No drama. No bullshit. Just games.
Since the censorship topic has run a bit dry over the course of almost two years (you can only make so many articles about that topic and keep it interesting, but don't worry, more are on the way) and I wanted to write a bit more again, why not write about something fun? Games! I want to focus on games I feel went a bit under and I'm not talking about these "secret tips EVERYBODY knows". OMG, have you played this underdog game ICO? Have you, motherfucker, HAVE YOU PLAYED ICO? I'm sure over the course I'll cover something that's borderline to that field too, but I'll try to stay a bit away from it. I might also go beyond just introducing games, but they will be the sole focus. This is just about games. So what I wrote in the beginning is kinda the creed: no drama. No bullshit. Just some goddamn, motherfucking, cocksucking, cumgargling, asslicking, dick cheese producing, pig impregnating, FUCKING DAMN GAMES!
So, .hack//G.U., right?
My first contact with the .hack// series was in form of the anime .hack//SIGN. The universe has multiple entries, but they all revolve around an MMO in the not too distant future called The World. SIGN also produced a four part videogame series on the Playstation 2, which I got solely for the sake of having. An anime related game series, in Germany? I want to support that!
But what I found was a bit lackluster. The game was so grindy it was brutal. The graphics weren't too pretty either. The dungeons were absolutely repetitive. It was just not a very well put together dungeon crawler. Yet, I pushed myself into part 3 before giving up. I saw a game that was good in it's core, just not too refined. The fact that it was released over here years after it came out in Japan didn't help either. Time is no fair enemy.
And then I saw THIS fucking trailer (sorry, the quality of videos in 2005 was another one - there exists also a subtitled version of this trailer somewhere). And ho... ly... shit! I was pretty much instantly flashed. Instantly this thing was on my map. .hack//G.U. was a three part series playing version 2 of The World, after the events of the first games, with a new cast and setting (a nice bonus of the MMO setting - you can completely revamp the world in every aspect and blame it on "new version").
The plot follows Haseo, a famous PlayerKillerKiller called "The Terror of Death". As the name suggests he hunts PlayerKillers, so players who kill other players ingame. The game of The World offers basically absolute freedom in regards of movement etc. and isn't restricted like any real MMO (at the moment). Then however his dear friend Shino gets killed by a guy named Tri-Edge, who looks very familiar if you know the SIGN series or played the first set of games, which made her real life player fall into a coma.
From there on Haseo seeks to fix this and of course revenge. And of course stuff isn't that simple. Because it never is. There are functions and skills and bugs in the game that can harm the real player. A company that tries to cover everything in that regard up. And of course Haseo has more on his hands than he initially thought. But to reach his goal the absolute loner is forced to cooperate with many fractions.
The basic gameplay is the same as the first series, but it was expanded on a lot. It's still a quite typical JRPG with an action fight system. You have a party of maximum 3 people, multiple people you can invite in your party. You take quests, you level up, you do stuff on the side if you want, and you advance the plot through events either in the cities or the dungeons.
Dungeons are created by a combination of three words. New words can be acquired by finishing other dungeons (you get rated in the end and are rewarded with an item depending on your rating - which can be a new dungeon word) or you find them in the forums. Yes, there are forums! The whole game takes place inside the game, you never see the outside world or control the player outside of The World. But you do go to the desktop many times. There you can read mail (which is often needed to start the next part of the plot), look at news from the outside world and watch a mysterious, apparently game induced disease named "Doll Syndrome" spread through articles and videos or read the forums. The news websites you can read are nice to have, the articles are often accompanied by short animated clips and there even is a series where a journalist tries to uncover the truth about doll syndromes, which is told through multiple episodes, each a few minutes long. The forums get new posts in regular intervals too. Most of the time it's just reading which you will either love for the fluff or hate because, well, it's just text. You also get to interact/answer to forum posts sometimes and can get something out of it (new stage words, more flavor text, increase sympathy with party members) or you can download pictures you can use as your desktop background in the arts forum. Most of it is mindless banter, but I found it kinda cool. Especially when you then see these users run around in the game, because you recognize their handle. It can however be a bit dry at times too, seeing as it's plain text without anything else.
The fight system is, as already mentioned not turn based. When you get close to an enemy/group of enemies (three at maximum) the battle starts. Beat all the enemies, earn XP/gold/items. Par for the course. You can use weapons, magic (if you learn the spells - since Haseo isn't a magic class you have to teach him spells through respective items, while magic class users will learn spells through leveling up too) or items to kill your enemies. The variety for Haseo comes from the fact that he is what the game calls Adept Rogue, bascially a multiclass. He starts out with two short swords, but his class gets expansions over the course of all three games. After a few hours you get to use a Broadsword already. Even though I found the dual wielding to be the most efficient way to fight, it's nice to be given variety so you can play different fighting styles if you want to.
Sidequests usually involve reaching a certain number of things (guess some shackles of the MMO can't be thrown off in the future either) or present you with a dungeon you have to conquer, sometimes even delivering a little plot while doing so. For example one quest you get is handing out flyers to players. You hand them out by talking to them. So you will stop and talk to every NPC you find along your way. Another one is kicking a certain amount of so called Lucky Animals. You can find them in dungeons and have to chase them to kick them. If you manage to do so, they'll give you a blessing. Temporary state bonuses, money, you might be revived after dying while you are in that dungeon. Beware though, there are also UNLUCKY Animals. Don't kick them. Just don't. Then there is also a Card Game which gets activated throughout the game (it's down for maintenance in the beginning) which you can sink hours in, if you want to be the very best.
So there is enough to do on the side for completionists and you can advance the plot at a reasonable pace. Here and there you have to grind a bit, but it doesn't force you into hours of what feels like slave labor (one of the biggest downsides of the first series of games). Not everything that glitters is gold though. The first thing I missed personally was a way to activate japanese voice acting. The english voices are a bit dodgy here and there, but they get the job done. Dungeons are still a bit repetitive, since you only have a few design sets (Cave, Temple, Field etc.) which the dungeons are created from. Expect to see the same assets a lot. And while I like the plot per se, sometimes I found the characters to act completely illogical. That the plot is a fix thing also somewhat ruins certain moments. You can train to level 99 and completely WRECK your enemy in a tournament - it will still trigger a cut scene where you then get your ass handed to you and "plot thing X" happens. It would have been nice to create at least two versions of the cutscene where things like these would have been accounted for. My biggest gripe however is that the plot goes too far. I won't spoil anything but you reach a part in the last game where you beat a boss and it would have been a pretty perfect spot to end the game - but it goes on. There is an additional evil pulled out of it's arse you have to fight then and it's not just an additional bossfight, there is literally more story happening. I didn't like that as I found said point to be a perfect spot to bring it to an end and I still don't like it. Another thing where the story can somewhat interfere is that your party members have to available for you to invite them to your party. They can be either offline or busy and will stay in that status until you advanced the plot a notch. So there I was, in a spot where I wanted to level my healer and support, and my healer was unavailable. I wanted to level her though for the upcoming fight, which was necessary by story. The plot dictates that she comes late to that fight, so I couldn't level her right before it anymore. ... you see the problem there? Granted, you get a pretty good choice of characters over the course of the games and you usually always have someone available, but it can be annoying if you're forced to work with characters you don't like. The cities are also a bit... well. City #2 you unlock pretty quickly, for example, basically just consists of an item shop, a Savepoint and the entrance to the fight arena. Nothing I would really call a city.
Still, .hack//G.U. aged well enough. The graphics don't look too shabby and it proves that good design is timeless. And if you play this game on an emulator you can crank up the resolution and the models will look just crisp as fuck. I have seen modern games in 1920 resolution that don't have character models this sharp, I'm dead serious. Sadly the pre-rendered sequences suffer with the higher resulotion a lot. Since they are rarely used, however, it's a sacrifice worth bringing.
.hack//G.U. will deliver you a trilogy of good JRPG fun with everything needed there. A bit of animu drama (but really toned down to a pleasant scale - in fact I started playing this again recently because Final Fantasy 13 was just overkill in this regard for my taste), revenge, mystery and some nice light hearted moments. It offers a pretty good balance in that regard. If you can't stand games where you have to crawl through dungeons, this won't convert you though. Make no mistake here. But you get a rich world with lots of lore and that you basically play a game where you always play a game gives it an interesting Meta touch. It has it's downsides and is nowhere near a perfect game, but god damn it I never regretted actually importing these three games from the USA (which I had to do, because they were never brought to Europe! And it was quite expensive too). Nowadays those games go for 100$+ easily and since there are no new units produced I think you can crack out the emulator. These are some damn fine JRPGs right here and if you want to waste a few dozen hours, go for it. In a world where realistic graphics means "grey and brown" it's nice to have a game where you can put a fat bellied pig dog walking on two legs in your party. Even if he is a soft hearted wimp.