A nice conversation on Rez
Rez is a very good video game – a synesthetic shooter from Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Q Entertainment, originally released on 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 think about it. Ed played along, and then they had a good chat.
Cris: Ed! I’m so glad you finally played Rez. Before getting into the game, I asked myself: do you remember when you first heard of Rez? And entering it, what was your conception of it? What did you think you were going to play?
Ed: I have a vague memory of a wireframe figure and lots and lots of beats from years ago, which felt immediately distinctive and something I’d like to play. Unfortunately, I’ve never owned a Dreamcast, so I passed on it. I expected something experimental, something bewitching, something hovering. Now that I finally played, I was not disappointed.
Cris: Alright, so tell me about acting. What were your first impressions of the game, on the first levels? Did it work its magic immediately? No – actually, before we got to that: how did you feel when the boss of runners started running? Is it still the biggest RUSH of all games?
Ed: This 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 I had to take a break between each level to avoid rhythmic puking, but I can’t imagine playing it any other way now. I wondered where the running man boss disappeared to and why I was dying, until I realized he was behind me and I literally had to 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 seem intensely overwhelming at first when they’re inches from your face. But it definitely ticked the trippy box right off the bat.
Cris: I still remember the impact of seeing this boss for the first time. I wonder: how does Rez feel now? Does this sound futuristic to you, or a bit of a curiosity from the past? Is it easy for you to place it in the context of other games?
Ed: I feel like Rez is truly timeless. It’s avant-garde. Those austere but striking visuals and punchy beats. And it does something few other rhythm-inspired games do: musical feedback. Many games get you moving to the beat, but too often there’s no impact to the music. But here, every shot and explosion is timed and percussive, so you feel like you’re making music while you shoot. I like this! I just wish the commentary was more melodic and the music more memorable.
But then I played Area X and it gave me even more of what I wanted from the base game. Have you played?
Cris: Is this the awesome new domain that comes with the recent PS edition? I haven’t – but I can’t imagine a better ending than Fear is the Mindkiller anyway – what am I missing?
Ed: So there’s only one level and it’s off the beaten path with the freedom to progress at your own pace. There is no score or health system. Instead, it’s euphoric dance music, neon particle effects as you burst flying tentacle creatures like fireworks, and melodic feedback with your every hit. 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.
Cris: This needs to be mentioned every time Mizuguchi appears – do you think you have synesthesia? I suspect everyone has it to some degree. Somehow, Rez’s perspective on the condition seems so specific and singular that it makes me feel like everyone needs to see the world very differently. I know Rez was created by a team, but does it really feel like it’s inside the head of one person?
Ed: I definitely feel a strong connection between music and color; how harmonies can suggest different nuances. And there’s something so intense and dark about those industrial beats that seem so futuristic, yet the visuals are just suggestive enough to let your mind wander. One of the biggest changes for me was on the fourth level, where the background suddenly changed from black to white, it was like my eyes suddenly opened and everything seemed more elevated 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 at one go.
And on that suggestiveness: I love how abstract the visuals are. It’s just a series of lines but it gives me spaceships and computer parts and retro arcade games and futuristic cities. Then it ends up opening up to this utopia and the music becomes more complete. It definitely gives a sense of evolution – visually, sonically and metaphorically.
Cris: YES! Testify, Ed Nightingale. So, are you tempted to discover more Mizuguchi stuff from here? I guess you’ve probably played Tetris Effect before?
Ed: Confession: I’m not a Tetris fan, mostly because I had nothing to do with it. But I played a small amount of Tetris Effect and enjoyed that equally immersive synaesthesia effect. Tetris is really all about concentration and there’s something about this combination of music and visuals that really draws you in. I love this 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 on a pop album. But he doesn’t quite have the same musical feedback as Rez.
Cris: I think Rez is decidedly its own thing. There’s something eerily sealed in the game from the start – the credits and menu screen all take you into this internal space that feels totally cut off from everything else. Even when you factor in stuff like Panzer Dragoon, there’s nothing quite like Rez.
What I would say, though, is that I’m pretty sure now that Lumines is the best Miz game and the best music game – have you played it? It looks like Tetris, but it’s actually the opposite of Tetris. It’s glorious and I’d play it forever if I had to. If you have a Vita look for Electronic Symphony – the best of the series even though they have reworked the fuse block!
Ed: Yes! I played the PS4 version of it. Like Tetris, I wasn’t very good at it, but adding that musical element really improves the gameplay for me.
There’s just something so immensely satisfying about doing any task to music, the way actions fall into place, blocks disappear, enemies appear. But Rez manages to do it in a way that feels unique.
I guess at the end of the day, I really like the structure.