In Namco Bandai's [email protected] series, you take on the role of a music producer and create and manage a group of teenage popstars. By mixing Japan's idol and video game cultures, it is no surprise that this series has a fanatic following among Japanese otaku (geeks). But is this following deserved, or is The [email protected] nothing more than shameless pandering directed at an eager audience? Let's dive in to The [email protected] 2 on PS3 to find out.
Good — Rock Out Like A Popstar!
If you have any kind of interest in J-pop, you will find plenty to like about the soundtrack of The [email protected] 2. Over the course of the game, you will choose five (out of 18) songs for your group to sing that range from slow ballads to cutesy, pop tracks. But perhaps the coolest thing about the music is that the songs actually change based on the members you have in your group. In fact, you can hear every single song sung by every possible combination of the game's nine singers. Some events even allow you to have your lead singer perform a song solo or have your backup singers sing it as a duet. For some of the songs, you can even invite your friends (or rivals) on stage to perform a special five-person version of them.
Mixed — Play, Replay and Play Again
For better or worse, The [email protected] 2 is a game made to be replayed. Beating the game unlocks a wealth of new content and gives you a chance to play the game with an entirely new set of characters. Money and unlocks carry over, allowing you to try for the best endings for each character on your next playthrough.
Of course, this also means that the game is designed so that your first time through you'll be lucky if you don't get the worst possible ending by default. In other words, the first 20 hours you plug into the game are largely futile and forgettable — so forgettable, in fact, that the game deletes your save data every time you beat it.
Mixed — Repetitive Yet Oddly Fun
There's really not much variety of gameplay in The [email protected] 2. You play one of four music mini-games or do a timed, interactive conversation. While many other games have even less variety, the best of those tend to let the story or some other facet of the game do the heavy lifting. The story in The [email protected] 2 is little more than what it seems at first glance: to produce a best-selling pop group. Getting to know the girls is somewhat interesting, but this does little to break the game out of its weekly cycle: Morning meeting, make schedule for the week, do two events/lessons, evening meeting, and repeat.
Yet, I think this game must stimulate the same part of my mind as Harvest Moon because every time I leveled a skill or won a music festival I couldn't help but notice that I was indeed having fun.
Bad — DLC Price
The [email protected] 2 DLC really takes the cake. New costumes cost up to a staggering 1500 yen ($US18.86) while new songs cost an insane 2000 yen ($US25.14) a piece. Now granted the DLC tracks do include at least nine different versions of the song (one for each character) but there is no excuse for the costumes. Even small accessories cost at least 300 yen ($US3.77). To buy every piece on DLC currently on the PSN would cost 71,180 yen ($US895.02) — almost nine times the cost of the game.
Bad — A Jailbait Love Story
My pop group consisted of three girls: a 17-year old, an 18-year old and a 15-year old as my lead singer. This in and of itself is not that odd considering most Japanese idols do debut in their early to mid-teens. Of course, once 15-year old Miki started forcing my character on dates and referring to him as "Honey" it got more than a little creepy. It only got worse when he started to reciprocate her feelings. So let's recap. I played as a producer managing a band. Even if we assume he's 22 and right out of university (though he is likely a fair bit older), he is still a grown man dating a 15-year old girl.
Did I mention this game is rated for general audiences?
The [email protected] 2 is a repetitive game that has little to offer in its story or in its (painfully easy) minigames. Yet, despite this, I had a great time playing it. Every time I released a new song, faced off against my group's rivals, or picked out a new set of costumes, I was legitimately enjoying myself. The game has its flaws no doubt (jailbait love stories come to mind), but it also imparts a sense of accomplishment — which along with its undeniable charm — makes for a game that's more than a little addictive.