Tag Archives: OST

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: X Squad

From one X to another, we move from talking about the highs of Mega Man X and how much it brought to the somewhat stale format to diving into X Squad, a PlayStation 2 launch title that, if I’m being honest, wasn’t all that good, but still holds a special space in my heart because it was one of a handful of games I owned after acquiring my hard-earned console. Also, by we I of course mean me, because this is Grinding Down, a singular voice shouting into an echo chamber, praying anyone is out there listening. If you are all ears, please, don’t be afraid to say hello. Tell me your favorite Animal Crossing villager or type of sushi roll. Anything.

Well, in X Squad, you play as John G. Ash, leader of the titular group. It’s the year 2037. Graduating at the top of his class at West Point, he excels in both marksmanship and urban-combat simulation, which is probably what got him the commanding role after forming his personalized team of problem-solvers. Something bad is happening, and the X Squad is called in. I think it has to do with a bio-terrorist organization releasing a devastating plague upon a major metropolitan area, but that’s only known from reading a summary over here. There’s not much story to go on from the get-go, with much of the plot kept secret even as you progress through the early levels. The opening cinematic is extremely vague, immediately starting with Ash talking about investigating “the situation” and ensuring that recon is passed on to the right people, but it doesn’t get any more specific than that, which makes it come across as an empty action hero romp–which is most certainly wants to be.

If I recall correctly, X Squad plays a lot like 989 Studios’ Syphon Filter, minus the cool animation you get when you don’t stop tasering an enemy or Gabe Logan’s hypnotizing swaying hips. You can roll in a bunch of different directions, as well as duck or peek around corners to get the upper hand on unsuspecting enemies. That’s all fine and somewhat standard for this type of run-and-gun action title, but the aspect that ends up making X Squad stand apart from its competitors ultimately detracts from the entire experience, offering next to no value. With only a few simple button presses, Ash can bark orders to his teammates, tasking them with things like scouting out an area to backing you up with gunfire. SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs this is not. These commands fall under terms like “follow,” “recon,” and “stay.” Your teammates are never really as helpful as they should be, running into rooms of armed men wildly without even bothering to take cover, but thankfully you don’t need to rely on them 100% to make it through a mission with skin still attached to your bones. Still, the point of a squad is to fight as one singular unit, and that’s not the case here. Ash is better on his own, using his teammates more as distractions than anything else.

Also, X Squad is not a looker. I mean, it was a launch title for the PlayStation 2, and it shows. Besides having a bland, flat look to the environments and character models (save for Ash’s spike-tastic hair), glitches are bountiful, with flickering being a common issue. Sound-wise, there’s a lot going on here. The voice acting is stiff and uninspired, and though I like the inclusion of voiced tutorial prompts, it’s not executed well. Still, the door opening sounds are pretty good. The biggest compliment I can give X Squad is that those are some sick and consistent drum beats playing in the opening level (warning: they don’t kick in for at least a minute, but it’s worth the buildup). Also: really great slap bass lines throughout. Honestly, the OST is the reason to play X Squad, but you could also not play it and simply let your ears enjoy everything over on YouTube. Your call, boss.

Still, all that said, and I continue to lack the words to explain this phenomenon, I regret trading in my copy of X Squad. Maybe it has less to do with the game’s quality and more to do with the fact that the PlayStation 2 was the first console I purchased myself as a working lad, busing tables, and so every early game in my collection was special, regardless if it ultimately was special or not. I’m seeing copies on Amazon for around $8.00, and I sadly think that’s too steep of a mountain to climb. I’d love to see this come to the PlayStation Network as a downloadable, but I think the ship for digital PS2 games on that system has sailed, with no map or fuel reserves or even captain, never to be seen again.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

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Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Music

gd chrono cross week music and tunes

The Chrono Cross soundtrack is simply legendary. I’ve been listening to it for years and have certainly spent more time nodding along and tapping my foot to tracks like “Termina – Another World” and “Fragment of a Dream” than actually playing the game, which, for those curious, took me just under 40 hours to see to completion. That’s saying a lot because, to drop some truth bombs here, I dislike a lot of videogame music, especially a lot of 8-bit and 16-bit stuff. It all sounds too–and forgive the phrase here–videogamey for my tastes. When I want music, I want music–strings and soaring climaxes and tempo changes and so on–and composer Yasunori Mitsuda delivers the goods seemingly effortlessly, drawing on old world cultural influences and alternating between bright and dark themes.

I’ve actually touched upon the game’s soundtrack before, back when I did a 30 Days of Gaming meme thingy. Remember that? Of course you do, ya loyal, devoted reader who I haven’t yet scared away with all my Chrono Cross jabbering this week. Anyways, here’s a link for the lazy. I will now try to think of some other things to talk about.

Over the many years of my preponderant existence, I’ve come to appreciation a couple other videogame soundtracks, but not many. Dark Cloud 2 has some solid tracks and ranges from dark, unsettling and nearly off-putting carnival-like songs to slower, prettier pieces like “Starlight Temple” and “Veniccio Coast”. Radiant Historia came with a bonus CD, as did Shin Megami Tensei IV, which I burned onto my computer and listened to a few times. And then there is Fez and Bastion, the two most recent examples of game soundtracks I’ve found myself listening to and enjoying separate from the time I spent finding cubes and shards, respectively. Supposedly Journey has a great one too, but I’ve yet to play it (though I do own it now thanks to a recently stellar sale on PSN). Other than that, a lot of music in games these days is kind of forgettable; certainly it does the job of setting the mood and blocking out background silence, but it only exists for then and there, never meant to be listened to again, unless you play that part over again.

I love that, for every town and place you visit, there are two themes: one for Home World, one for Another World. Some vary quite differently from one another, while others are strikingly similar. Take, for instance, Arni, the first town–well, it’s a fishing village if you want to get specific–that players will experience in Chrono Cross. In the Home World version, you can almost hear the waves crashing against the docks, feel the sea-carrying wind against your face, and be quite content with the day, as the song is both pretty and peaceful, perfect for running around and talking with your neighbors. In the Another World version, a piano riff takes center stage, playing nearly the same guitar part found in the Home World version, but this time it is slower, softer, maybe even a little unsure–which reflects perfectly on Serge because, at this point, he has now traveled to a different realm where he no longer exists and is looked upon as a stranger. The music pairs up like this in a couple other spots, but this is my favorite.

Thankfully, the battle music never really grows old after hearing it a couple of hundred times. I can name some other games where I’m sick of hearing the same battle theme minute after minute after minute: Ni no Kuni, Dragon Fantasy – Book 1, and Kingdom Hearts. Sometimes, a few battles are fought using drastically different songs, but for the most part it’s the adrenaline-pumping, button-pushing beat of a truly epic battle theme. Granted, it pales in comparison to Chrono Trigger‘s battle theme, but that kind of isn’t a fair fight.

It’s difficult to find something to truly dislike about Chrono Cross‘ original soundtrack; the entire compilation isn’t perfect, as some songs are too dreary to handle, but it is brimming with a sense of hopeful continuity, and that reminds me greatly of a large bedroom, once my sister’s, where I’d sit on the floor in my pajamas on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, just a foot away from my television, slotting Elements and listening to this strange, colorful world, feeling somehow right at home. It stirred me then, it stirs me now, and it will continue to be an important part of my life, no matter which realm I end up in.

30 Days of Gaming, #8 – Best soundtrack

To be completely honest, I usually don’t listen to a lot of videogame music unless I’m hearing it as I play the game. For me, there’s plenty of other things to listen to–currently digging Freelance Whales and lots of Connie Francis and Regina Spektor–and if I was to generalize, I’d say that a good portion of videogame tunes are unlistenable when they stand alone.

That said, I simply adore the soundtrack from Chrono Cross, the 2000 follow-up to Chrono Trigger. Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, the official soundtrack features 67 tracks spanned across three CDs, hitting about three hours of music in total. That’s a whole lot more tunes than some games get. A few tracks subtly recall themes from Chrono Trigger, but it’s the new stuff formed for Chrono Cross that really make it unique, memorable. I’ve found it’s wonderful background music for drawing and writing, ranging from up-tempo town songs to battle music to somber undertones.

My personal favorite is titled “Reminiscence ~ Sentiments which Cannot be Erased,” a haunting piece of piano and echoes. Please listen to it as you continue on with today’s post:

One of the hardest things to write about is music. I know this for a fact; as a journalist for my college paper and alternative zine, I covered concerts and new album releases. These ranged from holiday choir specials to the latest Butch Walker CD to seeing a bunch of bands play live at summer festivals. At times, it was a grueling task. Describing how music is heard, understood, taken to heart–it’s a complex process, and it can be very hard to not seem overenthusiastic or fanboyish or simply in love with pretty sounds. Plus, how can I, someone who can’t sing, really critique those that can? So, yeah…writing about music has its tricks. It can also lead to pretty lazy sentences like, “The drums were totally kicking!” Not that I did that, ever, but the temptation to play it slack was always there. Music is meant to be heard, not read.

For this post, it’s best if I just link you to some of the finer moments from Chrono Cross‘ soundtrack:

“Dream of the Shore Bordering (Another World)”

“Leaving the Body”

“Garden of the Gods”

Enjoy!