Cosmic Star Heroine – Original Soundtrack Review

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[This article was originally posted here at VGMOnline.net, and is archived here with their permission. Please go check their site out because it is wonderful.]

Overview

Few studios can modernize the ‘retro’ style quite like Zeboyd Games does. With releases like Cthulu Saves the World, Breath of Death VIII, and the last (and best) two entries in Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Zeboyd has shown that not only do they understand what should be in a retro-styled game, they also understand what should be modernized and streamlined for modern sensibilities. Their games have always had a sense of humor to them; homage and respect to what came before are delivered with tongue firmly placed in cheek. Their latest game, Kickstarter success story Cosmic Star Heroine, represents their first foray into ‘serious’ storytelling, and also their longest and most meticulously-designed project to date.

For the game’s score, Zeboyd turned once again to the Ireland-based Hyperduck Soundworks, who had previously composed the score to On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4. In addition, they also composed the absurdly good soundtrack for Dust: An Elysian Tale, as well as the soundtracks for Kingdom Rush: Frontiers, A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda, and others. They also have several remixes on their Bandcamp page from such games as Chrono Trigger, Zelda, and Duke Nukem 3D. It’s obvious that they are quite enthusiastic about the blending of old and new, making the choice to once again partner with them for the Cosmic Star Heroine soundtrack seem like an obvious one for Zeboyd to make. Continue reading

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The Intentional Optimism of ‘Trails in the Sky’

headerOptimism is not easy. This is something that most people don’t really think about. Most would consider optimism to be the default state of a person who has not seen enough of the world to know any different. There is a reason, after all, that the word ‘childlike’ is usually placed before the word and used to describe a state of naivetè that comes from inexperience. It is assumed by a great many people nowadays that once a person sees the world for ‘what it really is’, that person will, at the very least, shift from a perspective of ‘glass half full’ to ‘glass half empty’.

This manner of thinking is shown in video games a lot. As games strive to be a more ‘mature’ medium for storytelling, the settings and stories can, in a lot of cases, become very grim. Not that games are the only representation of these attitudes; dystopian fiction has enjoyed quite a run of success, and film has in recent years taken to deconstructing childhood heroes and showing their dark sides.

It’s refreshing, then, to experience a plot that shows that optimism is not solely a naive reaction, but can be a mature and informed choice that affects the way one views the world. And it is even more refreshing that this depiction of ‘intentional’ or ‘pragmatic’ optimism comes from a game that is in a great many ways a throwback to the same era of gaming that brought so many other evolutions to the kinds of stories that are acceptable in the medium.

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Zero Escape: One Choice Can Destroy You

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[This article contains minor spoilers for the games in the Zero Escape series. I have, however, kept them vauge enough that they will only make sense if you’ve played the games.]

Let me tell you a story.

One day, a woman went running down a path that she had traveled many, many times in the past. This path has a fork in it, and normally this woman takes the right hand fork. This day, the woman sees a snail in the road, and in order to avoid it, she makes the split-second decision to take the left hand path instead.

This story is told by the character Zero in the third game of the Zero Escape series, Zero Time Dilemma. The story does not have a good ending, because in fact, ten minutes after this choice, the woman is dead. One choice destroyed her. That, in fact, is the point that Zero is trying to make here. One choice, no matter how inconsequential it seems at the time, can destroy us.

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Final Fantasy IX: A Retrospective

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I know what you’re going to say: “Greg, you write about Final Fantasy a whole lot.” You would be right. I do write about it a whole lot. I think about it a whole lot, probably moreso than most other series. The fact is that I credit Final Fantasy as the reason I’ve always been into games. Sure, Legend of Zelda may have been my very first game, but it was Final Fantasy that hooked me, and Final Fantasy II (which, I would later find out, was the fourth game in the series) that solidified the hold that games have had on my life. It was just pretty amazing to me that a game could have a story to it, and I mean a real story with characters and interpersonal conflict.

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Undertale and Player Choice

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So, I have this friend. We’ll call her ‘Lauren’, because, well, that’s what her name is. She plays a lot of video games, and plays a lot of music from a lot of video games, and is generally very enthusiastic about them to a degree that borders upon indescribable. She tends to criticize video game plots and characterization and themes because let’s face it, no matter how far video games have come in the past couple years, there have been just as many steps backwards. And besides, if one loves a thing, one should criticize it in the interests of making it better. I guess what I’m saying is, when Lauren recommends a game, I tend to listen to her because she puts a great deal of thought behind her recommendations. So, when she recommended that I play a little indie game by the name of Undertale, I paid attention.

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to write about games that were popular and that everyone already knew about. And here I am, writing about a game that everyone has at least heard something about in the past couple of months. But here we are.

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Better Late than Never -Endless Legend

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I return from the abyss! To commemorate, I wanted to return to a genre that I have a great deal of love for. While I tend to call it the Civilization genre, I’m pretty sure that the actual commonly accepted term for it is the ‘Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate’ (4X) genre. Personally, I think I’ll just keep calling it ‘Civlike’, because we call a bunch of things ‘Roguelike’ that don’t have anything to do with Rogue, and I like consistency in my genre naming.

But anyway.

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Bonus Turn – Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

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So, about a year and a half ago, I reviewed Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I was trying it after coming off of two other MMOs that I had been reasonably impressed with, because it was on sale and because I knew other people who played it and found enjoyment in it. I came away from FFXIV also being reasonably impressed with it, though, at the time, less so than I had been with other games. In all fairness, I attributed part of this to MMO burnout, but even then I had pretty much made the decision that FFXIV was a game I was going to put a couple months into, maybe level a character up to the maximum level, finish the main plot, and then leave it in favor of something a bit more single-player.

Eighteen months later, I’m still playing it.

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Life is Strange: Choices and Consequences

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Every so often a game comes along that presents a series of choices to me, the player, that I absolutely agonize over. This isn’t completely because of the immediate consequences of those actions, which are usually pretty obvious, but more because I know that the choices are going to have an additional level of unforeseen consequences much further down the line. Games like this make me sit there on the dreaded ‘branching choice selection screen’ for an embarrassing number of minutes because I know that no matter what decision I end up making about my character’s immediate future, I am going to regret it in some manner down the line.

It’s interesting to me, then, that as rare as it is to have a game do that to me, I have managed to play two of them in quick succession. One of them was from a very expected source. Dragon Age: Inquisition was a game that I always expected to provoke this reaction, this choice-anxiety in me. Player choice in narrative is kind of Bioware’s thing, after all. It’s what they do. Even if no other part of the game lived up to my expectations of it, I had been confident even without playing it yet that Inquisition would give me personal narrative by way of selecting exactly which part of my emotional gut I wanted to be punched in.

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Opening Turn – Catlateral Damage

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Video games have a long, storied history of allowing a person to step into the shoes of some of the worst people imaginable. Sometimes it’s by design, such as in the case of the psychopathic crime simulator Grand Theft Auto or in equally psychopathic archaeological crime simulator Uncharted. Sometimes it’s by choice, such as in Mass Effect where you can make the conscious decision to be a jerk. And sometimes it’s by complete accident, as in pretty much any game that doesn’t take into account the law of unintended consequences. For example, I’m certain that in the process of throwing all those fireballs around, Mario has probably caused a forest fire or two. Or even in something so completely oddball as Katamari Damacy, you’re basically dealing with someone being a jerk on a large scale by being one on a smaller scale.

Anyway. Catlateral Damage is just one more game where you play as the worst asshole possible. Only this time you are also a cat.

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Opening Turn – Shovel Knight

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Ah, the 8-bit era of games, that weird and wonderful time when neither the plot nor premise of a game had to make any kind of sense whatsoever. This was the era of plumbers doing mushrooms and throwing fireballs at turtles with abduction fetishes. This was the era of speedrunning porcupines, of bubble-spitting dinosaurs, of a game in which one boss was literally a fried shrimp. All that is to say that I have very fond memories of this era, as these were some of the first games I ever played.

Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in creating games that pay homage to that era, or to update those games for a modern audience. The past couple of years have seen remakes of games like Ducktales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as retro-themed games like Mercenary Kings and Retro City Rampage, among many, many others. We’ve even got books like Ready Player One that actively celebrates retro gaming culture in all its forms. What I’m saying is, there’s no shortage of games and other media specifically designed to ‘take you back’ to that area. So what does it take to stand out in that crowd?

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