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Monday, March 30, 2009

A reason why Atlus is my most trusted developer and publisher

For those of you who didn't subscribe to the Atlus Newsletter, an interesting one appeared in my inbox today.
The email is quoted in italics.

This is going on our permanent record

Here at Atlus, we like to shoehorn bad news into people ears with a joke... something to ease the tension, you know?

Two wolves were eating a clown. One wolf turns to the other and says, "Does this taste funny to you?"

No? How about...

Two strings walk into a bar and sit down. One asks for a beer and the bartender says, "We don't serve strings here." The other string ties himself up and messes up his ends. He asks the bartender for a beer and the bartender says, "Aren't you a string?" He replies, "No, I'm a frayed knot."

Ok, now that you are sufficiently shoehorned, here's the bad news: Class of Heroes™ for PSP® system is going to be a little late for graduation.

*waits for boos to subside*

Now now, we understand the disappointment. Dungeon-crawling fans need their fix of item-finding, monster-bashing action. Unfortunately, days before the game was to be manufactured, a rather serious bug was brought to our attention. In order to fix the problem and deliver a worthy final product, one that lives up to the high standards we aspire to and that you deserve, we are delaying the game until June 9th.

We will under no circumstance ship a product with foreknowledge of such an issue. We regret the situation and the timing in which we discovered it, but we will not compromise our quality standards... as a publisher, not as a humorist, because we clearly did that at the beginning of this email.

Atlus has a team of dedicated writers and a brutal honesty that you can't help but respect. In addition, I remember when Rondo of Swords came out. About a week later a newsletter came in talking about the difficulty of Rondo of Swords(I could actually pull up that newsletter now) as well as how one reviewer gave Baroque a 3/10 for its difficulty. What Atlus DIDN'T do was try to shut them up. Instead, they brought it to the fans' attentions and linked them to a part of the forums addressing that. No doubt a lot of the forum users are Atlus fans but there are those who gave arguments about the difficulty curve if I remember correctly.

One thing to note is Gabe and Tycho's, of Penny Arcade, occasional references to Atlus.

Atlus does a lot of things right and they listen to their fans via the forums.

Of course that doesn't mean they've always been pumping hits and masterpieces all the time. If you look at "My World, My Way" it got very little publicity, fully released in a single print, and it's site is in shambles with nearly everything being "coming soon" while the game's already out and out of print. Then there are games like Eternal Poison, where I just felt I couldn't complete due to sub-par quality of the developers and publishers (for I guess not recoding parts of the game for better load times).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bamboo Blade - Review

Due to my own involvement in Kendo, I decided to be as fair as possible and not review this until I've seen this anime at least a couple times to get the "excitement" out of my system and notice all the shortcomings.

Bamboo Blade is about a Kendo (Japanese swordfighting/fencing) instructor, Toraji Ishida, at Muroe Highschool. He's made a bet with his highschool kendo captain that he can assemble a better kendo team. So Toraji Ishida (nicknamed Kojirou)along with Muroe Highschool team captain, Kirino Chiba, search the school for kendo practitioners. Their first member is Tamaki Kawazoe, a short freshman whose extremely skilled and would become a pillar in supporting the Kendo team.

Bamboo Blade is a very simple series and is presented as such. Besides having a focus on Kendo, there aren't any complicated, convoluted story elements that would alienate the viewer. It's better to think of it as "an exaggerated high school drama with a theme of kendo." The focus on having female kendo players isn't really that big of a deal nor does it set up some awkward harem type love drama. It's really more of a slice of life anime with exaggerations for comedic purposes.

A lot of bamboo blade is actually just the team going about their lives with humor and the occasional stab at their own characters/story. The focus on Kendo shouldn't distance non-kendo practitioners much. Sure, there's a "learning curve" but it isn't that steep. There's one thing to say however, because it's so Japan school life oriented (even more so than other dramas in my opinion), there will be cultural references that one may miss. They're not necessarily a major part of the story, but the quickfire, simple humor would definitely come with some reference to Japan's culture.

If you take a look at the soundtrack, it consists of two CDs generally filled to the brim with calm relaxing music with a dash or the tense fight music and major secondary character themes. Meaning, the series itself isn't very action based, that isn't to say there isn't any, but I'd just like to tell people three things to clear up any confusion.
1. It's not a campy love triange/square/haremfest type of drama.
2. It's not action packed either.
3. It's not so engrossed into kendo that it would alienate everyone besides kendo players. There'd be no point in that.
Still though, the music is fitting and although repetitive, I like it very much.

Animations are really clean. With the exception of terrible use of CG, many of the characters have trademark expressions or designs that make them easily noticeable. In addition to that, the character personalities are pretty generic, but work well with the story. The interaction that occurs when the Muroe highschool team goes to tournaments or goes against other schools is probably the most interesting as you see personalities clash in odd ways. Fun Fact: Kirino and the team captain for Machido (the first team they face) have the same character design (same hair, same face, only she has dark hair and glasses).

One thing worthy of notice are the voice actors. I feel as if this tends to be one of the bigger differences between the US and Japanese voice acting staff (there are many exceptions of course) and some parts of Bamboo Blade really make it stick out. For one thing, when characters are participating in matches against each other, what really struck me was the ferocity that the voice actors were yelling. I occasionally heard some voices on the edge of cracking but it was times like those where I thought "wow, they really sound serious" and it heightened my enjoyment of the anime. There are live-action actors who need to look ugly (figuratively) when they have to. It's no different with voices. It's very noticeable when you're trying to sound serious or when you're afraid to sound ugly. There are of course, great english speaking voice actors (just realized there were a lot of studios in Canada) but I feel as if some voice directors settle for half-assed acting. That's something that needs to be changed. To be honest, I haven't heard the English dub yet but once funimation releases the DVDs, I intend to at least hear them once.

There are a few things that detract from this anime being really good. Pacing would be an issue. Ishida Toraji is the man of unfortunate events, and despite it being funny, there are times when these scenes that ridicule him take very long. Not only that, the pacing itself is inconsistent sometimes cutting off days, sometimes weeks to months. I guess it's necessary if you look at it as a whole but at the same time some of the major character development happens very late.

Some aspects which are supposed to act as comedic value kinda annoy me. In particular,Reimi (if you decide to see it, you'll know who I'm referring to) and her relation to Miyako. I get the humor in that some badass girl is freaked out by a stalker but at the same time, I find it aggravating that the way she deals with it is by basically running away and focusing on something else. The emphasis could be toned down a bit which I believe would be much funnier.

To be honest, Bamboo Blade took me by surprise. I expected it to be ultra concentrated with a dash of life (look at: Prince of Tennis, Major!, Hikaru no Go, Slam Dunk etc. etc...) For it to be more focused on life and how kendo is involved it rather than what usually seems to be the other way around, was very interesting. It had a casual club feeling to it while it occasionally switched over to the "hardcore" kendo, the way of life, atmosphere. That nice balance is what I find to be well done.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mabinogi Character Fanart

Drawn for Nexon's event for a succubus figure (don't quote me on this) ATK just sent me this drawing. According to him he decided to change it up a bit and colored first then added the line art....

It's pretty noticeable from what I see. It has a nice watercolor feel to it probably due to the conjunction with the background. Though, since he did start with color, it seems that he payed much attention to lighting, and shading. The black bothers me slightly (the highlights kind of look like smudges on the monitor) but since it IS fanart based on his character, the black is somewhat necessary, so I'll just have to let it pass.

I guess what makes it seem more like water color is the cross hatching in his hat. I'm enjoying the details in his accessories and hair. One thing that feels a bit off is the body aspect ratio. It's probably due to the black which poses a slight problem in applying shading to body form (the major folds in the coat seem a bit generic).

Still though, the coloring is what's most notable and I'm hoping he can apply this kind of shading to his future work.

P.S. As you can see. I've added a new tag for ATK's artwork. I can't say for sure if I can get artwork in on a regular basis, but I should get some stuff in periodically.

P.P.S it's in a nice large format for your Desktop.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I am Jack's brain stalling....

For lack of a better word. I'm procrastinating an essay due tomorrow. I have the materials and I should probably finish it ASAP, buuuuuuuuut.... I'm probably gonna end up writing it at some point past midnight swearing to myself and wondering how I ever became like this.

In other news, I'm prepping material for the site that will absorb this blog.... sorta. I've been given a date (not set in stone yet) as well as a rush order (woohoo) which results in me:
A. Panicking
B. Pulling stuff out of my ass (would continue metaphor but feels like I could take in a direction that would be SO wrong)
C. Scrolling through the memory banks of my brain to see if there was anything worth while mentioning.
D. All of the above and more.

To be honest, with the anime industry slowing down, and me possessing what I can officially (to be read as "probably/most likely") say to be a dead system (referring to PS2), I'm left with DS games, PC games, Wii games (currently playing Fire Emblem: Radient Dawn) and uh.....PS2 games..... from a console that would ask you to resist the urge to carbon date it.

So is the life of a dying reviewer.... not.
There's no way in hell I'd lose my motivation due to this small gap. So in the news now: Clannad ~Tomoyo After available for the PSP!


Head ---to---> Keyboard.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dynasty Warriors 6 - Review

Speaking of armies vs. armies, I guess now would be a good time to review Dynasty Warriors 6, albeit delayed.
Please take into account that the last game I've played was Dynasty Warriors 4. The only thing I know about 5 is that they switched the musou campaign system to "Legend of" campaigns instead of "kingdom" campaigns.

People who know hack and slash know Dynasty Warriors. Basing the game off of the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" a novel written following the fall of the Han, players take control of a hero from said novel and partake in a (to a series of) minor/major skirmish(es) which will result in a modified scenario based off of the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

It's considered by many to be the epitome of the "hack and slash" genre precisely because of Koei's continuous developments on making it more "slashable" with greater numbers of people you can wipe in a single blow. In a sense the game becomes a mindless button masher that's used to kill time, and I'm fine with that.

The overall flow of the game consists of two sides warring against each other. You take the role of an officer on one of the sides and it's your goal to kill officers, infantry and the leading officer to win the mission. There are also side missions or "targets" that generally add either a layer of difficulty to the mission or help make it easier (usually the former). These "targets" have exp and weapon rewards so it's generally a good idea to at least aim for them as finding weapons in battle isn't too common.

The game mechanics have changed much since the previous versions. Attacks their respective combos are based on a "renbu" system. The renbu gauge is a small gauge on the left of your character portrait, it starts off at 1 and as you deal more combos and longer chains, the gauge will rise and grow to 2 then 3 then infinite. As the gauge grows each level you will be able to extend your current combos with an additional 1-3 hits, in addition, your weapon range will increase slightly and if your weapon has any elemental effects, chances of it occurring during an attack increase.

Each officer also has a "special attack" or rather.... skill. These are inherent
active attacks or skills that can be acquired in battle. Rather, a character is set with a skill and you need to find a pick up to use it. These skills affect your character or your environment, such as starting a rock slide to kill enemy troops or temporarily setting your renbu to infinite.

Needless to say, the desired renbu rank is infinite, as you unlock the final tier combo as well as max out your weapon's combat abilities. The final combo is usually a rapid succession of swings or attacks that can clear crowds instantly. Unfortunately, renbu ranks are locked until the character grows. Which is a perfect segue into character growth.

Officers grow RPG style in that the more kills they achieve and mission targets they achieve, the more EXPerience they acquire and thus when a certain number of EXP is attained, they "level up." In addition to leveling up, players now have to manage a flowchart that affects passive skills. For each level, the player is given a skill point for that officer, and players must choose a flow chart path to place those skill points into. Unlike Growlanswer: Heritage of War where you set skills into a flow chart, this flow chart is preset and it's simply a matter of unlocking a path. The flow chart allows some lenience however, you can go halfway into one flow just to get a desired skill and then finish off a different branch. Technically, it's possible to cover the entire flow chart by level 50 (the max) but a little planning will definitely help out in future battles. Not everyone has every passive skill, which adds individuality to each character (along with their weapons).

I don't know how it's done in 5, but weapons do not level up. Instead, weapons are obtained by either picking up an item box from a fallen general or completing a target. Weapons are random to a degree. The difficulty of a battle will determine the probability of the stats of the weapons. In addition, weapons can have their own passive skills and/or elements attached. Of course these probabilities can be tipped to your favor if an officer you use has the "Lady Luck" skill enabled in their flow chart. Each officer has 8 weapon slots so if players are stuck between two weapons, they can store them and test them both later. Weapons come in 3 catagories: Skill, Standard, and Strength. Skill weapons generally have lower attack than the other weapon types but have a higher tendency to have elements and skills attached. They also make the player attack faster which is very noticeable once the player reaches infinite renbu. Standard weapons are well balanced throughout and all officers start with a standard weapon. The plus side to these weapons is that they increase range significantly to the point where the weapon range increases to nearly two times the original range at infinite renbu. Strength weapons are exactly what they sound like. They generally have high attacks in comparison with the others and have lower chances for skills. They have the smallest range modifiers but their high damage tends to make up for that.

Horses are now found and raised in this game. Horses can be found either by picking up a saddle from a fallen enemy officer or through the "gain saddle" skill from a previously mounted horse. Almost every map contains a "saddle box" but one can't really count on those. Because of the very few ways one can obtain saddles, chances of them dropping are higher than those of weapons.
Because horses are now raised, one cannot simply find the Red Hare anymore. After a player picks up a saddle, in the post-battle/results screen, the obtained horse is shown in a similar system to weapons. It has a name, stats, and "description" which would determine its growth build. Horses only have 5 levels to gain and they obtain experience simply by participating in battles, and killing enemies while mounted on said horse. Needless to say, killing while mounted will tend to net much more experience than relying on the fixed exp given for participation. One CAN breed specialty horses however, if a horse's description is one that gives the highest stat growth then, there's a chance at level 5 that it will become a "king."

Now for what I think of it. Unlike the other reviews, I'm going to stray from the "formula" a bit. There are some things that I like, don't like, and certain things that make me think. Dynasty warriors by the 6th one in a sense has become much simpler. Before, players had to press a combination of the speed and charge attacks to initiate combos. A different number of speed attacks followed up by a charge attack would have different combo attacks and added a bit of variety into the game. Now, normal and charge attacks are separate entities so any combination of normal attacks followed by a charge attack won't change what the combo looks like. It will be the same charge attack. I like this and dislike this in a few ways. First, I think it's nice that charge now has it's own separate combo attack that is dependent on the renbu gauge. Yes, it does make the game look a bit more monotonous and simple but there's a clear distinction between which attack is for single enemies and which attack is for crowds. Another thing that 6 has which has made my day are the grapple attacks. If the player holds guard and then normal attack or charge attack while not under attack him/herself they will do a simple strike that will attempt to grab the enemy. Not only is it guaranteed damage, but it's a lot of guaranteed damage and it can be used against guarding foes. Let me make that bigger for dynasty warrior vets.
GRAPPLE ATTACKS CAN HURT FOES THAT ARE GUARDING. Why is this such a big deal? Dynasty Warriors is one of the most annoying and painful games in terms of "difficulty." In earlier versions as well as the orochi versions, the enemy's guard practically makes them impervious to attacks. There's no way to even break the guard or hurt them besides using Musou, a move that has it's own separate gauge that grows as either enemies or players are hit, or having an element that breaks guard. The result tends to be that games would take 30 minutes longer than they should because generals refuse to attack and simply guard forever. Dynasty Warriors 6 fixes that by allowing players to grab these nuisances.

There's a hint of complexity to the battlefield that I noticed on the harder difficulties that I wish was embellished a bit. I noticed this from the dynasty warriors 5 site that featured certain types of command points that served different functions. Basically, in dynasty warriors 6 there were times where I had to plan out my attack. It sounds stupid considering this is supposed to be a mindless, button mashing hack and slash, but I noticed features of the game that intrigued me quite a bit. The first thing that caught my attention were the officers who went into battle with other officers. I realized that even on "normal" difficulty they weren't useless. The minimap on the right side of the screen does a very good job in indicating bases owned by which side, and officers who are bulls eyes colored in their proper colors among clouds of blue or red depending on the density of the troops of a certain side. In general, one side will win if they have more officers than the other side. So two blue officers will be able to kill one red officer assuming they haven't been surprised or facing a hero. Non player controlled heroes also have a large effect in battle. Many are able to kill other officers pretty quickly and so they were always a priority for me.

In addition, if ally officers are around 30-50% health, they tend to hang back in ally forts to restore health or if they are near an enemy camp/fort, they will attempt to overtake it. The AI isn't stupid, but it occasionally makes some awkward "decisions" like trying to overtake a fort alone filled with 5 or so officers. Other times, I wished that the AI would wait for a bit so that I could clear any heroes first before they initiated an attack.

What I really wanted in the game was officer/squad commanding. Occasionally, missions have either a "no ally officer can die" or a certain number of officers must survive target which involves the player to be constantly running from one side of the map to the other. There are also times when I would need to be at two places at once. If I was given the ability to command, I would try and focus more officers on the path I wasn't going. Essentially, Dynasty Warriors 6 is a good game as is. It's simple and has some complex elements that shouldn't really bother players unless they were playing on Very Hard or Chaos difficulty.

Hm..... there's something about the last 3 paragraphs that really bother me. I'll probably revise it later. I can't seem to articulate it at the moment.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Utawarerumono - Review

Sorry for neglecting you guys. I know I said I'd be more active and yet I was slacking off. As much as I'd like to just relax and do nothing over break, I need to remind myself that there is stuff I have to do (in addition to the blog)

I've started re-watching a lot of anime recently. I'm also trying to find some really nice anime that I may have missed over the years. This is a bit of the former a bit of the latter.

There's no fluid translation for this series (just as there's no fluid translation for Sora o Miageru Shojo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai...that everyone just calls "Munto") with the main issue of translation being that it's very vague. It could be best translated to "That which is sung" (Literally: the thing being sung). I've seen some very liberal translations, some which work (kinda) and some that don't work.

This was based off an adult PC strategy RPG of the same name. It was remade soon after the release of the anime to the PS2 all the adult content was removed and the battle system was remade by Flight Plan (The same team responsible for Summon Night and Eternal Poison).

Unfortunately, this series has bumped up my standards. After finding a copy of it on blu-ray and seeing how crisp and clean the animation is (and seeing the EXACT area that was blurred: superfluous but impressive....) it's hard to go and watch a DVD. It's of really high quality, but to have animation that clean is just unfair...... Anyways, on to the actual review.

Utawarerumono takes place in a land that feels like early feudal Japan and is about a man named Hakuoro who was saved by the village elder and physician after he collapsed near their town. Hakuoro is a very charismatic man with a strategic head. He shows his analytical prowess first by convincing the villagers to kill the forest guardian who have been endangering their lands and later, the tyrant that rules over them. He's backed by many skilled warriors whom he crosses paths with and finds himself needing to command armies. It's hard to say more due to how the story goes (anything else would just be spoiling)

(Ignoring that I watched this on blu-ray) The animation itself is very clean. A lot of shading is well done and lines aren't lazy (for an example, look at bleach. A lot of its shading is just cross hatching or tons of animation....). Clothes are nicely detailed and fit the body really well. They're simple in design but fit very well. Colors are one thing to pay attention to. One thing to particularly notice (and I did on the first watching) is that masses don't look alike. What I mean by that is that each person in a large mass doesn't look exactly like another. Yes, you have copies but they're spread out. It's an unnecessary detail but also an important one. A lot of this show is about wars and skirmishes, so to see individuality among the masses (even just a little) comforts the eyes of the viewer. Backgrounds are very scenic and look as if they were painted in oil, which is a plus and a minus (it's inconstant with the animated characters themselves).

I love the music in this anime. The composer sets the mood quite well. Timing is also well done and it isn't overdone. What I like particularly is that there isn't music for every second. Sometimes just ambient noise is used as background filler and just enough. Silence can be a very powerful thing.

The pacing is very fast but not rushed. It's sometimes hard to believe how much has happened in a single episode. I guess it's to be expected since the animation team wants to cover as much as possible within half a year. The pacing is really dependent on the viewers but I sometimes found it surprising how much is covered in a single episode (i.e.They already attacked in that episode?). The team knows when to slow down for a short reprieve and if that isn't enough, then there are also the DVD specials (rather blu-ray specials now i guess) that are short segments of comic relief.

For the minuses (I got tired of using "Bad parts).
Despite high quality art, the animation team is very lazy with their CG rendering. It's quite obvious in many battle scenes along with other moments (the water kinda looks like some weird flowing jelly). Honestly, I could've ignored how bad the CG was if they didn't make it so blatant and clunky. One particular detail that's an issue is that once they render in the CG, the movements look embarrassingly slow which only ends up emphasizing it's atrocity. It's about as bad as school rumble a few other anime that seem to like CG rendering regarding many details en masse (in particular... people). I guess the main issue would be that modeling is hastily done and there's next to no texturing. On the plus side, the CG rendered dust looks nice... occasionally.

Despite it's fast pacing, the series still ends up rushing near the end in a desperate attempt to wrap everything together. So the result is a fast paced version of already fast pacing. It's like that weird Gundam Seed OVA that was just an hour and a half compilation of all the major events in the fifty one episode series. It's hasty and it shows.

Speaking of lazy, one particular detail that bothered me was how some battles had their own filler. What I mean by that is in an attempt to fill up time and show action, the main characters only have 3 or 4 different ways that they kill (some even being part of the same scene) and to show a lapse of time in battle these scenes are repeated throughout the anime. It isn't noticeable at first (obviously) since there are still main characters that need to be introduced but you can easily see it mid-way when they're repeating the same scene on a different background. It's lazy. There's no way to argue out of it. Even if someone was trained in a specific style there are an array of attacks from different angles and different feet movements. Never do I see someone getting smacked on the side of the head by Hakuoro. It's always hit, scene cut to fan jabbing someone's throat, dodge, off screen hit, spin, over head strike. As if soldiers would all move the same exact way every time and the entire world was trained the same exact way. Perhaps that's why they're so useless on the battlefield.....Cause they're lemmings.

Despite it's shortcomings, it's worth at least one watch. It's an anime that I believe does full scale wars well. A lot of the characters are nicely developed, and while there are parts (ranging from medium to large) that I wish were fleshed out it's pretty good as is. It does get occasionally graphic in terms of violence, which is something the squeamish should be wary of. Honestly, I kind of wish that this was a 40-50 episoder but oh well.

Not an actual letter
P.S. "Dear Zerreth, are you ever going to go over Persona 4 or Ar Tonelico II? Because I don't want to read the reviews on gamespot."


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Half a semester gone, a week and a half of reprieve.... Thank god

I've finished my final Mid-term and with no more classes tomorrow, I can finally relax.

What does this mean? For the next week and a half or so, I'm either going to be asleep, watching anime, working, or trying out new games. Since it's Spring Break for me now, I'll post more frequently for the next week and a half.

And now for New York Anime News.

Kinokuniya, a pretty famous (and expensive) japanese bookstore is collaborating with a bunch of companies to host Anime Day this Sunday. I know it's very sudden, but I only received word of this recently. I haven't decided whether I'll be going or not, but it looks interesting and a fun way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dj Max Series - Overview

I entered the DJ Max scene a bit late (as opposed to Gunz which I started when it first came out in Korea. The company Pentavision had been hiring freelance composers (Including a few members of SoundTeMP) to create songs that people would "DJ" to in their game. DJMax is a rhythm game in which notes fall from the top of a grid (referred to as a gear) to the bottom. The player's objective is to hit the button that corresponds with the different notes that fall as it approaches the judgment line near the bottom. It's in the same class of DDR, Guitar Hero, and the handful of other games that exist (beatmania, keyboardmania etc). What makes DJ Max unique would be how the game mechanic is (which is the selling point for all the games in this category). Actually, the game resembles closest to Beatmania (with their 5 key and 7 key system) although Koreans would say it's based off of EZ2DJ (the Korean version of Beatmania which features different artists and gameplay). Regardless, it's a rhythm game that people are familiar with.

Instead of just following the beat or the rhythm, notes and tones are assigned to keys (and reassigned throughout the duration of the song)as you play it. What that means is if there was a melodic progression in the background and you had to play a certain number of notes. As the notes fall, you had to time it right, otherwise the music would sound weird. Most people not familiar with DJ Max would think of this thought right away (Oh, it's just like Guitar Hero). No, not really. If you play the note wrong, the sound still plays. It's like playing a wrong note on a keyboard, it's out there for all to see. Eventually, when people start playing SC songs (difficulty goes from Easy, Normal, Hard, MX -which I assume to be "Max" - and SC -I heard it stood for "super crazy" as it's supposed to be a special difficulty. There's more percussion than the normal version and more melody-) the background really only consists of one or two beat tracks and the rest is assigned to the keys.

What's so impressive about it? First of all, it "feels" like you're actually making music. Every knows that it's actually a set of modified tracks but having the game play all your mistakes and sound good when you time it right is a good feeling. It "feels" like you've accomplished something. Having the music being actually played gives me a better sense of timing and helps me trust my ear.

Pentavision has released a numerous amount of DJ Max games so far with 4 current PSP titles, one arcade title and two PC titles (including the online one which was discontinued) Each of these games all have the same base but differ significantly. For example, the first PSP title had mostly "Season 1" songs on it whereas DJ Max portable 2 introduced the 2nd season along with original songs.

The Bad parts.
As much as I like this game, there are some glaringly problematic issues with the series.
First, as the online series died, the fan base for DJ Max diminished significantly slowly turning the game into a niche title. DJ Max actually had 3 regions in the online community: Korea, Japan and China. Each region actually had localized songs that were implemented to help increase popularity. For example, Korea exclusively had BoA songs to try and rake in "casual gamers."
Stemming from that comes the second problem. The player skill gap is extremely wide. Either you suck or you can 99.8% a lvl 12 five key song. There's little middle ground which was why Pentavision was trying to entice casual gamers. Online mode is absolutely brutal (I don't suck, but I'm not amazing either, which means I'm one of those in the middle....) and playing against others is simply getting slapped across the face numerous times per second. Which, in response, Pentavision released Clazziquai Edition for the beginners. Also, Clazziquai Edition is THE only version with a tutorial.

The PC version suffers from some Judgment issues. If vertical sync is on, you have to press a bit before the judgment line to get a 100%. If vertical sync is off, you have to press a bit after. It's dependent on what kind of timing you feel most comfortable with.

DJ Max in general is a very grindtastic game, even more than guitar hero, even more than DDR. Most players are more likely to just solo free mode than to try a hand at DJ Battle. Most people who bought the game probably already know of the original online game or have played the PSP version.

Certain songs suck, and continue to suck, and despite comments on how much they suck, they transcend multiple versions (A certain song involving ducks quacking has existed in nearly all the games) A version of DJ Max feels more like a music album than a game. I've started to base how much I like versions based on how many songs I hate in a specific version. Music style and animation style both change from version to version, which is why the Online version was separated into "seasons."

I have to say that this game is a "must-get" if you're one of those people who look up DDR UK or Bemanistyle for good DWIs for keyboards. For those entering the rhythm game universe, I'll post up a small introduction guide to help you get settled.

If you're new to DJ Max:

Clazziquai Edition is a great place to start. After entering club tour, you start off in a tutorial which will help you get acquainted with the controls and use of joystick. Albeit, their English grammar is sub-par and the video lags a bit (even with data install) but it should help break you in. CQ edition was developed specifically for casual gamers. The Clazziquai label is there because they're a huge hit in Korea (though "real" fans would own some of their underground work). This is the only version that also has the 2b (two button) mode just in case four buttons was too hard....... Because this is also a very recent version, it's going to look more polished than portable or Portable 2.

Once you've got the hang of it, the next game I recommend is DJ Max Portable 2.

Before I begin, let me explain a bit about the first two portable games. DJ Max Portable (Referred to as DMP) was a straight port from the online version. There's no fever, and no special features. It's very cut and dry, and even has the feeling of the difficulty curve from the original game. DMP2 on the other hand feels like they developed something new from a solid base, and so the difficulty and key strokes feel different. That being said, DMP has this really steep curve after the first 1/4 of the game or so whereas DMP2 starts off a bit challenging for beginners but has a gradual climb in its difficulty. Honestly, DMP has the best mapped songs (since you play a single to three voices consistantly) where as DMP2 jumps around a bit in which voice you play (melody, 2nd melody, percussion). This is most noticeable in ESTi's Oblivion (ranked most popular in the Online version) where you jump from the main violin melody to the accompanying keyboard melody mid way.

Finally, I say go to Black Square

Black Square was developed in conjunction with Clazziquai Edition and Technika in what was known as the "Metro Project"
Clazziquai Edition was to be the "Casual" gamers' version while Black Square was to be the "hardcore" version, and it lives up to its name. Everything in Black Square is much harder and lives up to the standards that the first two Portable games set up. Black Square also features an "RD" difficulty standing for "Redesign" which is supposed to be a remix. It's the Portable's attempt at the online version for SC.

DJ Max Trilogy (The Offline PC game with Online multiplayer capability) and Technika (The Arcade version) can be played at any point really. Tecknika is a touch screen and playing on the keyboard for Trilogy is a much different feeling than on the PSP. It doesn't hurt to have a good base, but you need to feel the keys for yourself.

Interestingly enough, there are rumors for a DS title of DJ Max from technika which mystifies me. My friend had received a beta copy for DJ Max DS back when the Online version was running strong (and even BEFORE Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! was released) and I had heard that Pentavision canceled the project because the touch screen's capabilities weren't responsive enough for what Pentavision wanted (it barely passes Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! 1&2's standards..... There's a rapid double tapping part on the hard mode songs which could easily give you carpel tunnel syndrome).

Monday, March 2, 2009

You can do that with crayon?

As his editor and his friend, I keep tabs on ATK's work (especially even more so with the hell I had to go through organizing the minimal amount of recent art into a workable art book for NYAF '08). He recently sent me this image taken with what I presume to be a digital camera (you can see the flash on the bottom right, click image for full size).

According to him he drew it all in Crayola crayons.....
I'm not going to say something ignorant like, "crayons are the MS paint of non-digital art" but they're not necessarily easy. They much harder than colored pencils that's for sure. Since it's supposed to be a light, casual sketch, it's missing his watermark and signature (which I'll probably add on later).

Crayons are abysmally hard in my opinion. They make shading quite easy (although rubbing is much easier with charcoal or colored pencils) and who knows how much crayon you lose from simply sharpening the point for details. It's also not a very "clean" process in my opinion, tearing wrappers off, shaving the point, and dealing with small clumps of wax as you draw kinda frustrate me.

I gotta say though, lots of props to him for drawing this. I'm sure it's obvious, but the main thing that seems to stick out are the eyes. Rather, the clean gradient/highlights on them.

Character design wise, it could be better. It's an improvement from before, and he's finally getting back to his old self but it's nice.

I still await the day he returns to getting art like this up.

(Drawn June 20th, 2007)

P.S. If I can get drawings from him periodically, I might be able to use the Second Opinion to advertise for him. He seems to have stopped updating on DA and naver anyway......