By Hailinel 18 Comments
It's kind of crazy to think about how old the Ouendan series is at this point. While the games aren't really that old, comparatively speaking (the original Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan was released in 2005), it's been a long while since the third and final game (Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, and yes, I am including Elite Beat Agents in the series) first graced the Nintendo DS in 2007. These games have also, sadly, proven to be the apparent apex of iNiS as a developer, as since then, they've been toiling away on titles such as the ill-fated Lips franchise and The Black Eyed Peas Experience, which has to be the most depressing nadir of any company that's specialized in rhythm games.
But at their height, iNiS was responsible for some of the most creative, craziest rhythm games that the genre has ever seen. The Ouendan series holds a special place in the hearts of rhythm game fans, but these games aren't simply a product of Japan being Japan, or whatever nonsense platitude people prefer. Mixed in with the manly shouts of male cheerleaders and the ludicrous scenarios they face is a well-designed game formula backed by legitimately entertaining characters and stories, bolstered at times by the very design of the stages themselves.
Here are five of my favorite stages and why I enjoy them so much.
5. Zenryoku Shounen (Ouendan 2)
Zenryoku Shounen is the first stage of Ouendan 2, and actually sees the Ouendan coming to the aid of the protagonist of the original game's initial stage. While in the first game, he was a high school student struggling to study for his college entrance exam, here, he's a college grad struggling to land a job. Personally, I was in a not entirely dissimilar position at the point in my life when this game first came out. I had been out of college for a few years and was struggling to get by on temp work that paid just enough that I could pay the meager rent on the studio condo shithole I lived in. Really, I could use all the encouragement I could get in keeping my chin up and just having the motivation to find better work. (Coincidentally, my luck finally started turning around that year.) So while the challenge level of the stage is low, I hold it in high regard as something I can really identify with (even if I didn't end up landing a high-paying job in New York City).
4. Over the Distance (Ouendan)
Included among the more insane, ridiculous scenarios that permeate the games, each entry is also home to one stage that takes the opposite route and is designed, from top to bottom, to be a more subdued tear-jerker. The Ouendan members don't shout, the typical beat sound effects are replaced with softer chimes and tones, and there's always a phrase marker (those path-style marks where the stylus needs to follow a ball on the track), drawn in a special shape just to drive it all home. And while EBA and Ouendan 2 have stages that are just as effective, the original game's stage, featuring the song Over the Distance, is my favorite. A tale of a young man that died in a motorcycle accident that gets one last chance to visit his girlfriend and tell her he loves her.
3. Anthem (Elite Beat Agents)
The stage that Anthem represents is quite possibly the most insane scenario in the entire game (and this is a game that ends with a musical dance off against an army of hostile space aliens). A washed-up pro baseball player is reduced to retirement and working as a janitor at an amusement park when his biggest fan comes under attack by a rampaging, fire-spewing golem. What else can he do but fight back using the powers of song, dance, and baseball? Victorious, he has the confidence to return to the big leagues. Because you bet, kid!
2. Samurai Blue (Ouendan 2)
Both Elite Beat Agents and Ouendan 2 feature songs that aren't unlocked as part of normal stage progression, but as bonus stages for reaching cumulative high score plateaus. Samurai Blue is the final stage to unlock in Ouendan 2, making it one of the most challenging in the entire game. And the scenario is suitably amazing. What transports our text messages across the airwaves? Why, tiny, determined samurai warriors, of course! And when one such samurai's message gets scrambled, he needs all the help he can get to fix it and get it to the sender's girlfriend before it's too late. But just in terms of gameplay, the rhythm, the way that the marks match the beat, the intensity challenge, make this one of the best stages in the entire franchise, bar none.
And here's what the stage looks like on every difficulty, for good measure:
Good gravy. But my all-time favorite stage is...
1. Ready Steady Go (Ouendan)
Just like how each game in the series has a stage that tugs at the heartstrings, each entry concludes with the Ouendan cheering on the world to stave off an apocalyptic threat. And in the original Ouendan, that apocalyptic event is a goddamn asteroid. Earth's defense? Cheering, and Ready Steady Go. Every character that the Ouendan has helped comes together for an asteroid-obliterating cheer of collective willpower. This stage is an intense, intense challenge far beyond all of the other stages in the game. It took me weeks of practice to finally beat it on Normal, and when I did I was elated in a way that besting few games has made me feel. Making that final spinner spin as fast I possibly could while on an adrenaline high and beating the stage for the first time will go down as one of my most cherished moments in playing any video game. And just in case you need to see someone actually playing this stage live on the hardest difficulty:
Oh my god, that is never not intense. Bow down to this perfect human being. And maybe hope that some day, iNiS will be able to make a comeback, whether it be with Ouendan 3 or something equally creative that can pull them out of Fergie Hell.