The melodic music of Konami shooters

For the past several weeks I’ve been in thrall to the Gradius series. The strategic power-up selection, the challenging levels, and the reward of downing a powerful boss – it’s a joy to play these games. Alongside Gradius there are also spin-offs that share the same DNA, most notably Salamander/Life Force and Parodius.

This post is dedicated to these games’ amazing tunes, all courtesy of Konami’s esteemed composers. Konami are perhaps best known music-wise for the Castlevania series. but Gradius is a neglected well of wonderful melodies and beautiful tunes. It’s unfortunate that Konami neglected the series after the mid-2000s, and that Gradius never had a talent like Michiru Yamane attached to the series to expand and extend its unique musical identity into the present era.

What makes the music of Konami’s shooters so special? TV Tropes has a great phrase that explains:

The bulk of Gradius’s most crowning songs accurately convey some sort of cosmic wonder.

This is a great way to kick us off, so I suggest we see how this bears out in practice! Continue? Continue reading

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VVG Show 15 – Operation Rainfall, Xenoblade Chronicles

We are back and it is 2016! We revive the final episode of our Operation Rainfall trilogy – first recorded in early 2016 – for your listening pleasure. Better late than never, right? Right…? Let’s hope so. In this episode, we discuss the epic Wii-exclusive Japanese RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. First off, Adrian confronts Maya’s unhealthy fangirl obsession with the evils of the game’s romance plot. You too will learn what the Twilight series and Xenoblade Chronicles share in common. We go on to discuss (and imitate) the game’s English voice acting, and compare the various Operation Rainfall titles before returning once more to Shelia.

Please be warned that, while we don’t go deeply into Xenoblade’s plot proper, there are (romance-related) spoilers discussed. What a bunch of jokers!


Episode 15: Operation Rainfall, Xenoblade Chronicles

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How all the time in the world spoiled the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series

I’ve been trying to pin down the precise differences between console- and arcade-style games. I’ve never been especially confident in how to explain the appeal of personal arcade favourites like Time Crisis 2, House of the Dead 2, Metal Slug, and too many shooters to name, over the meatier games associated with consoles. It’s not that I don’t like console games – far from it! – but I associate the short, intense and replayable experiences of arcade games with gaming on a deep level. Analysing the qualities that make arcade games special is the main topic of this post, but it comes courtesy of an unlikely source: the console-only Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. Continue reading

How I lost control, part 1

I honestly can barely stand the Dualshock line of controllers. Hate is too strong a word, but I’m definitely Dualshock-averse. When I want to play a multi-platform game, I’ll nearly always avoid the Playstation consoles: I’ll pick the Saturn port over the PS1, Gamecube or Xbox over PS2, and Wii or Wii U over PS3, purely based on controller preference. Replacing the Dualshock has become my obsession lately, and I’m writing this post to share my journey. If I can help even one person through their own Dualshock nightmare, then it’s been worth it. Continue reading

Soukyugurentai (Saturn) – an underrated classic

Soukyugurentai (aka Terra Diver) happens to be one of my all-time favourite games. Originally a 1996 Japan-only arcade shoot ’em up developed by Raizing, it was later ported to the Sega Saturn. Why do I love it so? Simply put, Soukyugurentai looks, sounds and plays like a dream. The gameplay is fast and furious, but not brainless; the game requires strategy and thought to master. Your ship handles great, with fluid and responsive controls. Last but not least, Soukyugurentai feels uniquely cinematic, with a dramatic musical score by Hitoshi Sakimoto and a striking visual style that holds up wonderfully to this day. Continue reading

Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus (Saturn) – is this biological or mechanical warfare?

It’s been a while, readers. But I’m back. That’s right, the PhD is over. Submitted and awaiting viva! Throughout these past few months, I haven’t stopped playing games entirely. Still, my enjoyment of life in general has increased dramatically now, and that extends to games too. After listening to a recent Retronauts episode about the Gradius series, I decided to dust off my copy of the expansively named Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus for the trusty Sega Saturn. I’d always been curious, so why not try these spin-offs of a beloved series?

Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus is a collection of three arcade games, namely Salamander, Life Force, and Salamander 2. The former two, which I’ll cover first, are variations on the same basic game released within a year of one another in 1986-7. Salamander 2, by comparison, released almost ten years later in 1996, and is a more modern iteration on the series formula. These games all riff on similar level themes, bosses and structure, many of these themselves nabbed from the Gradius series. For instance, every game alternates between horizontal and vertical scrolling stages, and contains a mix of biological and sci-fi themed stages. Continue reading

Life update: where I explain my absence to assuage the neverending guilt

I am now on the last leg of completing my PhD. I know I said that in my last “life update” but this time… it’s serious. All I do, all day, is sit at my desk and try and figure out why words have stopped meaning what they used to. By the end of the project I should have over 70,000 words ready for the nine people around the world who it will be relevant to.

As you might imagine, I’m finding it difficult to sit and type in front of a screen – who knew that there was a limit? – and formulating blog posts at the moment seems like an arduous, difficult task. I have to have… an argument? I have to have opinions? Sounds a bit too similar to the every day struggle of stringing together sentences that include words like ‘ontology’, ‘problematise’ and ‘heterogeneity’.

The plan is to submit by the end of July – yes, next month. To celebrate, I was hoping to indulge either by going on holiday or buying a Switch (preferably both) – but my funding dried up months ago so I may have to settle for a packet of crisps, a movie and possibly a phone call with someone who does own a Switch. They can talk to me about their Switch experiences and I can translate their experiences into blog posts that will rock the internet to the very core…!

I apologise if this sounds like my current situation isn’t any fun – actually it’s been good. After a hard day’s thinking, there’s always time to enjoy videogames. Videogames still make sense. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve enjoyed spending time with Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, Splatoon, Portal 2, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, and assorted Neo Geo games.

Anyway just to say thanks for bearing with me in this limbo phase. There will be a one or two posts coming your way, just not the usual weekly ones – I can’t wait to jump back on the blogtrain when the time is right!

final fantasy xiii

Looking forward to playing and blogging about more games from the backlog…