October 26, 2000, Sony released the PlayStation 2 in North America, and with its precursor console absolutely dominating the market during the second half of the 90s, GamePro wanted to be a part of the PS2's launch. So, at some point around the console's launch, you could find a 160-page, magazine-sized book titled GamePro Presents The PlayStation 2 & PlayStation Encyclopedia, which sold for "Only $5.99" & claimed to be "The Ultimate Guide to Every PlayStation Game". As for a rough release date, the PS1 reviews contained within cover up to a few games released in October/November 2000, with the most recent looking to be Breath of Fire IV, so I'd put the magazine as having been released either November or December of that year. I actually bought this book back when it came out in the day, so I'm curious about how well this compilation of GamePro reviews holds up, or if it's nothing more than a look at how gaming journalism was like during the 90s.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Longshot ACA Neo Geo Hopefuls

On November 1, 1999, the game division of Toshiba-EMI spun-off into a company named Hamster Corporation, and from its very conception the entire purpose of Hamster has been to re-release video games. It started off with your standard physical re-releases of PS1 games, like Overblood, Magical Drop F, Shienryu (a.k.a. Gekioh: Shooting King), & Wolf Fang, before moving into new releases of old arcade games on the PS2 through the Oretachi Game Center Zoku series, & then helping release PS1 & PS2 games digitally on the PS Store via the "PS Archives" line, better known as "PSOne/2 Classics" internationally. What people know Hamster for the most today, however, is the Arcade Archives series, which strives to release the original arcade versions of various old-school games to modern formats via the absolute best emulation possible, and "ACA" has been the first ever home release many of these games ever received; most of it is only available on PS4, but the Switch has been seeing some games as well. Starting back in May of 2014, Arcade Archives has since released (& is planning release of) 83 arcade games, but after just two years Hamster started a spin-off of this series, one with a more laser-targeted focus.

On October 27, 2016, Hamster released The King of Fighters '94, the first in the ACA Neo Geo sub-series, which would be solely dedicated to re-releases of games originally put into arcades via SNK's Neo Geo hardware; this line is available on PS4, Switch, Xbox One, & Windows. Take note that these re-releases are specifically of the MVS versions released in arcades, unlike the Wii Virtual Console, which re-released the AES versions for home. As of this article, Hamster has since released (& is planning release of) 95 Neo Geo titles, which is more than the main series, and with only 156 games ever officially released for the hardware, that means that roughly 60% of the entire Neo Geo catalog is now available for purchase on modern consoles, which is amazing. In fact, similar to the main series, ACA Neo Geo has resulted in the first-ever home releases of some games, like Gururin, Prehistoric Isle 2, Zed Blade, & ZuPaPa!. Now while I'm sure Hamster's ideal goal is to eventually release all 156 games, I'd imagine that some just aren't going to be possible, due to various reasons. For example, licensed games like Eight Man, Legend of Success Joe, & Chibi Maruko-chan: Maruko Deluxe Quiz might be too unlikely to happen, while untranslated & Japan-centric titles like the various mahjong, shogi, & quiz games may either never see re-release or will simply remain Japan-exclusives; to be fair, Hamster has released Japanese-only games internationally via the main line, like Ikki.

Still, even after all of that, I found six games that I feel are longshots for ACA Neo Geo, but still have some hope of a chance for them to see inclusion one day. Also, I found an unreleased, 157th Neo Geo game that could possibly see its first ever official release.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Waffenhund Panzer: A Metal Max Retrospective

Post-Apocalyptic visions of the future have been around in fiction for longer than anyone can remember, & Mary Shelley's The Last Man from 1826 is generally considered the first "modern" example of the genre, but in the past 30 or 40 years it's really started to become much more focused, defined, & expected. Today, it's easy to think of fallout-riddled wastelands filled with road warriors & legendary omega men that roam about metal jungles on planets of new dawns due to the fact that war never changes. Out of all of the countless takes on the post-apocalypse, though, one has always dared to be different, challenged the status quo, and found no hesitation in being the most bizarre of all...

In 1986, Hiroshi Miyaoka was a 27-year old college drop-out from Shinjuku's Waseda Unversity, working as a "free writer" for video games. He eventually was brought on to work as a scenario assistant & dungeon designer for a new RPG on the Nintendo Famicom being lead by Yuji Horii, a friend from his little "Wizardry Club"; the game was called Dragon Quest. Yes, Miyaoka was a part of the iconic franchise's earliest days, and wound up being an essential part of "The Roto Trilogy" that comprised the first three games. Following the release of Dragon Quest III in early 1988, though, Miyaoka decided to start up his own development studio, Crea-Tech, with the intention of creating his own RPG. Unlike Horii's creation, however, Miyaoka's would be the complete opposite, conceptually; ads for the game even said, "We've had enough of dragon slaying!". Where Dragon Quest was generally linear & fantasy-based, this new RPG would be as non-linear as possible & influenced by post-apocalyptic works, like George Miller's iconic Mad Max Trilogy. In fact, Crea-Tech made no attempt at hiding the influence of those movies, because the game would be called Metal Max.

With today marking the English release of Metal Max Xeno, the latest entry in the franchise, I figure now is the perfect time to give a detailed overview & retrospective on Metal Max, from it's humble start on the Famicom, to the death of its original trademark holder & creation of an offshoot series, to its revival for the modern era. So let's head out in our tanks, with our rocket launcher-strapped dogs, & get into a "Battle with the Wanted"!