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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).

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