Monday, January 19, 2015

.hack//Versus [Review]

Genre: Fighting - Platform: PS3 - Release: June, 2012 (Japan)
For those unfamiliar with the .hack series, the gist is that there's an MMORPG called "The World" that everyone plays in the future and it has mysterious happenings in it that cause people to go into a coma in real life or get trapped in the game or something else of similar ilk. There've been several .hack anime series, a couple RPG series on PS2, light novels, manga series, and movies, but .hack//Versus is the first fighting game in the series. It's also important to be aware that .hack//Versus is a pack-in game with the .hack movie: .hack Sekai no Mukou Ni, which is included on the same Blu-ray disc. As such, the game doesn't have as much content as one would expect from a regularly released game. Furthermore, for a fighting game featuring characters from all throughout the .hack series, the roster is pretty ho-hum (though their play styles are varied and fun). For beating the game, there's also an unlockable anime that expands on the story somewhat. Don't get too hyped about the movie and story though; it's the same old thing with people going into comas, but without the philosophical undertones of previous entries. And it's only in Japanese with no subtitles in any language.
The "The World Edition" also comes with mini-posters, art booklets, and more.
However, even though there isn't a ton of content to the game and movie is merely average, what content Versus does have is surprisingly enjoyable and well designed. While most arcade-style fighting games are bogged down in unintuitive controls more akin to the cheat codes of old NES games, .hack//Versus's controls are simple and easy to learn. But that simplicity in control doesn't mean that the game lacks depth. To start, you have your typical standard attacks which can be varied by pressing forward or back, or by using them while airborne. Then you have your skills, which are used by holding L1 and pressing one of the four main buttons. Grabs, blocking, and chargeable break attacks are also in. What makes it all more interesting though is the tension meter which can be used strategically to either dash, break out of a combo (or cancel your own), enter "Exceed Mode", or activate your ultimate skill/attack. The "burst" that you can use to break out of combos really makes the battles interesting because knowing when to blow half your meter on it is what separates the noobs from the lesser noobs. Exceed Mode is also cool and varies between characters, but in general it powers up your character with new attacks for a limited time. Admittedly, I'm not the most experienced when it comes to fighting games, but I very much appreciated the accessibility of the controls and the unexpected level of depth, especially in how unique each character's play style is.
Since it's a fighting game, your focus would rightfully be on multiplayer, which Versus does have. All characters are unlocked from the start (although there are only eight) and there is both online (ranked and unranked) and offline multiplayer available. Unfortunately, the online community is pretty much dead, so you'll be hard pressed to find an opponent. Thankfully, the single player story mode is also quite good. Rather than simply being a series of battles of increasing difficulty, each fight also has optional missions or preset conditions which reward you with unlockables when completed. These missions are usually stuff like beating your opponent while in exceed mode, getting a certain hit combo, finishing the round within a certain amount of time, or breaking stage objects, and they help to keep you on your toes. After a fight, comments from the fake people watching your fight appear all over the screen, marveling at your skills. If you get enough comments, you'll also unlock support items and new weapons which can help decrease the difficulty of certain missions if you get stuck. There's a story that goes along with the battles too and periodically interrupts with a cutscene, but, from what I could tell, it's not really anything too interesting. If I had one complaint about the single player mode, it's that one of the characters is never playable, making them unique to multiplayer.
The Final Word:
If you've been sucked into the mysterious world of .hack for the story, don't get your hopes up for any engaging plot here. If, on the other hand, you want to fight with your favorite characters, and your favorite characters happen to be one of the eight available (two of which are original to this game/movie combo), .hack//Versus might be worth checking out. There's not a whole lot to it, but what it does have is quite fun and deeper than it appears. I like it. As an import game, you shouldn't have much trouble playing if you don't know Japanese. You'll just miss out on the story and will have trouble figuring out the missions and support items, which aren't really necessary anyway.

For another importable PS3 game, check out Boku no Natsuyasumi 3!
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