Music of the Month: The Scheme

These two months have been filled to brim with Virtual-On to me. It may not seem like it, but in order to make the retrospective posts on the series I had to replay all the games for numerous times (had to obtain FORCE in the first place) and go through stupid amount of sources and books. Yet, so very little was transferred from these to the posts, which just means I’ll probably end up expanding them a little bit. Things like how Virtual-On‘s project name was Virtuaroids and more about the stupidly serious and in-depth lore the developers have written up. I mention some of the side-materials, mainly the popular One-Man Rescue, but never go in-depth into them because the sheer wall of text they’d require to describe and go over.

Needless to say, I’m not satisfied how the retrospective ended up being, slight too much hyperbole used in the last sections of A Certain Magical Virtual-On. A smart reader noticed I changed the title halfway through the series too, from historical to retrospective. I also had planned to add an extra post, which would have covered some Virtual-On inspired titles or their appearances in Super Robot Wars. I ended up scrapping this due to knowing I was burning my interests out too fast, and tacked the SRW entries at the end of MARZ‘s. I just mentioned Clash of the Elementalists, a game that’s directly uses Virtual-On‘s gameplay on the DSi, elsewhere just for the record. It’s a fun little title that plays similarly to Oratorio Tangram, but not quite.

With that, I’ll aim to cover a new Guilty Gear character entry this month. I also need make a new TSF comparison entry. Both of these have been on the backburner too long. The initial entries for some of the Guilty Gear characters are lacking compared what the entries ultimately became, with the expanded detailed information, so going back and covering them again is a valid option. At least for now.

As for the TSF comparison, I still have F-18E, MiG-29 and Tornado on the list from the original imageboard variants, so it’s one of those three. However, if I manage to get ahold of some other TSF materials, you never know what I’ll throw out in the end.

That’s pretty much all I’m going muse myself this time around. Enjoy the music and the upcoming weekend.

Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

Previous: MARZ

Kamachi Kazuma, a novelist for Dengeki Bunko most known for his A Certain Magical Index series was approached by Sega to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Virtual-On series with a novel. Their approach for Kamachi was to do a new sort of Virtual-On instead of just doing what had been done in the past, resulting in a cross-over novel. This was a sort of dream project for Kamachi, and at this point, it’s not longer just a dream, with A Certain Magical Virtual-On game released in early 2018.

A Certain Magical Index‘s first novel was released in April 2004, debuting Kazuma Kamachi as mainstream light novel writer, which also gained a popular animated series in 2008, and gets its third season in 2018. The series mainly takes place in a fictional city called Academy City, west from Tokyo, where science has advanced more than in the outside world. This city is of scientific marvels, making leaps and bounds to every which way. This means the city has constant testing of new technology and designs, including testing such things as weird soda drink flavours. The city is walled all around, protecting the valued assets and data, but also keeps other people out.

The most important project that’s running in Academy City is its espers. The city has around 2.3 million espers, all students who partake in Power Curriculum Program, which aims to attain one’s own Personal Reality in order to awaken esper powers. Personal Reality is essentially one’s own secular view on reality, able to affect the objective reality’s state through their own “power” to the system in microscale. Essentially an esper believes, if you will, that she can control electricity, and so she does. However, the Curriculum requires quite literal rewiring of the person’s brains through use of various drugs in all forms, various forms of hypnosis and suggestions, slight surgical manipulation of the brain, and different sensory deprivation methods. This rewiring effectively separates the students from reality, after which they may develop powers depending on their own reality. All these powers of course are not as potent as others, with some never manifesting any.

However, this is the science side of things, and the main story takes place in the magic side. Sorcerers mostly belong to different sects and religions of the world, and their magical power does not stem from being separated from the world, but rather from idol worship, where a system of rituals are prepared in order to invoke higher powers to grant supernatural effects on reality. This can range from creating golems to controlling wind with a tool. These are fundamentally different kind of power from that of an esper, and due to the sheer difference how the users’ are wired thanks to the Curriculum, an esper can’t use magic without physical trauma. Similarly, a sorcerer does not have access to espers’ powers, as they lack a Personal Reality.

Enter Kamijou Touma, the series’ main protagonist, who has the power to break down supernatural powers with his right hand. He has a rotten luck, which drops him into fights, causes him to lose money, or in one case, meet up with an English nun named Index, who is being chased. Due to circumstances, Touma is made Index’s companion, with the English church allowing him to accompany her despite the clear threat his right hand poses to them. Index is important asset to the world of magicians, as she holds Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a library of 103 000 forbidden books, in her head due to photographic memory and can recollect information from those pages. This places them both in a crossroad of events and situations, where both the world of science and magic collide with each other, often despite of them, sometimes because of their direct actions.

This is, of course, very short and spartan introduction to the A Certain Magical Index series’ world, as we need some context for A Certain Magical Virtual-On.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On”

Yuzo Koshiro at MAGfest

So, the living legend Yuzo Koshiro will be at MAGfest.

Yuzo Koshiro without a doubt is one of the most important persons in video game music. Koshiro was one of the first musicians who went from bleeps and bloop, from small jingles and tunes to full blown music with FM Synth.

Koshiro mastered his craft as time progressed, but his master Joe Hisashi has been a great influence to Koshiro. However, Koshiro found his own way in crafting music, which made him the legend he is today.

Koshiro is most known for his Street of Rage and Shinobi music, but his most influential music do come from PC-88 with Ys, The Scheme and Misty Blue. This man isn’t just an artist, the man’s a master craftsman.

If you’re anywhere near Washington during MAGfest (and I mean anywhere near as in anywhere on the same continent) do yourself, and to me, a favour and go MAGfest and listen to him. Because damnit, it’s Yuzo Koshiro.

“Have you ever heard of Adol Christin?”

In 1987 a small yet important computer game was released by Nihon Falcon. This game was Ancient Ys Vanished Omens for the PC-88.

As a side note, Ys is pronounced iːsɯ, much like ease.

The story begins with a small boy hearing of incredible tales of goddesses and devils, of heroes and villains. This young boy grows with these stories of old and at age leaves his home to travel to the world as an adventurer. With blazing red hair and just heart, this man would be known throughout the lands. Adol Christin would bind his name to the history of the world.


I had a good paragraph about the start, but then I remembered that this existed


Be sure to check at least this one

Adol wakes up a little hurt in the town of Minea. He has managed to break through the storm relatively safely. However, not everything is as it seems, as he soon hears that Esteria is overrun by monsters and demons. Silver has gone missing, people have been killed and the land seems to be in peril. Adol, the adventurer he is, takes matters in his own hands and solve the mystery what’s going on.

He is called upon by the fortune teller named Sara, who tells Adol that he might be the one told in the legends. She informs Adol of Six Books of Ys that he must seek in order to unravel not only the mystery behind the recent uprising of evil, but the history of Esteria itself. She also gives Adol her Crystal, as with this her aunt will recognize Adol as the one whom Sara has been talking about in her visions. With this knowledge Adol roams through Esteria, striking down evil in his path.

Adol meets with Sara’s aunt in the Zepik Village, where he hears more about the Books of Ys. He is instructed to wonder to the Shrine of Solomon, an old shrine dedicated to the Goddesses of Ys, which now lays in ruins. In the Shrine Adol finds a maiden locked in a dungeon. Her name is Feena, and she knows nothing else, not even how long she has been imprisoned in the dungeon. Adol escorts Feena back to the Zepik Village before wandering deeper to the Palace and defeating the monstrous guardian keeping the unwanted guests away from the one of the Books of Ys.


The Palace of Salomon and the Darm Tower

During his travels Adol meets with the high Roda Tree, and eats one of its fruits and thus gains the understanding of the ancient language of the Roda trees. He also returns to Sara to deliver the news about the Books he has acquired, only to to hear that she has been murdered. Adol also meets with another maiden named Reah, who is sad that her only memento the Silver Harmonica has been stolen as well. However, as Adol ascents the Minea’s mine he stumbles upon this harmonica and delivers it to Reah. However, in the same abandoned mine Adol founds yet another Book, again watched over by a guardian of evil origins.

Adol has found pieces of Silver Equipment as he has travelled, gaining more strength and courage to meet the dangers lying ahead in the Tower of Death, or the Darm Tower as it’s known. Before entering this high tower of no-return, he visits Feena.

Upon entering the Darm Tower, Adol is shut in. A group of thieves have made the base of the tower their headquarters in order to guard that no evil shall leave the tower. Goban, the leader, knows of the Books and the legends surrounding the ancient land of Ys.

The Darm Tower is a high place, filled with monsters, treasures and traps. Here Adol meets his long time travel companion, Dogi. Dogi’s well known for busting through walls of stone, and here he busts Adol out of dungeon he has been trapped into. He also finds more Books in the Tower… and find Reah in the tower as well. Reah allowed herself to be captured so that she could give Adol a magical item to ensure that he will make to the very top of the tower where answers lye.

At the very top of the Darm Tower stands the one who has been behind all the evil at large; Dark Fact. With his black cloak and blue skin, he commands an army of monsters and demons. He too has been seeking the Books and is the one who has been collecting all the silver. Challenging Adol into a fight over his possessions, he is defeated in a fierce battle, where magical Silver Equipment of Adol clash with the fires of Dark Fact.

Here we find the truth behind the Books of Ys and Dark Fact; the Books are the key to access the Land of Ys, floating far above in the sky amidst the clouds. As the power of the Books of Ys is released, Adol is propelled into the sky as Feena and Reah watch over him. Seven hundred years ago the Land of Ys faced rising evil from within. The two Goddesses had created the Black Pearl which granted the land wealth, fortune and the magic. However, soon they found that for every good bit of cleria it produced the evil within was tainting the Black Pearl, giving birth to the evil that is Darm.


Honestly, To Make End of Battle is my favourite rockin’ intro tune

Adol is found by a young woman named Lilia near the Ruins of Mondooria alongside the Books of Ys. She takes him to her house where Lilia and her grandmother take care of Adol’s wounds. When Adol is wakes up, he is astonished to hear where he truly is. Upon stepping to the edge of the world, seeing glimpse of the Darm Tower below with the crater where Ys once stood, he decides to continue his journey which started when he broke through the storm barrier. Stepping into the Ruins of Moondooria and the Noble District of Toal, Adol learns the tales of Ys from the Priests whom the Books belong to, and is granted the privilege to wield magic by the two Goddesses. He is instructed to march towards the Ice Ridges of Noltia, where more of Darm’s protectors await him.

The land of Ys is overrun by demons, controlled from the high Palace of Salomon, where the Black Pearl resides. Inside and beyond the Moat of Burnedbless waits new friends and new enemies, struggles and moments of happiness. All this time Adol has pressed onwards despite of the misfortunes he has seen and the demons he have had to slay. Ultimately, will the the evils of heart corrupt the magic he is wielding…?

In the end, we all know what a brave heart can accomplish.

Darm defeated, the Land of Ys is returned back to it’s rightful place on the land of Esteria, joining the long separated people together again.


Adol Christin, and the Goddesses of Ys

The above story is a very condensed version of the overall plot from the two first Ys games. Originally it was supposed to be one massive game, but PC-88 and the floppy discs of the time couldn’t handle that much data, so they decided to split the game in two. A wise decision, looking how larger and more refined Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ The Final Chapter is. Alongside the Legend of Zelda, Ys is the game series that truly set into stone what it is to be an action RPG… alongside Hydlide, but the less we talk about Hydlide the better.

Ys I & II has been ported numerous times, and remade few times around. The first remake was for the PC-Engine, where the already good music got instrumental treatment. Sega Saturn version upped the ante even higher, only to be topped by Ys Eternal games released in the early 2000’s, which were later ported to the PSP with remade music. With every new incarnation the two original stories have become more elaborate, the battle system more refined and leanient, and the music has had new fittings.

What separated Ys from the bulk of action RPGs of the time, or even now, is the lack of battle system. The system itself is simple; you ram the enemy either in an angle, or just so that your sprite is off from the middle line from the enemies’ sprite. The rest is handled by how much Attack and Defence you have. There’s a kind of satisfaction to ram into your enemies, slice them into pieces and continue onwards. Of course, the boss battles become interesting in their own regard, as you’re ramming them in the same manner. In this regard Ys is a really fast paced game with no real moments to breathe. Ys II throws magic into the mix, basically changing some of the fights into light a STG. The main form of magic the player uses, the Fire Ball, is useful to attack enemies from afar, and for better or worse majority of Ys II’s bosses can only be damaged with the Fire Ball.

Ys I & II had the same development team that would later continue with Enix’s Soul Blader, Illusion of Gaia/Time and Terranigma. You can see the influence Ys had over them in every regard, even in the story. One of the main composers for Ys I & II was Yuzo Koshiro, best known for his Streets of Rage and Actraiser compositions among others. However, Yuzo Koshiro’s best works in my opinion can be found in Ys and assortments of PC-88/89 games like Misty Blue.


While extremely rough on the sides, Yuzo Koshiro’s early works really show how good the man was with FM-music. Later on he kinda mangled with real instruments and lost some of the awesome beats going on

If you wondering if that’s all for Ys I & II, you’re right. Ys is a minimalistic game with decent scale. None of its versions have grandiose FMVs outside intros and endings. Ys has been made by design to be a game first and story after. However, it all blends well together in a cohesive narrative, the music completing both story scenes, and more importantly, the main gameplay. In essence, Ys doesn’t need anything more than it already has. The overblown modern RPGs with complete orchestral music and plots that go about killing gods and becoming some sort of saviour to whole universes is something that Ys as a whole has managed to avoid, while pretty much every other RPG game, action or not, has fallen into the same pit. Granted, Dragon Quest did play fun on killing God by making Him a hidden boss, who even then plays it as a joke and tells the player “now you’re strong enough to kill even a God! Hohoho!”

With the success of the two first Ys games, Nihon Falcom decided to do a third game in the series. Following the same lines of thought as Nintendo with Zelda II, it was to be a 2D sidescrolling ARPG. Not the best of decision if you ask the fandom, but even this game has some good points in the gameplay, namely the chainsaw sword mechanic that basically allows you to saw through hoards of enemies… that is if you have good enough stats. The game was a hit & miss overall, but there’s one thing they overdid themselves; the music.



Listen to these two back to back

While Ys III ~Wanderers from Ys has been labelled the black sheep of the series, it has also been regarded to have the best music in the series, a sentiment I share. Much like Ys I & II, Wanderers got a remake in the mid-2000’s named Ys ~ The Oath in Felghana (OiF). This was the second time Ys series stepped into 3D, first being Ys VI ~ The Ark of Naphistim which was released some years earlier. OiF actually uses Naphistim’s refined game engine and Falcom has fine tuned this game to take every bit out of it. The gameplay, while in 3D, is still as fast as in Ys I & II with very similar magic system. What Nintendo failed to do with their 2D games Falcom succeeded; they managed to take everything that made the original two games so good and implanted them into 3D. Ark of Naphistim, while good and balanced, had some rough parts that made the game a little degrading here and there, but all that’s gone in Oath in Felghana. And the remade music happens to the best soundtrack in any video game. While I’m usually allowing myself to be swayed into a direction or another when discussing subjective matters, I will stand with my opinion that Oath in Felghana has the best soundtrack thus in any video game. I’m going to go a bit overboard here, but while some game series gets remixes after remixes after remixes, Ys’ original soundtracks have always been able to stand on their own. If you want to hear remixes, check out Ryo Yonemitsu’s remasters of Ys I & II on Perfect Collection. This man knew how to use a synthesizer.

Now you’re probably wondering why you should care about Ys. The question more likely is why the are you not caring about Ys. Ys has had more hidden impact on the game culture than you’d think. Vast majority of the western video game culture barely knows anything that has happened on PC-88. We mostly think that game music started sound like music somewhere around NES came around. Just listen to The Scheme’s track a little bit above again. Ys was one of the big things that really made video game music into a thing. It’s one of the earliest things ever to sell a music CD. Back in the 80’s it was almost unheard of that people were buying midi music because of a game. However, where Ys most hit was that it was a very well crafted game with good attention to detail. By it’s own rights Ys was an important step towards future games, even if west never really found about it until much later on. You can find small bits and pieces of Ys on lot of late 8-bit and 16-bit era games, which then have affected games at large.

It’s not just music that Ys is well known in Japan. It’s all the previously mentioned things; the battle mechanics, the minimalistic yet complete approach to the game design and the attention to details. While the same developers did make arguably better games in form of Illusion of Gaia/Time, one can’t help but see that the additional mechanics and size make the later games more convoluted and mugged down. The core of the Ys games didn’t carry over to their later works. Whoever is in charge of current Ys games since The Ark of Naphistim knows what he/she doing. This person might just be one of the few surviving game designers that know what a game needs to be.

There has been more Ys games than just mentioned here; Ys IV; Mask of Sun / The Dawn of Ys, a game that got two different version for Super Famicom and PC-Engine from two different developers under Falcom’s license (which is now getting a remake on PSVita named The Great Forests of Celcetta); Ys V ~ The Lost City of Kefin, which is pretty bland game overall and put Ys into Ys for some years; Ys VI ~The Ark of Naphistim, a game that relaunched the series into new era; Ys Origin, a prequel to this all and Ys Seven, a PSP exclusive game with a whole new engine. If I ever find proper interest outside my own, I’ll go through each Ys game mentioned here in some form.

Personally, Ys is a series close to my heart. Somewhere around 2003 I wandered the Internet for information about a game called Popful Mail. I have no recollection how I stumbled against this game, but I found Hardcore Gaming 101 through Google, and the few first paragraphs of the article they mention Ys. I’ve always been big on 80’s anime style for some reason, and the game series seemed really damn interesting from what article went over. Ultimately, I decided to check out the music, and I fell in love. I couldn’t really get my hands on Japanese-only PC ARPG series back in the day (saying that makes me feel old), but after seeing the trailer for Ys VI and the announcement that it would come to PS2 with Konami’s porting, I was excited. Getting my hands on Japanese console games wasn’t anything that hard. Ys VI’s trailer still hits like a million volts for me, as the Release of Far West Ocean is slightly different from anything else.


While you’re at it, track down vocal CD known as The Songs of Zemeth

Sad truth was that it was most likely that Ys VI would never see a release in West. I’m quite happy to say that my ponderings were wrong and that it did not only get released in the US, but in Europe as well. They luckily dropped the VI from the title (West never got IV or V) and The Ark of Naphistim was the fist Ys game to many new players around the world. While I had my hands on Ys Eternal before that I’d like to think The Ark of Naphistim my first Ys game. I’m extremely happy to see PSP release of Oath in Felghana in West as well, as well as the presence of Ys Seven. In the future I’ll be supporting anyone who’s bringing more Falcom games to the west, like the Legend of Heroes; Trails in the Sky.

It’s nearly been ten years since I got into Ys. It’s interesting to see how one game company has kept the core of a single series so close to its roots and still produces new successful games based on the same core idea. While Nintendo continues making non-Zelda Zelda games and CAPCOM keeps shitting on their fans, Falcom seems to like money and produce quality products. While I might rave on how Falcom needs more exposure and people should buy their games, there’s really no need. Ys has found its audience some time ago, and new fans are introduced to the series with every new game released in the West. While the games still sell, the fact is that Ys series is getting a little old with each game. I see no end to the series as such, but with Ys Seven there are marks that Ys has very little to do with the Land of Ys any more. However, renaming the franchise any other way would be bad decision as well, so we’ll have bear with it. Whether or not a series this old will keep surviving is a good question that I have no answer. As long as they can keep the core same in the future iterations as well, Ys might just survive next video game crash when it comes. I’m not sure about other third party products without their millions of dollars behind their driving force. The future is uncertain, but just like Adol, we’ll just have to walk onwards with a smile on our faces and courage burning in our hearts.

And oh, the core Ys games? Simple and fun gameplay with good music.