Saturday, April 14, 2012

Save the Future

Jet Set Radio Future

- Next Generation-
The year was meant to be 2001, when the Xbox was released. Thanks to delays, the game was shipped early 2002. JSRF received the following: positive reviews, character design, and an excellent soundtrack. But its sales record missed its mark, and it ended up being a gaming treasure. Negative stuff aside, JSRF paved the way for JSR to make its mark on whole new territory. But there was to be an online multiplayer mode, sadly due to budget concerns it never made it. Plus the dev team was struggling with a pretty tough schedule at the time. It was a promising start for Microsoft’s console (even deemed as the 2nd Dreamcast, because of certain influences that SEGA left its mark behind).

-Block Ridin-
Given the nature of being a more comprehensive title than the original. Every area could be trekked in a split-second, gaining more speed, and more flexible when it came to an open map for exploration. Another loved part of the series was the music, which was kept intact and just as addictive like the original game. But things were a bit different…

-Who’s the new guy?-
Players are introduced to the game through Yo-yo, but in the first game we were Beat. Turns out Corn (Coin – the guy who Cube and Combo tried to save) makes an entrance (er wait he’s an android). So both he, and Gum give the player a mini-tutorial on how to get started. (And find out that another robot can be an alternative guide later on) . Another shift in gears with JSRF is the character design. The entire gang, has been given a complete overhaul. Most of the gang, friend or enemies are now much older. (Especially the female characters, given a bit more curves) Literally the in-game engine could deliver even more expressions and active motions wherever you left a mark behind. (Speaking of different characters, the old lead of the police force is long retired, now a new guy named Hayashi who is a bit berserk has his eyes set on the Rudies.)

-Look at you-
By far the most innovative part about the new look is the in-game engine, it’s even sharper and can show a resolution that the Dreamcast wasn’t capable of producing. Showing off that the Xbox was capable of producing a solid game, compared to its competition Sony’s PS2. Just like the original Jet Set Radio, there were very few games like it in the market. (Compared to the present, where there are various titles using a cel-shaded based game engine.)

Rhythm of the Night -
Another huge shift in gears was the soundtrack. Hideki Naganuma takes the helm of mixing familiar tunes from the original game. And adding a few more songs, that will keep you listening for a while. However the OST was expanded this time around, over 30 tracks complete the solid soundtrack. There is a song for every mood, feeling, or expression. Some critics might even say that it rivals JSR’s tunes to a heartbeat.
**I am also very glad that they kept the “live DJ” mix setting, where a played track will overlap with another. And it keeps the momentum by surprising players wherever they go within the game. If there is a chance for another JSR title, I hope they bring back that style of music that kept us going all these years. Because music is the life stream of this series, and can’t live without it.

By far the biggest change within JSRF, is the control scheme. No longer are we dependent on moving towards a piece of graffiti, but we can get locked on towards a targeted one instead. (Think of It as Panzer Dragoon where its reticle locks-on to a nearby enemy.) Plus moving backwards is a lot simpler; just press the “Y” button. There is also a boost option, once you collect more than 10 spray cans, just hit “B” and off you go. (It comes in handy, especially when you race fellow rivals). And the addition of the right control stick, being used as a first person camera. Another new feature is the ability of using a “hand plant” maneuver when you get close to a half pipe, you can hang for a few seconds and score extra points. Plus there are hidden cassette tapes hidden in each area, find them all and score some bonus graffiti tags.

-Concept of Love-
And here we come to the end of the Jet Set Radio saga. However its not the end, there are rumors of another chapter in the works (if SEGA can battle through the current economic downturn). Jet Set Radio HD is coming to the PS3, 360 and PC, (tablets aren’t far off either). Sadly the team that created this series is now under a new title

Like DJ Professor K would say “Its not the end, but a whole new spin!”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jet Set Radio - Part 3 - Musical Beats

JSR Remix Part 3

Beats in my head – From lush visuals, to an open world design JSR was well known for another feature. Its sound, unlike any other game soundtrack, opened up a paradigm of music lovers to a whole new world. Given the fact that many of the artists or DJ’s were popular at the time (99/2000). One of the interesting transitions of JSR was that the US version contained tracks that the original Japanese version did not, and a whole new set of playgrounds.

Jet Set/Grind Radio
Hideki Naganuma – A well-known composer, mixing funky beats and unique sounds. Sega Retro compiled a very diverse bio regarding this “wave master”

Deavid Soul – created by two former members of the band “Hi-Speed”, the duo mixes electro-funk with dance tunes and a splash of rap.

Guitar Vader – a duo by the same of Miki Tanabe(lead vocal), and Ujuan Shozo(bass/ alternate vocal). Mixing fun lyrics, and rock plus a diverse sounds made this band popular.

B.B. Rights – tough bio to find, but is an underground nickname

Castle Logical – guess they were a one hit wonder

F-Fields – Honestly this is even more bizarre, VGDMB gives credit to two characters. But hey could be psuedonym’s. “Yellow Bream” is also known as “Hip Hop Hokkien

Idol Taxi – comprised of two sounds, one beat (Ken Katsumata & Shinichi Yatabe) or aka “Arche Type”
According to BBC UK, odd place to find that nugget of knowledge.

Reps – This UK band is still going strong, and keeping their fans going. Although they are beginning to sound like “The Rolling Stones” wonder if that’s a sign.

Richard Jacques – Another familiar name in the vgm scene, mostly known for composing Sonic CD US versions OST and a unique theme song (it’s quite catchy)

Toronto – a mysterious entity that has adorned other projects, some from classic tunes and somewhere they made it into dance and techno.

Cold (US version only) – (aka Grundig) later changed their name when meeting certain characters along the way. Their sound is dark, edgy, and a complete contrast from the rest of the game’s OST. Some years back the band took a break, and came back together in 2008.

Mixmaster Mike (US version only)- from underground DJ, to a brand name DJ MixMike is still going strong.

Professional Murder Music (US version only) – What began as a collaboration, birthed a mixture of energy and words that can only be dished out in lyrics.

Rob Zombie (US version only)- noise maker, director, producer, this character has done literally everything. And he is still busy with more horror movies.

Jurassic 5 (US version only) – formed in the early 90’s a collection of five talents delivered a message of peace and love to all that listened (in an early Dreamcast magazine, there was a bonus promo video on one of the demo discs) Sadly they fell apart after 2007

Feature Cast (EU version only) – An interesting group that wasn’t added to the US version of JSR, but their track “Recipe for the Perfect Afro” was within the EU edition. And still going strong!

O.B. One (EU version only) Another unknown (to us stateside) name, but a steady DJ keeping the beats alive. Actually an MMA fighter as well.  Er, wait there’s more than one person with the nickname.

Semi Detached (EU version only)- Make that one more unknown name to this list for JSR. A bit more beats than the other track. Might say it’s the outsider of the JSR OST. But the track featured on the OST is a bit more 60’s retro jazz/funk style. Wonder why this one didn’t make it stateside.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gaming Treasures - JSR Part 2

Jet Set Radio Remix – Part 2

Cel Shader – During the earlier systems, animation styles such as rotoscoping, used a technique filmed with a live-action sequence portrayed in non-existing space. In such a way, anything was possible from taking a character on the moon, to being on a train that wasn’t really there. In JSR, the team came up with a concept of using the same idea, but giving it a comic book styled edge. Just like comics, they express themselves in words and color. Whenever you move your character, they are exuberant in colors that actually tell you what type of personality they inhabit.

Choice -*For those that aren’t aware, a lot of Japanese concept makers love to incorporate themes with characters they create. Like blood type, or color expression, it reveals a bit more if they are good/evil. In JSR, colors actually redefine the characters, depending which paths you take. And the characters envelope the city, shape the in-game world and change it wherever they tag. (this is also a continuation with Future, with more in-depth details actually depend on what side you’re on)

Alive - Like animation, every crew member in the JSR series has their own gang they find themselves working with or against. The flipside with JSR, is that the characters you couldn’t play show up in Future. (Say Coin for example was the mysterious rouge who caused a ruckus, but couldn’t be played from the get-go). Another shift in gears between the original and future, was the Versus option. Opening up a different way to play, like other multiplayer games “tag” or “capture the flag” and a ball tag type of game.

What is by far the biggest difference between the original JSR, and Future? Aside from the consoles, the data limit was actually capped on the Dreamcast. Since the disc can only store so much data, some things were cut. What was missing in Future was the upload feature, although Live was just being incorporated with the in-game engine. It didn’t happen because of budget reasons. Team Smilebit was in fact working on 3 other titles at the time, Panzer Dragoon Orta and GunValkyrie. The other said titles were more of the fantasy fare, and a mixture of sci-fi. Although the titles were separate from JSRF, they shared a kinship in the fact that they were based on platforms that the Sega brand let go for so many years.

Next generation – Is this current generation of gamers ready for the return of JSR? Many were just born into this world during the late 90’s or 2000’s. Now those new kids are looking towards titles we grew up beside, before we became more internet crazed and dependent upon. With all of the networking that was capable back then, to now there is a huge difference in what attention spans grasp upon. Oddly enough the team that produced JSR were aiming for every kind of audience that was playing their titles. The biggest gap that JSR will have to cross with the current crowd is that the music may have to re-adapt. However at the time, the music styles that blended so well, were in fact ahead of their time. Many weren’t aware of the huge collaboration of indie bands, to well-known names pushing to get their names featured on a title that many would dare to take a second glance towards.

But I believe that is the hidden charm behind a title like Jet Set Radio, its one of the few titles from the Dreamcast era that refuses to go away. It ages, yet it rekindles something special about it that brings you back, wanting to learn more from that past experience, maybe there was an opportunity missed. And finally you went back to challenge that missed goal, and found that special gift about the game you put away for so many years.

Gaming Treasures - Jet Set Radio Rewind

Part 1 - The beginning (and the insanity)

Jet Set Radio
Dreamcast – 1999 / 2000

Just Push Play -From the start players are introduced to the world of JSR by DJ Professor K. What we know from the intro is that rebel taggers graze the city with their artworks. These spread the word of who owns what turf, and the gang that brings order or disorder to the streets.

Back when this game was barely out in stores, it was already hitting issues. For one, the addition of graffiti being used as in-game mechanic to let players be creative and guide their gang to the top. But the thing was unparalleled by the music, and the game’s art style. Unlike any other, has art come to life, and given funky grooves to take game design to another level.

Fast forward – Well guess what, it’s been twelve years. Things have changed, games and televisions are in high definition, analog is gone, hail to digital. By far the biggest difference is that there are very few games that can push gamers buttons. And SEGA is geared up to retread the unfriendly streets of Tokyoto on nextgen hardware. What are the odds that twelve years keeps bringing back the past.

Rewind -Back to the intro, players are guided by allies such as Gum (a pop-ish jet setter who looks like she came out of a clothing store), and Tab (just a grungy character that challenges you to master some funky grinds and spraying). The biggest twist is that there is no main character, although you are sent on a mission as an entire gang. The GG’s are on a conquest to spray the town in some new colors. Leaving a message that this city is there’s!

Visual Tease -Another sweet feature that caught many off guard, was the in-game engine. Being entirely created in Adobe Shockwave Flash, it was manipulated to push the Dreamcast to deliver unique graphics. Closely enough, it resembled a comic book (or manga) brought to life. With vicious colors, and drawing style that made it vibrant with tons of colors, and taking players on the wildest journey ever ventured.

Visual Tease JSR HD – SEGA has been teasing gamers with the addition of the game being displayed in HD. (JSRF for the XBOX came with the feature intact and displayed solid visuals) Many fans who played this title on their standard definition televisions remember those moments, and can never forget those lit nights around the town, and the insane gleams of sunlight while getting away from a certain captain and his SWAT team.

Beats -What made JSR an impressive title was the collection of sounds that resided within its soundtrack. From drum n’ bass, rock, dance, funk, and electronica. Even more captivating is that the soundtrack was collected from all over the world, some bands from the States, and several overseas such as Europe and Asia. Another interesting feature was that the music playlist was actually mixed by actual DJ’s. Depending on how well you are gaining points by doing tricks, the BGM track will actually shift into one another. So whenever you get into a session of JSR, the music will stay fresh.

Beats - JSR HD – The only issue with the re-release of the title, is the actual loss of being able to bring over the entire OST to nextgen consoles. Keep in mind its been twelve years since the original JSR was on the Dreamcast. So its possible they may have to track down an entirely new sound, and re-tweak the in-game mixing engine to be compatible. Or for more fun, it could be possible to change up an entire playlist of your own (maybe a digital DJ feature?)

You’ve got soul! Brother! -
Within the world of Jet Set Radio resided various graffiti tags that could be collected. These artworks were made by real artists that helped with the development of the game. Thankfully for those with issues, there is a handy intro before the game starts that delivers a message on what this game is about. That fluff aside, being able to manipulate art within a game like this is a leap never taken this far. During the release, there was an online campaign where players across the world could create their own tags and upload them to share with friends. (How many games offer such an option anymore?) JSR HD may hopefully continue this tradition, and offer a new paradigm to a different generation that missed this insane trip the first time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gaming Treasures - Devil May Cry

It all began many years ago on a humble PS2, with wrecking difficulty like the classic Ghosts n' Goblins. For those hardcore fans who faned at difficulty, this game celebrated the word "challenge". Within Capcom's hidden brain trust emerged a game like no other, many would try to level up to it, but never could. Here is its story...

Rebellion -
From the start we get to know Dante as a monster hunter / cool cat. Then we find Trish (with some secrets), that we get set on a quest to find out why the world's gone to (h-e-double hockey sticks). But the odd thing about this series was that it was originally a spin-off of Capcom's other "love child" Resident Evil. So the "Team Little Devils" tweaked a new concept off of the engine and voila!

Grading system -DMC
From D to S (D,C,B,A,S) D being the lowest, and S = Smokin! The level system was actually a spin-off from the Street Fighter series. (within SF3, the letter grade system ranked how well you played, if you delivered top-notch offense & defense, including use of super arts and EX moves). Same goes for the DMC series, but it also offers bragging rights among fans. In later entries, they added more S rankings, SS and SSS.

Bad Influence -
"Devil Trigger" hidden within Dante is a lovely power, once tapped it unleashes his hidden abilities. Causing all of his attacks to deliver more fierce damage, (and in III a lovely guitar). Throughout the series, it became a key component shifting the gears in the players favor, dishing out some justice, and giving back health in case they were running low. (take that green herbs!) In addition, there was no need to hunt down ammo, because within the lovely weaponry like Ebony and Ivory, sustained their own ammo supply. Plus throughout your quests, any armaments you came across can be yours (some are hidden by hunting them down, or accomplishing certain deeds).

Let them eat cake -
Each series entry let loose a players options, from being able to play other characters. Such a Trish (in a hidden bonus mission), Lucia (in 2), Virgil (in 3), and Nero (in 4)

DMC II's scrutiny -
Several factors made DMC2 the infamous of the series. Within reason it shifted gears amongst fans on where the series could be heading.
1) II was not produced by the original team that made I.
2) Hideki Kamiya still feels disappointed about this title
3) Hideaki Itsuno (another Capcom producer) was made director for this entry
4) It was mapped out as a different game, with tweaks made to gameplay (some called the first game weak) and it was given a lower difficulty (or as we call it "easy")
5) And the 2nd disc was bowed out as a cheap way to make the game a solid chapter (and filled with too much overtones that fans were not really pleased with)

After II's defeat at the hands of reviews, III took players back to Dante's origins (a younger and fiesty version of the character). Differences from JP release (lighter difficulty) / SE brought more challenges for the US and EU (later retweaked in JP) keeping it together.

By far the biggest difference from the other chapters in the series was the design. Taking a more open approach like other action games out at the time. Giving more influence on CQC than the past games were capable. Plus the added option of taking on the "Jester" as a boss or side quest. And playing as Vergil (with being able to level up his play style, and Devil Trigger).

Introducing Nero (another Devil Hunter) forced to take on the handle of "hero" and work alongside Dante. Given sustained power, and being able to tweak Nero's offset abilities, it is a welcome addition. However, we don't get to play as Dante often, but a few missions flipped from Nero's quest. On the plus side, Dante is balanced as he always has been, and leveling up makes for interesting play styles (including the Yamato). Oddly enough both characters can wield the weapon, but only Nero can harness the given "stand" and deliver more offense. Whereas Dante can dish sweet damage in his Devil form.

Ebony & Ivory -
From the beginning, to the end DMC has been a fun roller coaster ride. And the ride isn't over, with more exciting things to come. However this new DmC isn't really a part of this series, but some alternate trip (and re-tweaked by some team named Ninja Theory). Honestly I feel that the main series is not over. And maybe someday Kamiya and his team may get to make another Dante chapter. (here's hoping)

And for many DMC fans, here are a treasure set of wallpapers to celebrate DMC HD's collection's release.