.hack//Infection - Reader Re-Retroview  

The World Is Not Enough
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

8-15 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   In the not-too-distant future, The World is a popular MMORPG developed by the CC Corporation. You control a character named Kite, and, along with your friend's character Orca, explore an in-game dungeon. Mysterious events, however, cause Orca's real-life player to fall into a coma, and Kite soon finds himself with a strange power known as the Data Drain. The MMORPG simulation .hack//Infection follows your quest to find out the mysteries behind The World and perhaps find a way to awaken Orca's player. While with decent promise, Infection gets the series off to a somewhat rocky start.

   Combat in Infection is real-time and includes Kite and up to two A.I.-controlled allies. On keyword fields and in their respective dungeons lie many yellow portals that, when approached, yield an enemy party. The player can have Kite approach an enemy to target it and attack it normally, scroll through his skill menu to pick an SP-consuming skill to execute, with his skill set determined by his current equipment (the same goes for all his allies), or have him use items on himself and/or his allies. The player can also control Kite's allies through a variety of A.I. options such as having everyone heal, using attack skills, using magic spells, and so forth.

   Kite's Data Drain ability plays some part in battle, with the player, after depleting an enemy's HP enough, able to use this skill on that enemy to both weaken it and gain a piece of equipment or virus core, the latter coming in many varieties and being necessary to hack into locked keyword areas throughout the game necessary to advance the main storyline. Frequent use of Data Drain, however, carries its risks, as performing it after excessive use can occasionally give the party negative effects, even result in a "Game Over" screen. Fortunately, a color meter gradually changes from blue to red to indicate the risk of using Data Drain.

And hopefully, less menu navigatey Less talkey, more fightey!

   Combat certainly has its moments, with exploiting enemies' elemental weaknesses occasionally being able to expedite battles, although there are a number of shortcomings. For one, selling items is the only way to acquire money, since defeating enemies only gives the player's party experience (with a thousand points needed to level up, and enemy experience depending upon the party's current levels), and the player can consequently find his or her resources strained early on in the game, although trading items with NPCs can yield the player powerful equipment early. Nonetheless, this can add considerable irritation to the game since there are many moments when the player will need to carry plenty of healing items.

   Also adding potential annoyance to the player's experience is the relative frequency of perusing menus during battles, whether to use skills, consume items, or change ally A.I., somewhat burdening the game's real-time nature. Further hampering the player's frequent need for item use is that the battle menus close after individual item use, forcing the player to reopen them just to use another item. The camera can be a burden, as well, especially when the player is fighting in narrow dungeon halls, and healing magic takes time to execute, making healing items preferable. That the game just dumps players back to the title screen when they die adds further irritation to play, given the inability to save while exploring keyword areas, sometimes resulting in a lot of lost playing time. Overall, the battle system has some things going for it, such as the occasional strategy and quickness of combat, although it has plenty going against it.

   The interface further burdens the game. The menus are fairly easy to navigate, and finding how out to advance the main storyline isn't terribly troublesome, although the game's simulation of MMORPGs creates plenty of annoyances, such as the player needing to have a character in his or her party to trade equipment with them, and being totally unable to view ally stats unless they're in the party. Other annoyances include the player's party disbanding if he or she exits the game to check email and the message board, and, more greatly, being only able to save the game in root towns or on the desktop. All in all, interaction has more going against it than for it.

   Infection, however, is a fairly original game, which, while based on the anime .hack//Sign, features plenty of unique gameplay mechanisms and the overall inventive experience of simulating an MMORPG imitated only by its direct sequels and successor series .hack//G.U.

One bracelet to find them One bracelet to drain them all

   The game's unique format, lamentably, doesn't lend itself very well to good storytelling. The plot starts out decently enough, but somewhat loses its focus afterward, with Kite's ultimate goal of bringing Orca's player out of his coma never seeming terribly urgent, and the game generally falling into a myriad of fetch quests and cryptic revelations about the mysteries of The World. The advancement of the story through email messages and bulletin board posts doesn't really help the pacing of events, either, and revelations about game-related events in the real world are scarce at best. Not even the anime DVD included with the game helps matters, and overall, the story's potential largely goes to waste.

   Infection's musical offering is more or less unremarkable, yet certainly doesn't detract from the game. There are some pretty decent pieces, such as Harald's theme, and many other pieces set the mood, despite being largely unmemorable. The English voice acting is okay, yet certainly not enough to prevent players from scrolling through the dialogue if they're able, with the player able to choose Japanese voicework, as well. Generally, the game's aural presentation is average at best.

   The visuals, however, are the game's strongest link, with decent character models fleshing out the game's anime artwork, and well-designed scenery, as well, with many keyword areas containing nice effects such as floating and flickering numbers and occasional screen glitches effectively simulating a glitch-ridden game such as The World. The graphics certainly don't detract from the experience, although there are some minor shortcomings such as occasional pixelated textures when scenery is visible close-up, but otherwise, Infection is reasonably easy on the eyes.

   Finally, the game is fairly short, taking somewhere from eight to fifteen hours to complete, even with the sidequests, chiefly composing of extra keyword areas revealed through emails and message board postings. In the end, .hack//Infection, while it succeeds as a simulation of MMORPGs, certainly doesn't excel as a normal offline RPG, given the issues with its battle system, interaction, and its story, although it does certainly have things going for it such as its graphics. Regardless of its quirks, Infection certainly isn't an effective entry point into the series, instead serving as a diving board into what could have very easily been a single game.

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