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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Utawarerumono 3 Beaten:

Utawarerumono came out in 2002.  It was a completely new concept taken on by one of the top visual novel companies, Leaf, combining aspects of eroge, fantasy/sci fi storytelling, and tactical rpg's.  It was a huge hit, and was converted into an excellent anime a few years later in 2006, which was another huge hit.

The story being complete, it was left to the dusts of time, with everyone happy with both the game and anime reaching the full ending of the tale.

But at some point Leaf decided they could do more with this franchise, so they opened the treasure box up again to see if they couldn't repeat the magic.  An ambitious duo of sequels that would mark the 'true ending' of the series, each of whom would be longer than the original game, have more characters, and be more epic in scope.  It turns out, yes, they could capture the magic yet again just fine.

The second game was also marvelous, and was also converted into a marvelous anime.  But that left American viewers off at a cliffhanger.  The second game/anime in isolation was worse than useless.  It took a series that had a definite and complete story and instead left it as an incomplete and frustrating midway point.  What would become of Anju?  Haku?  Yamato?  Who poisoned Anju in the first place, which of the pillar generals were to blame?  The questions just went on and on.

Finally the third game was sold in English this September, and since there was no anime adaption, only by playing the game could we see what had become of this legendary series.  Well, rest assured, not only was the third game excellent in its own right, but by answering all the questions left hanging in the second game, it enhanced the value of both the original and the second games in the series.  Now everything had a proper ending again.

By the third game, it had become so famous and mainstream it had to drop the eroge elements, but it's still a fantastic fantasy/sci fi and a fantastic tactical rpg.  (It still has eroge quality art and a lot of near nudity too, so at least it's trying its best to slip in all the fanservice it can.)

The third game takes advantage of all the assets built up over the first two.  It features all the characters from all the games and spends a good deal of time with all of them, letting them flower into fully developed characters from what before were only passing strangers.  It has a full 96 song soundtrack, taking advantage of everything composed in the franchise up until this point.  It even has fun minigames where your characters can fight each other in mock battles instead of advancing the plot or retaking the land from the evil usurpers.

The long and winding storytelling manner allows for plenty of great humor and romance as well as all the action and drama.  This was a 45 hour game, and most of those 45 hours were just reading the visual novel aspect and getting to know everyone better.  You can tell how compelling said story was just by the fact that I finished it in a week.  Most visual novels take months or years for me to finish.  But Utawarerumono, as to be expected, is just in a different league.

The voice acting was wonderful.  Nekone is practically the main heroine in this game, and she's voiced by the prodigy Inori Minase, now often rated as the best voice actress in the industry.  Other roles are full of just as many stars -- Takahiro Sakurai, Keiji Fujiwara, Rie Kugimiya, Miyuki Sawashiro, Ai Kakuma, Rikiya Koyama, on and on.

There were parts of the story that dragged or were too melodramatic, but it's completely overshadowed by all the things they did right.

I do wish the fight portions of the game had better graphics.  There's no reason for such cheap 3d models to exist on a PS4.  But I understand not all games have the budget of FF XV.  Since most of the time you're looking at beautiful hand drawn artwork, in the end it doesn't really matter.

Fifteen years later, Utawarerumono can be laid to rest for good.  That's a long run.  I pity the fools who got to watch the first anime but died before they could purchase this game.  Now they'll never know the ending like I do, they'll never have seen all the characters they love grown up and fulfilled.  That celebratory moment is reserved only for me, because I was born in the right era of mankind, the era of amazing epic stories, from One Piece to Naruto to Fairy Tail, all of which are decades in length but still come to an end in time for me to see them in full.  Da Capo III was the same.  I'm so glad I got to rescue Sakura from her fate as shown in Da Capo II.  Another franchise that took decades to reach its true ending, whose ending I finally got to reach this year.  Just like how Mega Man came to an end this year.  Or how Bakemonogatari just ended this summer.  Or Hayate no Gotoku.  Or To Love ru.  Or Akame ga Kill!  Or -- really, what the heck is with this year???????????  Is the world ending or something?

Well, Utawarerumono has ended.  Next up, the ending of Love Live! Sunshine.  The heart attacks just don't stop coming.

Native Invader:

I listened to Tori Amos' latest album, Native Invader, as well.  But as expected there wasn't a single new noteworthy song.  It's sad to say but Tori Amos has lost the ability to create catchy melodies or even, seemingly, beats.

Her best album was Scarlet's Walk and it's all been downhill from there.  She's so old it's crazy she's still even releasing new albums.  Even if she plans on releasing a dozen more, though, I have no further interest in listening to them.  Native Invader was her last chance.  If she can't produce hits anymore, listening to any more of her songs is just a waste of my time.

Valkyrie Profile music:

My Good Music hall of fame shrank by four more songs, three of which came from Final Fantasy Tactics this time, due to the three being remixes of other, better FF Tactics themes.

'Pray' isn't an exact replica of 'Ovelia's Theme', but they share enough similarities that there's no point having both songs, and Ovelia's Theme is the far superior of the two.

'Alma's Theme' and 'Hero's Theme' are both remixes of different portions of the same song, 'Prologue Movie'.  There's no point to them when I can just listen to 'Prologue Movie' and hear them both.

The fourth remix is Dungeon from Final Fantasy 1, which is a copy of Flight of the Bumble Bee from my star classical music.  I decided Uematsu's version of the song was better though, so Flight of the Bumble Bee had to go, since the hall of fame can never host two songs with the same melody.

At this rate I was going to run out of songs because they were all going to turn out to be remixes. >.<

Luckily, I saw this problem coming and took steps to solve it, by downloading Valkyrie Profile 1 + 2's music.  I've finished judging these soundtracks, and I can say two things -- there's plenty of great music to be found here, but no, it's not better than Tales.

Motoi Sakuraba is a very reliable composer, and Valkyrie Profile's music sounds just like the stuff he always composes.  It would be weird if Valkyrie Profile's music wasn't great as a result.  But I haven't heard anything on par with say, Search a Seal.  Motoi's greatest musical feat was Tales of Symphonia, not Valkyrie Profile.  The random internet commenters were wrong.

Still, from what I downloaded, I emerged with 95 'hits' and only 52 'misses.'  This represents an enormous bolstering of my previously flagging hall of fame.  All my Mega Man music put together only has 128 songs in my hall of fame, so for these two games to nearly match that on their own speaks volumes.  As expected of my #1 ranked composer in terms of volume, who now will only pull even further ahead of everyone else.

If you look at another two related games composed by Motoi Sakuraba as reference, Tales of Destiny 1 + 2 has 106 songs in my hall of fame.  Which means Valkyrie Profile is virtually indistinguishable from Tales in quality.  My only complaint is the lack of standout hits.  There's nothing like A Town of Dancing Wind from Graces, nothing like A Merchant Town Full of Life from Xillia, and no vocal tracks at all.

Valkyrie Profile feels an awful lot like oatmeal.  It will fill the belly with a large amount of decent music, but it will never satisfy the appetite.  Sheer numbers is partially what I was looking for this time, though, after my hall of fame was dipping dangerously low from all my cuts, so I'd say the project was a success.  My new music hall of fame total is 4317 songs, 9.7 days in length.  This total is always subject to change, though.  Perhaps some of the Valkyrie Profile songs won't pan out to be as good as I initially thought.  Or I could find some more remixes, or who knows what.  But I'm finally back to where I was supposed to be before the great winnowing.  Next target -- 10 days of great music!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rurouni Kenshin Resumes:

Rurouni Kenshin's new Hokkaido arc began today, after 18 years of dormancy.  Very like Dragon Ball Super resuming what was thought to be a finished Dragon Ball series.  The art isn't as good as the original, which is sad, but it's not like it's actually bad or anything.  The first chapter was drowning in nostalgia fanboyism, but that's excusable given how long it's been and how popular the original was.  It will probably become more serious and original starting from the second chapter.  I'll keep my expectations moderate.

We're seeing quite the trend here.  Dragon Ball Super, Bolt, Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card Hen, and now Rurouni Kenshin Hokkaido.  Popular series just don't want to go away.  If the product is still high quality, I have no complaints.

Meanwhile, I cut two more remixes from my good music hall of fame.  Epilogue: Saikai is just an instrumental version of 1000 Words from FF X-2, and Somewhere in the World is a remix of Golbez, Clad in Black from FF4.

Somewhere in the World isn't note for note an exact replica of Golbez, but it shares enough similarities that you can't get Golbez out of your head the whole time it's playing.  This uneasy feeling, this cognitive dissonance, of the song partially but not fully overlapping with a much better song, makes what would be a positive experience in isolation a negative one instead.

After all these cuts I felt it was time to restock on my good music supply.  The best prospect for new good music comes from my #1 composer of all time (at least in terms of quantity), Motoi Sakuraba.  While he wasn't composing for Tales or Star Ocean, he was composing for another franchise called Valkyrie Profile.  I've read comments online that his Valkyrie music was his greatest work, which if true would be saying something, because a lot of his Tales music is incredibly good.  I've got the music downloaded, but it will take some time to properly judge it.

Nobuo Uematsu's music outside of Final Fantasy has proven itself to be worth hearing, so Motoi Sakuraba's non-Tales music should fare the same.  I expect favorable results.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Congratulations to One Piece on their 700th episode:

Today featured One Piece episode 805, so why is today important?  Because when you take out the filler, it's actually episode 700.  700 eps of canon content, the first great series to ever reach this vaunted benchmark in length.

It's because One Piece is so crazily long that it manages to secure its 3rd place ranking.  This length isn't ending any time soon, either.  Expect One Piece 800 or even 1,000 to roll along eventually.

Pretty Cure will soon reach episode 700 itself, but Pretty Cure is not a continuous story.  It resets every year or two with a whole new cast, plot and setting.  One Piece, by virtue of its epic single continuity, surpasses Pretty Cure.

The Whole Cake Island arc is better than the previous Zou arc.  I feared the worst when this arc began but it actually turned out pretty well in the end.  Oda still has it.  I look forward to the day this story starts resolving issues instead of introducing more complications for the cast, but that could still be ten years away so I'm not going to get my hopes up.

One Piece will double in quality if it ever actually reaches its ending.  Because my rankings are prophetic, that 'double bonus' is already embedded in its current 3rd place status.  But actually getting to see the ending will be a delectable treat, it's one of the reasons I look forward to the rest of my life.

A more interesting question is how much better will One Piece get between now and the ending?  Will the fight with Kaidoh be interesting?  What about Blackbeard?  The Marines?  The revolutionary army?  Most of the Shichibukai are friends with Luffy now, but Kuma is supposedly a soulless agent of the Marines now and absurdly strong.  How will they deal with him?  Or the new guy Edward Weevil, when will he show up?  What about the new admiral, Ryokugyo?

Putting aside all the battle aspects of the manga, will something interesting happen in terms of character development for the crew?  We still don't know Zoro's past before he joined the dojo.  Is that ever going to be explored?  Will Usopp finally stop being a coward?  Will Sanji find a woman who appreciates him?  Will he find All Blue?  Will Nico Robin ever learn the dark history and read the Rio Poneglyph?  Will Nami ever make her map of the sea?  Will Luffy become the Pirate King?

What is the secret behind Crocodile's past?

700 episodes and there's still more questions than answers. . .

Friday, September 15, 2017

Good Music 7.0:

http://diamed-the-road-less-traveled.blogspot.com/2017/08/good-music.html

My good music permapost has been improved yet again.  The names of many songs have been shortened and simplified, a remix was found and eliminated, artists posing as multiple names (Go Shiina and Masaru Shiina, for instance) have been solidified into their single true form, capitalization was standardized, and so on.  Lots of minor clerical improvements.

But the biggest change was all about overcoming the custom in Japan of putting peoples' last names first, and first names last.  Since this is America and we speak English, my good music post had to go through all the artist names and set them right again -- first names first, last names last.

This cleared up a lot of confusion.  Sometimes artists had their first names first, and other times their last names last, and it was thought they were even different people.  Just by putting everyone's names in their proper order, I discovered three new composers who were responsible for at least two good songs on my hall of fame list that had previously been thought to be minor figures with only one song to their name.  Now their names are properly memorialized in the beginning section when before they were lost to the winds of time.

Other artists were discovered to be responsible for 13 good songs instead of 9, and so on.  All sorts of problems were due to these names being out of order, and all these problems are now solved.

The remix was bizarrely difficult to discover.  Oujo no Yuuwaku is a song from Final Fantasy 1, but it's actually a complete ripoff of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Op20. - Sc. 10, which is already on my list.  The flash of inspiration it took for me to check out Swan Lake and see if the songs matched was unearthly.  This is actually a good thing.  If I'm discovering even difficult and hidden remixes like these, there must not be many more blatant and obvious ones left.

Sarah Brightman's song 'Jesu, Joy of Men's Desiring' was actually composed by Bach, so I gave credit for that one to Bach instead of Brightman.  The poor guy only has 3 songs in my hall of fame so he needs all the credit he can get.

For a lot of classical music songs, previously the artist was listed as the people playing the song, instead of the actual composer who did the important work of making the song.  That's been fixed, and now the artist properly refers to the composer.  Another vital change from 6.0.

The new total is 4228 songs and 197 eminent composers.  But as you can see these number are ever changing.

Meanwhile, the Card Captor Sakura ova setting up the Clear Card Hen for next year came out, and it was really good.  (Better than the entire 2nd season of Tales of Zestiria the X, just to put things in perspective).  This is the 28th great anime franchise to release something in 2017.  The 29th will be SAO's Ordinal Scale movie, set to release later this month.  Let's hope the fall season pitches in to raise that number some more before year's end.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Terra Battle 2 & Xenoblade 2 Release Dates:

Terra Battle 2 comes out September 21st.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 comes out December 1st.  Presumably, their soundtracks will appear online shortly after their release dates, but then again it might take months before that happens.  In any case, the day approaches when my good music hall of fame can receive some needed reinforcements.