Musical Monday: “To Zanarkand” (Final Fantasy X), composed by Nobuo Uematsu

This week’s song is one of those beautiful, melancholy pieces I like so much — I’ve loved it for years, long before I touched the actual game. It’s another recurring fixture of Final Fantasy arranged concerts, and below, I’ve embedded both an orchestral version and a piano version that’s closer to the simplicity of the in-game song. Enjoy!

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Reminiscence: Suikoden II to come to PSN?

Suikoden II coverSuikoden is a classic RPG franchise that I remember very fondly. At its best, its worldbuilding combined mythic power with believable societies, while Suikoden III (PS2) still stands out as one of the few video games to make interesting use of multiple perspectives.

Most of the Suikoden games are now out of print, except for the first and IMHO weakest game, available on PSN. The highly-regarded Suikoden II (PS1) is particularly rare (and north of $100 on Amazon), but this may be about to change — Siliconera has spotted a PS3 listing for Suikoden II, suggesting a PSN re-release is imminent.

Personally, I hope this turns out to be the case. I looked up plot spoilers on Wikipedia, back when I thought there was no way I’d ever play the game, and even in that highly diluted form, I was impressed by its twists and turns. This is one I’d like on my the Vita!

Clippings: New, Upcoming, and Popular

So far, I’m quite happy with my newest and shiniest games, Wargame: Red Dragon and the Vita re-release of Final Fantasy X. Red Dragon is the sequel to my favourite game of 2013, Wargame: AirLand Battle, and it’s pretty much more of the same — not an urgent buy unless you are devoted to the series, but for me, worth what I paid.

Meanwhile, Final Fantasy X pleasantly surprised me — I adore Final Fantasy Tactics but my relationship with the numbered games is far more hit and miss. I love their music, their production values, and often their set-pieces and imagery and characters, but their gameplay, specifically the profusion of random encounters, tends to drive me batty. This, so far, is different  — the turn-based battle system involves clear and interesting trade-offs, while I find the main character surprisingly engaging (despite all the ire he draws from the fanbase). I look forward to playing more!

There’s one more impending release I plan to grab — Child of Light, due out at the end of April/ This week’s links mostly concern other new and upcoming games:

  1. Did you know that Dota 2 is the most popular Steam game (as measured by total hours played since March 2009), Skyrim is #6, and Civilization V is #8? For me, the real surprise was that Empire: Total War came in at #12, ahead of Terraria, Borderlands 2, and Fallout: New Vegas! But looking at hours per user changes things; here Football Manager 2014 takes the crown, while Skyrim rises to #2. Here is the original analysis by Ars Technica, and here is the follow-up. (Hat tip to frogbeastegg.)
  2. The sequel to Half-Minute Hero has now launched on Steam; here are USGamer’s impressions. I liked the PSP original, a clever little game with a unique conceit — each level was an 8-bit RPG distilled down to 30 seconds!
  3. The good news is that King of Dragon Pass, the ’90s PC classic that combined strategy and interactive fiction into a unique package, is coming to Android. KoDP was well-received on iOS, and I think its interface and content make it perfect for touchscreens. The bad news is that a Vita port – something I’d looked forward to – is still 0nly a “maybe”.
  4. And speaking of the Vita, Sony has announced another three games will make their way from Japan to the West: Soul Sacrifice Delta, Freedom Wars, and the most interesting to me, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. Sony describes Oreshika as:

an RPG in which you take charge of an ancient Japanese clan that have been cursed with a maximum lifespan of just 2 years. Your task is to lead the clan on their quest to lift the curse and enlist the help of gods inspired by Japanese mythology to make sure each new generation of the clan is more powerful than the last.

Music for Matchsticks: The piano sheet music of Final Fantasy VI

FFVI sheet music coverHappy Easter, everyone!

 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy VI‘s Japanese release, and despite the game’s age (and the technical limitations of its platform, the SNES), I still think its soundtrack is one of the best in video game history. I’ve also been meaning to get back into practice with the piano! So it was a thrill to find, and be able to import, Final Fantasy VI: Original Sound Version Piano Solo Sheet Music via Amazon. You can see my recently arrived copy on the left, and if you’d like to peek inside, I’ve posted the book’s version of Terra’s theme at the bottom of this page.

 

The book itself is a 197-page collection of what I believe is every single song on FF6‘s OST, from opening to ending (1). According to the Final Fantasy Wiki, it’s aimed at beginner to intermediate pianists, and this sounds about right — after so many years of disuse my skills have atrophied all the way back to “beginner”, but with a bit of work I can still play recognisable, if mangled, character themes.

 

On this note, the book’s arrangements (by Asako Niwa) hew quite closely to the in-game music, perhaps a little too closely — many songs loop rather than tapering to a “natural” close. Still, I think the book’s literal approach works — it preserves the strength, clarity, and simplicity of Nobuo Uematsu’s original soundtrack, and since I know the game music quite well, this also makes it a bit easier for me to learn.

 

Overall, I am very happy with my purchase so far. While it’s still early days — I haven’t even touched the left-hand part of each song — I feel that the book sits in the happy intersection between “easy on the ears” and “not too hard to learn”. It’s also succeeded at motivating me to pick up the piano again — I think I’ve played more in the last couple of weeks than I have in the last few years. Book in hand, I plan to keep practicing hard, and (with the proviso that it is a bit expensive) I’d recommend it to anyone else who might be interested.

 

Do you play music? If so, what do you like to play, and have you tried your hand at soundtracks? Drop a note in the comments!

 

(1) Note that there is another, separate book called Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections, which contains fewer songs, is a bit more ornate in its arrangement, and is aimed at more advanced pianists.

 

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Musical Monday: “The Lazy Detective Agency” (Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs the Soulless Army), composed by Shoji Meguro

Since I recently highlighted Raidou Kuzunoha‘s re-release on PSN, for this week I’ve chosen the bright, jazzy song that plays when you return to the main character’s office. The game is set in an alternate 1931 Japan, home to both flappers and kimono-clad passersby, and as you listen to the saxophone, imagine that mix of eras and cultures captured in the setting. Enjoy!

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Firaxis announces Civilization: Beyond Earth

This deserves a post of its own: Firaxis has announced Civilization: Beyond Earth, a spiritual successor in all but name to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. PC Gamer has run a detailed interview with the developers, while beneath the cut, I’ve embedded the official announcement trailer (complete with a narrator who sounds like SMAC‘s Deirdre).

Update: The official press release is now available here.

BE is due out later in 2014, which seems likely to make it one of the highest-profile strategy releases (alongside The Sims 4) in the second half of the year. This will be one to watch.

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The Last Story: not the least

wii_laststory_bundlebox_ps_3d_-_smallIf the necromancer hits me with one more fireball, I’m toast.

 

He’s the toughest boss I’ve faced so far, and the good news is, I’ve whittled him down to his last chunk of health. The bad news is, I’m on my last life, my AI teammates aren’t doing much better, and the next fireball that hits will probably finish me off.  If I can close in with my sword, before the necromancer’s spell timer counts down, the battle will be over. The trick is lasting that long.

 

There he is! The necromancer has spent the fight teleporting around the room, but I see him now. I fumble with my bow, spray a few Wizard Slayer arrows his way. If I hit, I’ll interrupt his spell, buying myself a few precious seconds. And I hit. The timer disappears. I charge in, ignore the skeleton bodyguards, raise my sword…

 

… and the screen erupts in flame.

 

But this fireball comes from the party sorcerer, controlled by the AI, and it could not have come at a better time. The fireball took the necromancer to his last sliver of health. One last slash, and it’s over. I’ve won. More accurately, to give full credit to my AI-controlled teammates: we’ve won.

 

Welcome to The Last Story, a 2012 Wii action-RPG from Japanese developer Mistwalker (1). TLS never managed to replicate fellow Wii RPG Xenoblade’s jump to cult classic – but if you ask me, TLS is both the better of the two, and one of the most underrated games in years.

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Age of Wonders III: Slog and counter-slog

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Age of Wonders III

While I like a number of things about Age of Wonders III, one problem holds it back – pacing.

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Clippings: The Turtle Moves!

Night_watch_discworldI’m in the midst of a selective re-read of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and while individual books are often hit-and-miss (hence the “selective”), the series as a whole is as much a marvel as it was when I discoverd it all those years ago. What starts as a series of gags about fantasy cliches (and, for the first few books, not even especially good gags) evolves into a mix of humour, adventure, and social commentary, that, at its best, outdoes what it originally parodied. Here is a good article chronicling that growth.

The Discworld novels also spawned three adventure games; I briefly played one of them, many years, ago, and I still remember that if you asked the weedy main character* to ‘examine’ himself, he said he was “really six foot tall, bronzed, and rippling with muscle, but the artist has had a bad day”. Here is Hardcore Gaming’s write-up of the games. And here is a video Let’s Play of Discworld Noir, the third and final game.

* Rincewind, the “wizzard” who can’t even spell wizard.

In other news:

  1. The gloriously named PS2 action-RPG Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs the Soulless Army is being re-released as a download on the US PSN store. I played a bit of this years ago, and while it’s mechanically flawed — its controls were clunky and the random encounter rate was way too high — it also featured glorious music and a unique setting, Jazz-Age Japan. I keep meaning to finish it one day!
  2. Have you noticed that, increasingly, video game female leads are daughters (or surrogate daughters), not love interests?  Here is an Edge article on the “rise of the protagonist dad”.
  3. Julian Gollop, creator of the original X-COM, is back! Here is his Kickstarter campaign for Chaos Reborn a fantasy turn-based tactics game with a striking aesthetic.

Age of Wonders III: Synergies

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Age of Wonders III

Now that I’ve spent a little more time with Age of Wonders 3 – I think I’m near the end of my third campaign map – I thought I’d answer one of the questions I posed in last week’s preview.

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