Reviews

Dawn of Heroes

On paper, a simplified tactical RPG probably sounds like a good idea. Games like Pokemon have shown that the formula can deliver to younger audiences. The reason that Dawn of Heroes bombs is that it doesn’t really pay attention to what the player wants to do in this type of game.


Dawn of Heroes

Publisher: Majesco
Players: 1
Price: $29.99
Platform: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Wicked Studios
Release Date: 2010-09-09
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The tactical RPG, particularly its JRPG variation, has always been about options. You take the basic fighting system of a JRPG and add the variable of terrain movement and exponentially increase the ways that you can develop characters. The appeal of such games is in tinkering with all the different strategies available and seeing what obstacles that the game can throw at you. Majesco’s Dawn of Heroes is a curious game in this vein because it seems to mostly be interested in simplifying itself. With a simplicity that’s on par with the Pokemon games, it seems to effectively remove everything about a tactical game that makes it tactical.

The game is set up like a JRPG. Your heroes have stats and magic points, these go up as you increase in level, and there are three kinds of attack: physical, magic, and green magic. Your armor and character class will vary up your resistance to these types of attacks as well. An enemy can be clicked on to see their weaknesses, and you plan accordingly. Buff abilities are added automatically. Dying takes you out of a battle unless you’re resurrected, but there is no penalty for doing so since all experience is shared communally. New heroes are automatically leveled up to match everyone else in your party. There are the usual spells for befuddling opponents alongside physical attacks and various weapon options. You find new weapons, but they tend to only improve stats. This all leads to a very straightforward tactical game that turns into the player maxing out a character’s attack and sending them after whoever is weak against it.

By far, the weirdest quirk in the game is that you can only attack an enemy twice. After that, you have to hit someone else or figure out something else to do with the character. I’m guessing that the idea behind this decision was to force the game into being more strategic than it is, but it is basically a band-aid on a gigantic problem. Beating the crap out of people is the most effective tactic in the game, and the design imposes an arbitrary rule that prevents you from doing it. The result is that the healers have more time to keep people alive, the wizards fire off more befuddle spells, and all the battles in general take a lot longer than they need to. Conceptually you could maybe get away with calling this “interesting” for a battle or two, but the entire game is defined by it. It would be one thing if the battles were simply challenging and forced you to think outside the box, but the issue here is that the “two strikes” rule doesn’t bother to replace the traditional form of play with anything else. It’s still a simplified tactical game, so other than using status attacks to slow someone down, there is no extra strategy to the game. It just takes longer.

Visually the game is very pretty by DS standards, and the animations are charming. You can customize characters' appearances and dress them up to your tastes. In terms of progress, the game is just a matter of moving from point A to B on a map by clicking. Then, a scene plays out and a fight starts up. You can choose between going to one battle or the other, but all roads merge at the same point eventually. Your quest is to defeat six evil barons and then their bigger, eviler boss. Scattered around are lots of bonus missions and challenge quests that will take a lot of grinding before you’ll stand a chance in succeeding in conquering them.

In terms of narrative, the game is probably targeted for a younger audience so I’m not the best judge of how successful the plot is. There’s no melodrama here, and the game doesn’t take itself seriously and tries to lighten things up with lots of gags and visual humor. It never struck me as funny because none of the people in the story have any real character. There’s the dumb one, the greedy one, the angry one, and so on. They get into formulaic arguments about formulaic things. There’s just nothing to really latch onto since the game design doesn’t really get more sophisticated than “hit weakness” and the plot has no dramatic tension to speak of.

On paper, I think that a simplified tactical RPG probably sounds like a good idea. Games like Pokemon have shown that the formula can deliver to younger audiences. It even does this by imposing an arbitrary “one monster at a time” system. The reason that Dawn of Heroes bombs by contrast is that it doesn’t really pay attention to what the player wants to do in this type of game. The two strike hit, along with the limited combat options, effectively cut off the natural impulses that a person has when playing a strategy game. You want to apply overwhelming force on a weaker enemy. Dawn of Heroes removes this option, and as a consequence, it’s hard to ever really feel like you’re “doing it right.” The game never replaces this strategy with anything else.

5

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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