Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dance Dance Retrospective: 5thMIX

2001 was a banner year for Dance Dance Revolution.  It marked the series' first home releases in America and Europe (as previously discussed, both were based on 3rdMIX), and Japan would see some major changes take place on their own turf with not one, but two games.  The first one of these, Dance Dance Revolution 5thMIX (March 27 2001), is not the more revolutionary of the two, nor its its PlayStation home version (September 9 2001, Japan only), but codified a few things which, for better or worse, would carry on for nearly the rest of the series from then on.

The music menu.  A glimpse of things to come.
What changes could I be talking about?  The first is right in front of your eyes.  The new color scheme shies away from 4thMIX's high-contrast neons in favor of a more consistent blue-green pallette.  It all starts out with style and character menus, which work similarly to those from 4thMIX, but the song selection menu has been redesigned yet again.  Song titles and artists in a curving list, or "song wheel", on the right side of the screen.  Over on the left is a cutout of the background artwork, difficulty levels, and high scores.  As in 3rdMIX, you can change difficulties at any time on this menu, by pressing Up or Down twice.  By pressing the left and right menu buttons at the same time, you can also sort the tracklist by title, tempo, or the most-songs played on that machine.  Konami seems to have finally found their sweet spot in this department; the "song wheel"-style music menu would be used for almost all DDR titles from then on.  In fact, it was so good, they planned to use it for DDR Konamix in America, but when they realized it would be too similar to their next game planned for PlayStation 2 (stay tuned), they switched to using the 4thMIX UI.

During gameplay, the Groove Gauges eschew the jumping pills from previous core series games and instead look like wavy bars.  Well, anything to avoid unintented drug references, I guess.  The background animations have also been re-done again, and follow a general color theme to match the song's genre.  Also, for those who care, while the display resolution was cut back to its previous level (240i), the frame rate runs at the traditional maximum speed of 60 frames per second.  For those of us wowed by the first wave of 60fps 3D games (for me they were Mortal Kombat 4 and F-Zero X), you'll really notice the difference, but everyone else, whatever.
You should see this in motion.
So I've mentioned the interface changes being one of most influential additions brought on by 5thMIX, but there are quite a few other things it brings to the table.  Apart from tempo changes, some songs actually pause the sequence for a few seconds at certain points.  Three songs (four in the home version) make use of this gimmick: "Abyss", "Ecstacy", and "INSERTiON" (plus "Healing Vision ~Angelic Mix~" in the home version).  There are also four "long version" songs which, in a gimmick brought back from the Solo series, last about three minutes each and cost two stages to play.  For some reason, this time around you can only select them on your second-to-last stage.  Few other games from then on would bring back long songs in any form (I can think of DDR X and Universe off the top of my head).  The scoring system has also been revamped yet again: the maximum score attainable is five million times the difficulty plus one (i.e. a level-1 chart has a maximum score of 10 million points, where a level-9 song has a maximum of 50 million), with a bonus added on top of that.  The grading system has gone back to E through AAA, which would also become a standard mechanic from that point on.

The other big change brought on by 5thMIX is not necessarily a positive one, however.  Going from 3rdMIX to 4thMIX, only two songs were cut ("Strictly Business" and "So Many Men") due to specific requests from the artists.  On the other hand, 5thMIX cut out a sizeable chunk of songs from previous games, mostly from 1st and 2ndMIX.  The reasons for this could be to make room for the new content, or to cut down on licensing fees, since it's mostly licenced songs that were affected, or some other third thing.  Sadly, there are no nonstop course modes in this game either.  That said and done, the total songlist of 5thMIX still comes out to be roughly the same size as 4thMIX's.  Genre-wise, there's towards trance and eurobeat which will only get stronger over the next couple of games, and content-wise, there are a lot of songs with Maniac charts ranked at 9 out of 9 in difficulty.  This means that on the whole there's more challenge in 5thMIX than anything that's come before in the series - and this progression will only continue.  Think about that.  Notable songs from 5thMIX include:
  • "Can't Stop Fallin' In Love (Speed Mix)" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry.  A speed-rave remix of the song from Solo 2000.  The Maniac chart is infamously known for its "machine gun" sequences, which are chains of eight notes using only one arrow - meaning you have to tap one foot repeatedly.  At 170 BPM, these can be way tough to nail down.  Commonly abbreviated as 'CSFILSM' by fans.
  • "Dive" by BeForU.  This is the first song released by BeForU, a J-pop girl group founded by Konami.  BeForU would become mainstays in the Bemani games over the next few years, and to my knowledge they were one of the first Bemani-based acts to release albums commercially outside of game soundtracks.  Also, this and "Sana Mollete Ne Ente" are the first songs in the core series with Japanese lyrics.
  • "Ecstacy" by D-CompleX (Naoki Maeda).  A trance song with not one, but two pauses.
  • "Healing Vision" by De-Sire (Naoki Maeda).  An ethereal drum'n'bass song which switches to double and half speed at different points.  The Angelic Mix from the home version (by 2MB) keeps a mostly constant tempo apart from the aforementioned pause near the end, but that is immediately preceded by a 20-second rush of high-speed, high-density notes.
  • "INSERTiON" by Naoki Underground (guess who).  A trance/techno song with a pause and slow section in the middle, and a speed-up at the end.
  • "PARANOiA Eternal" by STM200.  This remix of PARANOiA was actually made by a fan outside of Konami, who one a contest and had it put it into the game.  It experiments with 7/4 time signatures in some parts, and the Maniac chart has "machine gun" sections like in CSFILSM, but 30 BPM faster. 
  • Eight unlockable songs are transplants from beatmania IIDX, including "Absolute" and "Abyss" by dj TAKA, and "Electro Tuned (The SubS Mix)" and "Radical Faith" by TaQ.
  • There also three songs transplanted from Dance ManiaX (spelled with an X to differentiate itself with the Dancemania CD series), another dance-based game in the Bemani family.  This one uses motion sensors you wave your hands over or under, but the series only lasted for a couple of titles.  Dance ManiaX transplants in DDR 5thMIX include "Afronova Primeval" by 8-bit, "Broken My Heart" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry, and "Matsuri Japan" by Re-Venge.
  • Also, 5thMIX is the first core series game to use Japanese text in some of the song titles and artists.
So there we have it: our little franchise is finally start to grow up.  But we'll see it truly come of age when we take it to the 'max': DDRMAX, that is, on the next installment of Dance Dance Retrospective.  ...Which may either come within this week or not until July.  I'm planning another month-long tribute to a certain little blue guy who's about to have his 20th anniversary...

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