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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Bandai

 

Developer

Cyber Connect

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

February 2003

 

 

- Great character designs

- Simulated MMORPG atmosphere is fairly believable

- No more sharing EXP with party members! Sweet!

- .hack doesn’t really end when INFECTION ends…

 

 

- Other visuals aren’t all that impressive

- NPCs don’t necessarily react like you’d expect and feel quite scripted

- Not enough monsters to battle

- …but we have to wait a while for MUTATION

 

 

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.hack//INFECTION (Part 1)

Score: 7.8 / 10

 

.hack//INFECTION marks the beginning of a four-part RPG series that embarks on a convoluted journey of a young man named Kite who tries to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his best friend, who he last had contact with while playing The World, the next great Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (or MMORPG for short, a la Everquest). While exploring in The World, Kite and his friend, named Orca, meet up with an unusually powerful enemy while in a beginner’s area. Orca is subsequently dispatched by the creature, as Kite runs away. Kite logs off of The World, only to find out that his real-life friend has sunk into an unexplainable coma. Thus, the mystery begins—and unfolds—within the realm of The World: What happened to Orca, and why?

 

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At its core, .hack//INFECTION is an Action RPG which takes place within a simulated MMORPG environment. That’s right—it’s simulated; that means that no online connection is required. Players will do as much communicating via message boards and e-mail as they will leveling up their party and exploring new areas and dungeons. Non-player characters may react a bit differently than they might in an actual MMORPG, but the message board and e-mail interaction certainly lend some credibility in that respect.

 

The battle system is pretty straightforward with a considerable amount of hacking and slashing, balanced by some magic, skills, and item usage. Encounters are triggered by locating magic portals, which spawn monsters and an occasional treasure chest. Depending on the location, spawned monsters will have certain elemental traits, which are important to note when using magic. For example, using an opposite element can do extra damage while using a like element can cause less damage than usual. As players progress through the game and open new areas (more on this in a minute), the monsters do become more challenging to defeat.

 

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Opening exploration areas is done via a series of keywords. Three different keywords can combine to open new areas to plunder. These keywords can be obtained via reading message boards, checking e-mails, and talking to Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in towns. While it is possible to randomly combine keywords, it’s generally not advisable as some areas may have monsters that are far too strong for players to handle without being 

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sufficiently powered up. Each keyword helps to set the stage for the new area’s look, weather, dungeon difficulty, and defining element (i.e. fire, water, wood, etc.).

 

The best success when exploring new areas and plundering dungeons, as with any MMORPG, can be had by forming a party of characters, rather than going solo. As with uncovering keywords, finding companions is also a matter of communication. Some characters will meet you in towns. Others will e-mail you. Once players make initial contacts with potential party members and they agree to join up with a party, it becomes important to maintain communication with them and to provide them with equipment and potential item trades in order to keep the relationship strong. Especially early on, when players are still relatively weak, having companions to fight alongside you could be the difference between life and death.

 

Visually, .hack both hits and misses. The character designs are fantastic—they’re colorful and detailed. Dungeon locales pretty interesting, too, with certain motifs like cathedrals or even the inside of a creature. The towns look pretty nice, too, as they’re bustling with character activity and loaded with shops. The inherent problem with .hack is the generic feel of some of the randomly generated lands. There’s considerable blurring of objects and textures on the horizon, and there’s a fair amount of repetitiveness. Again, since they’re not scripted, it’s not necessarily an overly negative criticism, but it’s a criticism nonetheless. .hack’s front end is also well-done, with the ability to change your “desktop” wallpaper later on when more options are uncovered. One issue that may annoy some players is the camera. The camera requires constant manual adjustment during gameplay, and in the heat of battle, it’s easily possible to lose sight of an enemy (or enemies) since there is no automatic camera adjustment. Once players adjust to this issue, it may become less of a problem, but it’s still worth mentioning here.

 

In the sound department, .hack boasts some better than average voiceover work and combines it with some generally decent music. It’s certainly good to see that voiceover quality is improving, as with .hack, so that players can better identify with the characters involved in the game. For anime purists, Bandai has opted to keep the Japanese voiceover track intact, which is certainly a nice bonus. The music is consistently good, with a few choral-sounding arrangements mixed in with other, more diverse, types of music. The .hack soundtrack won’t necessarily fly off of store shelves, like, say, Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack, but it holds its own.

 

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Although the main storyline of this first chapter of .hack ends pretty quickly (25-30 hours), it’s possible for players to continue exploring and leveling up characters in advance of the next chapter of the .hack series, called MUTATION. Player data, including several items that are unusable in this game, can be stored on a memory card so that when MUTATION arrives come May, the story can resume with the stored information. Don’t expect many questions to be answered in INFECTION, but instead, expect the stage to set for the next chapter of the series. This may irritate some players, especially since the next chapter isn’t due for a few months, for those looking forward to playing the other games can likely look past the relatively short lifespan of this game.

 

INFECTION marks a good start for the .hack series, although there are a few problems that keep the game from obtaining a higher score. NPC reaction isn’t all that diverse, as it would be in a real MMORPG. The visuals, aside from the character designs, aren’t all that impressive. The game really isn’t all that long, and simply leveling up without extending the story doesn’t have any immediate reward. Still, despite these flaws, .hack//INFECTION is a good choice for RPG fans looking for a different experience than the usual turn-based fare or for anime fans who may be looking for a gaming extension of what appears to be a pretty good series. On its own, INFECTION may not score as highly as it could, but when teamed with the other three episodes of the series, it may be looked upon as a great starting point.

 

- Peter J. Skerritt, Jr.

(March 3, 2003)

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