Growing Up a Pokemon Kid

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Saturday mornings started with Pokemon and school days ended with it. At the crack of dawn on the weekend I’d be up, my Pikachu plushie in my arms, ready to catch the first of two new episodes that day – if my dad had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, he’d relinquish the TV and the couch, knowing it was one of the only things I watched faithfully and couldn’t miss. I’d often sit on the carpet in the front room playing Pokemon Red on my Game Boy Color between episodes of the anime, working extra hard to train my Charmander because I was at a type disadvantage against Brock and then Misty and had to be at the top of my game to win. (Now you know what decision I always make when faced with the choice between the three original starters!) Homework after school could be set aside for that blissful half an hour when Pokemon came on at 4:30 – I have memories of watching the anime on the floor in the front room mixed with hearing the sounds of dinner being made in the kitchen.

As much as I loved the Pokemon anime, I loved the cards just as much, if not more. My first-ever holographic was Blastoise from the Base Set. I was sitting in the backseat of my aunt’s truck when I opened that booster pack, filled with excitement because I finally had one of those shiny cards that my friends had. At the height of Pokemon frenzy, when concerned parents were trying to understand the phenomenon that was enrapturing their children, I was nine years old, a third-grader at Washington Elementary School where Pokemon cards had been banned because they were such a distraction. At recess we would gather behind the giant redwood tree on the grounds, away from the prying eyes of the yard duties, to trade cards; at the time, Lunchables was printing its own line of Pokemon cards on the back of the cardboard packaging (which my parents refused to buy but my aunt would gladly spoil me with), so I distinctly remember complex transactions of both official TCG and Lunchable Pokemon cards that only the frenzied minds of elementary school children could navigate.

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I didn’t like Lucky Charms growing up (and still don’t care for them) – never been a big marshmallow fan – but I could somehow rationalize my way into liking Pokemon cereal (which was the exact same cereal as Lucky Charms but featuring Pokemon-shaped marshmallows) because Pikachu was on the box and Pokemon was in the name. From food to clothing to a four-cover spread on TV Guide, the Pokemon bomb exploded and its shrapnel had buried itself into numerous aspects of American pop culture, and I was one of those 90’s kids that didn’t stand a chance against the blast. I remember the excitement of waiting in line in K.B Toys for three pre-release cards from the Team Rocket expansion set for the TCG, surrounded by kids waiting for the same cards – we wouldn’t know until much later that we were the generation that started it all, the kids who would look back on those Game Boy Link Cable trading, Pokemon: The First Movie watching, MISSINGNO. fearing days and feel confident in the fact that today’s kids would crumble under the intensity of a furious game of Lickitung’s Sushi-Go-Round while we would stand victorious.

Pokemon has always been more than merchandise, though. There’s a reason why, 20 years later, it continues to prove that it was no passing fad destined to be memorialized in a VH1 special about the 90’s. What always appealed to me about Pokemon, particularly Gens 1 and 2, was the idea that humans and Pokemon coexist, and our world is filled with these creatures that are as much our companions as a human friend might be. Pokemon Red and Blue – based in the Kanto region of Japan – do such a fantastic job of realistically incorporating the fantastical aspects of Pokemon, including the Pocket Monsters themselves, into our reality, playing with an alternate universe in which a Mr. Mime might work at your local coffee shop or you see your neighbor on a morning run with their Growlithe, and all of this is quite normal. The idea of having a Pokemon as a constant companion and true friend is incredibly appealing to a ten-year old, especially because the franchise has always emphasized the importance of strong bonds between trainer and Pokemon. I’ve always found the criticisms of Pokemon accusing the series of being reminiscent of cock or dog fighting to be guilty of completely missing the mark of what the series is all about; when Red discovers Team Rocket’s terrible abuse of Pokemon in Red/Blue/Yellow, it’s not only obvious from a moral standpoint that they should be stopped, but the thought of people treating Pokemon like tools and forcing them to do the terrible deeds of terrible humans is awful, and Team Rocket comes across as especially heinous because it’s hard to play a Pokemon game and not feel genuine attachment to your team. The importance of friendship, kindness, and love toward Pokemon is constantly reiterated in the series, and anyone looking to do harm to Pokemon is unquestionably in the wrong.

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I remember the impression Pokemon: The First Movie left on me because of how strongly it pushed this idea of the bond between trainer and Pokemon. If you didn’t cry when Ash got turned into stone and Pikachu stood over him, desperately trying to shock him awake and then softly breaking down into tears, you’re either lying or you didn’t see the movie. But in all seriousness, that pivotal moment in which Ash sacrifices himself to defend all of the Pokemon against Mewtwo embodies everything Pokemon is about: friendship, trust, and a mutual respect between humans and their Pokemon. Mewtwo himself is a living example of the wrong humans can do by Pokemon and why it’s wrong to treat them like property rather than as companions. Ash’s love for not only his own Pokemon, but all Pokemon, really touched me as a kid and was one of the many times in the anime and the games where the heart in the franchise really shined through.

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(On a sidenote, I’m gonna take a moment to acknowledge how epic it was in Pokemon: The First Movie that, while the Venusaur and Blastoise of two of the trainers trapped on the island got blasted away effortlessly by Mewtwo, Ash’s Charizard came out swinging by enveloping Mewtwo in its Flamthrower. Though Mewtwo breaks the wall of fire and dismisses Charizard by telling Ash that it’s “poorly trained,” you could tell he respected Charizard’s power, and he didn’t try to attack it. SO COOL.)

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Last July I attended Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions and marveled not only at how many people my age (and older) were eager to take that trip down memory lane with the games central to our childhoods, but also at how many kids much younger than us were there, too. The fact that nearly every single person in the theater that night knew the lyrics to the original theme song of the Pokemon anime and came together to sing it loud and proud really drove home how much the series means to so many of us, whether we’ve been Poke Maniacs since the beginning or are still Youngster Joey’s training our first Rattatas in our comfy, easy to wear shorts. Though Gens 1 and 2 have long since passed, the Game Boy has long been obsolete, and I’ve been removed from childhood for quite some time, there’s always going to be a little girl out there somewhere, her Pikachu plushie glued to her hip, getting lost in the world of Pokemon on her 3DS or whatever will come after it, trading cards with her friends, learning about the power of friendship through Ash and Pikachu, and growing up a Pokemon kid.

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Making the Pilgrimage to the Nintendo World Store in New York City

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Long story short, I won a trip to New York  for New York Fashion Week through a contest I entered, but knew that the most important part of this trip wasn’t going to be the exclusive fashion shows or the sightseeing in one of the biggest cities in the world – no, my thoughts almost immediately turned to the fact that I would finally be within arm’s length (or rather, a short Uber ride away) from stepping foot into that previously-inaccessible land only the most fortunate find their way into: the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center.

It was warm, it was muggy, and it was raining off and on, but I made the journey from 5th Avenue to the doors of that wonderful place, and didn’t even realize when I was standing across the street from it until my brain processed that I was staring at TV screens in the windows playing Super Mario Maker, and then noticed the very large “SUPER MARIO MAKER” displays a couple feet down, with the mustached man himself beckoning me in from the dreary, gray streets, red overalls and all. He wasn’t actually beckoning me, because it was just a fancy cardboard display with Mario, but it felt that way.

The feeling of walking inside and hearing music from Nintendo games piped into the store was a sign that the afternoon was going to be a very good one; wall-to-wall Nintendo merchandise was all around, stuff that I’ve never seen in any other store, with a mock campfire in the middle of the floor with 3DS’s that had copies of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for customers to try. A life-sized statue of Donkey Kong and his pile of bananas was tucked away in a corner of the staircase leading up to the second floor. I went to Disneyland for the first time in seven years a couple of months ago, and while I won’t say I was quite as excited as I was then, I won’t pretend that my excitement levels weren’t rivaling that experience as I took in everything around me. I spotted some cool Japanese imports near the counter, like some high-quality Zelda and Mario playing cards (I grabbed a Zelda deck for myself), as well as Hanafuda cards that paid homage to Nintendo’s past. The ground floor had a lot of Animal Crossing merchandise, including plushies of various town folk and a shirt that said “Forever A Loan” with Tom Nook right in the middle.

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Couldn't believe I was there!

Couldn’t believe I was there!

I rushed up to the second floor and found many Wii U’s set up with copies of Super Mario Maker, every one of them occupied with kids and adults alike trying out the crazy stages, and decals along the wall with art from the game. The upper floor is special because that’s where the history of Nintendo handhelds is on display, with everything from Game & Watch to Game Boy Advance SP to the New 3DS XL in a long glass case for your perusal and appreciation. Most of the models were special editions, like the Nintendo World exclusive Fire Red and Leaf Green  Charizard and Venusaur Game Boy Advance SPs; a gold Zelda GBA SP from the Minish Cap bundle, signed by Shigeru Miyamoto; rare color variants of the DSi like the orange and green that were only sold in bundles during a previous holiday season (yours truly remembers this from her years as a GameStop associate drooling over them in the stock room); and more recent rare models like the Pikachu, Animal Crossing, Yoshi, and Kingdom Hearts 3DS XLs, along with the Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL. There’s also a severely damaged, melted Game Boy that survived a barracks bombing during the Gulf War and still plays cartridges.

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Interestingly, my collection of special edition Nintendo handhelds is bigger than I realized, because I have a number of what I was looking at on display, but I didn’t have all of them, and I wished I could have Nintendo World’s whole collection. I have one thing they don’t though: the Mario Bros. 25th anniversary DSi XL! Heh heh.

Behind the handhelds display are a number of tall display cases whose contents are regularly switched out, but during my visit they were dedicated to the art of Splatoon, with a lot of concept drawings, character sketches, and prototypes of the Splatoon amiibo, among other things. Speaking of amiibo, Nintendo World sure does know how to rub salt in wounds, because if the handheld collection didn’t inspire feelings of longing and jealousy, the store’s complete amiibo collection was sure to. Below a slowly revolving, huge replica of the Mario Smash Bros. amiibo were all of the amiibo currently available in the United States (so Yarn Yoshi, Chibi Robo, and the Animal Crossing amiibo weren’t present, sadly). That drew a number of people who stood by, pointing out to companions which ones they had and which ones they were missing.

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Mario Bros. and Animal Crossing weren’t the only Nintendo franchises with a plethora of exclusive merchandise, as Zelda, Kirby, and Metroid had shelves of shirts and clothing, plushies, World of Nintendo toys, and more to choose from, and the Pokemon Center was rife with adorable plushies, including the new costume Pikachus and a lot of Eevee evolutions. I was also impressed by the number of special Wii Remotes and fight pads for sale, including the newly-released Toad and Bowser remotes, the Smash Bros. GameCube controller, and even the Hori Pikachu and Zelda fight pads and the Hori Zelda racing wheel (there were other characters’ racing wheels to choose from, too). All three have been added to my collection.

Aside from being one of the best shopping trips a Nintendo fan could hope to go on, the Nintendo World Store is special because of the way it brings Nintendo fans together, and not just literally. I was hearing Nintendo music from a number of different games across consoles, generations, and franchises, including some stuff from Mario RPG that made my ears perk up because Nintendo doesn’t generally make much mention of its spectacular SNES collaboration with Square. According to the cashier, the associates have a hand in creating the store’s playlist, so we were more than likely hearing song choices made by a fellow Mario RPG fan. It was really cool knowing that fellow Nintendo enthusiasts, and not just someone at corporate, could inject some of their love for the games into the culture of the store and make it feel very un-corporate. Kids whose first Nintendo consoles were the 3DS and the Wii or Wii U were mingling with adults who’ve been playing since the NES and Game Boy were the latest and greatest things around. The store had a really wonderful, welcoming vibe, making it tough to finally pull myself away and go back out in the gloom.

If you don’t live in New York or relatively close by, it’s a bit hard to say to make a trip out there to experience this for yourself, but if you get the opportunity, do not pass it up. The Nintendo World Store is a fantastic place to visit, whether you’re looking for cool, store-exclusive merchandise, some Nintendo history, or just want to take part in the good vibes coming out of here. I’m so grateful that I got to make my long-awaited trip here, and hope you fellow Nintendo fans can do the same one day.

(Note: All photos taken by me, with the exception of the header, which was found on Google Images.)

An Evening at the Symphony with The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest

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Saturday, August 29, marked my fourth time attending The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, but things were a bit different this time, with new music created just for the new show (with a new title!), The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest. This year’s show was developed by an entirely new creative team, as the original team is currently working on Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions. One of the most noticeable differences from the beginning of the symphony was the missing presence of Jeron Moore, creative director of the original Symphony of the Goddesses show (and current creative director of Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions), whose genuine love for the Zelda franchise and appreciation of the fans who come out for the shows was missed. Jason Michael Paul, producer of the symphony, made an appearance onstage and introduced the show this time around, but also missing was Eimear Noone, who conducted the orchestra during the original tour, proudly brandishing her Wind Waker baton to the crowd, whose friendly personality was also missed at this show. Eimear always seemed very excited to be conducting the orchestra, and as a fan of the Zelda series her enthusiasm and passion were evident throughout the show. I was disappointed she wasn’t present, as she was very much a part of the symphony.

The original four movements – Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and A Link to the Past – were still the central focus of the show, as were other familiar pieces like Gerudo Valley, Great Fairy’s Fountain, and the retelling of the story of the three goddesses, but new movements dedicated to Majora’s Mask, Skyward Sword, and A Link Between Worlds were produced for the new show, along with a battle theme medley and Dragon Roost Island. The battle theme medley was great, as it incorporated mid-boss battle music and King Dodongo’s theme from Ocarina of Time, the Molgera battle music from Wind Waker, the battle with Goht from Majora’s Mask, and the theme of Fraaz, Master of Icy Fire, from Spirit Tracks. The inclusion of battle music was smart, as combat is such an integral part of Zelda games, in tandem with puzzle solving and story, and the medley flowed very nicely together. Though I’m personally not a big fan of Spirit Tracks, I think it was time it was given some attention in Symphony of the Goddesses and Fraaz’s theme sounded great performed by the orchestra. The music from the battle with Goht was my favorite in this movement, and I loved the footage that played on the screen above the orchestra of the gameplay from that boss battle.

Dragon Roost Island’s piece was a very nice, slightly slower, calmer version of the song that plays while you explore the island in Wind Waker, which eventually builds into a more exciting, powerful end. The music combined with the gameplay footage of Link’s journey from the base of the island to his battle with Molgera and earning Din’s Pearl was fantastic. Skyward Sword’s piece was both epic and emotional, a great testament to the game’s story overall. I was happy that songs like Fi’s theme weren’t ignored, which was performed beautifully on the piano. Previously, the only Skyward Sword music present in the symphony had been The Ballad of the Goddess, so hearing more from this game’s great soundtrack was a nice surprise.

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The short Majora’s Mask piece that was played was first featured in the Second Quest tour of Symphony of the Goddesses as an encore piece, and while I was happy to see some respect given to the musical genius of Majora’s Mask, hearing it again made me remember why it disappointed me the first time I heard it: there’s too much of a focus on the Clock Town theme, and little to no focus on any other music in the game. One of the surprises at the end of the evening was a longer movement dedicated to Majora’s Mask, but again, the focus was on the Clock Town theme. Ironically, this mirrors the fact that Link is constantly returning to Clock Town after three days, and that it is the central hub of Termina, but it didn’t seem like that was a conscious decision made during production so much as a connection I drew myself. A beautiful rendition of the Deku Palace music was included in this movement, as well as the Termina Field theme, an impressive performance of The Song of Healing and a very short sample of The Song of Time, a small bit of music from Ikana Canyon that wasn’t particularly memorable (where is the love for Stone Temple Tower or Ikana Castle?!), but no other music from the game. So many opportunities were missed in the Majora’s Mask movement, especially because it wasn’t as long as the symphony’s four main movements but certainly deserved to be. Given that the Master Quest tour poster features art from Majora’s Mask 3D, I would’ve expected a heavier emphasis on the game’s music library than what we experienced.

Repetition was an odd issue with the new music produced for this year’s show; The Legend of Zelda theme was featured too often, and it felt like it was a crutch the creative team leaned on too much. While it’s certainly iconic, fans of the series don’t want to be beat over the head with it, especially when we know how much incredible music the series has to offer that the creative team could have pulled from. As was previously mentioned, the Clock Town theme was definitely a crutch for the Majora’s Mask pieces, and despite the fact that there are songs that appear across multiple games, like Zelda’s Lullaby, the Dark World theme, or the Hyrule Castle theme, this doesn’t mean that they should appear in the movements for both games. The movement for A Link Between Worlds featured so much music from A Link to the Past that the two movements were almost audibly indistinguishable, which was a shame because the original music that was featured from A Link Between Worlds sounded so beautiful. Why dedicate a portion of the show to the newest Zelda title (not counting Majora’s Mask 3D) if you’re not going to focus on its original score? Neither game is at all limited in the number of songs they feature that can be represented symphonically.

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Gameplay footage also had its own share of repetition in the show – in the Twilight Princess movement, the same footage of Midna meeting Wolf Link in prison was shown twice, which seemed strange and almost as though it was a mistake, and the same footage of Link fighting Molgera was showing during the Molgera battle theme and the Wind Waker movement. A strange editing decision was made to alter the particular gameplay showing during the Twilight Princess movement; while the movement’s music originally ended in time with footage of the final battle with Ganondorf and Midna’s goodbye to Link, it instead ended with Zelda’s concession to Zant, her soldiers being defeated and the world being consumed by Twilight, and the four light spirits descending on Hyrule Field and Link at the end of the game. It was a strange choice, one that perhaps was meant to emphasize the darkness of the game but didn’t at all match the tone of the movement’s end, which retells the game’s story from beginning to completion and ends on a positive note (no pun intended).

One addition that was well-received by the crowd were video interludes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and Koji Kondo (who got particularly strong applause when he appeared onscreen) discussing their memories and ideologies behind the Zelda series and introducing the movements of the symphony. It was really great to finally see some “official” Nintendo presence at the show, as previous shows I’ve attended haven’t featured any words of acknowledgement or praise from anyone at Nintendo (despite the fact that Nintendo made the music from Symphony of the Goddesses available on CD with the Skyward Sword special edition, in honor of the series’ 25th anniversary).

Though I’ve seen the show four times now, the experience never gets old for me, especially because it’s an opportunity for Zelda fans to congregate and celebrate the franchise we all love dearly. However, I can’t help but feel like the vast wealth of musical history available to the creative team keeps getting ignored, and songs that are either more well-known, are obligatory inclusions, or are from the earlier portions of the games, rather than farther into the story and gameplay, are considered for the symphony. The four original, main movements are near perfection, as are the other pieces from the first tour, but the more recent music that’s been produced could reach a bit deeper. Twenty-nine years’ worth of temple, town, dungeon, shop, and character themes galore are sitting untapped, many of which are especially significant to the series and to the longtime fan, not just to the layman that might hear The Legend of Zelda main theme and recognize it.

This isn’t to discourage you from going to The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest if you get a chance – on the contrary, if you can snag some tickets for an upcoming show near you, do attend. The experience is grandiose, the music is beautiful, and at the San Francisco shows I’ve attended, we’ve been lucky enough to hear the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra perform; I just hope that for The Legend of Zelda’s 30th anniversary next year, if Symphony of the Goddesses tours again or Nintendo produces another symphony CD, that more of The Legend of Zelda’s musical library is explored.

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Dawn of the Final Day: An Analysis of the Moon Children

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is unquestionably one of the deepest, most profound entries of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Dealing with topics ranging from death, love, friendship, regret, and loneliness, among others, Majora’s Mask’s mature themes touch on real-world issues, despite its fantastical setting and story. Some of the most noteworthy quotes of the entire series come from Majora’s Mask, but I’ve chosen to focus on a handful of them that left the greatest impression on me, and made connections to other in-game characters and real life lessons: the conversations with the Moon Children at the end of the game.

The five children you meet inside of the moon are extremely thought-provoking characters. Albeit off-putting, they seem mostly innocent, running around a vast, open field, wanting someone to play with (except for the child in Majora’s Mask, sitting alone). However, with their faces hidden behind the masks of the four bosses and Majora’s Mask itself, there’s an almost disturbing dichotomy presented between the innocence of childhood and the evils of Majora’s magic, which in itself is something to stop and consider. Why are the faces of the five children covered by the grotesque masks of Odolwa, Goht, Gyorg, Twinmold, and Majora? If you look closely, the sides of their heads appear similar to the Happy Mask Salesman – could it be that these children are representations of him? The darkness embodied by the masks, covering the faces of children resembling a character we have come to trust, suggests there may be two sides to the Happy Mask Salesman’s coin, and that there is another side to him and his motivations. The imagery seems cautionary against putting blind faith in the Happy Mask Salesman just because he’s presenting himself as a friend, a lesson that extends beyond the game – people are not always as they present themselves to be, and naive trust can open a Pandora’s Box of problems.

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The child wearing Odolwa’s mask asks Link, “Your friends… What kind of… people are they? I wonder… Do these people… think of you… as a friend?” In our real world outside of the fictional world of Termina, friendship is one of the most important parts of our lives, no matter how few or many friends we have. But the question the Odolwa child poses is something we may not often consider: What kind of people are your friends? Why are you friends? Would they tell other people you are their friend, or would they say otherwise? The child’s inquiry speaks to one of the game’s overarching themes of friendship versus loneliness, which characters like Skull Kid struggle with throughout the entire game, but it also explores the issue of true friendships versus friendships of convenience. Do your friends value you for you, or do they value you for what they can take from you, without having to give much of anything in return?

Skull Kid loses sight of his friendships with the Four Giants, Tatl, and Tael once possessed by Majora, in an allegorical tale of losing sight of yourself and the people that matter when faced with temptation. Skull Kid was tempted with power, in a world where he felt devoid of any and felt ignored, despite the fact that Tatl and Tael thought of him as their friend. The overwhelming pull of Majora’s Mask consumed him and turned him into a dark, twisted version of himself, willing to hurt the people he cared for while under Majora’s influence; Skull Kid’s mischevious, playful personality was warped into something more devious, hurtful, and sinister, amplified by the hate embodied within Majora. The Four Giants left Skull Kid once he became consumed by the influence of Majora, and Tatl and Tael became the focus of his verbal and physical abuse rather than of his companionship, used and manipulated when he needed them, all the while being used and manipulated himself. When we lose ourselves to material temptations or the allures found in false friendships, in a way we become Skull Kid, unknowingly taken advantage of until we become “puppets” whose “role has just ended.” Once Skull Kid is freed of Majora’s Mask, he tells Link that “friends are a nice thing to have” and asks him to be his friend, too, which helps to redeem his character by suggesting that despite losing his way, he now truly values the ones closest to him after having lost them due to his own mistakes but being fortunate enough to have been forgiven.

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While the Odolwa child explores the question of friendship, the Goht child delves into the subject of happiness, asking Link, “What makes you happy? I wonder… What makes you happy… Does it make… others happy, too?” In this age of extreme narcissism and focus on the self over the bigger picture, we often lose sight of how our actions affect the people around us, especially the ones we’re closest to. We’re often told to “do what makes you happy,” but hardly in conjunction with considering others’ feelings. But should we? Should we pursue what makes us feel good and brings us joy, regardless of how it might affect who we care about, or is part of our responsibility to those people to consider them, even when we feel we must make choices for ourselves? This question ties into the Gyorg child’s question to Link: “The right thing… what is it? I wonder… if you do the right thing… does it really make… everybody… happy?” When faced with making hard decisions, we often rationalize our choices by putting a positive spin on them, confusing and intertwining what makes us happy with what’s right. But the same questions come into play as before: do we consider the people closest to us when making what we feel are the “right” decisions for ourselves, or do we act in our own self-interest, even if our idea of what’s right conflicts with the feelings of those same people? Do we know what’s right versus wrong better for ourselves than anyone else?

Given the fact that masks are the central focus of Majora’s Mask, the Twinmold child asks a rather pertinent question: “Your true face… What kind of… face is it? I wonder… The face under the mask… is that… your true face?” Link dons quite a number of masks in this game, some of which merely give him abilities, but others that transform him completely. The Zora and Goron masks contain the spirits of Mikau and Darmani, influencing Link’s appearance when he transforms, while the Deku butler sees much of his son in Link while he wears the Deku mask. So in this alternate universe where denizens from Hyrule appear as completely different people in Termina, which Link is the real Link? Is Link still the same boy he was in Hyrule, or is his true self locked within one of the masks? In our world, we often struggle with the issues of wearing different masks around different people – how you present yourself to your parents may not be how you appear to your friends, and that persona may differ from who you are with your significant other. Perhaps you never feel the need to wear a mask, and your true self is always present, or maybe there’s only one person with whom you feel comfortable removing all guises. Who are we? Are we actually one of the masks we wear on a given day, or are we none of them? Do we lose our true selves to the facades we create, or were we never aware of who we were before we started wearing the masks? Perhaps we wear them for fear of showing people who we are inside, and end up pushing away the same people we were trying to bring closer by pretending to be something we’re not, when they would accept us for who we really are under the masks.

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The Moon Child wearing Majora’s Mask is different from the children wearing the bosses’ remains – he’s somber and sits alone under the tree in the field, and when you’ve given away all your masks to the others, he asks, “…Everyone has gone away, haven’t they?” Interestingly, this echoes Skull Kid’s loneliness at being abandoned by the Four Giants and wanting nothing more than friends. However, after realizing Link is the only child left and that he no longer has masks, the Moon Child says, “Let’s play good guys against bad guys… Yes. Let’s play that. Are you ready? You’re the bad guy. And when you’re bad, you just run. That’s fine, right?” Just as the evil in Majora warped Skull Kid’s sorrow into a more wrathful, destructive force, similarly the Moon Child wearing Majora’s Mask seems to turn his disappointment on Link, and into the much more deadly “game” of the final battle between Majora and Link. The Moon Child also identifies Link as being the bad guy – is this because he sees Link as the reason why all of the other children have gone away?

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The Moon Child wonders whether it’s fine for the bad guy to run, and doesn’t even question whether or not to fight back; the person arbitrarily labeled as “bad” is left little option but to run away from the person identified as “good,” but our notions of good and bad are turned upside down as Majora declares Link, and not himself, to be the enemy. Link – and the player – know that Majora is an inherently evil force, and that Link is no bad guy, but we may find ourselves fighting our own internal battles with whether or not we consider ourselves to be good people, especially if we are told or made to believe otherwise by someone else. Sometimes we may feel like Link, suddenly told we’re the bad guy when we were sure we made all of the right decisions, skewing our perspectives of ourselves – which comes back around to the Gyorg child’s question of right versus wrong, doesn’t it?

There are no answers given to any of the Moon Children’s questions, because it’s up to you to answer them for yourself. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shatters the notion that video games are shallow and uncultured by opening up one of the most sophisticated conversations about humanity that I’ve encountered in a video game. Maybe exploring these questions will help you reach your own Dawn of A New Day.

 

Taking a Nostalgia Trip with Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions

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Sunday, July 12, I was fortunate enough to attend Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions in San Jose, California, after months of waiting patiently in anticipation. I’ve been to The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses three times (and will be attending the Master Quest performance in San Francisco this August), so this wasn’t my first rodeo as far as video game symphonies go, but I was eager to find out how the music of the Pokemon series – experienced almost entirely on Nintendo handhelds – would transfer to symphonic sounds. The Legend of Zelda has featured orchestrated music in its more recent titles, and the soundtracks for most Zelda games would easily rival most cinematic music produced today, making it easy to see how the franchise could earn an entire symphonic production dedicated to its music. Pokemon, on the other hand, most people – fans of the series or not – may find more difficult to imagine being produced by woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings.

I’m happy to report that Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions proved that even a mostly handheld-centric series can inspire some of the most beautiful symphonic pieces that even some of today’s most blockbuster consoles titles don’t achieve.

The symphony followed the Pokemon series chronologically, singling out some of the most iconic pieces of music from each generation of games. I was personally the most excited to hear music from Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, as well as from Gold, Silver, and Crystal, because those games were at the core of my childhood, along with the Pokemon anime; all personal bias aside, the movements dedicated to the first two generations of games were the most impressive to me, because of how much more of a drastic difference in sound and quality there is between the 8-bit tunes of the original Game Boy titles versus the loud, grandiose translations of those songs into the orchestral masterpieces I heard.

Much like Symphony of the Goddesses, each song within the symphony is accompanied by prerecorded gameplay on a large screen above the stage of each game the song was originally featured in, which made for some great reactions from the crowd to the action on the screen that was perfectly timed and coordinated with the music coming from the orchestra. As the strains of the first song of the night, the Pallet Town theme, opened up the symphony, footage of Red walking around his room played on the screen, but as he went downstairs, someone on the floor below the balcony where I was seated yelled, “WAIT, what are you doing, check the PC! There’s a free potion!!,” eliciting loud laughter from the audience. The only outburst of the night perfectly encapsulated the passion and the deeply sentimental attachment so many Pokemon fans have to the games, whether they started playing in 1996 or in 2014. As the Pallet Town theme played on, the crowd cheered for their favorite starter as Red was shown choosing between Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur in Professor Oak’s lab, ultimately deciding on Charmander (my personal favorite starter of all-time), which caused a big cheer from the audience.

The most impressive piece of the night came from Gen 1: a powerful rendition of Team Rocket’s Hideout and Silph Co., which sounded like it belonged in an action film. The recording included here really doesn’t do it enough justice – I can’t quite describe how satisfying it was hearing the tension of infiltrating Team Rocket’s hideout transformed into such a massive, loud, sophisticated masterpiece.

I highly suggest watching this video, which is an audio recording of the first movement of the symphony, dedicated to Gen 1; while admittedly not the best recording (the previous two videos I’ve linked to are of better quality), you can hear how pumped up the crowd was watching the footage of battles between Red and Giovanni, Red and the gym leaders, and the final fight with the Elite Four. I would argue this movement was the most powerful and nostalgic of the night simply because some of the most iconic music of the Pokemon series (as well as some of the most iconic Pokemon themselves) come from Gen 1, and there was a lot of history in this first part of the show.

Gen 2 is, fittingly, my second-favorite series of Pokemon games, and the musical focus of this second movement was on Ecruteak City and the Burned Towers, and completed with the epic battle with Red atop Mt. Silver. The songs in this movement were particularly elegant, punctuated with sounds from traditional Japanese music, which is especially strong in the theme of the Burned Towers. I felt like Gold/Silver/Crystal could’ve had more time dedicated to it, and was left wanting more music from the trilogy of games that introduced Pokemon into the modern era of colored-screen handheld gaming. Gen 3 (Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald) was an absolutely beautiful movement and really impressed me; it was perhaps a turning point musically, in both the series of games and the symphony, because the Game Boy Advance allowed for a greater range of sounds than the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, and it was reflected in the sweeping beauty that came from this movement.

Admittedly, as I grew up with Pokemon and watched the series transform, I grew unhappy with how outlandish some of the Pokemon started looking, and how futuristic the overall appearance of the regions and trainers became, which I felt was straying too far from the game’s original concept of being based partly in reality and fusing real-world animals with the fantastical aspects of Pokemon. While I enjoyed the music from Gens 4 (Diamond/Pearl) and 5 (Black/White) and would highly recommend looking up more videos of these performances so you can experience them for yourself, I recognized most but not all of the music. This wasn’t unpleasant for me, and it actually gave me a greater appreciation for the later gens, which I played but didn’t finish. However, Pokemon X and Y rekindled an interest in the series for me, and one of my favorite pieces of the night came from this movement; the Kalos Gym Leaders’ theme came out of nowhere toward the latter half of the Gen 6 music, beginning with an incredible pumping beat, which was overlaid with a synthesized piece and combined with the music of the orchestra, successfully recreating the digital music of the 3DS games in a hybrid electronic/symphonic tune. You can hear this particular piece at 09:18 of the video below (but listen to the whole movement!), though you won’t be feeling the strength of the beat in your chest and the bottom of your seat like I did in the theater!

Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions was a particularly emotional show, not only due to seeing your childhood replayed (quite literally) in front of your eyes, along with all of the memories attached to each game, but just hours before the show started, the news of the passing of Satoru Iwata had dropped like a bomb and I wondered if it would be mentioned at some point during the evening. The show’s encore was introduced tearfully by Producer Jeron Moore, as he dedicated the performance of the finale of Pokemon X and Y to Mr. Iwata. I was moved to tears more than once during the symphony, reflecting on how huge a part of my life Pokemon has been, and remembering struggling to beat Brock and Misty with a Charmander, watching my Eevee evolve into Umbreon one night in Goldenrod City, elementary school days of secretly trading Pokemon cards during recess, and high school lunches spent playing Leaf Green on my Game Boy Micro. The show concluded with an audience sing along of the Pokemon anime theme song, and it was just awesome hearing everyone in the crowd unabashedly joining in and singing the lyrics of a theme many of us heard every single day after school and committed to memory. I heard a recording of this performance from another city that was done with a guest vocalist, who also performed the X and Y finale, and while I can appreciate the beauty of her voice, she drowned out the orchestra a bit. I’m glad that the crowd was free to work together to stay on tempo with no vocalist at the San Jose show.

If you have the opportunity to attend, drop all prior engagements and go. Really. If you have someone in your life who shares the same fond memories of Pokemon – AKA, your best friend in a world you must defend – or who would appreciate the incredible performance of some of the most beloved video game music of any franchise, bring them with you. I know I would love to be able to see this show again! It really doesn’t matter if you’ve played every game in the Pokemon series or if you’ve only played a few, Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions truly bridged the gap between the now multiple generations of Pokemon fans and created a gorgeous symphonic evolution of sound. A write-up does no justice to how beautiful every single piece was in this show. Oh, and make sure you bring your 3DS, because this was a jackpot for StreetPasses!

Talking Video Games and Music with Jason Michael Paul

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I recently had the pleasure of being able to speak with Jason Michael Paul, the producer of the Zelda symphony, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, as well as the mind behind Dear Friends: Music From Final Fantasy and PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, through an interview I conducted for Nintendojo.com. My interview will be up on the site in the coming days, but I’m excited to be able to post it here for you all now. Without further ado, read on to get some insight into Jason’s favorite games and composers, his creative process in transforming 8-bit music into symphonic masterpieces, and more.

Nintendojo: What were your favorite video games growing up, and how did they influence your passion for music?
Jason Michael Paul: Music and games have always gone hand in hand for me. I studied piano, guitar, and percussion in my youth, but I grew up with gaming, as well. I’ve always enjoyed the music of Koji Kondo, Yasunori Mitsuda – I could go on. Songs like theirs are so intertwined with their titles, and when you hear them, you always remember those moments when you were experiencing the games. Obviously the Zelda series was (and is) a big one for me; Ocarina of Time is still one of my all-time favorites.
ND: You were at the helm of the Dear Friends: Music From Final Fantasy concert and PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. Tell us a little bit about what it was like to translate video game music from electronic sounds to fully orchestrated pieces, and the challenges you encountered.
JMP: As with any piece being arranged for an orchestra, sometimes the instruments aren’t always one-to-one, but then 8-bit music doesn’t always sound as good performed live in its original form. We try and give the pieces the full ‘Hollywood’ treatment, making sure the overall spectacle isn’t lost. Zelda in particular has a complicated score, with a variety of different songs in different styles, so there’s a lot that goes into getting it right.
ND: What about The Legend of Zelda specifically inspired you to dedicate a symphony to the series?
JMP: Beyond my own affinity for the series, it’s especially gratifying to work with Zelda thanks to its rich history that spans fans of all ages. Everyone has their own favorite Zelda (I mentioned Ocarina of Time, right?) that they feel a deep connection with, but best of all, the series is still growing today, meaning that our Symphony can also grow and evolve over time. Just this year we added songs from A Link Between Worlds, and we re-mastered our selection from Majora’s Mask in honor of the Majora’s Mask 3D release.
ND: What are the deciding factors in which songs and which games are represented in the symphonic movements of Symphony of the Goddesses?
JMP: We want to represent many games that are iconic to the franchise. It’d be nice to include every game and every track, in a perfect world! We choose our pieces to bring together a complete four-movement symphony that evokes the hero’s journey. We do make some time for extra favorites, though, just because we can.:)
ND: Do you receive input from the original composers of these songs? If so, what is it like working and collaborating together?
JMP: I work directly with Nintendo series composer Koji Kondo and Eiji Aonuma. Everything is done under the direct supervision of the original creators.
ND: What sort of changes do you have to make to the original songs in order to fit your desired flow or feel, and how do you decide to make those changes?
JMP: It’s mostly a question of getting the instruments right to match the ‘feel’ of the original songs. As I noted earlier, 8-bit music doesn’t always translate directly to the symphony. Collaborating with the original composers goes a long way towards making those choices, of course.
ND: What other video game franchise’s music, Nintendo or otherwise, would you next like to see represented symphonically (we’re excited for Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions!)?
JMP: Do you have room for several more pages in this interview?:)
A special thank you to the Nintendojo staff for collaborating with Jason Michael Paul and for contributing some of the interview questions!
 

Impressions: Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2: Animal Crossing

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Almost one year after the release of Mario Kart 8 comes the game’s long-awaited second DLC pack, the Animal Crossing pack, complete with three new racers, four new vehicles, and eight new (and revamped) courses within two new cups. The Legend of Zelda DLC pack released late last year introduced a bevy of beautiful courses along with the first appearance of Link in a Mario Kart title, but somehow Nintendo managed to top themselves yet again – they seem to have a knack for doing that – with the offerings in the latest DLC pack.

I have to begin by noting how incredibly beautiful this latest set of tracks looks. Hyrule Circuit, Dragon Driftway, and Mute City stood out in The Legend of Zelda DLC pack as being especially vibrant and eye-opening visually, but it seems every course in the Animal Crossing pack is something out of a Pixar film. Everything from the lighting, to textures, to the sheer size and scope of some tracks really made an impression on me.

The Crossing Cup is one of  two new cups and features Baby Park from Double Dash!!, Cheese Land from Super Circuit, and two new tracks, Wild Woods and Animal Crossing. I was particularly excited about the return of Baby Park, but was worried that the frenzy brought on by having double the items littering the road in Double Dash!! would be missing from this iteration of the stage. The frenzy is still alive and well in Mario Kart 8, and makes for a particularly brutal race online. Cheese Land was the one stage I was the least excited about, but is surprisingly difficult, with some really sharp turns and no guard rails, along with portions of road that have raised edges, causing you to sometimes crash or falter. The challenge of this stage, along with the interesting visuals (your surroundings really are made of cheese) were a nice surprise.

Wild Woods is a personal favorite of mine because I’m obsessed with Shy Guys and couldn’t believe Nintendo graced us with a second Shy Guy centric stage – it also helps that it’s one of the most beautiful and whimsical stages in the game, set in a forest replete with Shy Guy houses, Toad and his friends, streams, and lush greens, and here you start the race situated vertically using anti-grav. Animal Crossing is absolutely charming and will alternate randomly between the four seasons; the first time I played, it was summer in the village, with a bright, clear sky and buzzing cicadas, the next time was winter, with snow and Christmas lights glowing in the evening, and the third time I played the cherry blossoms were blooming in spring and the petals were fluttering by (still haven’t seen fall yet!). I especially liked the items boxes floating on red balloons on one stretch of road – no slingshot needed to collect these floating packages!

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The Bell Cup brings back Neo Bowser City from Mario Kart 7 as well as Ribbon Road from Super Circuit, and introduces Big Blue and Super Bell Subway. Neo Bowser City is one of the most graphically impressive stages in the entire game, with glowing neon set against a dark, stormy sky, heavy rain that looks photorealistic as it pours down on the asphalt, and the added detail of hydroplaning on the slick road. This is also, in my humble opinion, the toughest track yet, due not only to the aforementioned hydroplaning but to the very narrow road and an incredibly windy track with some wicked curves in places. But for all of New Bowser City’s glitz, Ribbon Road takes the cake for being the most revamped course, and for the better. Set in a child’s bedroom, the racers have been shrunk down to the size of toys on a toy racetrack, with some serious Nintendo fan service everywhere you look: Mecha Koopas wandering the raceway, Bowser Copter Jack-in-the-Boxes swaying back and forth to block your path, Wooly Yoshi plushies laying around the bedroom, and even a movie poster on the wall for “Dragon Driftway The Movie” starring “Kung Fu Lakitu” in the same pose as Kung Fu Panda, with a release date of Spring 2015. When I said that the courses for this DLC pack look nearly as good as something out of a Pixar film, this is the stage that comes to mind in particular. While not as difficult of a race as some of the other tracks, it’s a feast for the eyes.

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Big Blue is the second F-Zero track we’ve seen in the DLC packs, which makes me wonder whether or not this is a hint that a new F-Zero game is in the works. Just as in Mute City from The Legend of Zelda DLC, Big Blue is a continuous track rather than one you race three times around, floating amidst lush forest with rushing water running through parts of the track. While admittedly the F-Zero courses aren’t my favorites because I don’t find them as interesting to race on (hardly any hazards, pretty straight-forward track), again, there’s no denying how good everything looks and how detailed the road itself is. Super Bell Subway is another of my favorite tracks this time around, set in a bustling subway where you zoom through turnstiles and race alongside commuter trains in subway tunnels on the tracks. Being a daily train commuter myself, I found this stage particularly fun and adrenaline-filled, imagining the Mario Kart shenanigans taking place on my commute, and I also liked that Nintendo kept with the theme of disrupting the flow of everyday traffic and activities seen in courses like Sunshine Airport and Toad’s Turnpike.

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Villager and Isabelle are fun additions to the racing roster (Isabelle is especially adorable behind the wheel of a kart), and feel light and easy to control, whereas Dry Bowser is as heavy and tough to maneuver as you would expect, though his glowing shell and eyes are really awesome.

And what about the 200cc mode, you ask?

IT’S INSANE! I thought that perhaps Nintendo was exaggerating a bit with the mode description stating that breaking was essential, but breaking is absolutely essential. You’ll definitely find yourself flying off ledges and crashing into walls the first few times until you start utilizing your breaks in ways that perhaps you’ve never done before 200cc mode. The increase in speed is generous, and the CPU will catch up to you much faster (obviously) than in the other modes, and I also noticed them crashing into walls as well, which was a nice bit of authenticity added on Nintendo’s part to make racing the CPU not only fairer, but more comparative to racing human players. Bear in mind, however, that 200cc mode isn’t part of the DLC pack but is available by doing the latest software update, and for the mode to appear after the update you have to have unlocked Mirror Mode.

I genuinely have no complaints about the Animal Crossing DLC for Mario Kart 8 and highly recommend getting this content, as well as the first pack if you haven’t yet, to expand on your Mario Kart experience. The DLC is quality, not a poorly thrown together cash-grab, and offers courses that are even better than some of the standard courses. The visuals are outstanding and the courses are varied and feel challenging without being frustrating. Nintendo, you’ve done it again.