Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Midweek Music Box: The Bard's Tale (2005)

The So-Called"Hero"

Normally with Midweek Music Box, I like to do a bit of analysis on the music and why I think it works (or doesn't work) so well.  However, with the 2004 iteration of The Bard's Tale I just wanted to do a little trip down memory lane.  At the time when this game came out, I was uncertain about how well I'd like it.  I had just finished Baldur's Gate and was enjoying the style of the game, but wanted something a bit lighter in spirit. What I was expecting from Bard's Tale was a Baldur's Gate clone with a few goofy jokes here and there to break things up and give the game a bit of humor. So when the opening strands played as I started the game, it seemed like typical medieval period music with lute and flute and an occasional simple drum.  Little did I know that the simple tune actually had lyrics funny and dark--but we'll get to that later.

"The Bard's Tale Main Theme"

So as I played, one of the first things that happened was the typical "go in to the inn and fight off a cellar full of rats" fare. Only, it seemed that the patrons were singing....

"Beer, Beer, Beer..."

There was a happy bouncing ball which made it so I could even sing along should I choose to do so. Of course it was a delight just to follow along with the song and drunken revelry. It was a fun twist on the genre, and helped set the tone of the game. I thought that was it for the singing and it was just a fun little thing to highlight the different nature of the game. How glad was I that this wasn't the only song of the game.  A short while later while fighting a forest, I got to see an idiot trying to be a "chosen one" take arrow to the head. The cut scene was funny enough with the would-be-hero dying like an idiot, but that was just the beginning:

"Bad Luck to be You (part 1)"

The oompa loompas themselves couldn't have done a better job, or made me laugh harder, or have a song quite as memorable. I was laughing, and delighted because I realized that the game was likely littered with these gems, and it was. Hours of gameplay, countless "Bad Luck to Be You" songs, and hundreds of snarky comments later I finally came to a village overrun by vikings ready to sing about the fame of the Bard and the "help" he gave them:

"Here's to the Bard"

It was laugh-out-loud funny, the simple song at the beginning took on an all new meaning. I'd already been enjoying the songs along the way, and if I hadn't already thought that these songs would stick with me for years, this one sealed the deal. I don't know why this one in particular grabbed me, maybe because it, like many of the songs are just so darn perfect both in humor, tone, and composition.

Of course it's well worth playing through the game itself, even if it inevitably falls to the tropes it tries to lampoon, but the real gold, the real treasure come from the music and lyrics co-written by Tommy Tallarico, Clint Bajakian, and Jared Emerson-Johnson. The music is well worth a download to your ipod or other musical device, at least, it's worth it if you enjoy a good laugh. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Samurai Shodown

So the main reason I wasn't into fighting games was because I was terrible at them. I thought it best to lead with that because the times I rented fighting games were few and far between. If I was only so-so at shoot'em ups, I was even worse at fighting games. Occasionally I'd plunk a quarter into an arcade cabinet thinking somehow I'd manage to mash the buttons in the right order so that I'd fire off a special move or beat back the computer opponent.

Usually I'd find myself defeated in short order and well with in a minute of having spent the quarter.  So why exactly would I go out of my way to have rented a game like this in the first place? I guess the eternal foolish hope that somehow by getting better at one fighting game I would instantly "figure out" other fighting games.

So how did I fair when I rented it, and how do things look to me now?

Graphics and Style:

I always thought the game bore a strong resemblance to the Street Fighter series, and that opinion hasn't really changed now that I own it years later. You have varied, animated backgrounds, a cast of eclectic and cartoonish characters, and each character has on screen "text taunt" you see when you lose. I suppose this was to make you feel a need to prove the computer wrong and pop in a another character. Well, without the cabinet around to make me think I was a mere quarter away from victory, I'm only a continue away, and somehow that makes me a little sad. But I'll explain that part later.

Music/Sound Design:

As far as sound goes it's filled with the typical grunts, "oofs" and yells. punch and kick effects which you would expect a game like this to have. The music does a great job setting the tone and atmosphere of the game. In particular, there's the character select theme.

"Character Select Theme"

Every time I hear the character select music it leaves me feeling like I should have a katana or something ready to pull out from a sheath on my back or by my side. Then again, as I'm not a samurai warrior and would likely get cut to ribbons by a true warrior, it's probably for the best that I don't have a katana nearby.

Gameplay and Control:

Do games like this really have a story? I mean, I get with Mortal Kombat you are fighting to keep a portal from opening or some-such thing, Here, it's more like your typical tournament fare.  You fight through the various opponents one by one until you defeat them all--or at least you probably do. Me? I lose after the first or second fight, unable to power through the opponents. I blame this entirely on my own lack of skill as the control for the characters feels responsive enough in its own right. Sometimes I admit though the control doesn't feel quite as tight as Capcom's Street Fighter series, but again, as I always have a bit of difficulty with fighting games this doesn't surprise me.

Memories and New Thoughts:

Why did this ever get rented back in the day? Or at least, why did I ever rent this back in the day? Maybe I thought since I wouldn't have to drop a roll of quarters I'd eventually get the hang of it and beat it like I had with other game rentals. Well, I guess when it came to fighting games at least, whether a ported home version or the in arcade version, I did nothing but lose rounds, and patience. I'm reasonably certain this was one of those games where I played it only a few times before just giving up on it entirely. What was I thinking renting a game like this again--let alone buying it later as an adult?  I played it again for this review, thinking maybe I was just a silly kid who couldn't get the hang of things--but no, I'm a silly adult as well, still unable to get the hang of things. It's a good game overall, and I like having added it to my collection...even if I don't ever get much past the character select screen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

What I'm about to say may seem like heresy to some, but here goes:

When I first hear it, I didn't like the music from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Yes, yes I know--disliking the music made me miserable little pile of secrets. 

See here's the thing, I had ridiculously  high expectations--and precise ones--of what the music should sound like. I was so enthralled with the haunting orchestral music from Castlevania 64 that I was sure the music in Symphony of the Night would feature even more of that. So when I started the game and the first musical track was rock-and-roll style music, I was more than a little mad. What had they done to my beloved Castlevania? Where were the violins and slowly played pianos? Where was the melancholy? Why's there a synthesizer? Why are there drums? Why does the load screen after I die take so darn long?

Okay, that last one isn't really music related, but I can't help but think of it every time I play or talk about this game. Listening to that initial intro music, I admit I was more than a little crushed:

"Dracula's Castle Theme"

I wanted big, bombastic, and just a hint of spookiness thrown in. How in the world could you ever hope to achieve that on a synthesizer with fake drums as back up? Gad, I nitpicked this particular track to death back in the day. I played on though, because it was a Castlevania game and to simply shirk it because I was annoyed at the music was a no go. Funny thing, the more I played the game, the more the initial "Dracula's Castle" music grew on me. I think it was because as I played, I realized that the game had a totally different tone from the prior installments, and most definitely was different from the Nintendo 64 version. I know, I know; there's likely a million and a half criticisms we could talk about with the 64's version of the beloved classic, but let's stick to one game and its music for the time being.  What I found when playing was that not only was there more varied music in the game, but the composer didn't just use a synthesizer and make some action-y music, there were some genuinely creepy tunes in Symphony of the Night; tunes like "The Door to the Abyss":

"The Door to the Abyss"

A few simple high-note piano hits and ethereal sounds, and I was on the edge of my seat.  I guess though when I learned that I had really fallen in love with the music happened towards the end of the game when composer Michiru Yamane finally cracked out the emphatic harpsichord music. Gad, the harpsichord! It was gets me every time! When it comes to instilling Castlevania with that tell-tale sense of foreboding and adventure leading up to that inevitable confrontation between you and Dracula--look no further than the harpsichord.  Funny thing though, with the "Final Toccata" you got a mix of harpsichord, synthesizer, ethereal tones, a bit of rock, and a finally, finally that big orchestra sound I so wanted and needed--it all came together to create that fantastic Castlevania-vibe we all know and love:

"Final Toccata"

In the end, I wasn't just won over. I love this music and play it at least once a month, after all, how could I not love Castlevania music?