Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 43 ~Puzzling Truth~ (Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance)


Origin: Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Plays In: Map Recaps/Cutscenes
Status: Original
Composed By: Atsushi Yoshida

Three weeks ago, the world as I knew it changed forever. This is hardly anything new, but none of my personal tragedies or cynical coming-of-age developments were never on a global scale as what transpired on Election Day. On that date, every moral principle and ideological construct as I knew it had been proven to be a lie: that racism was a thing of the past. That women were to be treated with respect. That even though I didn't understand gay and transgender people, they were still human beings like me. I learned the hard way of how lies could hurt. That the world will suffer irreparable climate change until we stand up and do something. That whoever held the presidential office, whether one liked him or not, was a respected individual with a wealth of experience and wisdom.

That was all demolished that day. Racism is alive and well in America. Neo-Nazism, xenophobia, and media/government conspiracy theories will grow to be normalized, as will the KKK. Women will continue to be disenfranchised, and gay/trans rights may very well suffer. We rewarded a pathological liar with the most powerful position in the world. We will continue sticking our heads into the sand and pretend climate change is not an active threat, all the while shrugging our shoulders at the latest gun massacre and going "well, they were gonna die anyway; nothing we can do. But hey, thoughts and prayers!"

In short, we are not just well underway to roll progress back to a bigoted America, but as evidenced by the manchild demagogue that is Donald Trump, are set to becoming the laughingstock of the world.

In hindsight, I am perhaps not so surprised. The offbeat events of 2016 all but paved the way, be it the likes of reddit and Twitter doing nothing to stop the onslaught hate and harassment by those who aligned themselves under Mr. Trump's bigotry, or the media hyper-focusing on deleted emails that never once caused harm to a single human being. We clutched to our electorate polls in times of distress, no matter how much red dotted central America. But it was no use, for we underestimated the likes of voter apathy and the bigotry that had seeped into rural America.

Even more than that, though...was it really all a lie? Reading the horrors of segregated America back in high school, I couldn't help but marvel at how I wouldn't have to worry about this a mere forty years later. And yet, a tiny part of me wondered...could such violent friction between races really have healed in such short time? When the famous Trayvon Martin case reared its head alongside the countless similar tragedies since then, it was then I knew my country was heading down a dark path.

Have we made progress as a human society since then? Undoubtedly, but to think we have actually evolved as more moral human beings...how foolish of us. How foolish of me. We are, still forty years after the Civil Rights movement, a century and a half since the Emancipation Proclamation, the very same selfish human beings who are eagerly willing to step over others' ideologies and rights just to further our own selfish interests.

And what a bigger fool I was to think this once had nothing to do with me. Politics, I thought, were far too complicated for an autistic individual: what was I to make of caucuses? Filibusters? Legislation? Third-party movements? Parliament? I struggled daily with putting away laundry and making eye contact, so why bother with such vitriol when none of it made an ounce of sense? My college analysis of the Tea Party Movement, whereupon I was told it was a Conservative and Liberal movement, only proved it to me: I was above such petty quarrels.

But now I see I was wrong. Conforming to such a selfish ideology is something that would only benefit myself, and serves not a single member of humanity. Moreover, it was my own inaction that helped lead to where we were today; granted, my father never would've allowed me to not vote, but my apathy may very well have been part of what we witnessed earlier this November. It was only when Donald Trump's momentum grew to horrific levels this past year that I stood up and said, "I have to do something."

I believe, and always have, that America has never been "great." Forget the implications of how "Make America Great Again" means reverting to a time of open bigotry and whatnot; from our very beginnings, we have been hypocrites the moment "all men are created equal" was penned into the Declaration of Independence while we still had black slaves. From the Emancipation on, from the Civil Rights Movement on, from every LGBT movement on, we still as a country are dragged kicking and screaming into the acceptance of those who are different from us.

I do not love America, but I do love what America stands for. The dream of a place where anyone of any nationality can live free. The ideals of "The American Dream" and "The Land of Opportunity". Where virtue, open expression and equality are prized above all else. Where I can look at a broken individual in the eye regardless of their skin color and say, "you are welcome here. You are loved."

And now, the country I live in is in its darkest hour. Hundreds of hate crimes are committed in the name of our presidential-elect, who is too busy attacking the 1st Amendment on his Twitter to actively dismiss such atrocities. There are not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but SEVEN anti-LGBT members of Trump's cabinet, not the least of which is Mike "Gay people should be tortured and I'm going to roll back Obama's pro-gay policies" Pence (not to mention the presence of Steve Bannon's general fuckery). Climate change denial will be the main policy of the administration, despite not only the overwhelming evidence involved and having everything to lose should you be wrong, but is utterly baffling and self-destructive in the face of absolutely zero repercussions not to care for our planet. (But hey, gotta get rid of that "politically correct" climate change, otherwise known as quite possibly the dumbest shit to ever leave someone's mouth).

All this time, I thought a Trump loss would not only prove the exploitation of racism/biogtry and the presence of a lying demagogue who has no previous political experience would no place in a modern White House, but it would serve as a wake-up call to America. But would it really have put a stop to it all? That energized buzz of bigotry wouldn't be going anywhere, and I can hardly imagine the extreme right-wing Congress of today not exploiting that base. If this is what America truly needs to transform, so be it.

But I will not stand for a country built on hate and ignorance. I will not stand for a country where we have to continually choke back our tears and do nothing as gun massacres slaughter our loved ones, our children. I will not stand for a country geared towards self-destruction as the greatest crisis mankind will ever face threatens to erase our existence. I will fight for a country built on acceptance. A country where political parties who serve their homeland not on personal interests but for the interest of the people. A country where the dreams America has fought to earn for over the past two hundred years can finally, finally come true.

I will never build my life on hate. I will fight for a better tomorrow. I hope you will join me.

Final Thoughts: This is the first time I've ever gone political on Leave Luck to Heaven, so I felt Fire Emblem would serve as a proper musical accompaniment. Do you think it worked? It'll definitely be a rare occasion, so savor it while you can.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Nintendo Classic Mini Review (Hey Poor Player)




My first review for Hey Poor Player! This rerelease is such a gem, I had to rave about it somewhere, so why not pen a media review? I'm really, really hoping this is the state of Nintendo emulation going forward.

I'm not too certain if we'll have a Nintendo Classic Mini review on here, but rest assured I'll definitely be using it as a springboard for other retro reviews. For starters, I'm already discovering the gospel of Bubble Bobble and how it possibly rivals Kirby's Adventure as the NES's best feel-good game. Okay, maybe that's sacrilege, but it's that dang good. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My NYC 2016 Goodies!

Hey, hey! Sorry for the lull, folks: like every other American with a beating heart, the election ripped out both my soul and everything I was ever taught about ethics and racial relations while pummeling them relentlessly, so I wasn't really in the mood for blogging. Believe it or not, a certain column may dive into this...

But let us put that aside for now, as I think we can use a fun article. See, I just so happened to turn 25 last Saturday, and once again I spent my birthday weekend in none other than the Big Apple. That's right, New York City: home of the Nintendo World Store, Kinokuniya, the now-reviled Trump Tower and those delicious pretzel stands I can never stay away from.

Naturally, I made a beeline to the Nintendo World Store first, whereupon I instantly made a shocking discovery. See, it was Friday, November 11th that day, which was the release date for the much-anticipated NES Classic Mini. As I missed the boat on the preorders, it's not like I could just waltz into the NWS late afternoon and pick one up, right?



WRONG! A line was set up for the retro rerelease, of which they practically were handing out by the dozens. (Actually, considering how they were still selling them the next day, it may very well have been hundreds) Naturally, I took a spot in line  as a delightful Kirby tune eased the wait.. Can you guess which game it's from?


It really is tiny! I'll be sharing my thoughts on Hey Poor Player very soon, so look forward to that!

But yes, the Nintendo World Store. Like every other time I've visited, I'm always bowled over by all the goodies and music and panoramas and statues and and and, but this year took the cake. Was it my unexpected reward of a NES Classic Mini? The presence of the Star Fox and Miyamoto puppets from last year's E3? The mountains of merchandise I didn't even know existed? Just look at some of this stuff!







If only I was allowed to purchase this sweet Arwing...

Speaking of expensive merchandise, check out what I spotted down at the Midtown Comics:


Meta Knight and Cat Mario statues!! Like the Arwing statue, I had to pass these up, but like the Sword Kirby I saw at Otakon this year, they'll be mine someday. Someday.

...so what exactly DID I pick up? Quite a bit!


I wonder how many Kirby plushies this makes now. I must have nearly two dozen, if not more, at this point.


Just like in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Isabelle's collar has a bell that rings whenever you move her!


My first piece of Splatoon merchandise naturally had to be Judd. I actually didn't pick up too many plushies this time; running out of space, you see. On the flipside, I picked up a bunch of action figures despite that.


Like this Cat Mario, alongside his two Pikmin cohorts. Now I have the original three colors...but where's the Purple Fattie? I know it exists. It must be mine.


Are these Star Fox figures twenty years too late? Sure, but I needed them anyway. I never thought I'd see Smart Bomb or Container accessories.


Or a furniture leaf from Animal Crossing, for that matter.



The Wind Waker playsets!! That I'll need one more playset and two more figure sets for a complete collection hurts my wallet, but the existence of Makar merchandise warms my heart.


Six new amiibo: Isabelle, Kapp'n, Lottie, Waluigi, Boo and Nabiru from Monster Hunter. Don't mind the imposter in the back left.



Animal Crossing amiibo cards, because I could. I can never get enough of New Leaf and Happy Home Designer.


A Smash Bros. amiibo diorama!! This has yet to be announced for America, so I took the liberty of snagging it at a downtown game store. Now if I only I could get my hands on the Kirby one...


I'm a year late, but I finally got Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. I hope the online's still active!


Now here's something interesting: an import copy of Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure for GBA. I already own the US version, but I was none too pleased when I heard years later they removed musical renditions from the original series (Makafushigi Adventure and Romantic Ageru Yo, the latter possibly being the series masterpiece). It's possibly one of the best Dragon Ball games, so I was more than happy to pick up a second copy.



That wraps up my harvest for gaming stuff, but here's a bonus: my manga from Kinokuniya. Here's some localized releases.


...and my Japanese imports! Needless to say, I think I'll be needing another bookshelf for all these! And believe me, my manga bookshelf is already huge...that, and I'll probably eventually need another one for chapter books and children's books I want to study, gah!

Anyway, I've been making progress on being able to read these! The furigana--hiragana characters placed alongside kanji--are a huge help, although I was surprised Dr. Slump didn't have them since its aimed at a younger audience. I hear that uses a lot of outdated slang, so I suspect tough times are ahead...

(For those curious, the Japanese imports from top to bottom are One PieceGin TamaDr. SlumpDetective Conan, and Straighten Up!)

AND NOW FOR A SPECIAL FEATURE PRESENTATION




I can only hope that made your night. See you soon, everybody!



Friday, November 4, 2016

What's Next for Leave Luck to Heaven + Kirby. Also, Tags!



After three prolonged years, Ten Years of Kirby has finally come to an end. Can you believe it? Even now, I can hardly believe it's over...

That it took this long is something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it lasted far longer than it had any right to and highlighted my struggles with a consistent writing output. Even the name continued to taunt me as the years went by; heck, considering when it started, it should be Eleven Years of Kirby. For those who struggled with my inconsistent productivity, you have my deepest apologies.

And yet somehow...this might be a bit rude considering what I just said, but I'm actually glad things turned out this way. Ten Years of Kirby in itself has served as a fascinating outlook of how my abilities have grown over the past three years. Just comparing my Kirby's Dream Land and Kirby's Dream Collection reviews display a wealth of growth, so in that sense, I'm grateful it took this longer to improve at my passion.

So now I'm finally free from Kirby's shackles--boy, that's a scary image in itself---what's next for Leave Luck to Heaven? Well, for one thing, our favorite puffball isn't going anywhere. Check out my plans below:


-Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and Kirby: Planet Robobot will be reviewed, although as I'll be taking a break from Kirby reviews for the rest of the year, I can't say when.  As mentioned on Twitter, I'll be refraining from releasing my writing schedule, so I won't promise an exact date. 

As a bonus, Kirby Fighters Deluxe and Dedede's Drum Dash Deluxe will also get reviews. Truth be told, I actually held off on those until I finished the column, so it's been a two-year long wait for me! Needless to say, I can't wait to dive in.  


-Upon revisiting my earlier work, the reviews for Kirby's Dream Land and Kirby's Dream Land 2 don't meet my current standards. Both will be subject to new drafts in the future, although again, I can't promise exactly when. Currently, I'm embarking on a 100% Kirby run in reverse and plan on returning to those two after that's complete, and obviously I don't know when that'll be complete.  

Don't fret, however: this won't be a common practice for Leave Luck to Heaven. While there are some other games I plan on re-reviewing, I'm largely content with my output since 2014 and I don't foresee that changing anytime soon.


-Kirby Air Ride was something I had to do for the column, but the rest of the spin-offs missed out on the fun. Currently, I'm thinking of getting to those after the aforementioned 100% run, but it's not set in stone. Think of it as a surprise!


-The anime adaption, Kirby of the Stars, was originally scheduled for Ten Years of Kirby, but sadly had to be cut for time purposes. I'd already watched half the series in both Japanese and English all the while taking relevant notes, so rest assured, it's still in the cards!

So there's definitely plenty of Kirby in the pipeline, but what about everything else? Well, I'm already planning on visiting two of Nintendo's most famous franchises in the near future. I'll leave what they are to your imagination, but know that one has been especially overdue for Leave Luck to Heaven!

Furthermore, I've been teasing Worldly Weekend's heavy workout on Twitter, and while that may take a little while to put into action (more on that below), I can say the next four reviews will feature Square-Enix RPGs! Dragon Quest was just the beginning...

But yes, it may take a little while for all that to happen: for starters, I'm attending a cousin's wedding tomorrow and next week I'll be heading down to New York City for my birthday weekend. Naturally, you can expect me to once again share my Nintendo/manga haul, so stay tuned!

So while you'll have to wait for all that, I'd like to make a small announcement: Leave Luck to Heaven now features tags! Over the past month, I've been gradually adding labels and the like to posts from the past year and will continue working on that this fall/winter. For fun, I've added some tags to this very post, so why don't you experiment a little?

A new era of Leave Luck to Heaven is dawning, so I hope you'll bask in it all with me. See you soon!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ten Years of Kirby ~Final Reverie~ Kirby's Dream Collection: Special Edition


Our final retrospective brings us to a turbulent 2012. While 3DS never gained its predecessor's sales momentum, its constant, ample support from Nintendo and web of third-parties kept players invested. Masahiro Sakurai's Kid Icarus: Uprising wasn't without its critics, but its dense cohesion, witty script and loving reiminaging of a cult classic rendered it another Sakurai masterpiece. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem: Awakening's Japanese release would set the seeds for the cult-favorite strategy series to finally emerge as a landmark Nintendo franchise; seeds that wouldn't fully blossom until its Western release a year later, but the series' vindication would finally arrive after nearly twenty years and thirteen entries.

But to the surprise of no one who'd been following Nintendo home consoles for the past twenty years, Wii was left in the dust in the advent of Wii U. Stragglers like Rhythm Heaven Fever and Mario Party 9 could only do so much to slow the console's death, and had it not been for the late localizations of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, America may've shared the even direr release drought of Japan.

Cue the ensuing E3 frustration: yet again, Nintendo fumbled on their Wii U presentation. It had all the trappings of a boring conference: the lack of any attention-grabbing surprises, forced comedy and banter, dreadfully dull, prolonged multiplayer sessions that undermined the title on display (Nintendo Land), and one or two interesting titles quickly swept under the rug (the long-awaited Pikmin 3, which came and went right as the show began). It was an omen of things to come: the Wii U would massively underperform in its November launch, all thanks to poor marketing, the lack of compelling software, and the presence of a screen controller...thing that no one, not even Nintendo themselves, knew what to do with.

But even before that failure became reality, Nintendo had already recognized the detriments of their awkward conferences and began taking countermeasures nearly a year prior. Launched in late 2011 were digital presentations dubbed "Nintendo Directs," designed to present concise information for upcoming releases with none of the fat and potential screw-ups common in live presentations. And what better representative to reach out to the people than the president of Nintendo himself: Satoru Iwata.

The Directs gradually caught on: the exclusive announcements guaranteed fans would tune in, but there was something humbling in how a company president dedicated himself for broadcast, all for the sake of consumers. Watching Iwata's affable, eccentric demeanor introduce and interact with the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Reggie Fils-Aim, Bill Trinen and even a bunch of bananas won the hearts of viewers.


One particular antic was a cryptic announcement: in April 2012, Iwata was spotted carrying Kirby plushies and beanbags. Initially considered a hint for a new Kirby game, it wasn't until that month's Direct that the meaning would be unveiled...


It was Kirby's 20th anniversary.

------


To speak about Kirby's Dream Collection: Special Edition without any sort of bias would be impossible; granted, personal subjectivity is the whole point of reviewing, but never before had a game touched my heart this way before its release, and it's vital I bring that into the open

The whole reason I'd started Ten Years of Kirby was to celebrate my own anniversary with the franchise: a series designed so anyone could clear it, but just deep enough that even the most hardened of gamers can enjoy its adventures. Having grown up with 3D platformers, the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog were far too difficult for me, great as they were. As opposed to the free-roam nature of three-dimensional movement, their flat planes required precision and accuracy I lacked.


And yet as a series entirely framed within two-dimensional play, Kirby felt custom-made just for me. Never was it patronizing, but instead just demanding and compelling enough for a player learning the ropes: leaps of faith were rendered null due to Kirby's infinite floatiness, and it was never not interesting in seeing what Copy Ability I would command next. As a budding player, I was empowered by how much it respected me; as a young romantic, I was driven to reverie by dreamy visuals and music.

In what I can't assume to be anything but the designs of the cosmos, Kirby's Dream Collection, created to celebrate Kirby's 20th anniversary, was released on my own tenth year with the franchise (2012). An anniversary within an anniversary! It was nothing less than a dream come true, and so what better way to hold my own celebration by reviewing the entire series?


When regarding all that, reviewing the six games contained within Dream Collection--the Kirby's Dream Land trilogy, Kirby's Adventure, Kirby Super Star and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards-- would prove insufficient; all six games have been reviewed extensively, and I see little value in repeating my opinions here. It's far more imperative that I evaluate Dream Collection on its own merits -- how is the package as a whole? How are the games preserved? Does it pay proper tribute to Kirby? Would a first-time Kirby player feel at home with its offerings?

All reasonable queries, but there is nothing to fear, for Kirby's Dream Collection is one of the very best compilation/re-release packages Nintendo ever produced. Perish the thought of this being anything like the insanely lazy Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition; HAL decided if this is going to be an anniversary package of Kirby, then it won't just feature the old; after all, the philosophy of jamming Kirby games with content must stand, so new content shall supplement their legacy. This is an anniversary of what rose HAL to stardom, after all, so there's no choice but to celebrate it with the utmost prestige.

Packaged with an anniversary booklet and soundtrack, Kirby's Dream Collection itself is divided into three modes: naturally, the Classic Titles are front and center, but complementing them are Challenge Stages, based off the addictive time trials found in Return to Dream Land just the year prior, and Kirby's History, which takes an interactive tour over the past twenty years of Kirby.

Borrowing the look and feel of 2011's Kirby Return to Dream Land (with a touch of Kirby's Adventure sprites), Kirby's Dream Collection is as plush and delectable as can be. A compilation of this caliber must enforce nostalgia at every corner, and so the luxurious graphics must be accompanied by sound cut from the same cloth.



Hence the intense euphoria greeting our ears upon reaching the menu. Series regulars Jun Ishikawa, Hirokazu Ando and Shogo Sakai contribute to several new tracks across Dream Collection, their highest point being an arrangement of Bubbly Clouds. A veritable lullaby, it is as sugary sweet as the earliest of childhood memories, and I was especially moved they took this much effort to cozy ourselves into our nostalgia. It's impossible not to melt, and they ensure that by seguing it over to the Classic Titles menu.



Diving into six legacy titles is as magical as can be, but a similar effect is found within Kirby's History. Echoing that of a dignified museum, a moderate take on Castle Lololo plays before unexpectedly shifting into the grand Cloudy Park from Kirby's Dream Land 2. A slower reader who isn't clicking on everything in sight may easily stumble upon this, but that it arrives after no less than three loops renders it something of an easter egg. Just like the original song, it envelops you in the awe-encompassing majesty of its setting.

(As a brief aside, it was particularly mystifying as someone who wasn't intimately familiar with Dream Land 2; I knew I recognized it from somewhere, but I couldn't figure it out no matter how hard I racked my brain. While I'd discover its origin shortly afterwards, it turned out the answer lied in a remix from a Kirby doujin album I purchased over a year earlier.)


Kirby's History takes an unexpected direction with how it chronicles our favorite marshmallow. As opposed to just limiting the relevant timeframe within Kirby or even just Nintendo, real-world events are cited alongside the release of Kirby games. Did you ever stop to think about how Kirby's Dream Land came out the same year as Bill Clinton's inauguration into office? How about the world's population reaching six billion the same year Kirby entered Super Smash Bros.? Granted, I'm not sure how my childhood self would've dealt with not one but two Harry Potter references--he had an irrational hatred for the boy wizard, you see--but it's not like the two entities hadn't crossed paths before.


But apparently even Kirby can't let go of an old grudge, as seen above by desecrating this poor Meta Knight statue. One day, we'll move past this hurdle. Someday.

Regardless, Kirby games naturally get top billing. Each makes an appearance through special menus, trailers and 3D models of their respective box art, although the game list varies upon region: for instance, it only makes sense you won't spot the JP-only Kirby Super Star Stacker in the NA release. A shame, but we Americans (and Europeans!) can solace in the fact we have an exclusive spin-of of our own: the Puyo Puyo-inspired Kirby's Avalanche. (Squishy!)


Even peripheral media like the the 2001 anime makes an appearance in its localized Right Back at Ya! state; coincidentally, Dream Collection arrived on the 10th anniversary of that particular adaption. While full thoughts on the anime will be saved for a later date, viewers can witness 4Kids' amateur dubbing practices in all three episodes, not the least which are the embarrassing theme song and clumsy voice editing for Kirby himself. (Sadly, none of the previews for the three manga adaptions made it into the American release. While understandable since they were never localized, it brings back bitter memories of Viz's cancelled license for Hirokazu Hikawa's version.)
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Kirby's penchant for orchestral performances isn't forgotten, either: at the end of the tour lies behind-the-scenes look for the Gourmet Race to Green Greens chamber orchestral, present on the accompanying soundtrack. Can you spot which of Dream Collection's three composers makes a cameo? The hint lies in how he was involved with orchestras before signing on with HAL...

All delicious, educational treats for even the most diehard of Kirby fans, but how about some actual game? It'd be a waste to simply borrow Return to Dream Land's engine just for a compilation, so why not expand on an addictive component everyone loved? The Challenge Stages return with an even wider variety than before; dare I say they're even harder than what's found in Return to Dream Land?


And perhaps even better? It's the variety that sells it: not only are there different Copy Abilities from last time, but HAL devised new types of Challenge Stages as well: the Magolor Races, which pits Kirby in a time trial against the cloaked troublemaker, and Smash Combat Chambers, where the Smash Ability is unleashed at enemy hordes.

It's the latter that proves HAL's dedication for this compilation. While the rest of the Challenge Stages feature abilities already developed for Return to Dream Land, Smash was built from the ground-up just for an extra mode (complete with its own pause menu instructions: we learn that Kirby's neutral aerial attack--an adorable spinning maneuver--is given the fitting name of "Twinkle Star"). Super Smash Bros. is an extremely vital piece of Kirby's history, so it's only fitting such a tribute was forged.


But as exciting as new content is, the main attraction for the young and the nostalgic are the Classic Titles. The selection is particularly interesting not just for being the first six mainline Kirby titles, but that two directors were responsible for three of each: creator Masahiro Sakurai and level designer Shinichi Shimomura. While Sakurai's efforts are undoubtedly superior, newcomers should delight in highlighting their respective differences: Sakurai's fast-paced, action-packed sugar rushes and Shimomura's slower, leisurely jaunts.

As expected, Dream Collection's games are based on the Virtual Console versions. While switching between the games and Dream Collection is a tad unorthodox (you have to pause and click on Reset), that they include save states--barring Kirby 64--is a blessing.

Games are presented accordingly to match their original size ratio: for instance, the two Game Boy games (Dream Land and Dream Land 2) only take up maybe half the screen, being perfectly squared. Meanwhile, the console games naturally take up a a wider space. While the Kirby's Adventure sprite frames can be turned off, the Game Boy games must have them attached. A fair trade, though they're hardly imposing at all.


Kirby's Dream Land 3 and Kirby 64 (pictured above) are perhaps the best preserved. There's no loss of color in sight, and the size ratio doesn't tamper the display. Both games, alongside Super Star, are particular marvels in that the Wii Remote was incompatible with their downloadable versions, and yet here they fit like a glove.


Dream Land and Dream Land 2 are interesting cases: as mentioned earlier, special care was taken to ensure they match their original, tiny Game Boy displays as closely as possible, so their display is hardly as large as the other games. It's impossible to fully translate a handheld experience into a home console one, so any slight blurs and blown-up sprites and the like are easily forgiven. (Besides, it was the first time Dream Land 2 was officially emulated for American audiences!)


Alas, Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star suffer the most. The nasty darkened filters installed into their Virtual Console versions remain present, and while they're hardly game-ruining, the games' trademark brightness renders their taint a bad aftertaste. Furthermore, they expose Dream Collection's one mark of sloppiness: the preview videos found in Kirby's History are in their original, brightened versions.


For better effect, above is a comparison between the original Kirby's Adventure and its Virtual Console counterpart. They speak for themselves; there's just no getting around the original version serving the game's world infinitely better. Adhering to today's epilepsy measures is a noble cause, but that it's at the cost of game quality leaves a bittersweet taste. When considering they're easily the best games in the package, it's a shame such blemishes left a black mark on not just two of Masahiro Sakurai's masterpieces, but on a glorious celebration of Kirby.


While disappointing, it's hardly enough to dismiss the compilation. And why should it, when it comes with such delightful supplements? The 45-page Collectible Book alone is an amazing treasure trove of concept art, historical context and creator commentary for every Kirby game. Not every title is given the same amount of coverage, but there's enough background development detail to keep things interesting.

With it taking a playful, informal tone throughout, it's an especially fun read. Can you believe that ribbon at the bottom is a game in itself? I consider myself a Kirby superfan, but even some of the trivia questions threw me for a loop, and that's not even considering my shock at some of the cut game content (how about Kirby almost driving a tank in Dream Land 2?). Waddle Dee fans take note: there's a page practically worshiping Nintendo's most adorable goon, and a mention of his ill-fated attempt as a playable character in Kirby 64.


Rounding it out is a beautiful soundtrack comprised of famous songs throughout the series. Much of the selection is expertly picked: Epic Yarn's Green Greens arrangement and Nightmare in Dream Land's Rainbow Resort make for immensely nostalgic choices, while the fan-favorite final boss themes are much appreciated. Only the super-short boss themes stand out as odd choices, although given quantity of songs alongside their lack of loops, it's possible they wanted to conserve space and decided to round things out.

It appears these songs were ripped straight from the source, so as warned in the booklet, the quality varies. While the post-NES console games sound flawless, the 8-bit and handheld games have some audible static fuzziness. Some are better than others: you can hardly detect any air in the Kirby's Adventure tracks, while the muffled filter of Super Star Ultra's Helper's Rest is rather head-scratching when no such thing was present in that game's official soundtrack.



Still, they hardly matter when it comes to the three unique arrangements rounding out the soundtrack. While Gourmet Race to Green Greens once again showcases Kirby's innate talent for orchestra, Dream a New Dream for Tomorrow's piano/recorder medley of ending themes is so profoundly heartfelt, so gently nostalgic you cannot listen to it without a dry eye. With how its rendition of Kirby's Adventure's ending prods at our heartstrings, I cannot think of it as anything but intentional.

The amount of love put into Kirby's Dream Collection renders it one of the most dedicated, genuine titles to be ever released by Nintendo. It's not without its missteps, but that it has not a cynical bone in its body instills it only the purest of joy into the player. It's by no means rushed for that quick buck, but instead an authentic celebration meant for both that longtime fan and that fledgling gamer.

Such a work cannot be produced by anything by developers who not just adore crafting Kirby, but who eagerly wish to share their passion with the world. As Nintendo's final game for Wii, that is the utmost honor.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 42 ~Asteroid Belt~ (Star Fox: Assault)



OriginStar Fox: Assault
Plays In: Mission 5 (Asteroid Belt - The Aparoid Menace)
Status: Arrangement
Arranged by: Yoshie Arakawa, Yoshinori Kawamoto

Love it or hate it, Star Fox: Assault's repertoire of orchestras may very well be the musical apex of Star Fox. The second Nintendo game to feature a full orchestra transformed a cheesy space shooter into a full-blown space opera; one still cheesy, mind, but now every story beat and character arc was granted more gravity and heft than ever before.

A number of songs from Star Fox 64 are given the orchestral spotlight, albeit with a slower motif. Some were disappointed it didn't emphasize  fast-paced action, but I can't imagine a more fitting tradeoff. Just take the fan-favorite arrangement of the Star Wolf theme: a cutthroat skirmish between two adversaries is revamped into the splendor of their joint destiny: two rivals, the greatest pilots in the galaxy, locked into glorious combat.

We also see this in one of my personal favorites: this foreboding arrangement of Meteo. Encapsulating the never-ending awe of space, it's a perfect complement to the stage's context: hunting down an old enemy within the endless black, as familiar wreckage and abandoned machinery haunt the Star Fox Team.

Even taken on its own, it holds such raw power. I envision slowly losing myself into the infinite darkness, the innumerable constellations and nebulae of the Lylat System swallowing me whole. The remains of the Gorgon war machine, destroyed in the battle of Area 6, gloomily drifting across the galaxy until resting at the vapor of Sector Y. The Pleiades, sailing across the cosmos with no pilot, guided by a purpose known only to those who created it.

Only once before had Star Fox presented such a pure depiction of space: the previously-covered Sector Y from the original game. Whereas that waltz depicted the grand beauty of space, this one commands its ever-lasting dread; the mystery of the unknown. But even such qualities hold such an imposing allure on their own, and I can't help but be swept up every time I listen. Even now, its gripping enigma terrifies me, as I imagine the Arwing's cockpit growing ever more claustrophobic in the depths of space.

Some days, I just want to lose myself into whatever reverie such songs provide me. The responsibilities of the adult world always stop me, and in truth, even as a child I caught myself saying, "I don't have time for this." But to think eternally with no concept of time and responsibility...the treasures that could be surely mined from such meditation captivates me.

Spinning. Falling. Absorbing. Soaring. Dreaming. Gaping. Sailing.

I want to create and imagine forever.

But not today. Someday, surely.

Final Thoughts: Hearing the original song pop up in Star Fox Zero was pretty fun, especially since its accompanying level didn't conform to the typical "asteroid field" template found earlier in the series. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Worldly Weekend: Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior) (NES) 


Yet again we're faced with another NES box art malady. While the box art for Dragon Warrior is hardly as offensive as Mega Man's, it submitted to the all-too-common illusion of making the game seem "cooler" than it actually was (which, to be fair, was present in Japan as well). Whereas the American cover portrays a generic medieval fantasy, the Japanese artwork portrays a more colorful, light-hearted affair.


As it should; after all, it was done by none other than Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama, whose 80's trademarks of cute, squat protagonists and fleshy, rotund beasts would set the tone for the series (it's no coincidence the dragon is cuddlier than your average Final Fantasy monster: the same would echo across the game's variety of enemies, not the least of which is the famous Slime).

And note the difference in name, too: Dragon Quest became Dragon Warrior for US release. The cause may not be as immediately apparent as that of Rock Man to Mega Man, as a pen-and-paper RPG of the same name held the "Dragon Quest" name. The word "Warrior" also undoubtedly appealed to American boys more than "Quest," and so the series was dubbed as such here until 2005's Dragon Quest VIII.

Just as it does with box art, Leave Luck to Heaven represents games with their American names whenever possible. But as developer Enix (or should I say Square-Enix?) went to the trouble of retconning the Dragon Warrior name, so shall I for the reviews.

At any rate, it's well-known Dragon Quest became a phenomenon in Japan, providing the building blocks for Japanese RPGs: medieval worlds of fantasy, spells obtained upon leveling up, and a hero whose name is up to the player. Such success was not repeated in America, as its late release paved the way for its niche status over here. A 1986 RPG revolving around antiquated menus/commands would hardly light sales-charts in 1989, and while a Nintendo Power subscriber giveaway proved successful, said giveaway was initiated only to empty unsold stock.


Unfortunate, but at least we got an improved product out of it. Much of it boiled down to player convenience; for instance, no longer did the save system rely on tedious passwords, but a battery-pack save. The Famicom menu was far too cumbersome in that you had to choose the direction of the Talk command, but here it's just a simple selection. Even the graphics were adjusted across the board, as NPCs and even the hero himself are now applied directional animations. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend clicking here to witness the Japanese version's unintentional hilarity courtesy of the hero's groovin' trot. Nothing quite like 80's cringe!)

It was an ambitious undertaking directed by none other than the late Satoru Iwata, then a programming prodigy steadily rising within the ranks of HAL Laboratory. As the game that more or less forged what we know today as "JRPGs," playing Dragon Quest was something of a moving experience: to know a part of his legacy was being responsible for bringing what essentially jump-started an entire genre to our shores--and on top of all that, improving it--awakened a melancholic blend of gratitude on more than one occasion.


Alas, it's not enough to salvage the game from old age. It's vital to dispel any claims of mediocrity: Iwata's tweaks ensure Dragon Quest functions okay in a modern age, but an 80's menu-based RPG has much more going against it than the timeless likes of space-shooters and precision-based platformers.

Really, it's crazy just how much of this has to do with the game's overall pacing. There's not a whole lot of meat to Dragon Quest's campaign, so it relies on being one big grindfest from beginning to end. It's not an exaggeration to say over 80% of one's time will be spent fighting monsters, accumulating EXP and leveling up rather than embarking on swashbuckling adventures. Needless to say, tedium can settle rather quickly.

Other trappings of its age are hit or miss -- like other open-ended 80's games, the world of Alefgard is far from linear and expects players to follow vague NPC hints for progression; naturally, this results in players getting lost, and the frustration of unrelenting (not to mention random!) enemy encounters might discourage exploration. Thankfully, Alefgard isn't particularly big in comparison to future 8-bit RPGs (namely its NES sequels and the Final Fantasy games), so it's easy to memorize the lay of the land.

On the other hand, there's just no getting around the clunky menus. At best, they are what they are: an outdated element that falls into every 80's menu trap (can you say, no item stacking? Limited inventory space?), and yet Dragon Quest's execution is particularly archaic. Using commands to talk and search is clumsy enough, but for there to be one for using stairs? 

There's other minor annoyances: for one thing, having NPC villagers walk around towns is a novel 8-bit touch, but it's not so "novel" when they decide to block exits and store counters. This is something hardly exclusive to Dragon Quest, mind you; after all, it's another piece of retro baggage, yet I still found myself shaking my fist at those who dared blocked my inn stops. ("I'm only at 5 HP, dammit! I'm gonna die!")


It's a good thing then that the game's world is so charming. Dragon Quest's localization took the liberty of injecting the script with Elizabethan-styled dialogue, with characters speaking like "Take now whatever thou may find in these treasure chests to aide thee in thy quest" or "Thou hast been promoted to the next level." Before playing, I was immediately apprehensive: wouldn't such an embellishment smother the script with stuffy language, particularly since Dragon Quest games are known for their witty dialogue?

I was surprised to witness that wasn't actually the case. Not only was the script relatively free of errors (a rarity in an era ripe of mistranslations and typos), but such a direction was rather fresh compared to the the dry, passive scripts commonly found in localized RPGs of the time. It's still a direction cheesy enough that I wouldn't want touching a modern localization, but within the context of those equally-cheesy 80's, it somehow fits like a glove.

Speaking of localization, most of the aforementioned graphic changes are for the best; truth be told, not only do the new sprites hue closer to the round, squishy citizens commonly found in 8-bit RPGs, but the Japanese version's NPCs look like what an ill-fated Americanized version would attempt to render it "cooler".


Really, the only aesthetic misstep is the infinitely bland title screen, which doesn't have a patch on iconic Japanese logo. Just look at all that wasted gray space!


But no amount of box art or title screen changes can stop Akira Toriyama's art from shining through. While mainly reserved for the monster designs, creatures like the Slime, Drake and the tongue-protruding, witch hat- wearing Ghost instantly captivate our hearts, whereas we immediately want nothing to do with the Axe Knights, Golems and Werewolves that cross our paths. Not that the hero should underestimate every cute enemy he comes across, mind, but Toriyama's design ensures the enemy hierarchy of power is instantly apparent.

Such moments even extent to the simple story: the rescue of Princess Gwaelin triggers an "aww" moment of the most triumphant kind -- the hero's overworld sprite carrying the princess bridal-style back to her castle. Director Yuji Horii's first attempt at an "emotionally involved" system might be rather barebones today, but that it elicits such emotions thirty years later speaks of fine craftsmenship.

And let's not forget the music by the legendary Kochi Sugiyama which...which...look, I'm sorry, but I can't avoid the elephant in the room. As much as Mr.  Sugiyama is a talented composer, as much as he's contributed to the success and awareness of video game music, he's also kind of a terrible human being. Yes, the very first champion of game music is not just a history revisionist; he's a hardcore nationalist who regularly funds and participates in organizations that fuel such conspiracies.

Having grown up with Dragon Warrior Monsters and only just recently diving into the main series, this was immensely disappointing to learn. That his politics are removed from what is ultimately a playful, light-hearted series is a blessing we can all be thankful for, but knowing that his Dragon Quest proceeds go directly to history-revisionist foundations that suppress elderly rape survivors does not weigh easily on my conscience. While I will continue applauding his efforts in future Dragon Quest reviews, I won't be so neglectful in mentioning his misdeeds.



But since I've already called it out, what is effective about Dragon Quest's score? There's simply no going about reviewing Dragon Quest music without diving into the main theme, which makes its first appearance here. A bright, celebratory march that greets us at the title screen, we're up and ready to enter the game's world upon the first note.



Naturally, Sugiyama's legacy as a classical conductor dwells within every one of his compositions, but it's most apparent in the above battle theme. Creeping and slow, it recalls to mind that of a stalking menace lurking behind us. Just look at how well it translates into orchestra!



The cave theme also engages in, to my knowledge, one of the earlier experimental themes for NES/Famicom. Ignore how the above video is probably two minutes too long and click on the playlist button; see how there's eight different versions? In the game's final dungeon, the song gradually lowers in tempo as you descend deeper and deeper, echoing the apprehension before taking on the Dragonlord. How's that for scaring your pants off?



But as iconic as the main theme is, my favorite track lies in the overworld theme: Unknown World. As Dragon Quest highlights a solitary journey, it's only fitting that its world echoes a theme of loneliness. Laced with uncertainty, that we're left to discover what the game's world holds makes for a palpable effect.

Much like the game itself, actually. While not without its mishaps, Dragon Quest braved new waters for the sake of one goal: to distill the complicated RPG genre for a widespread audience. This could not just be done by simplifying the system; with Dragon Quest's hero being tied to the player's identity, we become invested easily, and so we're willing to leap over any hurdles involving clunky menus and uncertain progression.

Such an admirable achievement became the ever-improved fabric of the series going forward, but its heart still beats within its first effort. It's a relic, but a functioning relic: its age doesn't stop it from being accessible, and that alone makes a quest worth embarking on.