Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Game Analysis: Part 2 - DJMAX

I was a little reluctant to select this as my second analysis on the count that it's hard to discuss subjects like narrative, immersion, interactivity, social networking, etc in what is essentially a rhythm game with the simple objective of "do stuff according to a beat". But I guess that when contrasted with the prior analysis of WoW, the dichotomy is just all that more pronounced.

Of course, as a music student and future professional musician/producer/composer/whatever along with being a hobbyist video editor/compositor/art junkie, the production value of the media presented in the DJMAX franchise is also an awesome entertainment experience, and a really welcome breath of fresh air compared to the loads and loads of garbage MTV is feeding kids these days.

DJMAX today exists in three forms - a (semi-abandoned, unfortunately) PC game, a series of PSP games, and an arcade machine. The two former are extremely similar in the sense that you hit buttons in time to falling bars to 'fill in' parts of a song. The latter, while sharing the same songlist generally, is a somewhat different experience as the player instead touches a touchscreen according to the timing of a line that moves across the screen. Play is judged based on accuracy and consistency, and global internet ranking exists for all the games.

I guess that if the player were to assume a role, he'd be playing himself/herself in the shoes of a virtual DJ (for the lack of a better analogy) although I find this far less pretentious than Guitar Hero and other similar western music games. (Speaking of which, this is a little nitpicky but Japan and Korea have been making rhythm games long before Kotick ever assumed his position of HIGH HORSE EXTRAODINAIRE at Activision so it's pretty hilarious watching idiots comment on DJMAX, IIDX and other older Asian franchises as "guitar hero clones")

The above idea, that you can be whatever you want just by believing, is personified by the first PSP game's intro movie (which also doubles as a playable 'theme song' for that particular game in the series) which depicts a schoolgirl's aspirations to be a pop star. This is built upon in the second game, where the lyrics to its theme song/intro very obviously carries that train of thought further.

Despite the game's club-suggestive title, and despite the fact that quite a bit of the soundtrack falls solidly under the dance genre, the franchise is reknown in its circle of fans for its extremely diverse yet almost universally catchy and/or moving music. Here's just a (unfortunately very brief, trust me!) rough cross section of the genres represented:

Proposed, Flower, Wolf - Piano Ballad (this should be somewhat familiar!)
Proposed, Flower, Wolf pt2 - Orchestral/Violin Filmscore-esque
Eternity - Rock Ballad
Keys to the World - Modern Rock
In My Dream - Metal Fusion
Here in the Moment - Latin Fusion
Mess it Up - Electro Big Band/Jazz
Right Now - Gospel Ballad
Hard to Start - Chiptune (YES!)

What sets DJMAX apart from other music games is the amount of work put into each song especially in terms of its accompanying visuals, as you may have noticed from the above examples. The art jockeys are arguably as important as the composers in content development. You could say that each song has a story to tell, whether it's lovers meeting on the beach, A gender-bending parody of Sherlock Holmes, zombie apocalypse, Vandread spinoff, one of those FIGHT.gif things, gun-toting, racecar driving, femme fatales, superheroes that power-up to beat up couples (HAHAHA) or simply more abstract pieces with no real story, the list just goes on and on and on.

I can safely say that the franchise has opened up my tastes to a lot of different genres of music (and I'm a better person because of it) and challenged me both rhythmically, and interestingly enough harmonically when trying to understand what goes on in some of the songs and how they evoke the emotions they do. In fact, this niche genre where music and gaming intersect is one of the big reasons I took the plunge and moved across the globe to attend Berklee rather than staying in my little hole back in Malaysia.

Before I forget, here are a couple of vids of what actual gameplay is like: in PSP form, and the arcade machine (speaking of which, college really needs to buy a couple of these. I'll save up quarters >:V )

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