This edition of Extra Life focuses on the amazing precursor to Elite Beat Agents.
Extra Life is a weekly column focused on giving games a first, second, or third chance. Each article, someone will look at a game they missed, remember fondly from their childhood, or just thought was passed over. It could be a game that received universal appraisal, or one that seemingly nobody played.
Released in 2005, perhaps the most apt description of Ouendan is spiritual precursor to Elite Beat Agents (also made by iNiS). For the unfamiliar, the games are rhythm-based titles for DS in which players watch a comic-book story scene play out while tapping and dragging on numbered circles with the stylus. The circles must be tapped in sequence to the music in rhythm as well as in order (hence the numbers). If that sounds confusing, well, here's a video of it in action.
A short story plays out every time a song is played. The Ouendan are essentially a cheerleading squad who wear black gakuran school uniforms and use their cheering abilities to boost morale and improve the situation of any given. Usually humorous in nature, these small scenarios include situations like helping someone create original pottery, and a student trying to study for school despite distractions. If the player does well (accomplished through hitting circles at the perfect time), the story progresses in the favor of the character, all the way through finishing the song and achieving victory. If the player misses beats or doesn't hit them with accuracy, the stranger is shown progressively failing at the situation, up until the point the song itself is failed.
The biggest draw of the series is certainly its music. As opposed to the western-only Elite Beat Agents—which boasts a soundtrack of classic pop songs like “ABC” by The Jackson 5 and “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire—Ouendan, released only in Japan, focuses on Japanese pop, featuring songs like my personal favorite in the game, Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts. Perhaps unfortunately, every song in the series is within the game via cover artists, though almost all sound like new, neat twists on the originals, rather than Guitar Hero-like abominations.
My opinion: Although Elite Beat Agents has a soundtrack with more catchy songs than can be counted on two hands, Ouendan (and its sequel, Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2) slightly edges it out. Despite having a few stinkers, the over-the-top style of the Japanese pop just seems to fit the game a bit better than the usually toned back nature of American pop. With that said, though, EBA’s version of “Jumpin' Jack Flash” is, without a doubt, the best song in the entire series. Still, Ouendan offers a slightly better overall experience in this regard.
The difficulty in Ouendan, however, is not superior. While EBA provided a more gradual difficulty curve as the game progressed, Ouendan offers difficulty that practically doubles on Normal mode after the first two sets of songs. Even on the easier setting, the pacing in difficulty is not good. For some, this can be overlooked quite easily, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
Although the game was only released in Japan, those of you who import (or find it in other ways) should have no trouble falling into the motions, as playing the game isn't reliant on knowing Japanese. With that said, if you are interested in playing Ouendan and only know English, I heavily recommend you play Elite Beat Agents to at least get the tutorial stuff out of the way (although, that game is excellent, so you should play it anyway).
Ouendan, if you get the opportunity, is a game you really need to play. It offers the same gameplay as Elite Beat Agents with a slightly superior soundtrack, and, despite minor flaws, still stands among the best in the DS library.