sound voltex

konami, 2012

this is the “serious” arcade rhythm game for a hip new generation of rhythm gamers who are pervs and social outcasts. it is immediately obvious when you see the “navigator” girls on the menu screens, where the absolute latest, cutting-edge live2d technology (or is it live3d? either way, some sort of technology) is carefully deployed to ensure their breasts jiggle just right... not to mention some of the outfits they wear... and the art for many of the songs, which goes so far that some even have to be censored in korea (where pornography is illegal). there’s no way i could have found out about this (and you didn’t hear it from me) but there is at least one sdvx-themed doujinshi. without a doubt it is the horniest arcade rhythm game.

i swear i am not like the other sdvx players. i regrettably started playing it as something to do in between brutal dance game sets because it was closest to the pump it up cab and also had buttons of a size and configuration actually suitable for human hands (unlike iidx. get ready for a LOT of iidx comparisons because it’s easily the most similar game.) and now there is no hope left for me. stay away! (and leave the cab open for me...)

besides the fact that it either attracts or transforms people into degenerates, the game itself is actually quite good. starting with the controller layout: the four main buttons are nice and big, and with the two horizontal FX buttons below them, the button arrangement lends itself naturally to a comfortable and intuitive default hand position with fingers on the big buttons and bottom of palm or thumb covering the lower FX button (origin of the distinctive sdvx thumb callous). then, there’s the two volume knobs, an endless source of consternation for new players and veterans alike, and the part that more-or-less defines the game (similar to the turntable in iidx). twisting the knobs requires moving your hands completely off the buttons, a seemingly small design element with surprisingly huge gameplay implications. with only the 6 buttons, sdvx play would end up looking very similar to iidx: relatively static, hands staying in the same optimal button-pressing positions throughout charts. but the knobs are just enough to transform sdvx into an extremely dynamic game, and as i heard a pro say once, “sound voltex is really a movement game”. at the higher levels, both hands end up in almost constant movement across the controller. there’s the basic up and down when one hand goes up to give the knob on its side a twist and then returns back to position on the buttons, the side-to-side across the buttons when one hand is occupied with a long knob and so the other is forced to cover all six buttons. there are even crossovers, something very rare in button games, where a chart may force your hand to reach across and twist the knob on the opposite side of the controller. i once took a friend to the arcade who had never played any rhythm games before, and after playing some iidx and watching me play sdvx, he remarked that all the hand movement and kob twisting in sdvx seemed more dj-like to him than iidx, and that sdvx gameplay looked like what he’d expected (and wanted) out of iidx.

although you don’t want to move TOO much – for a while i had trouble with progression because my arms would run out of stamina and get too tired to continue, the sort of thing that you’d think only happens playing dance games. it's an odd feeling since it really doesn't happen very often, being unable to move your fingers anymore because you've been wiggling them around too hard for too long. i struggled with the stamina issue for a while, thinking that perhaps i just wasn’t playing frequently enough to build up the arm strength to play harder songs, before realizing that maybe i should try to solve this the same way you can in dance games: by improving technique and trying to minimize movement to conserve stamina. i had developed kind of an aggressive, violent playstyle, perhaps because i always chose songs that were a little too hard for me that resulted in a fight for survival to avoid failing out and losing a song (back when only light start was available in america). a contributing factor may have also been the fact that i’ve never had a home controller, which usually require players to develop a more restrained playstyle since they aren’t nearly as durable or sturdy as a full cabinet. meanwhile, when i tried playing on other people’s home controllers a few times, i very nearly broke them. one time i twisted a vol knob so hard that it came off and started rolling away on the floor (i still attempted valiantly to clear the song without the knob but failed).

the songlist is expansive, sometimes even overwhelming, it’s probably the only game that can go toe-to-toe with iidx on that account. it’s hard to find exact numbers but according to bemaniwiki the latest version of sdvx has 1560 songs from old versions vs. iidx with 1528. there’s no exact count of the new songs in each game but eyeballing the pages, the sdvx one is definitely longer. plus, the song list seems to be constantly growing, it feels like sdvx receives new songs at a faster rate than any other rhythm game. every week it feels like there’s one or two new songs. the one issue is that a lot of the tracks lean heavily into either sdvx’s particular style of “otogecore”, high bpm maximalist rhythmic jackhammering composed by camellia, or deep moedenpa (also composed by camellia, with nanahira). i can't complain too much because they are almost always high bpm songs, which i prefer since they get me hyped up and usually don't have boring charts. occasionally, though, they'll add in something refreshing like some good old SHIKI or toby fox's entire discography (sound voltex has like 11 songs from undertale).

another good thing about sdvx is that it’s currently going through something of a “golden age” in the US with regards to accessibility and content. like many japanese companies, konami and other arcade game companies leave a lot of money on the table by focusing excessively on the domestic/asian market. consequently, konami neglects other international markets, only leaving them scraps if they even get anything at all: beat-up obsolete cabs, game versions with removed features and content, old versions and slow updates, no online service. sound voltex was one of the better-supported games but it still wasn’t close to japanese standards and things only seemed to be getting worse when the latest version (exceed gear) came out and removed access to blaster mode unlocks and extra stages. suddenly, though, in the past couple years there’s been an extraordinary turnabout, and now the state of sdvx in the US is pretty much at parity with japan. it all started with the rollout of state-of-the-art, brand new valkyrie model sdvx cabs to pretty much every round 1 in the country. these were a huge upgrade to the old cabs: crisp buttons, massive speakers, larger screens with silky-smooth 120 fps framerates (it’s hard to imagine now how people were able to stand playing the game at 30 fps in its initial versions). every gameplay mode was now accessible, and new content and events were released as soon as they were in japan. they even pushed out a somewhat half-hearted translation of the game’s menus into english. there's never been a better time to be a sound voltex player in the US (don't start, though...)