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Monday, December 5, 2011

Game Music Showcase: Katamari Damacy

This series is made up of music from the saga of Katamari Damacy (塊魂 Katamari Damashii, two very similar kanji roughly translated to English as clump soul), one of Namco's flagship game series and full of typical Japanese wackiness. It was first released in 2004 for the Play Station 2 and became one of Namco's mainstay franchises. In this 3rd person puzzle-action hybrid, players roll a magical ball known as a Katamari around, picking up items and people to create material for planets, stars and the moon. Once enough objects have been collected, the goal is beaten and the player is rewarded with the star or planet created by that Katamari.

The Namco Digital Hollywood Game Laboratory came up with this bizarre idea at first for Sony's then-latest home console, developed for less than $1 million. And what a plot it had! Due to some binge drinking, the King of All Cosmos accidentally destroyed the Milky Way's stars and constellations (with the Moon as well). In order to set things back to normal, he sends to Earth his 5-cm-tall son, the Prince, asking him to recreate all the stars by sticking as many things as he can with Katamari balls.

The series is almost universally praised for its unique gameplay and quirky story telling, and received many videogame-related awards in its lifetime. It gained enough popularity to earn a small place on Taiko too, even if each song's tenure is criminally short.


-Katamari series-


 Katamari on the Rocks (塊オンザロック) ~Main Theme (~メインテーマ)
Taiko PS2 4x4 (224)x5 (298)x5 (461)x8 (577)
TDMx3 (224)x4 (298)x4 (461)x9 (577)
Taiko PSP 1x4 (224)x5 (298) x5 (461)x8 (577) 
TDM (2P)x3 (224)x4 (298)x4 (461)x9 (409) (video)
 Taiko PS2 4, Taiko Drum Master (US Version), Taiko PSP 1

One of the series' ingredients for success lies in its wacky soundtrack, which isn't just infectious and upbeat, but also features an entire list of contributions by artists outside of Namco. Even its main theme, Katamari on the Rocks; featured in the Katamari Fortissimo Damacy soundtrack, this single is composed by Yu Miyake (優三宅) - responsible for the majority of Tekken and Ridge Racer's tracks - and sung by Masayuki Tanaka (田中雅之), from many Kamen Rider and Ultraman OP themes. The lyrics were arranged by the director of the game himself, Keita Takahashi (高橋慶太).

As pointed out briefly in the beginning, the title of the game and the series as a whole uses two very similar kanji (塊魂), differing only in the left radicle, which can be confusing. Confusing enough to lead Namco to a spelling error while porting Katamari on the Rocks to the PSP, using the 'tamashii' (魂) kanji instead of the first one, turning it into 'Soul of the Rocks' instead. The song remains the same obviously, it's just a simple mistake on Namco's part.

The song is one of the longest 8* Oni tracks in Taiko, and features clusters and notes typical of your average everyday 8*, with lots of twos and threes. The duet notechart, made exclusively for the sole US release of Taiko Drum Master has one more star added to its difficulty, although both players have reduced total max combos when compared to a solo play.

La Morena Kumonai (ラ・モレーナ・クモナイ)
AC8, PSP DX, Wii 1x5 (180)x6 (267)x7 (459)x9 (613)
PS4x4 (180)x5 (267)x7 (459)x8 (613)
 Taiko 8, Taiko PSP DX, Taiko Wii 1, Taiko PS4, CD 2008

Never expected this to be here, huh? An arcade Namco Original that seems random at first but is actually tied intricately to Katamari Damacy. Composed and sung by Yuri Misumi (みすみゆり), La Morena Kumonai was actually used as the background music for the Japanese demo of We Love Katamari, the direct sequel to the first game (of which we'll talk later for the next song). It was a strange genre experimentation, with random sound effects and a fictional French/Japanese language used for this song. Click here to listen to the original version.

However, La Morena Kumonai seemed to have been completely forgotten upon release date; neither We Love Katamari nor its soundtrack album, Katamari wa Damacy (塊は魂), have any traces of Misumi's then nameless composition.

However, the 8th Taiko arcade gave the song a name and a second shot: a portion of the song was cut from the original for use in Taiko and given a 9* Oni chart. The high speed and inexplicable beats/lyrics of the song made the 1/12 rhythm difficult to follow. Its songID, kahim, hints at the real nature of the song, as it is read as an acronym of Katamari Damancy no Himitsu (塊魂の秘密), meaning "Secrets of Katamari Damacy".

La Morena Kumonai (ラ・モレーナ・クモナイ)

x10 (1119)
Taiko PS4

After a good 8-year absence, La Morena Kumonai is put back on the Donder radar as a DLC song for the PS4 Taiko no Tatsujin (NB. There were no confirmed PS4 Katamari games as of the DLC's release; Katamari Damacy Reroll/Encore is only for Nintendo Switch and PC). The inclusion updated the ratings for the original notecharts, and added this tricky menace as an Ura notechart that seems to be trying to encode every possible sound the original composition has.

 Katamari on the Swing (塊オンザスウィング) We Love Katamari (みんな大好き塊魂)
Allx4 (148)x6 (234)x7 (436)x8 (533)
 Taiko PS2 6

Two PS2 versions later another Katamari Damacy song made its way into Taiko, this time from We Love (♥ in the gamebox) Katamari, known in Japan as Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy (みんな大好き塊魂).

After restoring the Milky Way to its original form, the King of All Cosmos and the Prince acquired a supportive fanbase who is requesting them to make more new stars, and they have to satisfy their fans by rolling up more Katamari. This time, players may control the Prince along with his 40 cousins, all using different spherical objects as their base like giant snowballs, burning katamaris and sumo wrestlers.

We Love Katamari's main theme is simply a swing arrangement of Katamari of the Rocks, made by the same team who made the original tune. But this time, the composer and lyricist are completely different: both roles are assumed by Shigeru Matsuzaki (松崎しげる), a very tanned Japanese artist who has provided his voice to all manner of things; TV drama series, albums, anime, you name it.

Katamari on the Swing's Taiko journey starts and ends with the 6th PS2 game, where its unconventional mixture of high BPM and 1/12 spacing became a source of inspiration for future Namco Originals, like the remake chart of Off Rock for Taiko Wii 3.

 Katamari on the Wings (塊オンザウィングス) Katamari Forever
Allx3 (126)x5 (211)x7 (342)x8 (495)
 Taiko 13

After two unpopular console releases and four whole years of waiting, another Katamari tune is used for Taiko, and this time it's an arcade exclusive! Too bad it seems destined to stay that way, as an obscure unlockable of Taiko 13.

Skipping the Katamari game for XBox 360, this song comes from the PS3 videogame Katamari Forever, known in Japan as Katamari Damacy TRIBUTE (塊魂TRIBUTE) and published in July 2009. As the title suggests, this is a remastered update for this strange puzzle-action series, by packing together old and new levels, now with online score challenges and two parallel stories: while old stages from the prequels will be played in order to restore the King of All Cosmos's memories, there are brand new levels to create stars replacing the ones destroyed by RoboKing, a robot version of the King of All Cosmos created by the Prince's cousins.

Like with We Love Katamari, Katamari Forever's theme song is another remix from the first song, this time with a lively ska rhythm, and with a single katakana moved from the front of 'Swing' and tacked onto the back to make 'Wings'. Katamari on the Wings is sung by Takuya Ohashi (大橋卓弥), the main vocalist of the jazz fusion duo Sukima Switch, and it shares composers and arrangers with the two previous theme songs.

On Taiko, the note clusters are made up of 2 and 4, the bane of the newbie player, and is of very high density, however the very low BPM makes it good practice for those patterns. It isn't rare to see this song being played on double speed, just to underline how slow it is! The only thing it's faster than are some of the slowest ballads in J-Pop and Anime genre like Ketsui no Asa Ni, which has a BPM of under 100.

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  1. *checks* The vocalist for Ra Morena Kumonai actually is Yuri Misumi. It says in the liner notes of the Taiko OST 2008