Monday, September 27, 2010

Dance Dance Retrospective: 1st

We'll start simple by looking at a game that, itself, started simple.  The first Dance Dance Revolution game released in Japan for the arcades in September 1998 and PlayStation in April 1999.1  Contrary to the current arcade editions which store hundreds of songs from its ten-odd year history, this game had only nine songs (the PSX version bumps it up to 16).  And they're broken up into two setlists that you choose from when you start the game: Normal and Hard.  There's also the Easy mode, which has the songs from Normal mode, but with a twist.  You only get to play one song, but you won't fail in the middle of it even if your Groove Gauge falls to zero.  If you're playing this game after having experienced later editions, you'll probably be baffled by the fact that you apparently can't change your difficulty from the Basic level.  As it turns out, you can, but the only way to do so is to input a code on the panels in the mode selection screen.  Doing so lets you play on the Another (medium) or Maniac (hard) levels, switch the arrows around by 180 degrees with Mirror, or experience all-new sequences on all eight panels in Double mode.  Here are the codes if you're interested:

Another: Up, Up, Down, Down, Up, Up, Down, Down
Maniac: Left, Left, Right, Right, Left, Left, Right, Right
Double: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right
Mirror: Left, Right, Left, Right , Left, Right, Left, Right
Mirror Another Double:* Up, Up, Down, Down, Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right
*For all other combinations, e.g. Another/Double or Maniac/Mirror, input each code one at a time.2

The music selection screen in Hard mode.3
So once we get through that ordeal, we get to select our music.  On the music selection screen (picture above), CDs are arranged as if on a jukebox, with the difficulty level of the steps measured in "feet", ranging from 1 to 8 feet.  The starting songs for Normal and Hard modes have been forever ingrained into the minds of veteran DDR players.  On Easy and Normal modes, the first song is "Have You Never Been Mellow" by The Olivia Project, a house remake of the 1977 song by Olivia Newton-John.  It is one of the easiest songs in DDR, ranking at level 1 on Basic.  On Hard mode, the first song is "Butterfly" by, a then-recent European pop song with Japanese-themed lyrics.  Hope you like their music, because popped up on many more DDR games in the future.  And just to set things straight, is from Sweden.  Yes sir, even though "Butterfly" was inspired by Japan and the .dk in their name refers to Denmark (a marketing trick by their record label), they are actually Swedish.  Spread the word.  

Going through the rest of the song list, some songs are their original versions ("That's The Way ( I Like It)"), whereas others ("Kung Fu Fighting") are new versions by cover bands.  Until the mid-2000s, all the licensed songs in DDR came from a CD series called Dancemania.  Released only in Japan by record label Toshiba EMI (currently EMI Music Japan), all the Dancemania albums are nonstop megamixes, with each song blending seamlessly into the next, like what DJs do in nightclubs.  Over time, numerous themed sub-series were released, such as Speed (focusing on high-speed rave) and Bass (focusing on Miami bass hip-hop).  Of course, the soundtracks for the DDR games were released as part of the Dancemania series, with one disc containing the songs as they appear in-game, and another disc blending them in an exclusive megamix.  If you notice, product placement for Dancemania is all over the Japanese games, such as icons in the music select screen telling you which album a song is from.

The character Afro in-game, playing "That's The Way" on Another.3

So, sorry for keeping you, but now we get to play the game for real!  You are expected to focus on the arrows scrolling up the screen, but there's a lot going on graphically.  Animations involving random flying objects and Engrish phrases run in the background, and on top of that, a 3-D character or two dance along to the music.  No, it's not like they're stepping in four directions like you are - in fact, you might wonder what the heck kind of moves they're busting.  Well, in this first game only, icons on the bottom of the screen tell you what style of dance the characters are using: hip-hop, jazz, house, and even Capoeira.  Which character (or characters) appears depends on whether you held down the left, right, or neither arrow panel when starting the game.

After you finish the song without getting booed out by the game, a result screen shows you your score and breaks down your performance based on how many of each timing mark you got.  Going from more to less precise, these marks are called Perfect, Great, Good, Boo, and Miss.  While playing, you can rack up a combo of notes you hit with a Perfect or Great mark, and your score will increase faster, but if you get a Good or worse, the combo resets to zero and you may lose some health from your Groove Gauge.  You will also get a letter grade based on your score for each song, in this game ranging from E (failed song) to SS (all Perfects - no easy feat).

After seeing how well you did, you go back to the music selection and pickout another song.  Lather, rinse, and repeat until you beat the last stage and the game ends.  In this game, the available songs may change on later stages.  On the final stage, you get to tackle the first (and in this game, only) original song from Konami's music staff: "PARANOiA".  "PARANOiA" is a drum-n-bass/techno song composed by Naoki Maeda.  Get to know this name.  As the music director for the DDR series, he has composed much of the original songs throughout the entire franchise.  And "PARANOiA" is a beast, at least it was at the time.  It's a level 6 on Basic mode, and it's really fast at 180 beats per minute (180 is also Naoki's pseudonym for this song.  No coincidence, trust me.)  But if it seems easy now, think about this: people used to believe that if you couldn't beat this song, you couldn't handle the harder stuff found on later editions, like it's some rite of passage.  Oh, and one more thing: if you finish your last song with a full Groove Gauge, you even get to play an extra stage on the next difficulty level up (unless you were playing on Single Maniac or Double Another, the hardest levels for their respective modes).  This feature would not return for a while, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Konami followed up the original game with an Internet Ranking version.  It added two new songs, the originals "Trip Machine" and "Make It Better", and the ability to post your scores online through the game's website.  The home version of this game also features the Arrange Mode, which is the same as Arcade Mode except you get penalized for stepping on a panel if there's no arrow over the Step Zone.  The damage is an Ouch mark and a sharp health decrease.  Throughout the entirety of DDR, there has been NOTHING like this in any other game...  Do you think it would be a good idea to bring it back?  Either way, the first DDR is not so much bad as it is... primitive.  The dearth of available songs and the unintuitive method of changing difficulties are not going to justify a purchase for most people, never minding the hoops you have to jump through to play import games on PlayStation in general.  But if you get a kick out of memorizing a code just to play on Maniac, then by all means, enjoy your trip down memory lane.

1 "Game Timeline".  Zenius -I- vanisher
2 "FAQ - DDR Internet Ranking Version".  DDR Freak
3 "Dance Dance Revolution (Japan)".  GameFAQs

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