Monday, July 27, 2015

Otakon 2015: "We" Are Homeless Warriors, "We" Are Endless Warriors... But Are "We" All Alone?

I am back from another Otakon, and once again I had a great time. While I'm not sure if anything could exactly match 2013, which was the 20th iteration (so it was given special treatment), I had fun at the penultimate appearance at Baltimore. Next year will be Otakon's last in the Inner Harbor, as it will be emanating from Washington D.C. starting in 2017, so maybe Otakorp will pull out all the stops next year, but enough about next year... What happened this year?

Well, first off, I brought with me a small stack of business cards, if only for the fun of it. While I still have plenty left over, I think they went over well with those who got them, so if you see me at a con go ahead and ask for a card; I'll bring them with me again when I do panels next year. Anyway, one of Otakon's strongest aspects is the programming, and this year didn't disappoint in any way. Thursday was my very first Otakon Matsuri, an outdoor party event, and while the area was smaller than I expected it was still cool to see happen. What was really cool, however, was the open-air concert by Back-on, a rock band that has done theme songs for anime like Air Gear, Fairy Tail, & Gundam Build Fighters Try. Though I wasn't too familiar with the group's songs, the concert was an awesome time, and I think anime cons in general should try to do open-air concerts more often, because they are a very different experience than the usual arena concerts that are done.

There was also a strong selection of panels, which is what I tend to put my focus towards when I go to cons. There were panel pros, like Mike Toole, the Anime World Order, Charles Dunbar, & the Reverse Thieves, and guest showings, like Masao Maruyama from MAPPA or popular seiyuu Romi Park, but there were plenty of great panels from lesser known individuals or groups. Whether it was about how an anime gets made, being able to converse with industry reps like Ben Applegate (Kodansha Comics) or Robert Woodhead (AnimEigo), hearing Romi Park tell stories about how unique a director Yoshiyuki Tomino is, or even seeing two "Anitwitter" personalities do something as depraved as showing bits of Violence Jack: Evil Town to unprepared anime fans, there was always something to check out. Personal favorite panels include Mike Toole showing people the various ways South Korean animators "bootlegged" various Japanese anime for their own works, the Reverse Thieves promoting sports anime to a happily large crowd, Carl Li (of Ogiue Maniax) & Ed Chavez (of Vertical Comics) showcasing how "ugly manga" doesn't necessarily mean "bad manga", & a first-time panelist do a really good job of introducing the works of Nobuyuki Fukumoto to people first thing Friday morning. Still, as always, what did I do at Otakon & how did it go?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ys (OVA): "Whys"? "Y's"? "Yees"? Damn French...

While Dragon Slayer & Xanadu gave Nihon Falcom notoriety & fame, respectively, there is one series that best encapsulates what the company is best at when it comes to Action RPG: Ys. Pronounced like the word "ease", the original game, fully titled Ancient Ys Vanished: Omen, came out on the PC-88 back in 1987 & was the creation of Masaya Hashimoto (designer) & Tomoyoshi Miyazaki (writer), who would both go on the found developer Quintet (ActRaiser, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma). The series follows the many journeys of red-haired adventurer Adol Christin, and while the series isn't exactly known for gripping narratives, though they generally aren't poor by any means, that's easily made up for by having fast-paced & engaging gameplay. Taking inspiration from T&E Soft's Hydlide series, Ys started off utilizing the game mechanic of bumping into your enemies to deal damage, but improved upon the mechanic & made it addictive to play with due to the speed of the action; later entries would make attacking a button press, but would be just as fun to play with. When the series started off it was a mega-hit for Falcom, being ported to all manner of PCs & even consoles, and eventually it would become the second product of Falcom's to be turned into an anime.

Is that "Ys" logo beautiful as I think it is? Yes, yes it is.

A few months after the original PC-88 release of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, Falcom would team up with Starchild Records & animation studio Tokyo Kids to produce an OVA adaptation of the original Ys. From 1989-1991, seven episodes were made, retelling the story of Adol's very first adventure in a new, non-interactive fashion. In 2002, Media Blasters would release this OVA series in North America, via both dubbed VHS & dual-audio DVD. With Ys now being more popular than it was over a decade ago, let's see how the anime adaptation of the original game worked out.

Adol Christin has always wanted to live a life of adventure. When he hears of a continent called Esteria that is suddenly filled with monsters, Adol ignores the warnings of the locals of port town Promarock & heads out. Turns out Esteria is surrounded by a dark vortex that is nigh-impossible to get through. Little does Adol know that his journey to Esteria is the beginning of his own legend, which will have him try to acquire the six Books of Ys & take on the mysterious priest Dark Fact in order to fulfill the legend of a hero who will save Esteria & the lost land of Ys from the forces of darkness.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Obscusion B-List: B-Tier Fighters with S-Tier Soundtracks

Otakon is approaching next week & I'll be there after missing out last year. While I do have a review planned for before the con, I also want to be topical for what's happening this weekend: Evo. Short for Evolution Championship Series, Evo is an annual esports event where fighting game fanatics meet up & compete against each other to see who's the best. Technically starting back in 1996, it wouldn't be named Evo until 2002, the tournament is always highly anticipated by hardcore fighting game fans, so with it happening this weekend I want to give notice to a part of fighting games that (understandably) tends to get the short end of the stick.

Yeah, Dee Jay knows what I'm talking about!

That isn't to say that fighting game music isn't celebrated. Almost every stage theme from Street Fighter II, for example, is in the mind of every person who's ever played it, and there are all sorts of awesome songs from franchises like Tekken, The King of Fighters, & BlazBlue. Still, there are plenty of lesser known fighting games that have amazing music that either no one's ever really heard of before, for a variety of reasons, or have simply been forgotten because the game or series has gone the way of the dodo. Therefore, I now introduce a variant of Obscusion B-Side called, what else, Obscusion B-List... Because I love dumb puns & self-deprecation. Anyway, unlike my more standard "12 Anime" lists, Obscusion B-List entries will only be a single post & limited to only six entries (though considering how well I adhere to twelve entries in my anime lists, I can't make any promises). So let's take a look at, to borrow terms from the fighting game community, six B-Tier (or less!) fighting games that have S-Tier soundtracks.

[NOTE: I have not & cannot play every single fighter out there, so this list only reflects my own personal experiences & feelings. If you have any other soundtracks out there in mind, by all means share them in the comments.]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Xanadu -Dragon Slayer Densetsu-: A Place Where Nobody Dared to Go... Because it's Deadly!

Having covered Hydlide in the previous post, let's examine the legacy of the game that co-created the Action RPG genre that same year: Dragon Slayer by Nihon Falcom. Though the company debuted in 1982 with Galactic Wars on the PC-88, Falcom wouldn't make a name for itself until the release of Dragon Slayer. Barely over a year later the company released a sequel, Xanadu -Dragon Slayer II- for the PC-88, and this is where Falcom became a force to be reckoned with. In a time where it was impressive enough for a Japanese PC game to sell 10,000-20,000 units, Xanadu set a smashing sales record by selling over 400,000 on its own, and it wasn't even the same kind of game as its predecessor. Similar to what Square would do later on with the Final Fantasy series, Falcom's Dragon Slayer series would switch up the gameplay for every entry; some would be Action RPGs, others would be more traditional, & one was even Real-Time Strategy. Some people might be familiar with later entries, like Romanica (III/Jr.), Sorcerian (V), or Legacy of the Wizard (IV), & the series lives on in spirit with the Legend of Heroes franchise, which is now one of the Falcom's biggest money makers; the first two entries were the sixth & eighth Dragon Slayer games. Xanadu was also the first game to ever receive an expansion pack, 1986's Scenario II: The Resurrection of Dragon, which also marked the debut of a young music prodigy named Yuzo Koshiro. Interestingly enough, Koshiro's music for the game was actually from the demo tape he sent Falcom when he was job hunting. Falcom liked the demo so much that they asked him if they could use it for their game, before outright hiring him.

Naturally, with Xanadu being the first true "big hit" for Falcom, it would receive multimedia productions. In 1987, a short manga adaptation by Kazuhiko Tsuzuki came out alongside the MSX port of the game, followed by a 50-minute OVA featuring animation by Toei & distribution by Kadokawa Video, both of which were called Xanadu -Dragon Slayer Densetsu/Legend of Dragon Slayer-. While Tsuzuki's artwork was used for the cover of the MSX port, mainly because the original game featured artwork taken from Ultima III: Exodus (& lead to Origin Systems ending a potential partnership with Falcom & suing), the manga & OVA are not directly based on the original computer game, but rather tell their own story based on the world of the game. So how is the very first anime based on a video game developed by Nihon Falcom?

Fieg Kamara is a solider for NATO in the year 2035, fighting in a battle over in Europe. Suddenly, the mech he & his two co-pilots are in is teleported to a mysterious world. While searching the area, Fieg's commander is eaten alive by giant insects, while his fellow soldier is cut in two by a beastman named Agora. Escaping in the mech, Fieg falls off a cliff, is rescued by a wizard, & taken to the kingdom of Xanadu to recover. Now an amnesiac who only knows his name, Fieg lives in Xanadu & one day meets Rielle, the princess of the kingdom. After the two accidentally see a vision of how Rielle's father was brutally killed by evil forces, Fieg & Rielle decide to head off in search of the legendary sword Dragon Slayer, which can stop the forces of black magic.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Hydlide (Windows 95/98): Ride that Hydra All Night-O!

I'm no stranger to going against the grain when it comes to popular opinion, and this situation is no different. If you were to go ask numerous video game fans who are familiar with it, almost all of them will state that Hydlide is one of the worst games of all time... On the NES. This is a feeling that has only been exacerbated with time, especially when popular online video game critics like James Rolfe (via the Angry Video Game Nerd) & Jared Knabenbauer (via ProJared) have given their negatively-tinged opinions on the matter. Now I'm not here to denounce their reviews or put down their videos on the whole, especially since I am a fan of both of them, but if there is one segment of fandom that is quick to play copycat & simply mime the opinions of those with followings, likely without ever having experienced it themselves, it's video game fandom (and seemingly doubly so for retro gaming). Now, to be fair, there have been some other video producers who have defended Hydlide, like "SuperDerek" or Jason Pullara (a.k.a. LordKat), and the difference in opinion on the game really comes down to one thing, which is the game's history.

The year 1984 is an important one for RPGs in Japan, as it was when the country was hit with three highly influential debuts, one after the other. First up was the Namco arcade game The Tower of Druaga, designed by Masanobu Endo, which came out on July 20. It mixed together overhead arcade action with some RPG elements, becoming a massive hit in Japan. On September 10, Nihon Falcom released Yoshiyo Kiya's Dragon Slayer for the NEC PC-88. Taking elements of Falcom's 1983 game Panorama Toh & mixing them with influence from Druaga, Dragon Slayer featured the usual RPG mechanics of leveling up via experience points to become stronger, but the battles were done in a real-time, arcade-style execution instead of the menu-based combat prior to it. Finally, on December 13, T&E Soft released Hydlide on the PC-88, which was designed by Tokihiro Naito. Hydlide was similar to Dragon Slayer in some ways, but where Kiya made a Druaga-influenced game which took place in a single dungeon & relied on a slow battle system, Naito made an Ultima-influenced game that featured an overworld, with a handful of dungeons, & relied on more fast-paced battle system. While PC magazine writer Akira Yamashita dubbed it an "Active Role Playing Game", Hydlide has gone on to be considered one of the first Action RPGs, if not the first. At the very least, it shares that honor with Dragon Slayer, which called itself "A New Type Real Time Role Playing Adventure".