10/21/2022

Some of you have probably noticed by now that I’ve been posting things later in the week than normal, assuming I don’t miss a week entirely. I’ve been having a much harder time getting things done. For reasons I’m actually keeping private for once, I have been having a pretty bad time with anxiety as of late, at least over the last two months. It’s gotten pretty bad these last few weeks. A few of you probably figured out something was wrong when I started posting on social media again. While I have been able to get some posts and a couple of streams out there, I haven’t necessarily felt at 100% when putting some of that stuff out, feeling more like I’m doing things out of obligation to my self-imposed deadlines than because these are things I really want to say or do. Even something as simple as “hey, I should play a fighting game” leads to me spending the next six hours doing literally anything else, like watching streams on YouTube or taking a nap because my nerves act up and I’m too nervous to do the thing I wanted to do in the first place. It sucks.

A lot of my time not spent being stressed or dealing with a rough situation has involved me being wrapped up in a blanket, trying to play an RPG, or passing out in my chair while watching a Retro Pals video. That’s not an insult to the Retro Pals; it’s a great channel, I think watching the two of them playing old arcade games puts me in a state where I can relax, but maybe relax a little too much and end up falling asleep.

It does suck tremendously to feel like this during the fall. Fall is my favorite season! The weather conveniently shifted overnight as soon as October 1st hit, and I’ve had a reason to bundle up and not sweat through my clothes in the 100 degree heat. This is when it gets dark earlier in the day, it feels more appropriate to listen to shoegaze, Halloween happens, all types of cool shit. Instead, I just feel like shit.

It hasn’t been all bad, at least. I did manage to get a lot of work done on a gamedev project, especially in regards to making enemies with some semblance of artificial intelligence, in addition to having to make the art assets for all of those enemies. I’ll show off all that stuff at some point.

And I did manage to deal with my bull shit enough to get at least a couple days out of that Guilty Gear beta before I had to leave for one final week-long work thing (which I’m currently doing now). I figured out that my main in Xrd and AC+R is Venom. He’s a fun dude to play as, he appeals to my past of playing pool, and his theme song is a Napalm Death track, which rules.

Anyways, that’s it. I just wanted to make a post explaining why there’s no post this week, despite how nonsensical that sounds. I’m just taking things slow for right now to try and deal with all the bad feelings I’ve got at the moment. Hopefully my brain will even out soon enough, as I would like to get back to doing the work I want to do, because it’s actually fun and rewarding.

seikima ii- akuma no gyakushuu!

Some time ago, when I did my write-up of Paris-Dakar Rally Special, I mentioned that the developers of that game, ISCO, had also done two other Famicom games: Transformers Convoy no Nazo, and Seikima II Akuma no Gyakushuu. I was not especially kind when I mentioned those games, and with good reason: they are terrible.

But, because it’s October, and given that I’ve spent nearly a year getting back into my love of metal music, I thought I would at least try to give Seikima II another chance. At least finish level two before I completely write it off. I ended up finishing the game, once for the “bad” ending and again for the real ending. In the thirty minutes it takes to finish Seikima II, I admit that I ended up warming up to the game somewhat. Now, I’m not going to try and convince you all that this is some sort of hidden gem for the Famicom. It’s not. It is still very much a bad game.

Before I get into all of that, I should probably explain what exactly Seikima II is. Seikima II (pronounced “Seikimatsu,” a pun meaning “The End of the Century”) are a Japanese metal band known for dressing up in cool costumes and wearing face paint. This has led to them getting a lot of comparisons to KISS, which is bull shit. If anything, their sound, on average, sounds more like Judas Priest. You also need significantly less irony to appreciate Seikima II, whereas you need to kind of be in on the joke when it comes to enjoying KISS. I won’t go too into Seikima II’s history, as Wikipedia is right there. Just know that they’re an awesome band that looks cool and makes sick music.

Naturally, being a popular act with a distinct appearance, this also means companies are going to want to cash in. In the Wild West days of the Famicom, when any fly-by-night outfit could release absolute dogshit and still make a little money off of it, you better believe that someone saw dollar signs as Seikima II climbed up the music charts. So, we ended up with a Seikima II Famicom game. If nothing else, this game can hang its hat on the fact that unlike KISS’ shitty game, Akuma no Gyakushuu actually has the band it’s based off of in it. Not only that, but playable members of band (well, just the vocalist), meaning that it outclasses Revolution X Starring Aerosmith, and can hang with other music luminaries like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, and the arcade game starring Journey.

In this game, you play as His Excellency Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure), rescuing the other members of the band who have all been kidnapped by Zeus (as in the Greek god), and finding their missing instruments. Missing instruments is something of a cliche when it comes to games starring musicians, but at least there’s a reason for it here: the Seikima II “canon” as it were, is that the band are all demons from hell, and are using heavy metal music to spread the message of the devil. So it’s not as if ISCO were left with a blank whiteboard to put ideas on, when there’s a story for them to already work with.

The main issue with Akuma no Gyakushuu and its terrible quality is that His Excellency controls like absolute shit. Specifically, trying to jump. Pressing the jump button while in a neutral position causes His Excellency to jump straight up, and you can very slightly fine-tune his direction once he reaches the peak of his jump. Pressing jump while moving causes him to do a massive leap forward. This lack of control makes it really hard to navigate platforms, grab items, dodge enemies, or do much of anything without a lot of struggling.

On top of that, this is one of those games where you have a lot of life, but it drains over time, acting as a time limit as well, and it drains quickly. This is not a straightforward move left-to-right kind of game, either. Rather, levels are divided up through tunnels in the floor that open up once you’ve collected every item in a room, giving levels something of a maze-like structure (though admittedly, these mazes are not super complicated to navigate), so you do not have time to fuck around. Doesn’t help that enemies spawn infinitely and have somewhat erratic movement patterns. And if you need to get through a small hallway with an “indestructible” type enemy? You just have to take the damage.

Akuma no Gyakushuu is not a fun game that feels good to play. But its absolute biggest, most unforgivable crime is the fact that there is no Seikima II music in it! No chiptune renditions of classic songs to be found here, which is fucked up. Making a game about a music group and not having the music that the group has made is such a spectacular failure that I have to assume it was done on purpose, because nobody can be that stupid. Instead, you get a series of extremely annoying and ear-piercing bleeps and blips that try to sound like music.

zeus looking a little uh, jesus-y here

So what is there for me to warm up to? Well, for one, I appreciate the incredibly amateur graphics the game has. I have this thing for terrible looking Japan-only Famicom games. Don’t know what it is, but I like it. I also appreciate the incredibly mild RPG elements to the game: of all the items you are required to pick up in order to make progress, money is one of those things. The money here is an actual currency, which you can then use to buy health-restoring potions, upgrade your attack, and buy your bandmates instruments back. That’s something that took effort to code and put together. This could very well have been yet another generic 2D platformer that didn’t have maze-like layouts and extra numbers to juggle, but instead there was some degree of ambition shown here, even if the end result is not worth it. I can’t completely hate the game because of this. At least they tried.

 

HOWEVER

One year later, ISCO released Seikima II Special for the MSX2 computer. I also played this one. This is a major improvement over the Famicom game. It’s look better, kind of. It controls significantly better, with His Excellency Demon Kakka moving around like a real video game character. Most importantly, Seikima II Special finally has Seikima II music! Good renditions of their music, at that! I knew that this had to be a better experience as soon as I got to the title screen and heard an 8-bit cover of “El Dorado,” an absolute stormer of a song. Now, I didn’t say that this was a good game, merely a better one. Since this is a real video game now, I can talk a little bit about the levels and stuff.

Zone 1: Jail Zone
Level Music: Rou Ningyou No Yakata

First, I will say that there are two issues with the MSX2 version of this game. One is distinct lack of black backgrounds, which goes against the heavy metal theme. Second is that, due to hardware limitations, there is no screen scrolling. This means that each screen “flips” when you move from one to the next, so you can walk into enemies or fall off a ledge if you aren’t expecting it, seeing as ISCO didn’t really think to redesign the levels around this. Anyways, in this level, you pick up a bunch of items, buy a guitar, and rescue Jail O’Hashi, who is being held in a cage guarded by a tiny little knight.

 

Zone 2: Raiden Zone
Song: Makai Bukyoku

You go from the woods to Heaven, I guess, so you can do what you did in zone 1 all over again. This time to rescue Raiden Yuzawa, the drummer. Nothing much to add here, other than I like the 8-bit version of Mukai Bukyoku a lot. Well done, composer at ISCO, whoever you are!

 

Zone 3: Ace Zone
Song: Akuma No Sakebi

Ace Shimizu is the bandmate His Excellency has to rescue this time. Maybe I can explain what some of these items you pick up actually are. You got your moneybags, which you need to buy things, those ghosts that we (“we” being Westerners) mistake for Klan members, the head of whichever bandmate you need to rescue, and a miscellaneous item that changes from level to level (here it’s candles, in the previous level it was plants). Those little hatches at the bottom of the screen open up once every item in the room (each room is two room-lengths in width) is collected, and you don’t have to pick them up again when you return to a room you’ve already been in. Should also point out that the game’s difficulty completely drops at this point. After level two, the game becomes a total breeze.

 

Zone 4: Xenon Zone
Song: Aphrodite

The final level, where you save Xenon Ishikawa. Not much to say here that I haven’t already said three times, other than Aphrodite is a really good song. I like the platforms being made of skulls and bones!

 

Zone 5: Zeus
Song: Death Land

Then there’s the boss fight against Zeus. Definitely not Jesus. It took me a couple of playthroughs to figure out what song plays during this fight. The reason being is that Zeus might very well be the easiest boss fight in the history of games, and dies way too quickly. Simply jump and shoot and he will die. Maybe you have to move left or right to dodge his incredibly slow attacks. There is no challenge here.

If you kill Zeus and you have the band’s instruments, then you get the ending:

The band jumps in place while His Excellency sits on his throne. A loop of “From Hell With Love” plays and then nothing else happens until you turn off the system. According to a video of the MSX version’s soundtrack, there’s also a version of “Adam no Ringo” that does not appear in-game. That’s a shame, as that song also kicks ass. In any case, that’s Seikima II Special, a pretty bad game based on a band I really like. If nothing else, maybe this post will encourage you to listen to Seikima II. Or at least check out other games that His Excellency has been in, like the Japanese version of DJ Boy (er, well, maybe not), or you can wait until Street Fighter 6 comes out and you can listen to his in-game commentary. But maybe don’t play this game, and definitely stay far away from the Famicom version.

castlevania: harmony of dissonance

In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, there is a scene where Alucard and Maria Renard run into one another, and Maria mentions that the castle they’re both in is different than the last time she was there (during the events of Rondo of Blood). Alucard then explains that the castle is a “creature of chaos,” the canonical explanation as to why Dracula’s castle changes from game to game in the Castlevania series.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is one of the few games in the series I haven’t played through, and I thought now would be a good time to do so. It’s also one of those games that I had always read bad things about. At best, I was told, it was lacking in quality compared to its prequel and eventual sequels. But this isn’t a site that listens to what the majority thinks, so I loaded that bad boy up and didn’t give in to the emulation-induced ADHD that causes you to load up a different game after a few minutes.

“Creature of Chaos” is a term that has been in my mind playing through HoD. Strange to think about in regards to Castlevania, but there’s always been something of a consistency to the layout of the castle. Despite having a gallery, a library, a coliseum, a clock tower, and a laboratory (among many other things) contained within one building, they’ve all been laid out and placed in a way that makes some kind of sense. As in, of course the library would be connected to the fairly benign Outer Wall, which is essentially an elevator with a little nook to chill out in. Yeah, it makes total sense that the underwater reservoir would be connected to the part of Dracula’s Castle where you fight the Mermen (the area that’s in the first level of just about every Castlevania), which would then lead to catacombs, then leading to an underground mine.

This is not the case here. Harmony of Dissonance lives up to its name, with a layout that makes the player wonder if they had accidentally loaded up a ROM with a randomizer included. Sense and coherence are out the window here. You move from room to room with ever-changing themes, even within the same area of the castle. For example, there is a room, a standard medieval castle affair, that leads to two exits. One exit takes you to a room full of lava with an active volcano in the background, the other to a room filled with crystals.

Symphony of the Night and the post-SOTN Castlevanias all rely on having a rewarding sense of exploration. You laboriously cover every last square on those maps, because you might find a new weapon, a new ability, or one of those tiny rooms that serve no real purpose other than a nice bit of scenery. HoD has this as well, but I feel that the real reward is wondering what sort of environment you’ll end up in next. Will you end up in the hallways made entirely of bones? Will those hallways suddenly take you to the laboratory, or to a chapel? You combine this with the haunting, weird music that sounds out of key, but not so out of key that it’s unlistenable, and you end up with this incredibly chaotic atmosphere. A game where the designers went into overdrive when it came to throwing ideas at the wall, not caring if it stuck. There’s something about that wild-eyed design philosophy that I respect.

Now granted, in the traditional game design aspect, this is not the best. Mostly because HoD drops the “there are actually two castles to explore” twist fairly early on in the game, before you’ve found all of your exploratory abilities, meaning that you are constantly traveling back and forth, trying to remember where that locked door you saw two hours ago was and oh fuck did I just go in a circle and wind up back at the tall shaft I can’t climb again? The chaos, while very cool, can lead to you getting lost quite often.

Even with the tedium of bouncing back and forth between two castles, I still found myself enjoying the game. Harmony of Dissonance is such a weird thing that exists; this extremely experimental game that might look like Symphony of the Night, but could not be more removed from it. The sort of boldness that is sorely missed in most games of today, where you could afford to not Play It Safe with a sequel. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Juste Belmont is the most whispy of whispy femboys the series has ever had, and this is a series that includes Alucard and Soma Cruz. If I’m going to be thrust into a fucked up world where the architecture doesn’t make any sense, you might as well give me a pale goth bishounen to look at and ogle while it’s all going on.

That’s essentially the game. A hot dude with a whip explores a couple of giant castles while fighting monsters, and Vampires are involved. It’s Castlevania, but more fucked up and chaotic, and I love it for being that way. Really glad I finally gave this game a chance.

10/1/2022

I didn’t get any writing done last week. Well, I didn’t really get any kind of work done last week. I had one of my trademark “get extremely, intensely physically ill” moments that has left me in agony and with a fucked up sleep schedule, so I’ve been nodding off at random times throughout the days. So as such, haven’t been in much of a mood to do stuff, and I inadvertently took a week off.

But it hasn’t all been me feeling like someone has been attacking my intestines with power tools. I’ve been messing around with game editors and tools since I wasn’t home pretty much all last month and need to do something creative to pass the time. After bouncing around a couple of games, I’ve begun messing around with Megazeux. Didn’t get super far into making a completed project, but I did figure out some small amounts of programming and putting dialogue scenes together. Might come back to this some day.

Anyways, I’m finally home. My home, this hidey-hole of retro media, internet porn, and fighting games. Yes, I did hear the news about Guilty Gear Xrd getting rollback netcode. Yes, I did reinstall and load up the game’s training mode to reacclimate myself to how it played. Yes, I am still indecisive as to who my main will be; used to be Sin back in the day, but I may change that up.

In any event, it’s October now, which means it’s Goth Month. Well, every month is Goth Month if you aren’t a coward, but you know what I mean. Expect write-ups of games/possibly other things that fit very well within the “goth” label. Vampires, girls with lots of eye shadow, hard music with church organs, and so on. The weather is starting to get colder, it’s getting dark earlier in the day, that good part of the year is starting to happen and I’m fucking pumped for it.

Don’t have much else to say other “hey how’s it going I’m glad I can type this on a regular computer and not hunched over my laptop,” so I’ll just post a somewhat horny image I found online. The very thought of me enjoying something horny upsets a lot of very terrible people, and I enjoy making terrible people upset. Here’s a nice lady in a swimsuit hanging out in front of a GGXXAC+R machine. Also Street Fighter V, but nobody cares.