Vanillaware are one of my favourite game studios that usually get overlooked a bit. I was recently on a stream of someone playing Odin Sphere and there seemed to be only a few people who had played the game or even heard of it. The games I've played from them are Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. These games are 2D sidescrolling action games/action RPGs depending on how you look at it. I'd say that they have enough RPG elements to put them in that end of the spectrum. What makes them really interesting to me is the artstyle. The sprites and backgrounds have this really amazing stylistic, vibrant and exaggerated appearance. Couple that with some really amazing music and at least to me, you have some excellent games. Some critics might say that slowdown in places and slightly repetitive nature of the gameplay really detracts but I was just really engaged by the combat and just how amazing the game looks that those things never really bugged me at all.
Odin Sphere is primarily based on Norse mythology as you might be able to tell from the name, not quite as strongly as say Valkyrie Profile, but its definitely a strong influence throughout the game. It borrows from a lot of other legends, myths and stories as well, which really builds up a nice rich game in my opinion.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade has a distinctly Japanese feel. I'm not meaning that it looks like it was made by Japanese developers-I'm referring to the feudal Japanese history setting and plot that it has. Its all about ninjas, samurai, a bit of political intrigue and quite a good shake of mythology coming across in the various enemies you fight and characters you encounter such as the Inari Kitsune(fox deities.) Its got some really interesting areas you go through, such as the water dwelling boss who you fight in this really stylistic but dramatic backdrop clearly based on The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of my favourite Japanese woodblock prints.
So thats a bit of a tangent into two of Vanillaware's older games (I'm not going to go into Princess Crown, Grimgrimoire or the games that didn't get brought over here as I've still not got those games.) What I was really wanting to talk about was the recently announced Vanillaware titles, Dragon's Crown and Grand Knight History. We've known about Grand Knights History for a few months I think, but this is the first we've heard about Dragon's Crown, what will be Vanillaware's first HD game, releasing Spring 2012 on the PS3 and Playstation Vita. Sure, these games won't be for everyone, as the artstyle, particularly in Dragon's Crown could be described as grotesque and overexaggerated. Still, it looks gorgeous in places I think. Just see how smooth and vibrant it will run on the PS3. Grand Knights History will change things up quite a bit-it will be turn based :) Hopefully it works well.
Finally, check this retrospective from last year by one of my favourite youtubers. I actually had an idea to do a big blog post about Vanillaware's games a while back (before I saw his video) but never got round to it. So I guess this post kinda says a lot of what I might have.
Oh, on another note my Now Playing 'column' is on a bit of a hiatus...I'm thinking of changing it to another day from Sunday, or maybe to fortnightly so I'll always have at least a couple of games to talk about. I'll think about what I'm going to do with it.