Saturday, April 21, 2012

Music of Zelda

I must confess...I've strayed further and further away from Nintendo during the Wii years. Even so, I made sure I purchased a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which included a special 25th anniversary CD featuring some of the all-time greats from Koji Kondo.

I've played almost every Zelda game so I knew the music was top-notch, but wow; this disc is simply a masterpiece. I've had it playing in my car for about a week straight now and it's taken me back to a number of previous Zelda games. Scenery and locales I thought I'd forgotten quickly spring forth in my mind when the corresponding tune plays. The track list is as follows.

  1. The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley
  2. Kakariko Village Twilight Princess Theme
  3. The Wind Waker Symphonic Movement
  4. Gerudo Valley
  5. Great Fairy's Fountain Theme
  6. Twilight Princess Symphonic Movement
  7. The Legend of Zelda Main Theme Medley
  8. Ballad of the Goddess from Skyward Sword

The Wind Waker Symphonic Movement is - hands down - my favorite track on the entire score. Wind Waker may not have been my favorite Zelda game, but the music may be the best in the series. If you're a Zelda fan or just a fan of classical music in general, I strongly encourage you to give this special compilation a listen.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender Series Review (spoiler-free)

Every child has a cartoon show they grow up loving. From Batman to Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Darkwing Duck, we've all had shows influencing our lives in more ways than we'll ever know. For any adults who've revisited their favorite childhood series, they don't always hold up over time. Avatar: The Last Airbender appeals to children, adults, and everyone in between. It's also a series I deeply regret wasn't around for my childhood...because it's incredible.

Upon hearing the concept of The Last Airbender, I found myself instantly intrigued. I browsed through the DVD section a few times, but never made a purchase. After all, what full-time, working adult has time for cartoons right? I thought about catching M. Night Shyamalan's film version instead, but found it was met with incredibly poor reviews from critics and fans alike.

I finally ended up starting the series when I noticed they had made their way to Netflix and found myself perusing through Netflix's library searching for something fresh and new. It certainly didn't hurt when renowned fantasy novelist Pat Rothfuss listed the series on his blog either. I thought I'd watch a few episodes to see what it was all about, but I found myself instantly hooked and ended up watching the entire series over a span of a few weeks.

The Last Airbender tells the story of a young boy named Aang.
For those unfamiliar with the series, this Avatar is in no way related to James Cameron's 2009 film. No, this tells the story of four warring nations: the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribe, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. Within each of these nations, a select few are born with the ability to "bend" an element, respective to their namesake. Bending involves a number of martial art techniques as well as deep meditation and concentration, enabling the bender to manipulate his or her element into a number of different attack, defense, and evasion tactics.

Three of the four nations live quite harmoniously, yet the Fire Nation, in a quest for greed and power, attacked the other nations, upsetting the balance in the world. This launched what became known as the 100 years war. As the title's opening sequence states, "only the Avatar, master of all four elements can stop them." The Avatar alone has the ability to bend all four elements, yet he must train diligently to perfect each of them. As a continuously reborn spirit, Aang also has the ability to channel his predecessors and seek their wisdom throughout the series.

Many of the themes are cliche and you've almost certainly seen them before, but they're put together in such an incredible package it's easy to forget you probably know what's coming. What separates The Last Airbender, and makes it so unique are the Eastern cultural references. They're fairly obvious once you watch the show so I won't outline them all here, but you'll likely find a number of nationalities, beliefs, and faiths represented throughout. The characters are phenomenal and easily relatable. Even though it's a cartoon, they often behave as people would in the real world. The issues and problems they face are real world issues everyone could benefit from revisiting again and again.

Friendship and loyalty are paramount to Aang's success.
I can't recommend this series enough for parents of young children. I look forward to the day when I have a child of my own because we'll definitely be revisiting this series together. The timeless themes of peace, freedom, equality, and friendship ring true throughout the whole series and will be just as applicable to the next generation as they are to the present one. For parents, it's fascinating to see how the parenting of each main character plays a monumental role in who they become. Every main character has a parental conflict they must resolve and the decision plays a crucial role in how each will live the rest of their life.

The writers capped off Aang's story with a 90 minute-plus finale (most episodes are 23-25 minutes) and I have to say it proved to be one of the most satisfying conclusions to any story I've ever heard - be it novel, movie, or television show. The Last Airbender certainly isn't perfect as they are a few head-scratching episodes along the way. They're few and far between, but if I had viewed the show on a weekly basis then I would have likely been disappointed on a few occasions. Overall though, what you'll find here is quite simply fantastic and I don't think I've ever been so emotionally impacted by a series - especially an animated series - in such a way. You truly feel for these characters and hurt when they're in pain, rejoice at their triumphs.

I'm certainly not an anime aficionado so I admit to not knowing how this stacks up to other popular animated series; however, I do know what makes for good entertainment and the The Last Airbender absolutely blew me away. Watching the entire series so quickly proved bittersweet because I didn't want it to end. Luckily, the same writers who brought Aang's story to the world have just launched a new series set in the same universe. The Legend of Korra debuts today, April 14th, on Nickelodeon. If it's anything close to the same quality of The Last Airbender, children across the world (and maybe a few adults too) are in for one amazing ride.

10 out of 10

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Journey Review (spoiler-free)

Year after year gamers spend millions and millions of dollars on titles like Gears of War, Call of Duty, and Madden. I've played each of these myself and have enjoyed all three at some point; however, I don't believe anyone out there would deem them original, especially after the countless sequels we see every year. Journey is one of the most unique titles I've ever played and it couldn't be more different from the aforementioned titles. In a few short paragraphs, I'd like to share with you a little about my experience with this title; however, I won't make you wait to learn exactly how I feel. If you own a Playstation 3, buy - this - game.

Journey is a Playstation Network exclusive from That Game Company, the very same folks who brought critically acclaimed titles such as FlOw and Flower to the Playstation 3. Journey blows them both away. Whereas those games were solely about the experience with very loose objectives, Journey offers clearer objectives with an even more emotional experience, spiritual even.

Breathtaking Visuals.
You control an unnamed traveler and must guide him (or her?) to the top of a mountain. That's it. That's the goal of Journey. What's amazing is how the game reveals objectives and gameplay mechanics with minimal information and no spoken voice whatsoever. The creators want you to feel totally engrossed in the experience. There is no HUD with a health bar cluttering the screen or even any text, aside from the very beginning when the game instructs you on how to control your character.

Chances are high you will come across a fellow traveler or two as you make the trek across the vast desert. No matchmaking. No connecting. Just there. You can choose to carry out your quest alone and ignore the traveler or you can stick together, side by side for the entire game. There are minor benefits to traveling with a companion yet they aren't significant enough to hamper your experience should you choose to go it alone.

Journey does a lot of things well. There are three particular components every video game needs and Journey does all exceptionally well: pacing, music, and visuals.

The game can be completed in two hours (or less if you're in a hurry), which may seem too short even with the game's $15 price tag. Trust's worth it. First, this isn't a game you'll want to rush through. Pacing is everything and the sense of reward upon discovering a new locale or improving your character's ability will have you exploring every inch of this breathtaking desert. Secondly, you'll want to play through the game more than once. There are minor rewards for beating the game multiple times, which I won't spoil here. Because the game is so short, I didn't hesitate to jump back in for another play-through.

The score is fantastic and isn't just a complement to the game; it's part of the game. As great as the music is, the visuals round out the package with a graphical showcase rivaling even the finest looking Playstation 3 games. The gentle flutter of your cloak. A subtle path in the sand. Little details like this persist throughout your entire adventure.

I have never played a perfect game; yet, I can truthfully say any qualms one may have with Journey are guaranteed to be levied at the type of game rather than its actual execution. This isn't my favorite game of all time or even the best game I've ever played, but I can't think of a single change I would have made to this epic tale. I am fairly confident this will be a timeless classic we'll long to return to years from now. In an industry overrun with killstreaks and headshots, Journey is a breath of fresh air. Besides the fact it's wholly original and incredibly breathtaking, Journey will evoke feelings and emotions you've never felt in a video game before.

10 out of 10.

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