Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vanillaware: Top 5 Games

So, this'll be the last post for Vanillaware Month. Dragon's Crown comes out in a little over a week, and I can't wait for it to take up a all of my time. 'Till then .......


5) Oboro Muramasa

Despite the fact that I enjoy the game, I have no problem admitting that Muramasa is Vanillaware's weakest game. The main reason being that the game didn't deliver in gameplay depth nor story; two areas that Vanillaware games often excel at. The game is still beautiful and has an amazing soundtrack, but it was really hard to "get into" Muramasa when I didn't care for the characters and the repetitive style of the gameplay stuck out quite a bit after a while. Still, I can cut Vanillaware some slack here, as the game had several development issues and the final product is simply a small piece of the game's original vision.

4) Grand Knights History

After playing Muramasa, I was really hoping for Vanillaware to make a traditional turn-based RPG; the main reason being that Vanillaware had really impressed me with how they took established genres and expanded upon their gameplay in interesting ways, and with GKH, I was not disappointed. The battle system Vanillaware crafted with GKH is interesting and deep, and when you combine that with the huge amount of customizable classes and online multiplayer, you get a game that never gets old in both single-player and multiplayer forms. All that on top of beautiful visuals and an amazing soundtrack make for a superb gameplay experience. The only problems I have with the game come from the fact that I don't understand Japanese, so I couldn't get the most out of the story and systems.

3) Princess Crown

Like GKH, Princess Crown never got an english release, and thus I couldn't get the most out of the story and systems of the game; regardless, PC is an experience to remember. The graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is tense and very satisfying, and the story is interesting and surprisingly large in scope (I was able to find a translated story script that I read as I played). While several of PC's game systems would be further sharpened and expanded upon in Odin Sphere, Princess Crown still stands strongly on its own with some great unique features, the most prominent of which being its unique and satisfying battle system.

2) Grimgrimoire

Grimgrimoire is perhaps Vanillaware's best game in that it has virtually no flaws. The bets aspect of GG is its RTS gameplay, which is incredibly deep and satisfying while being very accessible for newcomers. The rest of the game is equally as impressive. The story is amazing and complemented by some truly amazing writing, the graphics and character designs are striking, beautiful, and presented very stylishly, and soundtrack is simple yet beautiful. Truly one of the greatest games I've ever played, and a clear result of what happens when a talented game developer makes what they want.

1) Odin Sphere

Truly Vanillaware's magum opus. An incredible combination of beautiful visuals, emotional orchestral soundtrack, epic Shakespearean story-telling, and a deep and satisfying action-rpg gameplay system. All of this coming together with an absolutely incredible execution. I've already said so much about Odin Sphere, so I won't drag on here. I will simply say that Odin Sphere is quite simply one of the most impressive games I've ever played, from story to gameplay design to visuals and music; Odin Sphere is an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Vanillaware Month: Top 5 Soundtracks

I was originally going to make a post on the "Top 5 Music Tracks" from Vanillaware games, but that was just turning out to be too difficult, so I decided to rank the OSTs instead.

With the exception of Princess Crown, all of Vanillaware's games' soundtracks have been composed and produced by the talented people at Basiscape, Hitoshi Sakamoto's music company. The reason for this is due to George Kamitani and Hitoshi Sakamoto being friends, thus their companies have developed a close relationship.

And with the background information done, let's begin with #5 ......


5) Princess Crown

Despite being composed by the talented Toshikazu Tanaka of Metal Slug fame, PC's soundtrack isn't all that impressive. It does a great job of setting a tone in the more tense story scenes, but the ambient and battle music leaves a lot to be desired.

4) Grimgrimoire

Grimgrimoire has a small soundtrack, but is one where each track is one to remember. Since Grimgrimoire plays out like a play, it makes sense that the music evokes specific emotions such as shock, intrigue, happiness, and fear. It all comes together very well in a beautiful soundtrack held back only by its small size.

3) Grand Knights History

Here's a soundtrack that has everything. There are calm, emotional pieces alongside many superb battle themes. It all comes together to form a very strong soundtrack that paints the picture of an epic war very well. With each country having their own specific theme, story scenes having various themes to match the tone, and many battle themes to complement the major battles throughout the game the soundtrack is huge and varied. The only problem with GKH's soundtrack is how its executed in the game, for the player doesn't hear many of the varied battle themes throughout the game, rather, the player mainly hears the main battle theme most of the time, which is a shame considering it's the weakest of the battle themes.

2) Oboro Muramasa

Muramasa's soundtrack is perhaps the game's greatest strength. The soundtrack is huge and is composed mainly of atmospheric and battle themes; the end result being a soundtrack of nothing but beautiful and thrilling music. This is all made better by the fact that the atmospheric and battle themes are basically one-in-the-same, as they go between each other in-game when going in and out of battle. The end result is a soundtrack that works both in-game and out-of-game. The music itself is an interesting and eclectic mix of traditional Japanese instruments and modern drums and electric guitars, and it all comes together very well without the modern instruments ever sounding "too much". A truly superb soundtrack.

1) Odin Sphere

Beautiful, intense, dynamic, and emotional; the Odin Sphere soundtrack is simply incredible. What gives Odin Sphere this #1 spot can only truly be understood by listening to it. The music for cutscenes are emotional and intense, the stage and hub music is ambient and atmospheric, and the battle music is intense. Not just the best soundtrack to come from Basiscape, but one of the greatest videogame soundtracks of all time.

Vanillaware Month: Top 5 Moments

5) Princess Crown Prologue

The prologue of Princess Crown is very impactful, as it sets the groundwork for Gradriel's adventure as well as creating a great character in Gradriel's mother in just a few minutes. Witnessing Gradriel's mother take charge of her troops and lead them on the front lines was extremely effective in both giving Gradriel's mother a strong presence throughout the story as well as showing how strong a female videogame character could be, something that Vanillaware would continue to show throughout their games.

4) Lillet's Confession (Grimgrimoire)

Grimgrimoire gets a lot of attention for its yuri relationship between Lillet and Amoretta, and I've got no problem with that at all (obviously). It was great to see a lesbian relationship build between the two character over the course of the story. And that's what I liked the most about Lillet and Amoretta's relationship, they didn't just fall in love, their feelings developed over a long period of time and went through a lot of hardship; something rarely seen in the common heterosexual relationships in most stories, especially videogames. So why is Lillet's confession such a big moment? Because it is the culmination of all the struggles and feelings Lillet and Amoretta had been through throughout her adventure. It was such a heartfelt and beautiful moment complemented by beautiful music and expressive emotions from Lillet.

3) Oswald's Death (Odin Sphere)

Oswald is a character who, up to this point in the story, has gone from being an imposing villain to an empathetic dark knight. He had devoted himself to one he believed to understand him, but when he is betrayed by the one person he put his hopes and heart into, he finds no other alternative than to simply let the Halja cut his soul and carry him to the underworld. This scene is very impactful, as it shows just how much Gwendolyn meant to Oswald, as well as providing a strong dose of tragedy to the story of Odin Sphere. The execution of the scene is very well executed as well, making great use of the "stage" that Odin Sphere is played on.

2) Lillet Defeats Grimlet (Grimgrimoire)

The impact of this moment is quite obvious: we have been following Lillet as she has fought demons, discovered secrets of the tower, made mistakes, and even found love; and all of it culminated in this moment, when she makes a contract with the menacing Grimlet and fools him to his death. It was a brilliantly cunning move from Lillet that I didn't see coming, and my reaction was the same as Advocat's: laughter at the simple sight of the menacing Grimlet being fooled by a young girl.

1) Final Chapter of Mercedes' Book (Odin Sphere)

The final chapter of Mercedes' story contains two pivotal moments: 1) Mercedes' speech to her troops and 2) Mercedes defeats Odin. Mercedes' speech is the perfect culmination of her coming-of-age story, as she is no longer timid or scared to fight; she has become the queen that her mother wanted her to be and the one both Ingway and Brom knew she could be. After leading her army to victory, Mercedes doesn't kill Odin; not out of mercy, but to make him live with the shame of losing everything and being confined to his kingdom. Mercedes' story was a great coming-of-age story, and it truly couldn't have ended better than her final chapter.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Favorite Character Designs Round 4

Juri (Street Fighter)

Juri is one of my favorite character designs of recent times, maybe because she's the first straight-forward evil female character in a long time, and Capcom nailed it with Juri. One of my favorite aspects of her design is how much movement there is to her design. Her hands are always open, her arms and legs are often in a pose, and her eyes are very, pardon the pun, eye-catching; all of this comes together to form a character whose entire body grabs attention.


Rouge the Bat (Sonic the Hedgehog)

Rouge the Bat is the Jessica Rabbit of the anthropomorphic character world. She is sexy, pure and simple. To the point where its awkward looking at her art; because, you know, she's a freakin' bat, heh. Still, I'm a fan of anthropomorphic characters, because I always like to see how artists combine animal traits with human traits in different ways to make a character, and the Sonic series has my favorite anthropomorphic designs, and Rouge is right at the top. A great combination of cute, sexy, and cool; Fujiko Mine had to be an inspiration here. Speaking of ....


Fujiko Mine (Lupin III)

THE quintessential sexy anime woman. Fujiko is perhaps the most influential woman in anime when it coems to being attractive and mysterious. And that's what was so much fun about her. I find Fujiko to be at her best in the classic anime series and the Castle of Cagliostro. Her sex appeal isn't obvious in her clothong but in her eyes and body language. She's just a perfect example of a femme-fattale. Something attempted in other designs, but can not be replicated. 


Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog)

Sonic is cool. Really, really cool. How cool is he? Even through many sub-par entries in his game franchise, his games are still successful thanks to how cool he his. And I love this character design. Classic Sonic was great too, but I love Modern Sonic even more. His sleek design and long spikes are a natural evolution of his classic design, and the blue color scheme contrasted by his signature red shoes and white gloves are perfect. A near-perfect character design.


Onion Knight (Dissidia: Final Fantasy)

I love how beautiful and detailed this character design is. From the tuffs on his helmet and ornate sword to his cape and many accessories, OK's design is bursting with so much color and flash that his presence is immense despite his small size. Dissidia is a plethora of incredible character designs, but OK's really sytands out, which is really saying something. 


Exdeath (Dissidia: Final Fantasy)

Bascially exactly what I said for Onion Knight except even more so. Perhaps what is most impressive about Exdeath is his color scheme of light blue. Tetsuya Nomura manage to make the normally calming color of light blue into a regal menace. What I love the most about this character design is how it is a superb combination of beauty and power. A wonder of a design. 


Epyon (Gundam Wing)

Epyon was the first Gundam I saw where I thought right away: "Wow! That is cool!". I love everything about Epyon, from the beautiful color scheme to the menacing wings. I know that he is basically Wing Zero with a different color scheme, but Epyon's design just gives him such a stronger presence than Wing Zero, imo. 


Casshern (Casshern Sins)

I'm a huge fan of Yoshihiko Umakoshi's character design and animation style, and it is perhaps seen best here in this reboot of a classic series. Reimagining a classic character design is a big risk, but this design really puled it off. Casshern's design is so perfect for the type of action that takes place in Casshern Sins, and I love that about the design. This design is intense and powerful while still keeping the classic color scheme and symbol; its almost satisfyingly juxtaposing. A beautiful and intense character design. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vanillaware Month: Top 5 Antagonists

While the protagonists and their stories are the main focus of Vanillaware's stories, there are some great villains as well. Of course, as with the previous list, the majority of this list will contain characters from Vanillaware's most story heavy games.

And with that said, let's begin with #5 .....

5) King Onyx

In a different world, King Onyx could have been a playable protagonist in Odin Sphere. His story may be one of conquest, but more emotion begins to come out of his story as the tale of Odin Sphere goes on, and he is given two superb endings as a character. He falls to Mercedes in battle in the canon ending, and in one of Gwendolyn's bad endings, he is given one of the saddest ends to an antagonist I've ever seen. Onyx really stands out as a villain because while his stance as an antagonist is never put into question, the morality behind his actions are, as we wonder if a monster is truly capable of love.

4) Ingway

If there were one character in Odin Sphere who I wish was playable, it would be Ingway. Easily the most important side character in Odin Sphere, Ingway created a real presence for himself as an enigma. We see him act calm and cool throughout most of the game, but he still makes many risque and emotionally-driven decisions throughout the game, including becoming the Beast of Darkova himself. Ingway's character arc is one driven by love but ending in sadness. Odin Sphere is a tragic story, and Ingway may be the most tragic character in the story.

3) Grimlet (No art available)

Pure intimidation. Lillet meets Grimlet early on in Grimgrimoire, and his power is made completely obvious just by his appearance and powerful voice. Grimlet may not be the deepest character on this list, but he performs his role as a villain perfectly, as he is very intimidating and is easily set up as the "final boss" of the game. When Grimlet is vanquished, all will be good, but just how is Lillet going to defeat such a devil? Such is the driving question behind Grimgrimoire's story, and is lasts until the very end when Lillet actually manages to defeat a devil.

2) Advocat

Some of the best villains are those who you never truly know where they stand. Are they a friend or a foe? Can we ever truly know? Advocat is the quintessence of this type of villain. He freely admits to not truly caring what happens to others, and has no problem revealing himself as a devil. Advocat may be George Kamitani's best written character, as the questioning of Advocat's position in the battle against Grimlet and Calvaros is never truly clear. Simply put, he is an enigma to end, and we love him for it. Advocat's sheer likability is something to praise as well. There are many villains to be hated, but there are those rare ones to be loved as well.

1) King Valentine

Vile, tragic, and intimidating; that is King Valentine. A ghost of the past come to end the world, he is arguably the true villain of Odin Sphere. What makes King Valentine so impressive as a villain, is how despite the fact that he is simply a rotting corpse, he is incredibly intimidating and carries a huge presence with him. His very words cause Velvet to shake in fear and Ingway to lost his cool, and it is scenes like these that really give King Valentine an immense presence as an antagonist; so much so that his intimidation rubs off on the player, and when he makes his appearance, I become instantly intimidated, for I never knew what was going to happen. Nobody could harm this man, that was the strength of his presence, his power. Truly, the most evil and intimidating antagonist in a Vanillaware game yet.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Vanillaware Month: Top 5 Protagonists

Vanillaware games tend to have stories that range from decent to incredible, and at the center of these stories are some really amazing characters. At first I was going to have a simple "Top 5 Characters" list, but I had a really hard time, so I decided to split the list between protagonists and antagonists. Even so, this list was pretty hard to make. Also, I'll just say now that this list is very Odin Sphere heavy, heh.

And with that said, let's start with #5 ...

5) Oswald

There's a lot to love about Oswald, but perhaps what is best about him is how much he breaks convention and expectation. From first glance, Oswald looks like he's going to be the "cool, bad-ass" character of the game, and yet he turns out to be a tragic story figure who has both bloody hands and a tender heart. You'd expect him to be more of an evil character, but he may be the most pure-hearted character in the game, as he simply wants to make his loved ones happy. The end result is a complicated character who fits right into the epic story of love and war that is Odin Sphere. Oswald should also wright a book on how men should treat women, as he is easily the best husband I've seen in a story (well, he ties with Hughes from FMA, heh).

4) Gwendolyn

A lot of what makes Oswald great also carries over to Gwendolyn, as she is a central figure in the story of love and war that is Odin Sphere; she, like Oswald, also breaks many expectations. Where many female protagonists in stories are (for some reason) rewarded for their foolhardy mistakes, Gwendolyn is punished for them. Gwendolyn's story is one of learning and suffering from her past in order to become strong and face her present. Gwendolyn's story is a personal one about duty and love; the type of story that has greatly devolved into pure crap nowadays, therefore, I give Kamitani immense credit and praise in writing such a great story arc for Gwendolyn.

3) Lillet Blan

When talking about coming-of-age stories, Lillet's story arc in Grimgrimoire is always the first to come to my mind. The sheer amount of events Lillet goes through is immense, and its satisfying to know that she learns from all of them, all while interacting with many key individuals. Throughout Grimgrimoire, Lillet suffers through the deaths of her friends and loved-ones, fights for her life against demons, learns about the harshness of the world, and even falls in love. It's such a great story, and it all revolves around this one character. Grimgrimoire has an amazing story, and Lillet is that story.

2) Mercedes

One of the hardest decisions in making this list was omitting Gradriel from Princess Crown; however, when thinking it over, Mercedes Gradriel's story arcs are very similar, as they are both young princesses who must take the throne of their respective kingdoms and become powerful leaders. However, I feel Mercedes' story arc carried the most weight between the two, for Mercedes was thrown into a war immediately after her mother's death and looked upon for guidance. Mercedes' story could have gone wrong in many ways, such as her becoming strong far too quickly or having others do the work for her, but the end result was a superb story arc that showed the realistic growth of a young princess into a powerful queen worthy of being a leader, and, eventually, the savior of the world.

1) Velvet

Velvet Valentine. I love it when a character takes a long time to explain the details of, and Velvet is truly one of those characters. A dark past tied to not one, but two kingdoms, a tragic relationship with her mother, a brother who both loves and counteracts her, and a ghost from her past that shakes her to the bone. There's a reason Velvet's story is the final book in Odin Sphere, as it easily carries the most weight of the story. And yet, Velvet carries this weight perfectly. I was hesitant going into Velvet's story at first, as I thought her story would simply focus on her relationship with Cornelius, but that wasn't the case at all. Instead, players were treated to a dark and complex tale of tragedy, fate, and hope. Velvet is my #1 Vanillaware protagonist because, imo, carries the most weight to her tale and does it perfectly with a powerful tale; truly the most powerful woman in Vanillaware, and considering this "Top 5" consisted of 4 female protagonists, that's really saying something.


As an extra note, George Kamitani definitely deserves some extra points for being able to write such fantastic female characters. Nothing about his writing ever feels fake or stereotypical when writing his characters, especially his female characters. Strong, well-written female characters are really hard to come by in any media form, and I really love seeing such great female characters come from Vanillaware games. Keep it up George!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vanillaware Month: Top 5 Character Designs

In celebration of the upcoming release of Dragon's Crown, I'm going to write several Vanillaware-related posts; mainly "Top 5" lists of several topics involving the Vanillaware games.

First up is a big one: character designs. Now, after making my choices for this list, I've realized that I have only one main hero(ine) on the list. I believe this is because the main characters in Vanillaware games tend to have a more simply design (well, simple by Vanillaware standards), while antagonists or side characters tend to have more intricate designs. The reasons for this is because antagonists have to be imposing, and thus need more detailed or exaggerated character designs; furthermore, these detailed designs don't need to be animated as much as the main playable characters, thus they can have such detailed designs.

Also, it goes without saying that choosing a "Top 5" for anything involving Vanillaware is pretty hard, and most are almost certainly going to disagree with my lists, heh.

And with that said, let's begin with #5 ...

5) Chartreuse Grande

Chartreuse's design shows how George Kamitani can really think outside of the box both in terms of design and story. Chartreuse's design just oozes "magic and mystery" and really sets the tone and setting well within Grimgrimoire. In a game full of amazing character designs, Chartreuse really stands out.

4) Necro Samantha (no official art available)

Necro Samantha is a tough character design to describe if you haven't played Princess Crown, so I won't go into it too much. I will say that Kamitani added a surprising amount of detail to her character design and sprite despite the fact that she only makes three appearances in the game. She is basically a zombie ninja. She darts around the screen and throws knives, and breaks into pieces only to form back together after getting hit. All of these crazy actions combined with her black, white, and red color scheme works very well visually. Necro Samantha also has a very strong presence, mainly due to her tall height and large breasts. In fact, Necro Samantha is, as far as I know, George Kamitani's first busty female character; and, imo, she remains one of his best. 

3) Elpharia

Nature is a big theme in nearly every Vanillaware game, and that theme is reflected in many character designs, but I find the Fairy Queen Elpharia's design to be the quintessence of Kamitani's nature-themed character designs. The shrubs located on her head and shoulders, her long, golden hair, her long, flowing dress, and, of course, her large and beautiful butterfly wings. Despite only using a few distinct colors, Elpharia's design really stands out with a strong presence. And, like with Necro Samantha, Elpharia's tall height and large breasts help give her a very strong presence. 

2) Odin

Here's a big one. Odin's character design is all about presence. His stature is extremely large, with his torso being much large than this legs, thus shifting focus to his upper body where the eyes are drown to his enormous arms and flowing cape. The wings on his shoulders and helmet, as well as his crown give off the presence of a king. And when Odin brandishes his psypher, the Balor, his presence and intimidation factor is doubled. Overall, a superbly executed character design that cannot be denied attention. 

1) Odette

Creative and striking, that is Odette. What I love the most about her design is how she visualizes her role in the story perfectly; she is the queen of the underworld in both title and in design. Her headdress is large and beautifully detailed, which accents her beautiful face. Going further, she has a very large bust and an extravagant, flowing dress. All of this being a ruse to take focus away from her arms, back, and neck, which are nothing but skeleton. This all makes for a creative mix of beauty and monstrous. And it is executed beautifully. Her lamp and moon just complete her picturesque design. 

When I think of Vanillaware, Odette is always one of the first things that pop into my head, for she is, imo, the most striking design from George Kamitani and the quintessence of his style.