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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Game Music Showcase: Pokemon Medleys

Pokemon is an esteemed series of RPG games and the brainchild of Satoshi Tajiri, spanning all the way back to 1995, when the first two games, Pokemon Red and Green, were released in Japan on the Nintendo Game Boy. Featuring addictive 'catch 'em all' monster raising and battling gameplay, the series caught fire and grew at a breakneck pace all over the world, especially after its first movie turned out to be a massive hit. Many people would be familiar with the 'Pokemon craze' in the late 90s and early 00s. Though it is past that frenzied global phenomenon phase, Pokemon continues to enjoy worldwide popularity; with everyone enjoying the franchise in different ways, be it collecting Pokemon in the games, building strong competitive teams to battle, keeping up with the gigantic pile of Pokemon merchandise released regularly (which spans trading cards to plushies, figurines, even daily items like stationery and food!), or just simply adoring their favorite Pokemon, whether they like cute ones, cool ones, or everything in between!

Delving into the long history of Pokemon would be way too much for this blog, so let's look at it from Taiko's perspective. While Taiko no Tatsujin has been no stranger to opening and ending themes of the Pokemon anime series, the franchise has for the most time never tapped into anything from source materials; the actual Pokemon games that started it all. Then Namco struck gold when they managed to negotiate with Nintendo/Game Freak to allow them to use Pokemon game BGM as playable tracks for the Taiko games. The first one was released on Sorairo (Pokemon Black 2/White 2), and since then, at least one medley has been made for every game.


-Pokemon Medley series-


Pokemon Black 2/White 2 (ポケットモンスター ブラック2・ホワイト2) Gym Battle Medley(ジム戦メドレー)
Allx2 (150)x2 (223) x6 (567)x8 (777)
Taiko 0.5 to 0 R

Rather than explain the ins and outs of how the gameplay works in Pokemon (several other sites can help you with that!), here's a simple summary of what happens in Black/White 2. It is a 5th generation Pokemon game meant to be a direct sequel, and released on June 2012, five months before this medley was introduced on a firmware update for Taiko 0.5. The story revolves around new adventures in the region of Unova, with the legendary ice/dragon type Pokemon, Kyurem, taking center stage. Pokemon Gyms are institutions for trainers of Pokemon to hone their skills and are lead by a powerful trainer called a Gym Leader. This medley covers the music played during the player's battle with these Gym Leaders.

Well it would be, but the subtitle 'Gym Battle Medley' is misleading; the medley contains a little more than that, starting with the title music and trainer battle music. This is followed by the Gym Leader music proper, and then the tense part when the Leader is down to his last critter, followed by the victory theme and ending with the sound that plays when you receive a badge from the Gym Leader.

The medley is quite long, leaving little room to pack a lot of dense clusters. And so what we have here is a relatively sparse 8* notechart with a few streams here and there, the most notable being the long stream of red notes at the very beginning. However, Pokemon fans should be able to enjoy this medley thoroughly regardless.

 Pokemon X・Y (ポケットモンスターX・Y) Wild Pokemon Batttle Medley (野生ポケモン戦メドレー)
Allx3 (115)x4 (176) x6 (328)x7 (509)
 Taiko Wii U, Taiko 0 M

Rather than porting Pokemon Black 2/White 2 Medley over to the subsequent console version (because that would be way too predictable, right?), a new medley based on the then-latest in the series, Pokemon X/Y, was released for Taiko Wii U.

X and Y are the first titles of the Pokemon series to be released globally on the same day in October 2013, featuring a brand new nation to the Poke-universe named Kalos. The gameplay remains largely untouched, however, these two games mark a major graphical shift for the handheld Pokemon games, as everything is now in 3D, even the battles. The main crux of the story, besides becoming Pokemon Champion (again) is to stop the evil organization Team Flare, whose world-conquering scheme involves the two legendary Pokemon featured in the games' boxart, with Xerneas for X and Yveltal for Y. New battle mechanics and features have also been added by the two titles, such as an in-battle, extra layer of Pokemon evolution (the Mega-Evolutions) and an additional Pokemon type (Fairy).

In November 13th of the same year, a soundtrack album was released under the name of Pokemon X & Pokemon Y: Super Music Collection (ニンテンドー3DS ポケモンX・Y スーパーミュージックコレクション), featuring nearly all of the two games' music as well as some remastered tracks from the first two Japanese Pokemon titles (Red Version and Green Version) and the Anime spin-off Pokemon Origins. About a week after, some of this soundtrack's music was merged for a new playable medley for the Taiko franchise!

Taiko's 'Wild Pokemon Battle Medley' includes three tracks from the Super Music Collection: the 'Opening Movie' theme and the Wild Pokemon themes 'Battle!' and 'Victory!'. All the three tracks were composed by Junichi Masuda (増田順一) and arranged by Shota Kageyama (景山将太)

While the Opening Theme section mainly features 1/12 patterns with 4-note clusters, the Wild Pokemon themes' BGMs have 1/16 clusters scrolling at generally-higher BPM values. However, in comparison to Black 2/White 2 Medley's Oni mode, this song's hardest difficulty level has more linear patterns overall.

 Pokemon X・Y (ポケットモンスターX・Y) Trainer Battle Medley (トレーナー戦メドレー)
Allx2 (101)x3 (155) x6 (347)x8 (630)
 Taiko 0 M, Taiko Wii U

Mainline Pokemon games have always been released as two versions, and it seems this was also the case for the two X/Y song medleys for Taiko; while the Wii U version got the Wild Pokemon Battle medley, on the arcade side, Momoiro got the Trainer Battle medley. Gotta play 'em all! (eventually both songs were included in each other's songlists, so all is good)

Five tracks were used this time, following the flow of a typical battle: starting from a cut version of the 'Trainers' Eyes Meet (Youngster)' track, we have cuts of the 'Battle! (Trainer Battle)' and 'Victory! (Trainer Battle)' tunes, ending with the most modern arrange of the series' Pokemon Center jingles, titled 'Pokémon Center' and 'Pokémon Healed'.

Unlike its more easygoing partner, Trainer Battle Medley is way more intense. Not only is the BPM higher, it cuts back on the 1/12 clusters and uses a whole array of long 1/16s in a row, with almost no break during the actual trainer battle BGM. This is most pronounced near the end where many 5-note clusters are presented in quick succession. It's a brutal stamina exercise for the 8* tier.

At the day of its launch, this song's Oni mode presented a bug in its notechart, featuring an extra Don note at the beginning which is stacked right on top of another Don note in the foreground, resulting in a double-note of the same color which counts as two separate notes when hit. The extra note could be spotted by turning the Kimagure or Detarame modifier on, sometimes turning into Kat one of the two stacked notes (link) and made it impossible to hit. This bug was later fixed with the Game Version 1.03 emergency update.

 Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (ポケットモンスター オメガルビー・アルファサファイア) Champion Medley (チャンピオンメドレー)
Allx3 (68)x5 (147)x7 (404)x7 (550)
 Taiko 0 K, Taiko Wii U 2

Anticipated by ardent fans for years, OmegaRuby/AlphaSapphire are the third pair of remakes for the main portable series, after the Game Boy Advance's FireRed/LeafGreen and Nintendo DS's HeartGold/SoulSilver. As the name easily suggests, the games being remade are Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the first titles of the 'Third Generation' for Pokemon that introduced players to the region of Hoenn, with over 120 new Pokémon to catch, double battles and according to many, too much water. In line with the previous remakes, this couple of games has some new features both from the current-standing generation of titles and completely new features, such as X/Y's Mega Evolutions and new spins to the main story of the games.

All the tracks from the medley comes from the Pokémon Omega Ruby & Pokémon Alpha Sapphire: Super Music Collection (ニンテンドー3DS ポケモン オメガルビー・アルファサファイア スーパーミュージックコンプリート), which is available internationally on iTunes since December 21st, 2014, but saw a physical release with extra tracks only in Japan, 3 weeks earlier. This medley features yet another key aspect of mainline Pokémon series games, with the music heard during the final stretch of competitive battles for the main storyline; in other words, the infamous Victory Road and the battle with the Elite Four champion, which for the Ruby/Sapphire generation is Steven. The four tracks being used ('Victory Road', 'Champion Steven', 'Battle! Steven' and 'Victory! Steven' involved the work of multiple people, both in the composing; Junichi Masuda (増田順一), Go Michinose (一之瀬剛) and Morikazu Aoki (青木森一), and in the arrangement department with Shota Kageyama (景山将太), Minako Adachi (足立美奈子) and Hideaki Kuroda (黒田英明).

After the X/Y Trainer Battle Medley, we have yet another battle-based Pokémon composition that relies on its uncomfortably high BPM value as its trump card for an Oni challenge that rivals the challenge degree of other songs like Venomous (and yes, this is rated as a 7*!). There's more though...

  Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (ポケットモンスター オメガルビー・アルファサファイア) Champion Medley (チャンピオンメドレー)

x9 (744)
 Taiko 0 K, Taiko Wii U 2

This is the next videogame medley to have an Ura, years after KAGEKIYO, which came right at the launch of the song. ORAS Champion Medley Ura plays like an even more intense version of the X/Y Trainer Battle Medley, again with almost zero breaks during the actual battle BGM, very tricky 5-note cluster combinations, and at roughly another 20 BPM higher. If that wasn't enough, several long streams in this medley have increased scrolling speed, and they are not easy to clear, with the final four involving a ton of handswitching. Consider the 'Victory' tune at the end a truly great victory for you if you manage to get this far without missing! This would almost be the equivalent of Koibumi 2000 for difficulty, except trickier.

Yup, it's that hard. Not too shabby for a 9-star challenge, isn't it?

 Pokemon Sun & Moon Medley (「ポケットモンスター サン・ムーン」メドレー)
Allx2 (90)x4 (145)x6 (359)x8 (511)
 Taiko 0 R

Slowing down on the difficulty tier gear is the subsequent medley of this series, that instead features music from the Sun/Moon couple of games, pioneers of the so-dubbed '7th Generation' of Pokemon gaming. Taking place in the Hawaii-inspired archipelago of Alola, the latest twin iteration of the popular series adds over 80 never-seen-before Pokemon to catch in the wild, as well as a large selection of monsters from the very first gaming generation with region-exclusive alternate looks, typing and move sets. Among the titles' new mechanics of the series is the introduction to Z Moves, special attacks that can be performed once in battle by selected Pokemon species in the place of a specific, regular attack move that the Pokemon can learn.

Once again, this medley's track portions are given their name by a game-related soundtrack album release, which for the case of the Sun/Moon couple is the Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon: Super Music Collection (ニンテンドー3DS ポケモン サン・ムーン スーパーミュージック・コンプリート) of November 30th, 2016. This medley starts with the Title Screen (タイトル) theme, up to then feature the Battle! Wild Pokemon (戦闘!野生ポケモン) and Battle! Trainer (戦闘!トレーナー), up to end with the Trainer Victory! (トレーナーに勝利!), a theme which is a direct remix of the trainer victory one from Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire. The tracks are also composed by already-known names for this series, with Junichi Masuda involved in the making of all tracks and Go Michinose (also co-composer of the Title Theme) and Minako Adachi handling the arrangements of said themes.

Mostly mono-color clusters are waiting to meet Taiko players in this averagely-difficult 8* Oni challenge, up to racking up the pace with some other manageable 1/24 cluster sections with more mixed note typings into the mix, with drumrolls and hit-balloons being peppered throughout the entire medley.

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