Reviews

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Cashing in on nostalgia is a lucrative business, and while I’m sure that long term fans have their rose-tinted glasses surgically attached to their faces, newbies such as myself will be wondering: what’s the fuss?


Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Publisher: Xseed Games
Players: 1
Price: $29.99
Platforms: PSP
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Game Arts
Release Date: 2010-03-02
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The original Lunar released way back in 1992 on the Sega CD and was met with much critical acclaim. It was a major hit for the console. It set up a franchise and was revolutionary at the time for its use of CD quality audio, video playback, and voice acting in addition to its quality story and characters, which were for its day ground breaking.

Though the follows ups in the series have never managed to reach the lofty heights of its progenitor, the faith shown in its original seems unbreakable. This enhanced PSP remake is the third of its kind with ports having graced the Sega Saturn, PS1, GBA, and even Windows, all of which have been lapped up by its cult following, who claim it be a benchmark in RPGs. I couldn’t say for sure however, having never played these versions.

Remakes and ports of older titles are increasingly common nowadays and this feels like the 30th reworking of a game that I’ve played this year. Bizarrely, the PSP seems to be the platform that receives the lions share. A benefit to gamers being that the PSP version can be picked up for a reasonable price, while the original can cost you your house on eBay.

Cashing in on nostalgia is a lucrative business, and while I’m sure that long term fans have their rose-tinted glasses surgically attached to their faces, newbies such as myself will be wondering: what’s the fuss?

Lunar curca 2010 features a host of new bits to try and make it the definitive version, a new isometric view, a simply beautiful new hand drawn style for the visuals and menus, new music, new animated cutscenes, new expansions for the story, new voice acting, but unfortunately, the same old rusty gameplay from 18 years ago.

For all the graphical beauty on display (and there’s a lot), and for all the truly atrocious voice acting (there’s a lot of that too), the cost to the PSP processor is severe, the constant loading times being some of the most intrusive that I’ve ever encountered. Each and every time that you enter a new area, building, room, dungeon section, etc. you’ll be introduced to your new best friend and companion for your 30-hour-long journey -- pitch black loading screen. The fade in, fade out and irritating pause after entering a new area makes even the quickest of tasks seem nearly infinitely lasting. The fact that cut scenes can’t be skipped, nor can the hero Alex run, slows matters down to almost sleep inducing levels.

The dungeons are long and confusing to navigate due to a lack of a map. The battles, though mercifully not random, are way too frequent. Enemies can be seen on screen but are usually impossible to avoid, due to them blocking your route and giving chase when they get a sniff of you. Of course, Alex can’t run, so fighting is inevitable and necessary. As usual with any JRPG, especially with one where its core mechanics are almost two decades old, the amount of grinding required is really, really high and items are expensive as well, so either fight a lot, or die a lot.

Battles themselves are your fairly stock turn-based JRPG fare with the usual commands that one would expect and the ability to learn new tricks as you level up. You also build up a special bar that, once full, allows the player to unleash a super attack, spell, etc,, and which naturally takes ages to fill. You can alter formations so that weaker members stay at the back of your group, and you can tweak individual A.I. to defend, attack, heal etc.

The battles are very easy and tension or any need to strategize rarely emerges during these encounters. You never really feel that you could die. You just have to be patient, especially since the unskippable battle animations drag out the proceedings for way too long. There is an automatic command option, in which the game plays for you (it’s almost as if the game has become sentient and feels your pain), but sadly, the AI fails here occasionally with the computer using up your items unreservedly or draining you magic unwisely.

Lauded in its day for its story and sense of humour, the ravages of time have not been kind to Lunar in the narrative department as well. While some of the dialogue is actually funny, most is childish, immature nonsense that even the kids of today won’t find amusing. While the themes of romance, loss, betrayal, etc. feel clichéd and predictable, it’s your usual anime drivel, wrapped up in your typical pantomime acting with its nursery level dialogue.

Without a history with Lunar, this really is just another JRPG. For all the fanciness on display, the shortcomings of many remakes nowadays are to spruce up the presentation, but they forget about doing anything to the gameplay. If you really are that gaga about Lunar and love your JRPGs served retro, feel free to waste another 30 bucks. Just don’t go and expect your childhood memories to remain intact. For everyone else, this is the quintessential blueprint for the genre but not in a good way. Probably its only merit is as a viable cure to insomnia.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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