Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: DDR X2

The advent of a new decade (get it, "New Decade" is a song from this game... read on) brought with it a chance for the Dance Dance Revolution franchise to redeem itself. On the one hand, there was the arcade release of DDR X, an otherwise okay entry which got shafted by poor machine construction outside of Japan. And on the other hand, there was the one-two punch of the home games X2 and Hottest Party 3, which couldn't decide whether they wanted to appeal to casual or hardcore DDR players. Well, with such stakes as I've described just now, I'm proud to announce that the arcade sequel DanceDanceRevolution X2 (not to be confused with the 2009 PS2 entry of the same name) was good.


I assume. Regrettably, I've never played on an X2 machine, ever since its rollout in 2010 (Asia: 7 July, NA: 31 December). Sure, I've played its new songs on other DDR games, but the nearest X2 machine to where I am is up around New York, and we all know what I think about the Big Apple. Even worse, I took a vacation to Japan just weeks before its launch over there, leaving me stuck to play on those crummy old deluxe X cabinets. And even worse worse, I'm planning to visit again early next year, but by now all the arcades in Tokyo have replaced their X2 machines with newer entries in the series (if the arcade listings on are to be believed). Edit 16 September 2014: Never mind, I've finally managed to play on a real X2 machine. And it was good. But enough about my personal anecdotes, let's talk about the game.

The new music menu screen with the Cover Flow layout.
DDR X2 -- that is, the real DDR X2 -- has a green-dominated colour scheme and (re-)introduces the Cover Flow format on its music select screen. As far as actual gameplay is concerned, X2 introduces new gameplay options which I'd say are useful for pro players. First are the Hidden+ and Sudden+ modifiers, which like the original Hidden and Sudden mods hide the arrows at the bottom or top of the screen. The difference with the "plus" versions is that you can adjust how far you want to hide the arrows by pressing the Up or Down buttons on the console during gameplay. (Arrow-speed mods can also be adjusted on the fly in this fashion.) And second is the Risky option, where missing one step or Freeze Arrow will kick you out of the song instantly, except you can still play any stages you have left. On the flip side, beginner players can eschew the traditional, full-featured Pro Mode in favour of Happy Mode, which features a limited songlist focusing on easier charts, so if that makes you comfortable, then go nuts.
Hidden+ and Sudden+ look something like this.
(From Beatmania IIDX 12: Happy Sky.)
Once again, X2's hidden content requires an e-Amusement profile to unlock. And once again, Konami released unlock codes for regions that were never graced with the presence of e-Amuse (read: America and Europe). Furthermore, X2 is the first arcade DDR game to support PASELI, a debit card which can pay for games coinlessly. In fact, there's also a Marathon Mode in which PASELI users can pay to play up to seven songs in a row. As with e-Amuse, it's only available in Japan, and you can't even set up a PASELI account over the Internet if you don't live in Japan, so don't get your hopes up. Fortuantely, the international versions of X2 bring back the ability to save high scores for each song and chart on the machine itself, a feature which was created for SuperNOVA but dropped from the sequel in favour of doing so with e-Amuse.

DDR X2 features a total of 444 songs, including the following:
  • A handful of classic Dancemania licences (including "If You Were Here" from 2ndMIX, and "Captain Jack" and "Dam Dariram" from 3rdMIX) have been revived, in the fashion of the X-Edits from the last game, including Challenge charts with Shock Arrows. This time, however, they actually stuck to the original cut of the song and just stretched that out a bit at both ends.
  • "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice. Yup, the same cruddy version I tore down in my last entry.
  • Since Konami also sold X2 in the rest of Asia, they threw in unlockable Mandarin Chinese-language versions of a few songs, including "iFuturelist" and "Nijiiro" from SuperNOVA.
  • "Gold Rush" by DJ Yoshitaka-G feat. Michael a la Mode, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX 14: Gold. A lovably infamous song recogniseable by fans for its energy, stupid lyrics (like the recurring reprise of "Make it make money"), and the sequential name-dropping of the Beatmania games mid-song. In X2, it is joined by two alternate versions, the "DDR AC" and "DDR CS" versions, which replace those references with the arcade and console DDR games, but otherwise use the same charts.
  • "smooooch" by Kors K, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX 16: Empress. A bouncy happy-hardcore track whose background video, with three cartoon princesses bouncing about, has inspired parodies and tributes from both sides of the Pacific.
  • "Mei" by Amuro. Not a boss song, but it should be. In its IIDX appearance, the hardest chart on this two-minute track had two thousand notes, and whilst its DDR counterpart is nowhere near as complicated, with a level-18 Challenge chart, it's still among the hardest songs in X2.
  • "ΔMAX" (read: "Delta Max") by DM Ashura, a revival from DDR Universe 3. Not a boss song in this game, but its tempo starts out at 100 and, throughout the song, gradually increases to a blistering 573.
    • Fun Fact: The number 573 appears elsewhere in DDR, namely the default high score in certain versions, and other Konami games as well. That's because the name Konami can be "translated" to "573" through a system of Japanese wordplay known as "goroawase".
  • The boss songs are revivals from the 2009 series:
    • The Extra Stage is "Kimono Princess" by jun.
    • The Encore Extra Stage is "Roppongi Evolved" by TAG Underground. The first time an Evolved song was used in an arcade release, this one boasts an exclusive fourth version not found in the 2009 home games.
  • In addition, X2 introduces a new system for boss songs called "Replicant-D Action", lifted from the newer Beatmania IIDX games. For all intents and purposes, this doesn't work without an e-Amusement profile. The songs in RDA and their requirements are:
    • "Pierce the Sky" by JAKAZiD feat. JN. Unlocked by clearing any 20 songs from the X2 folder.
    • "Sakura Sunrise" by Ryu☆ (Ryutaro Nakahara). Unlocked by clearing any 2 songs from each of the 12 folders.
    • "Shiny World" by Capacity Gate. Unlocked by clearing 6 courses and one Drill Course.
    • "Posession" by TAG Underground. Unlocked by clearing any 100 Challenge charts, and getting an AA grade or better on "Pierce the Sky" and "Sakura Sunrise". The difficulty level on which those AAs were achieved determines which difficulty "Possession" can be played on.
    • "New Decade" by Sota F. Unlocked by getting a full combo on any 15 charts, and getting AA or better on and "Sakura Sunrise" and "Shiny World".
    • "Anti-Matter" by Orbit1 & Milo. Unlocked by playing Trial Mode (where two players can play one song for the price of a single-player game) three times, and getting AA or better on "Pierce the Sky" and "Shiny World".
    • Getting AA or better on each of the above songs earns a medal. When all six medals are earned, the song "Valkyrie Dimension" by Spriggan (Yoshitaka Nishimura) is automatically selected as an Encore Extra Stage. When this song is finished, pass or fail, all six medals are erased from the player's profile and can be earned again. Rinse and repeat.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well... remember how I said that X2 machines were few and far between in my sphere of experience? What hurts matters more is that there was never a home port of X2. Sure, the individual songs showed up in other games, but this was Konami's big chance to bring Dance Dance Revolution into the seventh generation, and they blew it. Again. But think about it from their point of view: by 2010 the last console generation was for all intents and purposes dead, and the Guitar Hero/Rock Band craze was about to fade as well, so perhaps consumers wouldn't have the stomach to purchase another plastic peripheral for another system. Konami did bite the bullet after all and make a DDR game for the latest and greatest systems, but... ah... that's a story for next time on Dance Dance Retrospective!

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