Tales of Berseria

Tales of Berseria, part of the Tales series of RPGs and the latest one. This is not a story about heroes. Most of the characters are self-proclaimed bad guys, and while they aren’t overtly villainous, you can easily see why people would consider them the bad guys. Things generally take a turn for the worse when you show up.

The other part of the game, the gameplay. It uses real time combat where you need to watch the combo gauge. I will get more into that in the second half of the review.

Find it at your local gamestore.

I’m not sure what Berseria means

Tales of Berseria is about Velvet, a woman on a revenge mission. She will do anything to find complete her mission, and she pretty much does throughout the story. Velvet is not a pleasant person at the start of the story, which is a good thing we get other characters to balance out her violent, tunnel-vision tendencies.

Still, a good 4/6th of your party members are some kind of jerk that do things without caring about the consequences. The others are just more likeable than Velvet. You have a samurai that’s in it for the fight. You have a pirate. And you have a witch that’s a complete troll (in the modern sense of the word). All of them are amusing and the interactions between Velvet and them helps make Velvet more bearable until her character development starts.

Arise, my champion

Balancing out the party are a couple of good characters, though both of them are naive in different ways. They grow by finding out more about how the world works. And the world works in mysterious ways here.

People are randomly turning into monsters, and to combat that, the Abbey has become the most powerful organization around. They are trying to control all parts of people’s lives to maintain order. So of course the protagonists are all free spirits that go against the overbearing rule.

Yes, you can surf

Starting out, thanks to Velvet’s single-mindedness, the story is pretty linear. It stays that way for a good while. There is no world map here. To get to places, you need to trek there through huge fields filled with enemies each time. I think they unlock the better transport options a bit too slow. Good thing most enemies are easily avoidable.

Soon, though, the characters start to become endearing, despite their huge selfish tendencies. But how much you enjoy the story depends on how much you like being a villain. The only reason they can be considered heroes is that the actual bad guys of the story are even worse. But at no point do they ever become the heroes.

Though I find the characters fun and interesting. So how’s the combat?

Watch those skill costs

Every attack you do is a skill, and you can set up chains to four in the menu to the four primary buttons of a controller. That gives you about sixteen skills to use during combat. Using skills is divided into two parts, the cost of the skill, and the ability to combo. Throw in break skills and other stuff, and there is quite a bit going on.

Combat does have a few systems in it, but they flow together well. Once I got used to things, I really enjoy it. Be careful about falling behind, since it can be tough to get ahead again, especially against bosses. The AI companions work pretty well, and you can customize their behaviors a bit.

Yes, you can surf

The world is alright. It’s nothing too fantastical, but there is a lot of different places to visit. The music is decent. There are some memorable tracks in there.

Rounding everything out is a nice collection of mini-games. You can use the reward tokens to buy useful items, but they’re way too expensive. I mainly use the reward tokens to buy accessories to my characters. Yes, you can dress up the dark and edge Velvet in dog ears if you want. Which I did.

Largest city in the world

How much you’ll enjoy the plot depends on how much you like playing as anti-heroes. Most of the characters are selfish. Any good results are a byproduct of what they’re doing, not the goal. And there are plenty of bad results, too. Good thing most of them are endearing in their own ways, and Velvet eventually mellows out.

Towards the end of the game, the subtitles get bad at times for some reason, like speech-to-text bad. I have no idea what happened.

Find Tales of Berseria at your local gamestores.

Relaxing by the coast
Music AppreciationUncategorized

An Interview with U.K. Synthwave Artist Aeronexus


Aeronexus (Harry Rowlands) is a synthwave artist based in the U.K. He creates unique synthwave music that incorporates ambient elements as well as strong science-fiction/fantasy influences, I talked to him about how he got started as a music maker, his approach to creating new music and where he finds inspiration.

Karl Magi: How did you first get into making music?

Harry Rowlands: It was in 2012 for a music class in school using software called Music Maker and it was a project for us to make music using loops. It was how I first got interested in making sounds with loops. When 2013 came along, I enjoyed making a lot of sampled music and I put some of that on Soundcloud. I was a fan of synthwave in 2013 when PowerGlove did the soundtrack to FarCry 3: Blood Dragon. At the time, I was already interested in the ‘80s because of hard rock. I made a bit of a sampled EP (that has since been deleted). One day, I started messing around with synth pads in GarageBand on my phone. After I started working with pads, I became very interested in making synthwave myself. I liked to listen to a lot of soundtracks, so the inspiration for me comes from soundtracks mixed with synthwave.

KM: What first drew you towards making synthwave?

HR: Growing up, my mum and dad bought me the DVDs of Thundercats. I loved Thundercats and my favourite movie was the original Transformers movie. The movie was on a disc that came with three different kid’s films. Obviously I was drawn to the movie with giant robots! I really loved Vince DiCola’s soundtrack to that movie. I used to get giddy when I was watching Transformers because there was something very catchy about the ‘80s synthesizers! I was interested in darksynth and that was the music I wanted to make at first, but after I listened to Dynatron and the lighter artists, I got more interested in that sound. I started out making more ambient stuff and that slowly evolved into pure synthwave.

KM: Who are some of the artists that have been influential for you?

HR: People compare my music to Vangelis and I am really inspired by him. I’m also inspired by Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Jeremy Soule’s music for the Elder Scrolls games. I’m influenced by an awful lot of video game soundtracks. Mick Gordon’s music for Doom and Wolfenstein was a big influence for me. I’m also influenced by bands like Go West and Duran Duran as well. The slower artists influenced my music, but the darker stuff makes me want to try and make darker music. I don’t want to make darksynth, but I do want to add heavier bass to my tracks while keeping the overall tone light.

KM: Tell me more about how you create music.

HR: I either start off with an orchestral track, break it down and make it more synth-y or I take the completely opposite route, where I create a fully ambient track and synth it up. That’s why some of my songs are spacier and more ambient while others can be really complex. I know I’ve not shown off an awful lot of tracks yet because it’s been a really long production period. It’s been two and a half years, but I want to make the music the best that I can make it.

I made my first demo on GarageBand and then I got an Apple computer. I started working with Logic and uploading my GarageBand demos there, so a lot of my demos got turned into bigger, more complex files with more instruments and more of a dynamic sound. Now I’m starting to dabble in FL Studio. I haven’t worked with Ableton yet but I want to experiment with it too.

KM: What are your plans for your music in the near future?

HR: I wanted to put out an album, but I was very picky and it went down from 12 tracks to seven to four. The four tracks that I ended up with basically turned into an EP. I’ve been playing a lot of fantasy games and listening to fantasy-inspired music so my newer stuff has more prominent melodies and it’s louder, but the ambience is still very much there. I want to go ahead and move from more ambient sounds to music that’s more inspired by soundtracks. I don’t use drums at all right now because I like to make big, spaced out tracks. With the sci-fi/fantasy influences, I’m getting more complex and using more instruments.

I do want to make soundtracks. I want to progress with a story told through my music. I’d like to do more live shows. I’ve done a few and they were fun! I’d like to do shows where I delve more into heavier music, turning my ambient tracks into heavier tracks. I’d really love to release some vinyl. If I could get my music out on vinyl, that’d be the peak.

KM: What are your thoughts about the U.K. synthwave scene and where its at?

HR: I think it’s good. There’s a lot of talented synthwave artists in the U.K. There’s a lot of upcoming artists as well. Electric Dragon’s one of my favourites from the U.K. I really love their dark fantasy sound. There’s also people like Brandon, Michael Oakley and Contre-Attaque. It’s just really varied, but I think synthwave’s going to be like that anywhere. There are things like RetroFuture Fest, Steel City and TechNoir in Scotland. The gigs are coming up. I go to all the gigs in Manchester and they’re really fun.

KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?

HR: If I’ve got a bit of writer’s block, I normally just watch TV and play games. I also enjoy drawing. Once I’m sitting down and there’s something I really enjoy, it can definitely inspire something back. I recently watched the Castlevania series on Netflix, so that’s got me wanting to work with more organ sounds. Whether I’m playing games, watching movies or going to new places, I’m always getting inspiration. I also listen to a lot of artists who don’t do synthwave because sometimes I’ll hear a particular instrument or a sound that I want to explore in my own music


An Interview With Video Game Composer Ryan Fogleman

Ryan Fogleman is an American video game composer. At the age of 13, after teaching himself how to play the guitar, he created his first unofficial compositions. His video game soundtracks explore sonic textures that mimic the emotional arc taken by the story of the game. I talked to Ryan about his creative process, his inspirations and how he recharges his creative batteries.

KM: What first drew you towards video game music?

Ryan Fogleman: The journey really started when I was first getting into Super Nintendo/PS1/PS2 era RPGs like the Dark Cloud series, Chrono Trigger, Morrowind and Xenogears. Those games played a huge role in my early life, and influenced the music I create quite a bit. The sound design and the audio of those games caught me from the beginning as an integral part of the overall experience, and is part of what drew me into writing game music.

KM: What are the factors that make JRPG-style video game music stand out for you?

RF: A big part of it is the way that, in a lot of cases, it seamlessly blends Western classical traditions with more modern art and pop music. There are influences from European pop as well as jazz, Eurobeat, progressive rock, and countless other genres. Not only do the composers have an impeccable understanding of groove, rhythm and melody and harmony, but it’s a very unique style that combines so many disparate musical traditions.

KM: Talk about your compositional process.

RF: My process almost always starts with some germ of an idea. I have synesthesia so a lot of my ideas initially come to me in a hybrid of sound and images. Usually those are small fragments – a short melody, a particularly interesting chord, or even a timbre. From there I usually sit in my music room and improvise with the idea, putting it in different contexts and seeing what sticks – if you can perfectly remember something that you improvised, it’s likely other people will find it catchy too. The balance of overtones, whether a sound is fuzzy or crunchy and those sorts of things are also very important to me in the early stages of writing.

Often I don’t have fully fleshed out notes, rhythms and chords until much later in the process if the texture of the piece is the focus. One thing I also like to do is to draw out the emotional arc of a piece of music on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper, and map out the peaks and valleys of the overall dynamics, as well as notes about the atmosphere.

KM: Tell me more about some of the projects on which you’ve worked lately that you’ve enjoyed the most.

RF: I’m very happy with the Ceress and Orea soundtrack which I put out this May with Materia Collective. It was an absolutely great experience. I’ve worked on a few other projects with the developer Plueschkatze, including a game we did for the IGMC 2017 jam called Dear Edwin. It’s a short little detective noir style adventure, and I wanted a grainy black and white movie kind of feel to fit the aesthetic of that project. The score, which was written in just a couple of weeks (as per the rules of the jam) ended up as this style that’s sort of like big band swing mashed up with a few elements of Victorian England, as well as some modern jazz.

Other than that, I’ve got a variety of different projects I’m working on right now. Of the ones I can share publicly, there’s an interconnected universe of comic book authors and publishers called the Powerverse. They have a shared universe set up for easy interdimensional lore and crossovers between superheroes, and currently White Guardian Studios is developing a video game called Erupt. Erupt is essentially a superhero game featuring members of the Powerverse, based around tactical RPG elements with a very strong modern/urban aesthetic. The music for that project takes inspiration from sample-based hip-hop, funk, EDM, and jazz fusion, among others. A lot of it is reminiscent of the Jet Set Radio sound collage style of music, Nujabes, and the lo-fi hip-hop movement. It’s been super fun to work on that project, and I really enjoy being able to take things in experimental, fresh directions for Erupt.

KM: Where do you feel that video game music fits into the realm of contemporary composition?

RF: I think that,in a lot of ways, they can be intimately connected. Every now and then I do some choral concert music for choirs in my area and things like that. I don’t find that I approach the musical aspects of the styles differently, although with video game music there’s often the consideration of looping. It’s a bit harder to create these grandiose crescendos when you have to bring it back to the loop. That’s something that you don’t face in other genres.

I think that the interactivity of video game music and the way it has to simultaneously be in the background while not being boring takes a lot of balancing. A lot of skills you learn from writing video game music are applicable to contemporary art/pop music or even chamber music, and there are tons of great projects melding those worlds together.

Of course, I think it’s best for any composer to have the widest variety of influences possible. Listen to whatever interests you!

KM: What are some of your future goals for your musical career?

RF: Long term, I’d like to continue to do what I’m doing now, which is primarily writing music for JRPGs. I do a lot of concert music work and personal projects. Some of the work I’ve been doing recently has been based around live, interactive visualizations. There’s a piece I wrote for the Oregon Fringe Festival this year called Lovely, Sweet Dreams. It’s essentially 30 minutes of electro-acoustic half video gamey, half avant garde chamber music that I set up accompanying computer generated visuals that were partially pre-determined, but some parameters of the rendering can be controlled in real time. I want to explore that sort of thing where audience participation in a live setting can affect not only the sounds that the audience will hear, but also what they see. I think that’s still a huge unconquered frontier.

Beyond that, I still plan to be involved in video game music. I’m loving all of the work that I’ve been doing recently with Materia Collective. I have another project that’s coming out soon that I’ve been working on with Plueschkatze. Overall I’d like to continue what I’ve been doing, perhaps on a grander scale!

KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?

RF: When I’m feeling creatively unproductive, one of the best solutions for me is to change my environment up. I’m lucky to live in a beautiful area with easy access to isolated spots of nature, and I find that being outdoors, admiring the complexity and beauty of the world, or even just seeing and hearing new things, is great for rejuvenating my creative energy, as well as helping me see things from new perspectives.

Listening music can be useful in two directions – re-listening to my all-time favorite albums and replaying my favorite games helps me put everything in perspective, and reminds me of why I chose to work towards this in the first place. On the other hand, listening to music I’ve never heard, or even just putting on a shuffled playlist on YouTube, is a great tool for being able to look at things in an out of the box way and pick up new ideas.