Archives for posts with tag: Music

mikuft
The seemingly impossible has happened, as Sega have confirmed that Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone, a previously Japan-only port of the previously Japan-only Hatsune Miku arcade game, will be released in Europe and the Americas early next year.

Coming to the PlayStation Network on January 10th, Future Tone will be made available in the same digital configurations as its Japanese release. There will be two separate song packs, called ‘Future Sound’ and ‘Colourful Tone’, the former focusing on tracks that have appeared in the Project Diva games, the latter being drawn from the Project Mirai and Arcade games. In total, there will be over 200 songs and more than 300 modules to choose from.

We only have prices in USD at the moment, but we can assume Euro and GBP pricing won’t be too far removed. Each pack will cost $29.99, or you can buy a bundle for $53.99 that will contain both packs as well as a couple of bonuses. Here’s an overview from Sega themselves:

About

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone kicks off with a bang by giving players more than 200 songs for Miku and her digital friends to perform. Newcomers and veterans alike will have new controls to master, and tons of customization thanks an unparalleled amount of costume modules to unlock! Releasing on Jan. 10, 2017, players will be able to choose their Future Tone collection – from ‘Future Sound,’ a collection of songs centred around the Project Diva kinship of games or ‘Colourful Tone’ which collects songs related to the Project Mirai games and arcade songs. Lovers of all things Miku who purchase both packs will have both hairstyle customizations and exclusive “survival course” added on! Each package will be available for $29.99 or the entire Future Tone set of both will be at special discount for just $53.99.

Key Features
•Energy to Surpass Miku Herself – As the arcade version of Hatsune Miku, Future Tone amps up the game’s speed and energy, and players will need to master a different style of control, making it the most frenetic Miku rhythm game yet.
•Choose from Hundreds of Songs – With a final tally of 224 songs across both of Future Tone‘s packages, the game features the most expansive collection of songs yet from Hatsune Miku and her friends.
•Set the Stage – Dress up Hatsune Miku and her friends with more 340 unique costume modules and accessories across the Future Tone packages. Players who purchase both packages will get access to an exclusive feature where they can mix and match costumes and hairstyles.
•Bring the House Down –Future Tone takes full advantage of the PlayStation 4 and will present all of the arcade-style action rendered in glorious 1080p/60fps.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone is a pure arcade experience – players will be able to unlock songs as they play the songs in any of the game’s up to five difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, Extreme, and Extra Extreme, earning the game’s VP currency commensurate to the challenge level. VP can be used to buy new costume modules and customized items to style Miku and her friends in the manner of players’ choosing.

Pricing

When the game launches, players can find Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone on the PlayStation Store as a free download that contains two songs. Within the game’s user interface, players will be able to purchase the ‘Colourful Tone’ and/or ‘Future Sound’ packages individually for $29.99 or as a bundle for $53.99.

It’s great to be getting more Miku so soon after the western release of her latest game, Project Diva X. With Future Tone being a digital-only release in Japan, it was a longshot to expect it to make its way over here – especially in Europe where Project Diva X didn’t receive a physical release, leading fans to wonder if Sega was feeling a little hesitant about the series’ future here. It seems we needn’t have worried. Now to put some PSN credit on my Christmas list…

You can see the first English trailer below.

SOURCE: Gematsu

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Dancin' to tha Beat
I don’t remember the first time I saw Jet Set Radio, but I certainly remember my reaction: “Holy crap, that looks cool.”

It was probably a feature in the dearly-departed Dreamcast Magazine, some time after the game’s TGS ’99 reveal, and from the moment I saw it, I knew I had to play Jet Set Radio. From the incredible cel-shaded art-style that exuded that street-punk attitude that serves as its thematic foundation, to the central conceit of the game – namely, tagging graffiti to mark your gang’s territory – to the saturated colours of the Tokyo streets against that trademark Sega blue sky. Everything about this game arrested my attention. I couldn’t wait to play it.

And then, months later, thanks to a demo disc attached to the cover of the aforementioned publication, I got my chance. And I hated it. I couldn’t get my head around the controls for a start, which meant I had trouble getting around the environment, which meant I couldn’t escape the rampaging police, which meant I couldn’t find the time to paint. And on the off-chance that I actually managed to get to a tag site, I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the graffiti mechanics, either. But I had been so looking forward to the game that I decided I had to try it again. And again. And again and again. And all of a sudden, it just clicked. Everything came into sharp focus; I knew what the game expected of me, and I understood how to make it happen. Get some speed behind you, grind that rail, make that jump, ride that wall. The floor is lava.

Smilebit’s 2000 Dreamcast title has since become a cult classic, leading to Sega and BlitWorks releasing an excellent HD version on literally everything back in 2012. Jet Set Radio presents a colourful, stylised representation of Tokyo, including iconic areas like the Shibuya bus terminal, and stars a cast of punky inline skaters out to grab territory for their respective street gangs. How do you go about this? By tagging the crap out of everything you see, of course! You’ll mark your territory on buses, cop cars, advertising hoardings and storefronts as you claim turf from rival gangs the Love Shockers, Noise Tanks and Poison Jam. Naturally, the police, led by the hard-boiled Captain Onishima and backed by the shadowy Rokkaku Group, don’t take kindly to your urban artwork. These crazy keisatsu will do anything, including calling in helicopter gunships, to put an end to your adolescent fun.

Gum taggin'

Right from the off, Jet Set Radio demands that you get good. Just as the controls take a little time to puzzle out, so do the level layouts; very early on, you’ll learn to prioritise the larger, more time-consuming tags before the police escalate their presence, bringing in tear gas troopers, assassins armed with electric whips and black-suited knife-wielding goons, all of whom make it a very bad idea to stand still and tag. You’ll soon realise it’s best to leave the simple, one-hit tags ’til the very end of the level so that you can grind, trick and race past your aggressors, tagging as you go. This means that you’ll ideally spend the first minute or so just skating around, getting the lay of the land and collecting spray paint cans, before launching your carefully-planned graffiti assault on the streets of Tokyo-to.

Let’s look at the funk

The first thing you’ll notice – and indeed, the thing the game is probably still best known for – are those striking, pioneering cel-shaded graphics that make Jet Set Radio look like a Gainax anime come to life. We see the technique a fair bit these days, and 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker arguably brought it to more mainstream attention, but back in 2000 it was absolutely state of the art; really, it had only been seen in the character models of Fear Effect, which came out only months before Jet Set Radio. Chief graphics designer Ryuta Ueda wanted to create a snapshot of what he saw as Tokyo’s youth culture at the time, something that reflected the eclectic, high-energy, vibrantly colourful scene he saw around him.

It’s not just about those beautiful, flat, shaded polygons though. The game is brought to life by all the little incidental details; the fact that Garam’s necklace looks like it just might be Sonic’s skull, Tab poking his tongue out at you every now and then for no good reason, DJ Professor K’s funky hair that pulses in time to the beat, and the fact that nobody ever stands still. Every character is in constant motion – even leaving your skater idle causes them to dance to their own rhythm, like a way cooler version of Spaced‘s Tires. Touches like this create a tangible, kinetic connection between gameplay and presentation, tying them together with the audio in such a way that every element comes together to create a solid, cohesive whole where every little touch just feels right.

These guys mean business

The visual presentation is beautifully mirrored by an eclectic, borderline-manic soundtrack from Hideki Naganuma that remains one of the best in gaming. Representing every facet of Ueda’s vision of late-nineties Tokyo street culture, Naganuma’s work takes in hip hop, funk and even acid jazz, interspersing it with odd looped samples (“Will you stop playing with that radio of yours? I’m trying to get to sleep!”). Meanwhile the varied licensed tracklist mixes in the kooky rock of Guitar Vader, the alternative hip hop of Jurassic 5, and even finds space for a track from fellow Sega veteran Richard Jacques (yes, the man behind the indisputably awesome Sonic R soundtrack contributed to Jet Set Radio).

Understand, understand

While Jet Set Radio didn’t exactly set sales alight, a sequel of sorts was released for the Xbox in 2002. Jet Set Radio Future, as the name suggests, transposed the GGs and their rivals to a near-future vision of Tokyo-to. Characters were redesigned, the plot was shuffled about a bit, and the colour palette was more muted, but the biggest differences were in how the game played. Conventional wisdom holds that you either like one game or the other, and you can’t possibly like both. While this isn’t really true at all, Jet Set Radio Future did do a fair bit to put off fans of the previous game.

Future exists almost as a reimagining of the concept, simplifying some things while expanding others. The most immediate changes are the removal of the time limit in each level and a ‘streamlining’ of the way you execute graffiti; whereas you’d copy analogue stick movements in Jet Set Radio, corresponding to broad strokes of paint, in Future you simply pull the trigger as you race past and it all just happens for you. I absolutely hated these changes at the time. Coming from a challenging game where it’s vital to set your priorities and then create the space needed to get things done in the allotted time, Future just felt like it lacked pace, challenge and focus.

The differences weren’t all for the bad, however, and the removal of these mechanics makes a lot of sense when you look at what Jet Set Radio Future is, rather than what it isn’t. The size, scale and complexity of the environments have been massively enlarged, with multiple large, vertical spaces leading to and from one another; a time limit would have been a real drag in levels this huge, and its absence lends Future a much more exploratory feel than the original. The level design is also pushed to its limits to accommodate this expanded sense of freedom: larger spaces mean far more routes over, under, through and around the game’s crazed urban landscapes. Where Jet Set Radio was a tight, focussed time-attack game as its heart, Future is more like a playground for you to jump, grind, trick and tag through.

Jet Set Radio may have been absent for over a decade now, but its influence can still occasionally be felt. Insomniac’s Ted Price has spoken about how the Sega classic informed Sunset Overdrive‘s traversal system, and that game also has a knack of making you feel like a sucker if you so much as deign to touch the ground. Meanwhile, the recent Splatoon will give gamers of a certain age serious JSR vibes, as, like Sunset Overdrive, the game’s visual presentation clearly owes a debt to Jet Set‘s colourful, anarchic sense of fun. How fitting that a project led by a new generation of talent at Nintendo’s famed EAD division should echo a game that looked to celebrate Tokyo’s youth culture in the final days of the 1990s.

And what of the team that brought JSR into the world? Well, sadly, we all know about Sega’s troubles since going third-party in the aftermath of the Dreamcast’s premature death, an upheaval that led to internal teams being reshuffled, reorganized and renamed, as well as something of a talent exodus. Both Ryuta Ueda and director Masayoshi Kikuchi went on to work on the Ryu Ga Gotoku series (where they even managed to include a short cameo for JSR bad guy Rokkaku Gouji, later joking that this meant the games existed in the same universe). Ueda has since left the company, along with Hideki Naganuma, who recently suggested that Sega has no interest in reviving the series.

Still, with new Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi recently indicating that Sega want to win back their fanbase, perhaps we will see something done with all those classic IP that are just sitting in a vault somewhere in Tokyo, gathering dust. At the very least, perhaps we can hope for Sega to give us some more of the HD remasters they were offering just a few short years ago, and make Future available for a new audience. Perhaps things are looking up, after all.

Theatrhythm Curtain Call 3DS pouch
Today, the sequel to one of my favourite games of 2012 hits the 3DS. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call, to give it its full, unwieldy name, is the follow-up to Square-Enix’s rhythm-action Final Fantasy compendium, and it’s fit to bursting with more music, more characters, more modes and even more fanservice. I’m a sucker for pretty much anything FF, especially its music, so I was glad when Theatrhythm turned out so well. And I of course ordered the Collectors Edition of Curtain Call, which has just arrived. So let’s take a look at what you get in the box.

Theatrhythm Curtain Call collectors edition

It’s quite a large box for a 3DS game, and it’s pretty similar to the one Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came in, with a sturdy box covered by a card slipcase. Inside is a collectors pouch for your 3DS emblazoned with the cast and logo, and unfortunately for me, it’s for a 3DS XL. I can still use it to store my launch model console, of course, but it won’t be a snug fit.

We’re also treated to five platinum CollectaCards of the kind found in the games. The pack of five contains Edgar from Final Fantasy V, Zack from Final Fantasy VII/Crisis Core, Yuna in her X-2 appearance, Final Fantasy XIV‘s Y’shtola and finally Ramza from Final Fantasy Tactics. All the cards are double-sided, with character art on the front and a short bio on the reverse side. You can see the back of Zack’s card in the gallery below.

Theatrhythm Curtain Call CollectaCards

Finally, we have two CDs to listen to. The first of these is the same five-track remix CD that also comes with the cheaper limited edition version of Curtain Call, while the second is a 20-track ‘best of’ collection, which includes untouched music from across the series. These two discs come in the same jewel case, and you can see the full tracklisting for both in the gallery.

That’s it for collectors goodies, but printed on the manual is a note stating that those who’ve played the demo (like me!) will begin the game with some characters already unlocked and ready to go.

For £45, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got here. I’m about to get started and I can’t wait to spend another 90 hours on the new game. My 3DS is pretty much sorted for the next year.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess often gets passed off as something of a reimagined Ocarina of Time, and it’s not too difficult to see why; like most of the Zelda games we’ve seen since that much-loved 1998 instalment, Twilight Princess builds on the foundations laid down by Link’s first foray into 3D. Moreover, with a return to a more muted, ‘realistic’ presentation it’s not a difficult conclusion to jump to.

But for my money, Twilight Princess is the ultimate evolution of that strain of the Zelda franchise, taking everything Ocarina did and making it grander, darker, and more mysterious, while focusing more on story and scene composition than any Zelda that came before. It takes what made Ocarina great, strengthens those building blocks, and adds in new experiences (like the ability to become a wolf and sniff out objectives), ultimately managing to earn its own distinct identity.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the game’s Hyrule Field theme. For those of us that played Ocarina of Time back in 1998, it’s unlikely that anything will beat that first moment of stepping onto the expansive Hyrule Field – seeing a game world open up like that just wasn’t something we were used to back in the late nineties. As a spectacle, it’s not something Twilight Princess could hope to replicate, and to my mind, it relies on its theme to distinguish itself from its legendary precursor.

Where Ocarina‘s Hyrule Field theme is playful and sunny, reflecting the theme of a young boy setting off into the world to meet his destiny, Twilight Princess‘ theme is altogether more rousing, suggestive of the themes of a brave young man thrust out into the wider world in an effort to rescue those he holds dear. It sounds determined.

There are of course moments that call back to Ocarina of Time, and one piece that plays on that familiarity comes during a moment where we adventure through the Sacred Grove, in an effort to hunt down the legendary Master Sword, the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Link needs the sword to undo a curse placed upon him, and so we find ourselves in a lost part of the world that seems strangely familiar – it’s as if the long-forgotten ruins of Ocarina‘s Temple of Time have been overrun by the Lost Woods, and this impression is built upon by the music, a mysterious take on Saria’s Song.

It creates a strange mood, taking a well-known melody from a past game and stretching it into something different. Its backing melody feels more like something we would have heard in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack than something you’d hear in a Zelda game – immediately mysterious, tempering the known, the familiar, with the unknown, the enigmatic. As a whole, it seems to say, “this place may feel familiar, but it’s not the same.”

My favourite couple of pieces of Twilight Princess music though, are also the most idiosyncratic. They’re pure Twilight Princess, laden with mystery, the weight of ancient wisdom long forgotten, and a healthy dose of the melancholy. The first of these is ‘Light Spirits’.

Early in the game, Link must journey to three sacred springs and bring light back to the spirits that dwell there, undoing the dark curse placed upon them by Zant, the King of the Twilight. This theme is heard whenever Link converses with one of the spirits, and it imparts a feeling of their timelessness, suggesting that they have long watched over Hyrule, while also creating a mood that speaks to the unknown nature of these beings that show themselves only to a chosen few. The orchestral arrangement, used for the Zelda symphony concerts, is even better, sounding like something Danny Elfman might have conjured up for an early-nineties Tim Burton film.

My favourite piece by far though comes during an incredibly emotional scene with Midna. After being confronted by Zant at the Lanayru Spirit Spring, Midna is forcibly exposed to the spirit’s light, leaving her near death. Link, transformed back into a wolf by Zant’s magic, desperately rushes toward Castle Town, a dying Midna sprawled on his back, to look for help.

It’s the music that makes this scene so special, a beautifully emotive piano-led piece that plays as you tear across a moonlit Hyrule Field at night, in search of aid for the friend that has been with you since the start of your journey. And it’s not over-complicated – that the music is so understated as you desperately rush to save Midna makes it all the more effective.

The quality of the compositions is such that it’s a shame Nintendo decided to use sequenced music rather than record with a full orchestra, something they did with great success in their next title in the series, Skyward Sword. Happily, with the advent of video-game focused symphonic concerts, we’re able to experience the music as its creators no doubt intended it to be heard, and it’s all the more stirring for it.

Of course, The Legend of Zelda has always had strong, memorable music, and it makes me wish for a Zelda-themed music game akin to Square-Enix’s excellent Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Like that other much-loved franchise, Zelda has over a quarter of a century of series history to draw from, and it’d be great to celebrate that in the form of a rhythm-action game. For now, I’ll have to content myself with the upcoming fanservice extravaganza that Hyrule Warriors looks like being.

2014-03-23-015933Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is finally (finally) with us. After a wait of almost two-and-a-half years, I finally have one of the games that convinced me to pre-order a Vita in my hands. Actually, I have two copies (erm…), as I also grabbed a copy of the PS3 limited edition, which comes with a gorgeous little hardback artbook, complete with notations for much of the included full-colour art.

But it’s the Vita version which has most impressed me, despite the reduction in resolution from its big screen brother. It looks every bit as sharp and clean as the PS3 version (bar some artifacting in some FMV scenes – disappointingly, one of my favourite scenes in the entire game is quite macroblocked), and those lovely bright colours that drench the beaches and jungles of Besaid really pop out of the handheld’s OLED screen.

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I’m constantly stopping in-game to pick out detail that you could barely identify in the original PS2 release, like the Besaid ruins in the shot above, or the ornate flooring of the island’s Temple of the Fayth. It’s far from the best-looking title on the system (you can probably look to Killzone: Mercenary for that), but it’s been impressing me at every turn; I know the game very well, so it’s almost like seeing a long-held favourite in a new light.

What I’m less sure of so far is the remastered music. Some of it is unquestionably better in my opinion (like Besaid’s theme), while others I’m less sure about, such as ‘Calm Before the Storm’. It’s only subtly different, but for the worse in my opinion. The original always had a somewhat otherworldly feel that the new arrangement doesn’t quite manage to elicit.

The gameplay though? It’s as good as it ever was, and it’s actually surprised me just how good. Final Fantasy X is a game I’ve played twice. Well, almost twice; I never quite finished it the first time (at launch – I had a lot going on, okay?), so I went back about three-or-so years ago (yep, just before they announced this remaster…) and played it from start to end. By the time I reached the climactic hours of Tidus and Yuna’s adventure, I was massively overpowered. Not because I’d purposely set out to be so, but I just had so much fun battling with the game’s enemies and exploiting its systems.

Replaying the Vita version these last few days, I’ve been reminded of just how inviting and engaging the game is. In conversation with a friend, a fellow Final Fantasy X fan, the word that kept coming up was ‘frictionless’. The game doesn’t put many obstacles between the player and their enjoyment, and when it does, it’s actually fun to overcome them. Take grinding for instance, that constant jRPG companion that so many have come to loathe (and I say this as someone who’s been stuck on a single boss in Tales of Eternia for weeks). For me, battling in Final Fantasy X is not only enjoyable, but compelling. I want to do it, and I want to do it because the battle system puts everything in your hands and just says ‘have fun!’

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The game is probably one of the easier instalments in the series, but it’s kept engaging by making everyone useful in some way: Tidus is fast, so his turns come around often enough to use him as a backup healer; Yuna has her white magic and summons; Rikku can steal and combine items, and one-shot mechanical enemies; Kimahri can learn abilities from his enemies; and so on. So you’ve got a relatively straight-forward take on the traditional Final Fantasy job system, but what keeps X engaging is the ability to switch any party member in or out of battle at will to meet your needs. Up against an enemy with high physical resistance but weak to magic? Switch in Lulu and deal some massive damage. His buddy’s armoured, you say? Auron, you’re up!

This immediacy is further reinforced by such design decisions as giving your white mage Esuna right off the bat. Generally, you’d have to work for such a useful spell, spending your initial hours throwing away precious items to cure your party of status effects. Here, you just sub someone else out for Yuna, cure the afflicted, and then get back to your gameplan. Save points in the world will replenish your health and magic, making level grinding more appealing as you no longer need to travel to an inn each time you reach your lowest ebb, and levelling and skill acquisition also benefit, offering to make the process as simple or involved as you like; I’m using the expert sphere grid for the first time, and enjoying the initially-overwhelming scope to develop my party as I see fit, but players that just want to follow a straight path can do just that with the normal grid, letting the game shape their characters’ growth for them.

If this all sounds like it makes the game easy, well… it can do. But in adding an extra layer of both strategy and, crucially, possibility, what it ends up doing is replacing a system that often boils down to using the same three characters and mashing ‘X’ to spam physical attacks in an effort to speed through encounters, with one that not only encourages you to experience more of what the game offers, but makes it enjoyable to do so. In Final Fantasy X you’ll use everybody. Not just once in a while, but often in every fight. It gives you the tools to do what you need and want to do, and it’s eminently satisfying when you do it.

Final Fantasy X is looked at as the point where the series began to streamline somewhat, the logical conclusion thereof being 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII (indeed, there are many parallels you could draw between the two games, not least their linearity). But when I talk of the frictionless nature of Final Fantasy X, I don’t mean streamlining. I mean the ways in which the developers have taken fairly complex systems and made them easy to understand and manipulate; the way they’ve taken often-frustrating game mechanics like grinding and made them enjoyable and compelling. I mean the ways in which they’ve sanded down the barriers between what the player wants to do and what the game allows you to do, making it possible to have fun no matter what you’re doing in the world of Spira.

Except Blitzball. No one likes Blitzball.

kiorchid_editedWell, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, eh? In fact, my last Musical Mondays piece happened to be about the original Killer Instinct soundtrack, written both in anticipation of 2013’s new KI for Xbox One and in honour of that gloriously over the top soundtrack from 20 years past.

The fact that my first MM piece in a few months is about the new Killer Instinct is merely coincidence, but anyone who follows this blog with any regularity will know that I’m a massive fan of the game. It’s one of the most pure ‘fun’ fighters I’ve played in a long while, and while it’s easy to get into, there’s an absolute ton of depth to get to grips with if you care to. The team at Double Helix clearly had a great time making the game, and the same can be said of Mick Gordon, the composer behind its excellent soundtrack.

In my piece about the original KI, I called the soundtrack ‘pure, unadulterated 90s cheddar‘ and, much as I love it, I stand by that. The new game’s soundtrack isn’t particularly cheesy, but it certainly retains that infectious over-the-top high-energy feeling that typified the earlier music. It is both its own thing and a nod to the past. Check out Orchid’s new theme for proof of that: it’s loud, it’s hyperactive and it feels like a logical progression from her original theme. It’s even packed with samples from that piece of music, and hides a nice hit of nostalgia in the form of a short remix partway through.

Here’s something rather different, and altogether darker: Glacius’ Theme. If you listen carefully, you can hear samples (“we are controlling transmission”) from his original theme, ‘Controlling Transmission‘.

And because I need a bit of guitar in my day, here’s the new main theme. It’s broadly the same as the old theme, but a bit heavier. I’ve embedded a 26-minute extended cut. Because TWENTY-SIX MINUTES OF KI THEME.

Ahem. Enjoy.

Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is also doing interesting things when it comes to fighting dynamics; depending on what’s happening on-screen (are both fighters idle? Is there a big combo playing out? Has someone just nailed a c-c-c-combo breaker?) the music will change to fit the situation. I embedded this video in the previous piece, but it’s worth linking again as it does a great job of explaining what’s happening with the dynamic audio.

This is one of my current favourite videogame soundtracks. It just fits the game it’s in so well; the art, the action, the sound – all of it is larger than life and it all combines to get the blood and the adrenaline pumping when you dive into another bone-crunching bout. My one gripe is that there isn’t a soundtrack CD available to buy – all we have to go by at the moment are some fan-made mixes and edits on Youtube. Hopefully Mick Gordon, Double Helix and Microsoft can all get something worked out, because I’d love to have it in my soundtrack CD collection.

For now, you can keep an eye on Gordon’s SoundCloud, and give his KI suites a listen: these are extended mixes of various pieces of music from throughout the game.

Given the short dev cycle, I’m amazed at what Double Helix have achieved. I’m absolutely in love with the game, and it’s going to get better as time goes on. Spinal was recently added to the roster (and he’s mental – here’s a short clip I made after messing around for a few minutes), and in March we’ll be getting Fulgore (my personal favourite character) and the much-anticipated story mode. Here’s hoping we also get confirmation of a second season sometime soon too.

ttmban PLEASE NOTE: This is a piece about a heavily story-driven game, and as such it’s difficult to talk about it in any depth without risk of spoilers. That said, I’ve tried to remain as vague as possible and avoid revealing the bigger plot points. It goes without saying that if you haven’t yet played the game and want to go in a fresh as possible, avoid reading any further!

At first glance, To the Moon probably seems like an odd choice for a Games of the Generation list; built in RPG Maker XP, the game is styled like an old-school 16-bit top-down RPG and combines elements of point’n’click adventure, visual novel storytelling and puzzle games. Looking at screenshots, it certainly doesn’t scream “GAME OF THE GENERATION!”. Of course, screenshots don’t tell the full story, and ‘story’ is the strongest attribute To the Moon has. Indeed, the ‘gameplay’ parts are lightweight to say the least, but To the Moon is an experience that will stay with me for years to come.

The premise behind To the Moon is a technology that allows artificial memories to be created and placed in a patient’s unconscious. Unfortunately, as these new memories are permanent, they would conflict with real memories when the patient wakes, causing cognitive dissonance. For this reason, memory creation can only be performed on those that are on their deathbed, and at the start of the game, we meet doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts as they travel to meet their latest patient, Johnny.

Johnny lives in a large house by a cliff, near to a lighthouse and with a clear view of the object of his desire, the moon. Living with him are his cleaner/carer and her children, and through them the two doctors find out a little more about Johnny and his deceased wife, River. Early on in the story, following the children to the lighthouse, Eva uncovers a number of mysterious papercraft bunnies, items which appear often throughout the story.

The doctors need to know the reason behind Johnny’s desire to go to the moon but he can’t give them an answer; he doesn’t know why he wants to go there, just that he does. With no pre-existing reason to build off of, Rosalene and Watts will have to travel back through his memories to insert the desire to go to the moon into a childhood Johnny, and then let his unconscious mind do the rest, creating a lifetime of false memories where he geared his life towards becoming an astronaut and finally fulfilling his goal.

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As the two doctors travel backwards through Johnny’s memories, we experience his life in reverse. We see a bedridden River beg Johnny to finish building their house instead of using the money to treat her illness, and we begin to get a feeling that River is somehow different; she has difficulty relating to and communicating with others, compulsively makes paper rabbits and continually asks Johnny questions about their past, seemingly not getting the answers she wants. Travelling further back, we learn that River has Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and it turns out that River’s behaviour became more obsessive-compulsive after Johnny admits to having approached her in high school because she was ‘different’.

Eva and Neil eventually reach Johnny’s childhood, but things do not go as planned and they are unable to progress any further into his memories; for some reason, a chunk of their patient’s memory is missing or corrupted. With a bit of hard work, the two doctors manage to uncover the mystery behind the blanked-out memories, a childhood trauma that his mother had tried to blot out with medication, creating a void in her son’s mind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only event Johnny had forgotten, and Eva and Neil are finally able to discover the source of Johhny’s desire to reach the moon.

This realisation is beautiful yet ultimately heartbreaking because, having moved backwards through his memories, we know what happens later on in Johnny’s life. Suddenly, everything that River had been doing after Johnny’s confession – the paper bunnies, the endless questions, the changes she makes to her appearance – make perfect sense. River tried, to her dying day, to communicate something to her husband in the only ways she could think to, and she passed away before she could make him see. Johnny is left confused, suffering from guilt, but his previously inexplicable desire to reach the moon now makes sense: subconsciously, he’s desperate to keep a promise he once made to River.

Seeing all of this coalesce makes it clear how incredibly well written To the Moon is. We begin near the end yet still have everything to learn, and it’s fantastically confident stuff from indie developer Freebird, teasing just enough details to make you think “this is important” while still managing to keep the mystery fully under wraps until you uncover the beautiful, heartbreaking, beautifully heartbreaking revelation at the bottom of the rabbit hole that is Johnny’s unconscious mind. Despite the mild sci-fi backdrop, To the Moon‘s story is fundamentally an incredibly human one, a story of a life lived and a love lost, and a story of a very human desire to connect.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. Having identified the reason for Johnny’s wish, the two doctors can then set about making his dream come true. Johnny can finally get his happy ending, yet for me even this is bittersweet. Eva and Neil manage to create the ideal life for Johnny and get him to the moon, but in doing so they must replace his real memories. The real life Johnny and River lived is lost to him, replaced by a fiction. In his mind, Johnny blasts off on a rocket to the moon, River’s hand clasped in his as in the real world he passes away, and while it is a beautiful ending, I can’t help but lament that life that has been lost, that real, tangible, imperfect life.

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To the Moon was released in 2011 but I only got around to it this year. In fact, it was not long after playing through BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, and it was very coincidental timing. All three of these games are strongly story-based, and focus on an intense connection between two people. All three of these games also have, for me, very bittersweet endings. While they didn’t leave me happy, they did all leave me satisfied, if a bit emotionally drained. I find it interesting that a first-person shooter, a third-person survival game and a top-down visual novel could have so much in common with regards to how they make the player feel. If you’ve played either of those two games, To the Moon should feel like an ideal companion piece.

And I haven’t even mentioned the music yet, that beautiful, emotive score that perfectly fits the mood of the game. The best example of this is ‘For River’, written for her by Johnny and heard at various points throughout the game. The soundtrack as a whole is as much a part of the experience as the story, and I couldn’t imagine the game without it. Just hearing snatches of music from it brings back those emotional feelings I felt upon finishing the game.

There aren’t many games that I would say everyone should play. To the Moon is absolutely one of them, and its simplistic gameplay helps in this regard; not everyone is going to feel comfortable playing BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us and may thus miss out on those stories. But this is a game anyone can (and most definitely should) play. It’s one of the best stories in all of gaming as far as I’m concerned, and if you like strong, emotional storytelling in your interactive fiction, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play it. And if you don’t feel tears welling in your eyes by the time the credits roll, I’d question if you’re even human.

Previous entries in Games of the Generation:
Dead Space 2
Tales of Vesperia
Halo 3
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy