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New Communicate Online, commonly known as Nekomimineko, was well known as the shittiest game of the century. Many legends had been born from this game, but if you asked what the most impressive one was, you’d surely hear the point “it’s single player” being mentioned.
Even though the title contained words like “Communicate” and “Online”, not only is it not an MMO, there’s not even a single function in the game that allows you to interact with other people. Quite shocking.
I had done a bit of research on the web before, and it seemed like the company had once created some Communicate something-or-another that was neither a VR game nor an MMO, but rather an action game series. When they decided to work on a sequel, they wanted to create something in the currently popular VRMMO genre, and that’s how New Communicate Online started.
A new VRMMO in the Communicate series, thus New Communicate Online. It was a straightforward name.
Except, as expected, the production company had no know-how on creating MMOs and, especially with VRMMOs, the regulations had become rather strict ever since that cyber-terrorism incident (They took over a part of the servers of a VRMMO game, and forcefully exposed players to strong lights and sounds. Though there were no fatalities, many people lost consciousness and were hospitalized.). In the end, the company seemed to have gave up due to technical problems, and decided to redevelop it as a single player VR game.
You’d think they’d at least change the title, but apparently after considering things like having to redo advertisements and such, they recklessly decided to just stick with it. Even now, I’m amazed that this game was able to pass the regulations.
That being said, the fact that an anticipated VR game had become single player was actually a plus to me at the time.
I was able to remain alone throughout college, so why should I be forced to deal with other people inside of a game world?
Harboring such thoughts, I bought New Communicate Online on its release day in high spirits amidst the laments from the many people who had been hoping for multiplayer support.
But, it wasn’t until then that the game’s claim to fame really started. The product was filled with bugs and could barely function as a game. It was the most horrendous product ever.
Characters randomly teleporting while you were talking to them, or characters who were supposed to be dead showing up based on the ordering of events were daily occurrences, and the secret technique Grey’s Shadow Clones, where, by fulfilling the required conditions and triggering three specific events at the same time, three of the same NPC would appear, was a bug that had brought awkward laughter to many people.
It would have been fine if all the bugs could merely be dismissed with a laugh, but there were many bugs that completely prevented progress through the game. For example, if you threw away a certain quest item that looked like a junk item, there would be no way of re-obtaining it, making it impossible to clear the game. Similarly, if you tried to work through two quest lines at the same time and they involved the same NPC, it was possible that your progress on one of those quest lines could be lost, making it impossible to clear the game.
These bugs were not only limited to the story and quests. One of the game’s catchlines was that one could experience exhilarating battles by using seemingly infinite skills, but even the battle system was pretty sketchy.
Starting with the worst one, it would have to be the monsters’ death animation. When dying, monsters turn into particles of light and disappear, but the animation was so choppy that the speed at which the monsters disappeared was abnormally slow, so sometimes you would get attacked by monsters that were supposed to be dead.
Of course, monsters didn’t start new attacks after they had died, but if they had started their attack animation right before dying, the attack would continue even after they had died. As a result, the number of players killed by monsters with 0 HP kept growing, and this bug became one of the reasons for New Communicate Online’s lack of popularity.
That was not all.
Raising your weapon mastery was supposed to be a core part of battles, but for some reason, using swords raised the mastery for axes. You could use axe skills with a spear, but, for some reason, you were unable to use bow skills when wielding a bow. Finally, when it was discovered that skill attack power was completely unaffected by your weapon mastery level, many players who had been playing the game seriously cried out in frustration.
The game balance was also all over the place. Struggling to take down a tough rare monster might only give the same amount of experience as a normal mob monster. But, on the other hand, unimpressive small fries in some dungeons gave more experience than the dungeon’s boss. There were dungeons that contained nearly no enemies due to monsters randomly falling to their deaths. There were also cases where, due to a mistake in the parameter settings, the boss of a difficult dungeon would, for some reason, spawn normally in a low level field, leading to a festival of death.
The highly anticipated skills hyped up by the beautiful and spectacular effects shown in a pre-release demo video were, of course, not without its own share of problems.
The most well-known bug regarding skills was commonly referred to as the Anakin Skywalker Incident, where, by using Air Jump after fulfilling a certain set of conditions, you would be able to walk in the air, though it came with the drawback that, based on the situation, it was possible that the only way to return to the ground would be through committing suicide. Other than this, skill bugs as numerous as the stars have been discovered.
Not surprisingly, there were bugs that gave the light from some skills’ visual effects a physical presence, or ones that made some skills’ actual range not correspond with its animations and visual effects. Out of these, bugs that were particularly unique were discussed at great length in online forums and, as a result, certain groups of people started giving them interesting names.
An especially famous example is the Forbidden Combo: Death Flash, where, if you manage to observe two particular spells with particularly intense effects at the same time, the security system that was added after the cyber-terrorism incident will kick in and forcibly log you out due to the excessive sound and light from the effects.
Then there’s Illusionary Wide Slash, where the visual effects make it look like you are attacking an area extending five meters out, but the actual attack barely reached two meters.
For some reason, this skill’s effect range always overlapped with your character’s hitbox, very likely killing you the moment you use the skill – Instant Suicide: Bloody Stab.
Or maybe the Sword of Life: Assassin’s Rage, which actually heals the target as you attack, probably due to an input mistake causing the damage multiplier to become negative; lots of strange skills had been found.
But, even within the group of people that could overlook those bugs because, in a sense, they were fun to discuss, many gave up when it came to the all-important gameplay.
Let’s make this clear – the creators who set up the scenarios and gimmicks were not half-hearted sadists. From the unreasonable instant-death traps that would be absolutely impossible to avoid the first time you ran into them, or quests that not only gave no sense of accomplishment but rather made you depressed when you cleared them, to events that had no way to be cleared due to an oversight in the setup, or important characters being killed by environmental damage with complete disregard to story flow, or autosaving right after an event that forced almost all of your party members to leave, many situations would make you want to say, “This was definitely created just for the purpose of torturing players.” With game content that seemed like the developers wanted to cram in everything that should never be done in an RPG, players with any semblance of normalcy kept leaving one after another.
Even the game system itself contained many points of frustration for the players.
For example, let’s examine the character creation flow. The fact that character names could not contain numbers was just the beginning. Then, when it came to the customization of the character’s looks which many people considered an important feature, this game only offered the choice of changing hair color, skin color, and the accessory that was attached on the head. Everything else was determined through the player’s own physical data saved within the VR machine.
Not only that, but there were only three choices each for hair color and skin color, even though there were a total of eight different cat ear designs available for the head accessory. Comments like “they’re totally focusing on the wrong things” or “just how much do they like cat ears” flooded 2chan.
It was definitely around that time when the name Nekomimi Cat Offline started being used around the web as a pun on New Communicate Online.
As the commotion died down, New Communicate Online’s nickname became the affectionate Nekomimineko, or sometimes things like Nekomemeneko.
…Actually, I’m not sure if the name contained any affection.
Since the game turned out being what it was, the complaints to the production company kept flowing in, as one would expect. Things such as “Give me my money back!” “What part of this is online!” “Do something about the bugs!” “It suddenly became black and I can’t move. What should I do?” “Do you even care about the players!!!!” The backlash was so extreme that some news channels even covered it on TV.
Perhaps ironically, this uproar was what resulted in Nekomimineko finally becoming an “online game”. In order to receive the bug fix patches, an internet connection was required, and without the bug fixes it was not possible to properly play through the game.
One after another, new patches were released, and with each patch the new bugs that were found numbered more than the bugs fixed. When the number of patches surpassed ten, most players had already given up on this game.
Even those players who derived much joy from making a fuss about the bugs on the internet – in a sense, the game’s number one fans – eventually went away with the hype and started searching for a different crappy game to beat up.
…The festival was over.
Even then, I continued to play this game.
There weren’t really any other single player fantasy VRRPG games, but more than anything, I had fallen in love with Nekomimineko.
One year after its initial release, Nekomimineko was indeed still a defective product. The version number had stopped increasing at v1.37, and the bugs that prevented progression through the game had barely been fixed, while the bugs that had been deemed low priority, such as the skill bugs had been left mostly untouched.
But, if you changed the way you looked at it, that was the game’s appeal.
The bugs were actually just another feature. Sure, this game was full of bugs, the game balance was all over the place, and the scenario was warped. At first I had thought about quitting multiple times due to the unfair events and overall difficulty.
However, once, when I pulled through a troublesome event that could never have been overcome through normal means with a strategy that the producers doubtlessly hadn’t imagined possible, I came to realize something.
Against the evil events, the crazy game balance, and the bugs that make you feel hopeless, I felt the gratification that came from conquering everything with one’s own tact and insight.
This joy from surmounting these unreasonable obstacles that did not have a correct path provided, sometimes through brute force, sometimes through intellect, and sometimes through exploiting bugs, was something that one would definitely not be able to find in any other game.
I had waded into the sea of information on the net gathering more information than anyone else, devoting pretty much all my time outside of classes to Nekomimineko. It would not be an exaggeration to say that over 80% of my university life had been spent on Nekomimineko.
Still, to think that…
“I can’t believe I’m seriously going to be literally living in the game…”
I inadvertently muttered out loud, then laughed wryly at myself.
After Reinhart dropped me off at the town of Ramlich, I had done some more investigating on my own. As a result, I was able to conclude that this world that I was currently in was an astonishingly faithful reproduction of New Communicate Online’s world.
To give an example, there’s the pouch around my waist. The moment I reached my hands in there, an image of two flasks containing either red or blue fluid appeared in my mind. Imagining the blue flask and removing my hand from the pouch, there in my hand was a flask filled with blue liquid.
This was, of course, the stamina potion that I had since the start of the game, but that wasn’t the point. Even though I had taken out such a large item, the pouch’s size and weight had not changed.
If such a thing happened in the real world, it was either a magic trick or a supernatural occurrence. Just from this, I was able to determine that this was a different world from my old world.
“It’s a bit of a waste but… Umpf!”
I continued by throwing the potion with full force towards the ground.
The potion bottle shattered on the ground, and with a loud crash, the fragments of the bottle flew in all directions… was not what happened. A blue light expanded from the place that the potion had hit, and around a second later, an unremarkable *pwong* sound effect echoed.
Bending over and carefully investigating, there was not a single shard of glass around where the potion had shattered. The potion had disappeared without a trace.
In Nekomimineko, there were three ways of using a potion.
They were: drink it, apply it, or throw it.
Drinking its contents would of course apply its effects, and pouring it over a wound would also work. Finally, to use it on a companion while in the middle of battle, you could just throw the potion. It was something that was unthinkable in real life, but if one was hit strongly with a potion, the potion would disappear along with the flask while rejuvenating the target.
With just this, it was clear that this world did not obey the real world’s laws of physics, but rather behaved according to the game’s laws. But that was not all.
There was a famous and still unfixed bug in Nekomimineko when a potion is thrown.
It was known as the “Sound… Is… Lagged” bug.
I don’t know what or how one would have to screw up to introduce something like this, but for some reason, when a potion hit something, there was an approximately 1 second delay between the visual effect and the sound effect. That’s right, just like what I had witnessed moments ago.
—In other words, this world was, along with all the bugs, a complete reproduction of New Communication Online.
Out of all of the game’s functionalities, the only one that could not be used was the menu screen.
The reason was unclear, but it wasn’t like I had absolutely no idea. My guess was that the save, load, and logout functionalities that could be accessed from the menu screen were too meta, or rather too game-like.
Skills and magic could be explained through a fantasy world setting, and levels and HP could be said to be just a numeric representation of a person’s strength. However, the menu screen and the save/load functionality were different. They were concepts that could only be realized in a fictional world, and were unfitting of a world that was supposed to actually exist.
That’s why only these features were rejected when this world was created. That was what I thought, but I didn’t know the truth. I just know that since the menu can’t be used, I will need to keep that in mind as I act.
Being unable to open the menu brings with it a lot of trouble. There are, of course, many problems related to character status, but by far the largest problem is the inability to save and load. I actually tried to do so many times at the town’s monolith which acted as a save point, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the save menu to appear. Save and load could not be used.
That meant there were no second chances.
Having died over and over and over in the game to a point where it would be dumb to even try to count how many times I had died, I clearly remembered what happened after dying. After the player died, their vision fades to black and they lose control of their character, and a menu screen opens with choices to load or to return to the title screen. If, fundamentally, menu screens could not be used, then, once you die…
(Damn it, you’ve got to be kidding me!)
Not being able to use the menu screen also means that it is not possible to logout, to issue the command to stop the VR machine and return to reality.
Though it’s possible to have someone operate the VR machine from the real world or to trigger the VR machine’s safety device, the main method for someone in VR space to return to reality is this command.
Meaning, the method that had the highest chance of returning me to my old world had been blocked even before I was able to try it.
(The old world. The old world, huh…)
I thought long and hard about the old world.
Well, I mostly kept to myself at university, and rarely kept in contact with my family. If I can’t return within a few weeks then it looks hopeless for my first semester’s credits, but that isn’t something that can’t be recovered from.
If you asked me what my biggest regret regarding this world was, then I would probably answer the fact that there wouldn’t be a continuation to Nekomimineko. The current situation would, in a sense, let me do whatever I wanted with Nekomimineko, so that was one thing I didn’t need to worry about anymore. …Not that that makes me happy about this situation.
(Even then, I need to somehow return to reality, return to my world!)
It was one thing to enjoy it as a game, but to actually live in it, the Nekomimineko world was too ruthless.
Just as I had made my decision to return to the old world no matter what, a gust of wind blew through the gaps in the house.
The cold evening wind assaulted my body mercilessly. In the game there was no sense of temperature, but now that this world has become reality, that was no longer the case.
“…Well, I’ll start working hard from tomorrow onwards. For now, let’s just rest at the inn.”
Having quickly become disheartened by the unexpected impediment, I quickly headed towards the inn.