Rez is a terribly good video game – a synaesthesic shooter from Tetsuya Mizuguchi and United Game Artists, originally released for the Dreamcast and PS2. Donlan has been a fan for years, and he wondered what Ed Nightingale, who loves music games but had never played Rez, would make of it. Ed played the game, and then they had a nice chat.
Chris: Ed! I am so glad youve finally played Rez. Before we get into the game, I wondered: do you remember when you first heard about Rez? And going in, what was your conception of it? What did you assume you were about to play?
Ed: I have a vague recollection of a wireframe figure and lots and lots of beats from years ago, which immediately seemed distinctive and something I’d want to play. Sadly I never owned a Dreamcast so it just passed me by. I was expecting something experimental, something mesmerising, something trippy. Now I’ve finally played, it didn’t disappoint.
Chris: Okay, so tell me about it about playing. What were your first impressions of the game, of the opening few levels? Did it work its magic immediately? No – actually, before we get to that: how did you feel when the running man boss started running? Is that still just the biggest RUSH in all of games?
Ed: That boss completely threw me! I decided to play the game in VR for the most “current” experience. I’m still getting my VR legs so had to pause between each level to prevent rhythmic vomiting, but I can’t imagine playing it any other way now. I wondered where the running man boss had disappeared to and why I was dying, until I realised he was behind me and I had to literally turn around to face him. It was such a rush!
The game feels like it was made for VR, even if all those wireframe fireworks feel intensely overwhelming at first when they’re inches away from your face. But it definitely ticked the trippy box right from the off.
Chris: I can still remember the impact of seeing that boss for the first time. I wonder: how does Rez feel now? Does it feel futuristic or a bit of a curio from the past? Is it easy for you to place it within the context of other games?
Ed: I feel like Rez is timeless really. It’s avant-garde. Those stark but striking visuals and thumping beats. And it does something that not a lot of other rhythm-inspired games do: musical feedback. Lots of games have you moving to a beat, but too often there’s no impact on the music. But here every shot and explosion is timed and percussive so it feels like you’re making music as you shoot. I love that! I just wish that feedback was more melodic and the music more memorable.
But then I played Area X and that gave me even more of what I wanted from the base game. Have you played it?
Chris: Is this the super-new area that came with the recent PS edition? I have not – but I cant imagine a better ending than Fear is the Mindkiller anyway – what am I missing?
Ed: So it’s just one level and it’s off-rails with the freedom to move forward at your own pace. There’s no score or health system. Instead it’s euphoric dance music, neon particle effects as you pop flying tentacle creatures like fireworks, and melodic feedback to each of your shots. It’s essentially a tech demo, but it was exhilarating in a way that made the base game feel restrictive. I can’t wait to see what Mizuguchi does next.
Chris: This has to be mentioned every time Mizuguchi comes up – do you think you have synaesthesia at all? I suspect everyone has it to a certain degree. In a way Rezs take on the condition feels so precise and singular that it makes me feel that everybody must see the world in very different ways. I know that Rez was made by a team, but it really does feel like being in one persons head?
Ed: I definitely feel a strong link between music and colour; how harmonies can be suggestive of different shades. And there’s something so intense and dark about these industrial beats that feels so futuristic, yet the visuals are just suggestive enough to let your mind wander. One of the biggest shifts for me was in the fourth level where suddenly the background changes from black to white, it was like my eyes were suddenly opened and everything felt more lifted and clinical – even the music. But for the most part, I think Rez is such an overwhelming experience for all the senses – I’m actually glad it’s quite short, there’s too much to take in in one go.
And on that suggestiveness: I do love how abstract the visuals are. It’s just a series of lines yet it gives me spaceships and computer parts and retro arcade games and futuristic cities. Then it eventually sort of opens up into this utopia and the music becomes fuller. It definitely gives a sense of evolution – visually, sonically, and metaphorically.
Chris: YES! Testify, Ed Nightingale. So are you tempted to check out any more Mizuguchi stuff from here? I am assuming youve probably already played Tetris Effect?
Ed: Confession: I am not a Tetris fan, mainly because I’m useless at it. But I’ve played a small amount of Tetris Effect and I did appreciate that similarly immersive, synaesthesia effect. Tetris really relies on focus and there’s something about that combination of music and visuals that really draws you in. I love that idea of making music through gameplay.
Are there any other music/rhythm games that have lived up to Rez for you? I’m a big fan of Sayonara Wild Hearts myself, which feels like playing through a pop album. But it doesn’t quite have that same musical feedback that Rez has.
Chris: I think Rez is emphatically its own thing. Theres something weirdly sealed-in about the game from the start – the credits and menu screen all take you to this internal space that feels totally cut off from everything else. Even when you take into account stuff like Panzer Dragoon, there is nothing like Rez.
What I would say, though, is that I am pretty sure by now that Lumines is the best Miz game and the best music game – have you played it? It looks like Tetris, but its actually the opposite of Tetris. Its glorious and I would play it forever if I had to. If you have a Vita, track down Electronic Symphony – best in the series even if they did rework the fuse block!
Ed: Yes! I’ve played the PS4 release of it. Like Tetris, I wasn’t very good at it but adding that musical element really elevates the gameplay for me.
There’s just something so immensely satisfying about completing any task to music, the way actions slot into place, blocks disappear, enemies pop. But Rez manages to do that in a way that feels unique.
I guess, ultimately, I just really like structure.