OUENDAAAAAAAAAAAN!: My Favorite Stages

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.

Before Harmonix developers go to bed, they pray each night that this nightmarish hell-beast doesn't eat their souls as they sleep.

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.

18 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by Mento

I still get Pavlovian jitters from watching Ouendan gameplay. I stressed myself (and my first DS) out to hazardous levels, but I eventually managed to get good enough at the game to beat it on its hardest level, which is something I rarely put the necessary practice and dedication towards.

But man if hitting that S-Rank with the cheerleaders on Ready Steady Go (and later Jumping Jack Flash) wasn't like punching God in the damn face. Glorious.

Of course, I'm small potatoes compared to a lot of the Ouendan players on YT, not to mention the ones playing that customizable browser version Osu!. Check this madness out.

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Posted by Hailinel

@mento said:

I still get Pavlovian jitters from watching Ouendan gameplay. I stressed myself (and my first DS) out to hazardous levels, but I eventually managed to get good enough at the game to beat it on its hardest level, which is something I rarely put the necessary practice and dedication towards.

But man if hitting that S-Rank with the cheerleaders on Ready Steady Go (and later Jumping Jack Flash) wasn't like punching God in the damn face. Glorious.

Of course, I'm small potatoes compared to a lot of the Ouendan players on YT, not to mention the ones playing that customizable browser version Osu!. Check this madness out.

It's an amazing feeling, indeed. And the top tier players of Osu! are just otherworldly. (Who knew that a Weird Al song could be so stressful?)

Posted by Meepasaurus

I imported both Ouendans years ago, and I just played a bit of 2 again a few weeks ago. I love these games so much, I ended up writing a term paper about them for my Japanese Popular Culture course in college, haha.

I envy you being able to beat Ready Steady Go on Normal. The circle drawing in Ouendan is very unforgiving, and that combined with not being able to skip the long intro forced me to give up. I was so glad it was tweaked for EBA and Ouendan 2, and finishing Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze on Hard was incredibly satisfying. I have hand tremors so it increases the challenge for me quite a bit.

There are so many good levels that it's hard to pick favorites. I'd probably add Monkey Magic, VISTA, and Glamorous Sky.

Posted by Hailinel

I imported both Ouendans years ago, and I just played a bit of 2 again a few weeks ago. I love these games so much, I ended up writing a term paper about them for my Japanese Popular Culture course in college, haha.

I envy you being able to beat Ready Steady Go on Normal. The circle drawing in Ouendan is very unforgiving, and that combined with not being able to skip the long intro forced me to give up. I was so glad it was tweaked for EBA and Ouendan 2, and finishing Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze on Hard was incredibly satisfying. I have hand tremors so it increases the challenge for me quite a bit.

There are so many good levels that it's hard to pick favorites. I'd probably add Monkey Magic, VISTA, and Glamorous Sky.

Yeah, the circle drawing in the original game could be very unforgiving. Though I will say that the unskippable intro to Ready Steady Go was kind of a blessing for me, as it gave me time to pause, catch my breath, and just relax the tension for a few moments before jumping back in.

But congratulations on beating Ouendan 2 on hard! I can't imagine trying to play these games with hand tremors. That has to take some serious concentration and practice.

Edited by MormonWarrior

Still one of the only Japanese games I've imported (with Tetris Battle Gaiden and some RPGs that I sold off because...hey, I don't read Japanese!) and it was delightfully incoherent!

I loved Elite Beat Agents too. I need to go back and play those two Ouendan games but I only had the first one. We'll see.

EDIT: Oh, and once upon a time I beat every level in EBA on all difficulty levels. That game was a BEAST on the hardest difficulty but I was so in the zone. I imagine Ouendan is no different but I only played it on normal to completion.

Posted by Hailinel

Still one of the only Japanese games I've imported (with Tetris Battle Gaiden and some RPGs that I sold off because...hey, I don't read Japanese!) and it was delightfully incoherent!

I loved Elite Beat Agents too. I need to go back and play those two Ouendan games but I only had the first one. We'll see.

EDIT: Oh, and once upon a time I beat every level in EBA on all difficulty levels. That game was a BEAST on the hardest difficulty but I was so in the zone. I imagine Ouendan is no different but I only played it on normal to completion.

If you love EBA, the Ouendan games are definitely well worth playing. The hardest difficulties in all three games are definitely beastly.

Posted by audioBusting

Man, I missed playing these games. I spent so much of my high school perfecting every mirror stage of every game. It's the most I've ever gotten into mastering a video game, and it destroyed my DS's touch screen. If I have to pick a favorite, it's gotta be Samurai Blue for the challenge and absurdity.

I wanted to get into osu!, but it's not really the same without the ridiculous back stories. I think the only level I found I liked was a bizarre Phoenix Wright fanfiction with the whole Ouendan story format and animation.

Posted by Hailinel

I wanted to get into osu!, but it's not really the same without the ridiculous back stories. I think the only level I found I liked was a bizarre Phoenix Wright fanfiction with the whole Ouendan story format and animation.

This is so true. A major reason Ouendan works so well is the narratives that are concocted for each stage. They give the games their flavor and are just as important as the songs and gameplay.

Edited by Flappy

Man, I can't begin to tell you how much I loved playing these games on my DS back in the day. I spent a lot of time playing "Ready, Steady, Go!", but I also put a lot of time into a lot of the other songs. Now that I think about it, the only songs I wasn't really a fan of were the slow ones (usually song number 9 or some ish like that). Everything else, though?

Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan-fucking tastic!

Thanks for bringing up nice memories, Hailinel.

Posted by Miyuki

Back when I had a 360,I actually used to own that Black Eyed Peas game (hey, it was a gift!) and I can assure you that however you are imagining it, it is probably worse. And this comes from someone who rather likes Dance Central.

I love Elite Beat agents, but haven't gotten around to Ouenden yet. Looks like it might be time!

Edited by oldenglishC

It's nice to see something about actual video games, and not dumb rumors or the approaching Sess-pocalypse. Great write up.

Would the two non-localized games be accessible to someone that doesn't understand a lick of Japanese? EBA really helped fill the weird, insanely difficult rhythm game hole in my life, so importing the other two titles is something I'd be into.

Edited by Hailinel

@oldenglishc: If you can play EBA, playing the Ouendan titles should present no problem. The gameplay is the same, and the menus are straight-forward and easy to navigate without understanding Japanese. And each stage's story is told clearly enough in imagery that even if you don't understand what people are saying, it's still easy to get the gist.

Posted by oldenglishC
Posted by Larsa

God, these games were so good.Best games on the DS. I'm pretty sure I got S ranks on everything on the hardest difficulty in both Ouendans, maybe not in EBA.

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Posted by Demoskinos

Scrolling down initially before actually reading anything I thought you had finally lost it and was blogging about The Black Eyed Peas.

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Posted by JackSukeru

I absolutely love these games, though I ended up playing them in the reverse order of which they came out. By the time I played Ready Steady Go I had already (finally) managed to finish Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze on Hard and, comparatively, Ready Steady Go felt like much less of a challenge. I don't think I had nearly as much trouble with that one even on Hard by that time. Though I've always suspected that being pretty familiar with that particular song beforehand (It's the second intro for the first Full Metal Alchemist series which I had listened to a lot at the time) also had something to do with it.

It was also the only Ouendan song I recogniced from elsewhere until I watched Densha Otoko a few years ago and was surprised to find that Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze was the outro.

Anyhow, my top Ouendan songs would probably be:

  1. Glamourous Sky.
  2. Samurai Blue.
  3. Over The Distance.
  4. [that song in which 3 middle-aged women rescue their young pop idol]

Glamorous Sky is #1 simply because I love the song and I love playing it, I also think it's the only song I ever S ranked on Insane as well as completely perfected on Hard. Because so much of the song uses the drag-style "notes", that are pretty easy to get the full 300 points on, it's also relatively easy to get an A or S rank on it.

#2 is there for pretty much the same reason you gave, it's a fun, really hard song to play. It's not quite as brutal as the final stages but it's a nice middle ground where I still can't always finish it on hard. It was a nice surprise after I had thought I'd seen everything in the game. #3 is one of "those" songs where you really don't want to fail, luckily it feels like they keep the challenge pretty soft for them for where you are in the games, I like all three of them really. Finally #4 gets an honorable mention because I really like how it threw me off with the "notes" on Hard in the beginning, It didn't feel like it matched the music so much as it added an extra layer to it. Overall a really fun song to play.

It's neat that we're getting a new Theatrhythm, but the tapping just doesn't compare to that of the Ouendan/EBA games. Ah, the things (and people) I would sacrifice for a Quendan 3 on the 3DS. At this point I'll even take remakes of the first two (not to shun EBA or anything, it's pretty cool as well, but it's my least favorite of the bunch) just to be able to play it with sharper sound and presentation.

Time to dig up O2 and play through some stages I guess.

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Posted by Hailinel

@flappy:Oh man, Kokoro Odoru is such a hilarious stage. The places that artist goes for inspiration!

@miyuki said:

Back when I had a 360,I actually used to own that Black Eyed Peas game (hey, it was a gift!) and I can assure you that however you are imagining it, it is probably worse. And this comes from someone who rather likes Dance Central.

I love Elite Beat agents, but haven't gotten around to Ouenden yet. Looks like it might be time!

If it's even worse than I imagine, I just...oh god.

Scrolling down initially before actually reading anything I thought you had finally lost it and was blogging about The Black Eyed Peas.

It certainly makes for a good test to see who's been paying attention!

I absolutely love these games, though I ended up playing them in the reverse order of which they came out. By the time I played Ready Steady Go I had already (finally) managed to finish Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze on Hard and, comparatively, Ready Steady Go felt like much less of a challenge. I don't think I had nearly as much trouble with that one even on Hard by that time. Though I've always suspected that being pretty familiar with that particular song beforehand (It's the second intro for the first Full Metal Alchemist series which I had listened to a lot at the time) also had something to do with it.

It was also the only Ouendan song I recogniced from elsewhere until I watched Densha Otoko a few years ago and was surprised to find that Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobundaze was the outro.

Anyhow, my top Ouendan songs would probably be:

  1. Glamourous Sky.
  2. Samurai Blue.
  3. Over The Distance.
  4. [that song in which 3 middle-aged women rescue their young pop idol]

Glamorous Sky is #1 simply because I love the song and I love playing it, I also think it's the only song I ever S ranked on Insane as well as completely perfected on Hard. Because so much of the song uses the drag-style "notes", that are pretty easy to get the full 300 points on, it's also relatively easy to get an A or S rank on it.

#2 is there for pretty much the same reason you gave, it's a fun, really hard song to play. It's not quite as brutal as the final stages but it's a nice middle ground where I still can't always finish it on hard. It was a nice surprise after I had thought I'd seen everything in the game. #3 is one of "those" songs where you really don't want to fail, luckily it feels like they keep the challenge pretty soft for them for where you are in the games, I like all three of them really. Finally #4 gets an honorable mention because I really like how it threw me off with the "notes" on Hard in the beginning, It didn't feel like it matched the music so much as it added an extra layer to it. Overall a really fun song to play.

It's neat that we're getting a new Theatrhythm, but the tapping just doesn't compare to that of the Ouendan/EBA games. Ah, the things (and people) I would sacrifice for a Quendan 3 on the 3DS. At this point I'll even take remakes of the first two (not to shun EBA or anything, it's pretty cool as well, but it's my least favorite of the bunch) just to be able to play it with sharper sound and presentation.

Time to dig up O2 and play through some stages I guess.

I can definitely see how playing the games in reverse order could make Ready Steady Go relatively easy. By the time I got to Ouendan 2, I was able to breeze through Hard mode and even a little bit of Insane without much trouble.

And Glamorous Sky is a great stage. Not just for the song, but the story that they wrote for that one is really charming.

And yeah, while I enjoy Theatrhythm and am happy for a sequel, the gameplay just doesn't satisfy that itch. The Ouendan series is really special in that way, and it's surprising that the DS and 3DS haven't seen a rhythm game that can truly fill that hole.

Posted by insouciant

I bought Elite Beat Agents because Nintendo Power listed it as one of the best games for the DS. It was alright, but not really my type of game.