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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

serial experiments lain

Lain is one of my favorite animes of all time so it's pretty much impossible to approach this game with any semblance of objectivity (though really, objective reviews are pretty much bunk anyway). If you've been living under a mainstream rock, serial experiments lain is exactly what it is called. It is a series (aka serial) of media experiments with the goal of pushing the boundaries of each respective medium centered around the character of lain. And when it comes to the game version of lain, BOY does it push the envelopes. If you didn't like the anime (WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!!!) then you might as well stop reading here.

I really tried to come up with a genre for this game and could only think of "mind-fuck". The only other game that I could think of that kinda fits in this genre is Spec Ops: The Line. (I know, I know, not a Japanese game, JHipster FAIL, SORRY). If you have not played Spec Ops, you need to get on that right now as it's one of my favorite games from last gen. But given that Spec Ops is a 3rd person shooter, you're probably gonna say I'm crazy to put lain in the same "genre" when you boot it up.

If you were to call this a game, even in Jhipster standards used to reading hours and hours of text in adventure games, I would have to call this one of the worst "games" of all time. This "game" is nothing but a series of audio and anime clips trapped in one of the most laggiest and painfully slow interfaces of all time. I don't know if I would have the patience to sit in front of a TV and slog through the awful interface for hours on end. But no worries, this game is ultra-rare and impossible to find anyway so forget about playing the actual PS1 disc. I played this game on the PSP before I finally caved and bought it with the equity on my house. I now live in a cardboard box so I never did get to play this on the PS1 but anyways let's not get into my personal life story.

You know what makes ME sad? Looking at my wallet.
Only an idiot or insane Jhipster would expend the capital necessary to obtain this ridiculously expensive and awful game. But the STORY man, it's SOOOOOOO CRAZY! The plot in this game has no connection to the anime and lain is a little older and she's SOOOOO CUTE!

The only problem is that she's kinda crazy and the plot centers around lain and her psychiatrist Toukou. Toukou doesn't really come off as a very experienced and adept psychiatrist and she quickly loses the upper hand in dealing with lain. And of course, once lain gets her hands on a computer... let me just phrase it this way: WHEN ARE PEOPLE GONNA LEARN TO KEEP LAIN OFFLINE???

The story in this game is a perfect companion to the anime in that it's much more intimate and serves as a kind of microcosm contrast to the vast global changes in the anime. There is no Protocol 7 and while computers do play a role, the story is more focused on the private lives of the two main characters and their mental state. What I really loved about the plot is that you get to peek into what appears to be a girl and a woman's perfectly normal and mundane lives via their records and diaries. But little by little, abnormalities crop up that gradually build up into what I can only described as incredibly disturbing and real.

The divorced(?) father that a child sorely misses. A distant boyfriend and a relationship that goes sour. Having difficulty fitting in at school socially. A boss you don't like and rumors at the workplace. All these little things in life that don't go well but seems TOTALLY plausible somehow begin to gradually escalate into some really CRAZY stuff that is just seriously disturbing. But the craziest part of the game comes after you beat it.

SPOILERS!!!!! You may want to skip the rest and stop reading here if you plan to play the game yourself or use a translation guide.

When you start the game, it acts like you're logging into a computer and asks for your name. Now you may have completely forgotten about that after slogging through that awful interface and listening for hours to lain and Toukou discussing all sorts of philosophical ideas such as existence, memory, and consciousness; not to mention a healthy heaping of discourse on the nature and various types of mental diseases. After hearing about how your existence is defined by recognition from others (I am observed, therefore I am) and the difference between memory vs just a record/data, you get the sense that the game is trying to bring itself to life... in YOUR BRAIN.

And THEN, because you don't need a physical body to exist (cause LOGIC!), lain dumps her data onto the wired and well, let me just say that the ESRB would NOT be happy with what comes next.

PEGI & ESRB would NOT be cool with this today.

AND THEN, after THAT, when you're already feeling a bit crazy and depressed (the game's logo is "make me sad" and it's not fucking kidding), the data version of lain and Toukou SAY YOUR NAME with cute little innocuous message like, "Come join me [YOUR NAME]."


I guess the developers recorded hundreds of syllables so that it can say your name. It's not Siri technology so thankfully, it doesn't sound very well integrated but holy smokes, it can be shocking when the game is like, "I'm so lonely, come join me [YOUR NAME]".

I'm not even going to go into the brief shower scene that would probably make this game borderline illegal today (ok I just did). But seriously, given the themes of mental illness, depression, suicide, and the way the game tries to TALK TO YOU combined with all the press, social networks, public relations, and gaming "journalism" (barf) nowadays, I think we're past the era where something like this can ever be made again. If Mortal Kombat X is rated mature, this game should be rated "mature with ACTUAL mature, ADULT themes not just blood and gore for the unsupervised and totally immature kids".

Score: 4 hallucinations out of 5

As a game, I would score serial experiments lain a 1 but the slow progression of mental breakdowns and the seriously disturbing way the game tries to break its own boundaries easily deserves a 5. Mathematically, that would average to a 3 but I just love the concept and creativity behind lain as a serial experiment so much, that I just have to give this a 4. For others, this game will be just as wonderful or just simply impossible to play (putting language barrier JHipster smugness aside).

The minus 1 point is also for being SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE.

0 - Awful
1 - Bad and not worth your time
2 - Has some flaws but still enjoyable
3 - An average enjoyable experience
4 - A great game
5 - Masterpiece of a caliber only found very rarely

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