Band-kun, (バンドくん) a game that first hit the scene in 1990 for PC-9801, stands out with its blend of simulation, adventure, and rhythm elements. I found this game by chance scrolling through the entire Koei game catalog, and it stood out immediately to me. It’s a band simulator game where you take control of your own group of misfit musicians and try to be the world’s best rock group. It’s a band princess maker, but it has a few interesting game elements and technical aspects that make it a unique gaming experience.

Band-Kun PC-9801

First off, this game looks amazing! Each artist in the game is based on the likeness of a real musician. Even though their names have been changed, there’s no mistaking that “this character is Prince” or “that kid is young MJ.” It’s a fantastic tribute to iconic musicians. And let’s be real, who wouldn’t want Bootsy Collins in their band? I absolutely love Bootsy.

Band-Kun PC-98

The only catch is that this game would have been a licensing nightmare if it had been released anywhere other than 90s Japan. That’s probably why you have never heard about this game. We have games like Rock Band, but they had to pay the artists (or their estates) to use their likeness and music. The 90s in Japan was like a “do what you feel” type of energy. 

Getting Band-Kun Up and Running on Your PC

Band-Kun PC-9801

No need to dig up an old PC-98; we’re in 2023! If you want to enjoy playing this game without the hassle of buying expensive equipment that might not work, here’s what you’ll need:

Neko Project 2: Your emulator companion for this mission.

MIDI Looper: Keep it running to add that MIDI sound.

Virtual MIDI: Your digital sound card’s counterpart.

The game itself: Obviously, you’ll need this.

Exploring the Gameplay

Band-kun sets itself apart from typical games. You start as a regular schmoe with a wild dream to make it big in the music industry. However, one musician can’t make it on their own, so you have to go out and find people around Zap City who share your passion for making beautiful music. Finding people to be in your band is as easy as clicking on different locations on the map and striking up conversations with the individuals you come across.

As your band takes shape, you’ll realize each musician contributes their distinct style and flavour to the music. This adds a neato layer to the game, as you can mix and match band members to create a sound that resonates with you. You can hear it as well. That’s why you need that MIDI sound card. Though the songs are the same, each musician in the game has a distinctive sound. This dynamic element allows for endless possibilities in crafting your band’s unique identity, keeping the gameplay experience fresh and engaging.

Facing The Challenges as a Rolling Stone

As you progress in Band-kun, you’ll experience the true essence of the music industry, complete with its highs and lows. This journey takes you from the humble beginnings of playing in small venues to the grand stages of the big leagues. However, it won’t all be smooth sailing – just like in the actual band experience, Band-kun throws you into the deep end where competition is fierce, budgets are tight, and your bandmates may not always see eye to eye.

In Band-Kun, it feels just like the real band experience. Having been in a few local garage bands, I can vouch that pursuing a musical career isn’t all glitz and glamour. In the game, you’ll quickly discover that making a living as a musician can be a struggle, and you won’t get anywhere without money. You’ll often find yourself working many mundane jobs to keep your band afloat.

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For instance, you might sell art on the street or take on low-paying part-time jobs at the local factory, but only if they’re hiring. Logic might suggest that you should focus solely on playing shows, but the reality is that at the start, your band will face some challenges. You can’t simply show up and expect people to adore your music. Instead, you must put in the hard work and effort to make it big.

In Band-kun, this means dedicating time and effort to hone your musical skills. You’ll need to earn money to cover your basic expenses—and rent practice studio time to improve as a band. Like in the real world, practice makes perfect, and Band-kun brilliantly captures the necessity of dedicated rehearsal time. The game reflects the often gritty and unglamorous aspects of the music industry, where success is earned through relentless determination, practice, and financial management.

Navigating the challenges and making critical decisions regarding your band’s finances and career trajectory forms a significant part of Band-kun’s gameplay. Your choices will directly impact your band’s journey from obscurity to stardom, just like in real life. 

Jamming and Making Beautiful Music Together

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After working your less-than-glamorous job for a while and gathering a few musicians to join your band in Band-kun, it’s time to head to one of the few practice studios and start creating music. This is where the core rhythm gameplay comes into play. Unlike other games where you can freely compose, Band-kun provides pre-recorded songs you unlock as your band’s skills and abilities improve.

When you start practicing with your band, you might need clarification about what’s happening, especially if you don’t have the manual. The key here is to use your mouse to “play” with the music, like jamming along with your bandmates. When I first played this game, I sat there waving the musical note icon with my mouse, trying to figure things out. Am I even doing anything? Does the band suck, or is it just me? It wasn’t until I held the mouse button and moved it around that I could hear something better. Yes- this is you playing your instrument. 

As you experiment, you’ll notice that moving the mouse with the button held down produces various arpeggios and tone pitches, all within the structure of the recorded track. While you’re not composing from scratch, this approach adds an interesting layer to the gameplay. It’s fun and accessible, making it easy for anyone, regardless of their musical background, to enjoy. However, remember that you’ll need to invest time into practicing to improve your skills.

These practice sessions are necessary for your band’s development because they directly impact your live performances. You’ll need to master the art of clicking and wiggling the mouse to the music, as this skill becomes essential for winning competitions and making a name for your band. You also won’t get on stage at any clubs unless you practice. Practice, get good, get better. The life of a rock star is rough.

Learn to Vibe or Get Out

Oh yeah, did I say being in a band can be challenging? Because not everyone in the band or listening may share the same vision or vibe as you, whether due to creative variations or personal issues. You also could just be lousy. However, there is no need to worry. You can dump band members who do not resonate with your sound and explore other avenues by buying them a drink at the local pub. Heck, some of them might straight up tell you that they can’t take the chaos anymore and will walk away. Fortunately, Zap City has many talented artists who could offer a unique and fresh musical perspective. You need to keep looking.

Band-kun’s main goal is to enhance your band’s skills, secure venue performances, and work part-time jobs to save up for improved equipment. You need to make lots of money as it’s the only way to participate in the grand “Battle of the Bands” competition held in the stadium. After competing in this contest, you can access recording studios and increase your reputation and wallet.

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The game ends when you have managed to “Build this City on Rock N Roll” and win the grand stadium contest. Way to go, rockstar, you did it! Everyone was cheering for you. Alternatively, the game can end when you have had enough of losing money on buying expensive guitars, shouting matches with your bandmates, signing horrible album contracts, or simply when you feel like it’s time to call it a night. You can always choose to “Leave this town” and move on or give it another shot. I returned to this game regularly during the weeks I was playing it.

Band-Kun’s MIDI Magic

Band-kun’s requirement for a $300 MIDI sound card was a major hurdle for initial sales of the game, but without it, we wouldn’t have the game’s uniqueness and charm. With its small file size and real-time adaptability, MIDI music plays a key role in creating a dynamic and ever-evolving musical experience. While modern games use real-time mixing for transitions, MIDI allows for seamless changes at any point in the music.

Band-Kun’s reliance on MIDI isn’t a drawback but a testament to its innovation. It harnesses MIDI’s power to provide a captivating gameplay experience. Despite the initial cost, this very feature makes Band-Kun a standout gem. It’s a shame this title underperformed, but we can discover and live out the ultimate band adventure known as Band-Kun thanks to emulation.

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Band-Kun offers a captivating simulation of the joys and struggles of the music industry. Its music gameplay mechanism enables anyone to pick up and play, regardless of skill level, easily. The Band-Kun experience was highly addictive and relaxing while playing this unique black-and-white graphic game on my PC-9801. If you’re looking for the ultimate band simulator, try this ultra-rare game.

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