By Spencer . October 8, 2007 . 3:14pm
Ontamarama was the out-of-left-field game on Atlus’ E3 line up. I wasn’t surprised to see Touch Detective 2 ½ or Draglade, but I barely heard of Ontamarama before I got my hands on it their booth. I spent some time with the cheerful Ontamas pressing the D-pad and furiously drawing circles on the screen, but to get an inside look at Ontamarama we went straight to the source.
What stood out in Ontamarama to make it a worthy project for Atlus?
Atlus USA: Ontamarama simply stood out as a lively and fun game that is easy to learn, yet challenging to master. I mean, that's what a great game is all about, isn't it? The wide variety of music also keeps the game play fresh too. It's the type of music you'd want to play many times.
So what exactly is an Ontama?
Atlus USA: An Ontama is a sound spirit that lives on the island on which the game takes place. These fun-loving little tadpole-y things like to get together and make some noise, as each one represents a single note. Skilled conductors called Ontamaestros can coax the Ontama into playing their notes in harmony to create music.
Can you tell us how the Ontama's fit into the story?
Atlus USA: The Ontama may be small and cute, but they also have some serious magical power if you manage to get enough of them together at once. Of course, that would involve capturing all the Ontama on the entire island. No one would be that cruel… right?
The trailer shows a couple of different characters. Can you tell us about them and who the lead is?
Atlus USA: The boy with the rollerblades (Beat) and the red-haired girl in the skirt (Rest) are the main characters in the game, and the story revolves around what happens to these two student Ontamaestros when they find a stray Ontama lying collapsed in the street. The lady with the green hair is their teacher, Coda.
How would you explain the gameplay to someone who has never touched a music game?
Atlus USA: As a song plays, the melody is provided by button presses you provide in time with the scrolling notes at the top of the screen. Before you can actually play the note, however, you need to tap its corresponding Ontama in order to release its musical power. So with one hand you're tapping the Ontama like crazy to fill the notes, but with the other hand you're playing the notes to provide a coherent song, and you're avoiding the bad notes while scoring bonuses and combo chains and the music's bopping and the Ontama are hopping and the colors are flashing… I have to go lie down now.
I remember Ontamarama had a distinctly Japanese feel to the soundtrack, is that being preserved for North America?
Atlus USA: The North American version of the game will have almost all the same songs as the Japanese release. There were one or two tunes that had to be dropped due to licensing issues, but we were able to provide almost the entire soundtrack intact.
Are there any notable J-Pop songs people will recognize in the game?
Atlus USA: There are two versions of the oddly popular "Let's Go Onmyoji!" (Bonus trivia: That song was from a previous Atlus game!) That's the most recognizable song for fans of J-Pop. The majority of the music is new and created for the game.
How many songs are there to play in Ontamarama and what is your favorite one?
Atlus USA: There are over a dozen songs, plus a few hidden tracks that you'll have to play the game to discover. My favorite tune is "Clubhouse Gig," because I'm fly like that. However, I've noticed that "Happy Breeze" has the tendency to worm its way into my brain and make me hum it hours later.
Is Atlus adding in any extra songs?
Atlus USA: Atlus didn't add any entirely new songs for the localization to North America, but there is a new instrumental version of "Let's Go Onmyoji!" so that you can hear the music instead of the shouting.
After seeing how many people imported Ouendan for the soundtrack I think having Japanese tunes could make Ontamarama stand out. On the other hand I don't know if it can have the same casual appeal as Elite Beat Agents. What do you think? And how would you convince a casual gamer to give Ontamarama a look?
Atlus USA: A lot of people watch videos of Ontamarama and get scared, thinking that because you use both hands, it's automatically going to be twice as hard as EBA. Well, on Easy mode you don't even have to tap the Ontama, so it's very easy to learn the basics of the gameplay! Normal mode will provide you with a good challenge, while Hard will turn you into a raving Ontamaniac, striving for perfection with every song. The songs are fun and vibrant, the rhythm is as hard or as easy as you want, and the simple yet deceptively addicting gameplay will have you coming back for more. After playing Ontamarama for a while, you'll discover that you've worn a hole in your shoe from tapping your feet all day.