Archive for December, 2016

Best of 2016: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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Wow, five years of listening to K-Pop. I’m not sure how to feel really.

When I first discovered the increasingly wide genre back in 2012, talk of a “five year curse” was prevalent – the idea that K-Pop groups, especially female ones, seem unable to stay together for much longer than half a decade. And though the supposed rule has hardly been exact in its application, 2016 is sure as hell going to be remembered as a year of falling dominoes in the world of K-Pop groups. In the same year that the Brown Eyed Girls celebrated an unprecedented full decade without a member change, the likes of Miss A, Kara (for real this time), 4Minute, Rainbow and 2NE1 – all of whom were in top form when I started out – bit the dust. Other big acts lost important members (B2ST) or finally shuffled off to their mandatory military service (Bigbang), in the process well and truly solidifying the shift in Korean music generations that arguably started in 2014. The landscape is now almost unrecognisable from the days of Gangnam Style.

Of course some things never change, and history is bound to repeat. Though there are more successful soloists, more acoustic guitars, more rappers and heavier EDM beats around than ever before, K-Pop’s affiliation with cutesy girl group concepts returned in a big way in 2016 – especially among mid-tier acts – with barely a trace of the often-tacky “sexy” stylings of the last few years. And while we’re on the subject, it’s kind of a cool novelty to see each of the Big Three Korean entertainment companies bringing a properly successful female group to the table at the same time. That arguably hasn’t happened since 2012, at the tail end of the Wonder Girls/SNSD/2NE1 glory days. Now we have Twice/Red Velvet/Blackpink, and they have cute/weird/cool covered quite well respectively.

But I’m not here to write a dissertation; I’m here to count down my top 15 favourite K-Pop songs of the year, and there are a lot of different kinds of tracks to cover. So let’s do that, for the fifth time on Vagrant Rant.

No more than one song from a group/solo/collaboration can be eligible for this list, and it only takes into account songs that have a corresponding music video and feature Korean language lyrics. Every aspect of the release, visual and otherwise, is considered, but overwhelmingly the audio comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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15. Last Dance – Bigbang

I hope you’ll allow me a sentimental entry to kick things off.

Bigbang may be a YG Entertainment act, and true to their label they tease fans regularly with releases that don’t actually release for months or years after they are first mentioned. But they’ve been around in some way or another, without any real hint of breaking up, for ten years, and the gigantic quintet has given us a lot of fine memories. So on the eve of their mandated military service they released, alongside two other pretty decent songs, this heartstring-puller, and its emotional impact feels earned. Last Dance gives Bigbang a contemplative track that feels rather, shall we say, final, particularly alongside its brooding MV. There ain’t nothing wrong with it musically, though, providing plenty of Bigbang staples like growling Daesang/smooth Taeyang vocals, a bassy T.O.P rap and a soaring chorus that ends with a definitive full stop. Good luck to ’em.
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Best of 2016: Top 5 Gaming Trends

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It’s all good stuff from here on out. Well, in my opinion anyway.

Every year in videogames is eventful, and looking for patterns around these events is something I’ve grown to enjoy a great deal in recent times. Looking at trends – which, for the purpose of this list, are positive or at least neutral – can help us better remember a year in gaming as more than just a collection of months, and maybe even get a glimpse at where the medium is going. Here are five I thought worth mentioning from 2016.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER


This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. JRPGs Are Back!

Here’s an easy one; it’s only what I spent most of my blogging hours this year covering, after all. Likely due to a combination of simplified game delivery channels, crowdfunding culture, a YouTube-boosted nostalgia wave, a set of opportunistic smaller publishers stacked with localisation specialists, and the likes of Square Enix/SEGA trying frantically to get their act together, the Japanese role-playing game is currently more prolific than it has perhaps ever been. Players looking for a mechanically satisfying grind with zany characters and a narrative to match are refreshingly spoilt for choice whether they gravitate towards PC, consoles, mobile or dedicated handhelds (especially dedicated handhelds). Want examples from 2016? I’ve got you covered.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Disappointments

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Negativity isn’t all that much fun to write about, at least for me personally. But there is something cathartic about it, and it can theoretically help us improve on things. Apparently people really like reading about it too, because this annual list always seems to attract quite a few views. So here we go with the top ten most disappointing developments in 2016 entertainment media, at least to me.

There are some spoilers in this year’s list, so proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Some videogame/movie spoilers follow.
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10. No Man’s Storm

I don’t know what’s more disheartening about the whole No Man’s Sky debacle – that it failed to live up to the expectations set by the general gaming public, that its unclear whether those expectations ever really came from the game’s marketing itself, or that its development team, Hello Games, did nothing to clarify what the game would actually be like in the lead-up to its release. The whole ordeal ultimately came down to a series of unsavoury smokescreens and I’m sure other people’s lists would feature the game much higher up. I didn’t end up playing very much of it though.

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Best of 2016 Intro

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It’s been an insane year, this 2016. The fifth year of Vagrant Rant has barely registered as something worth talking about, sadly. The year has been so busy, in fact, that this short post letting out some of my blog-related frustrations will make up roughly 6% of my entire 2016 output to this point (bet that was nerdier than you expected). A far cry from even two years ago, when I churned out virtually ten times the amount. But then what passion project doesn’t have to change a bit to adapt to our adult lifestyles?

A past version of me would take this turn of events a lot harder than the current one. Full-time work at a place far from home has cut into my free time so substantially that devoting the same energy as I once did to writing about games, movies and such would leave me without any time to actually play/watch. Yet I cannot abandon this site – writing is too cathartic for me and this collection of personal opinions represents too much of who I am. And I definitely can’t abandon this year-end string of countdowns, because they are way too much fun.

2016 was pretty strong all-around for the three main strands of media I cover on this site. There seemed to be far more blockbuster movies than in 2015, and while some were high-profile failures others really hit their mark, particularly where animation was concerned. K-Pop had a strong year even amidst a suite of big industry changes, mostly because its sounds are coming from a wider range of sources than ever before. And as for games, well I’ve had to pull in a repeat of last year’s expanded Top 15 to try and fit them all.

Let’s go for another round.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Some lists contain spoilers.
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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarters 3 & 4

That’s right, I didn’t forget about this little project – Quarter 3 was just such a relative non-event for JRPGs that I decided to combine it with Q4 and bring things home strong. With one day to spare…

Q3 of 2016 really could have been a big one for Japanese RPGs. With Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 originally slated for release in the third quarter, July-September was in danger of relegating the remainder of the year to relative obscurity. Yet Persona 5 only came out in Japan within this window (I realise we knew this a long time ago, but it’s still a bitter pill), and as for FF XV… Well, it was delayed again. This pair of facts, combined with the ongoing absence of smaller yet nonetheless exciting titles like Cosmic Star Heroine, left us with a decidedly lighter period of releases. At least for me personally, this allowed me to give more time to other games, most notably an old, highly revered classic. But then we reached Q4, and received two very heavy hitters alongside a decent selection of smaller but far from insignificant titles, leaving us with a lot to talk about. Let’s get stuck into the second half of 2016 in Japanese role-playing games.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

Releasing in mid-July, before my very late Quarter 2 summary went up, the much-anticipated Square Enix title I Am Setsuna promised to prove a number of things – not only that the notoriously ambitious company is capable of shipping games on time, but in doing so that it might better cater to the tastes of some of its oldest fans through gameplay-first experiences. An admirable goal to be sure, and while they may have pulled it off for all I know (opinions I read/heard were genuinely mixed), ultimately all that the snow-covered, piano-scored exercise in melancholy did for me was remind me that I never did finish Chrono Trigger back in the day, and I should probably fix that.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t just drop I Am Setsuna straight away. I played the first two to three hours and enjoyed the instant sense of atmosphere the visuals and music provide. And yet with each and every Chrono Trigger-esque enemy encounter I was reminded more and more of how much I enjoyed the SNES gem when I initially tried it on DS seven years ago. Fast forward a few months and I finally did finish Chrono Trigger in late October. I loved every second. If I have time (highly unlikely) I might write about that experience one day. It’s not all that relevant on this page though, so for now I’ll just say a hearty thank you to I Am Setsuna and move on.

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