.hack//Infection - Review

//Good, But Could Easily Be //Better
By: Heath Hindman

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 10
   Story & Plot 7
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Easy-Medium
   Completion Time 18-25 Hours  

Now you done got the lady mad...
Now you done got the lady mad...

   Perhaps the expectations of this game were too high. But was it out of place to expect so much, seeing as this game was one of the most highly anticipated RPGs of 2002/2003? While it is a solid introduction to the four-part .hack series, .hack//Infection didn't completely satisfy.

   Players assume the role of Kyte, who has just started to play an MMORPG called The World. The game takes place in 2007, where The World has sold over 20 million copies, and is said to be highly addicitve. Infection begins with Kyte being introduced to The World's gameplay by his classmate, who is known as Orca in The World. After clearing only one dungeon, the duo is attacked by a mysterious and unbelievably powerful monster. After losing the battle, Kyte learns that Orca's real-life counterpart, Yasuhiko has gone into a coma. Using the forbidden abilities of Data Drain and Gate Hacking, Kyte must get to the bottom of this mystery, before it's too late.

   .hack//Infection does a commendable job of simulating an MMORPG. The World's community has an active message board, and the game's desktop interface is excellent. Checking this message board is an important part of the game. Not only will the board have information regarding good side quests, but it will often tell where to go in order to advance the story. Kyte will get emails from his party members, among other individuals, about serious topics as well as silly anecdotes. A News feature keeps the player up-to-date on the latest developments in the real world.

   But .hack's MMORPG simulation doesn't come without its flaws. The most memorable of the inaccuracies appear in battle, as Kyte's companions don't do what any real MMORPGamer would do in many situations. All too often, one of Kyte's comrades will completely defy logic, whether by doing something ridiculously stupid or by not doing anything at all. Some examples that come to mind are total ignorance of special situations. For example, if an enemy is listed as immune to physical attacks, meaning any regular attack does 0 damage, that won't stop Black Rose from endlessly swinging her sword at the foe. She'll even say to you "It looks like it's immune to physical attacks," while she's swinging at it! Silly, yes? In addition, the mages, called "Wavemasters" in The World, will often sit idly while the battle rages on. Fortunately, the player can issue special commands to the other two party members, which can make up for some of the lame A.I. Broad orders such as "Magic!" are available, on top of the ability to designate the exact skill you want a team member to use. But there are problems with this, as well. If players give the "Magic!" command, the characters just use any old spell. There might be a fire-based enemy that would be stricken down by a good water spell, but the clunky A.I. will have a mage use a fire spell instead, which gets the team nowhere. So in almost every important battle, players will have their hands full with controlling Kyte in addition to wading through a slew of menus to ensure that the other crew members don't do anything stupid.

It should be pretty easy to beat a cat at thumb-wrestling
It should be pretty easy to beat a cat at thumb-wrestling

   This and some other flaws throughout the game give .hack//Infection an incomplete feel. Although mostly small, many things seem to interfere with this game's potential quality. One thing that comes to mind is the way the characters never shut up. It's pretty annoying walking around with dudes that are constantly repeating phrases like "Have you found any Aromatic Grass?" and "Kyte, you're amazing," and "Aaaagh! Pleez cure MeeeEEee! XO". Not only is that slightly annoying, but it clogs up the screen. Another thing that wasn't given enough attention was the trade system. Kyte is able to trade any item in his inventory with other players in The World, including his own party. The problem in this system is that while players have a ton of items to offer, very few are selectable to receive. This is understandable with players that have nothing to do with the plot, but when you can look in Black Rose's inventory and see a weapon that would be good for Natsume, but the item doesn't appear on the list of items she'll trade, some mild frustration occurs, because there is no way of asking her for it.

   Shaking off the problems mentioned above, the gameplay is quite unique and engaging. After logging in from the desktop, players enter a server's "Root Town." From there, other party members can be summoned, items can be purchased/traded, and various NPCs can give their two cents on a random subject. Each Root Town has a Chaos Gate, which is the center of transportation in The World. From these gates, players can either hop to a different server (of the two that are available), or head for a game field. The type of field that players warp to is determined by a set of three "Keywords." One selects any three words to make a field that will be generated using the properties of each word. Upon arrival in the field, players can enter a dungeon. Just like most real MMORPGs, the dungeons are very plainly laid out and visually won't take anyone's breath away. This may be somewhat of a disappointment at first, but it's easy to get used to. Most commonly, Kyte finds a set of Keywords by email or on the boards that lead him along in the story. For instance, someone may send an email saying "On the Delta server, come to 'Hidden Burning Face.' I have something you may be interested in." Next time players log into The World, that word combo will be on Kyte's "Word List." While the system may sound average on paper, it is very addicting after a short adjustment period.

   In the technical department, .hack has trouble keeping its head above water in the sea of mediocrity. Very few music tracks are memorable, and sometimes become bothersome after long play sessions. Perhaps anime fans would have liked a few tracks from .hack//Sign to appear. The sound effects are okay. That's about all there is to say: "they're okay." It should be noted that this game is playable in both English and Japanese, which is a nice feather to have in a developer's cap. The voices are well done in both languages, although I prefer the English ones. Visually, the game's developers achieved exactly what they were going for, as Infection maintains a very anime-like look and feel. The character models are beautiful, and the graphics don't hinder the game in any way.

Those are nice, but they don't really answer my question...
"Those are nice, but they don't really answer my question..."

   What hurts the most is that the game ends without feeling like it's over. Maybe this is fitting, seeing as this is only chapter one of four, but at Infection's end, it doesn't even feel like chapter one is over. The fact that this "series" is more like one big, $200, four-part game is unsettling, but that can't really be counted against the game itself. The unsatisfied feeling at the end, however, does indeed take away from the score. The fact that data can be carried over into volume two is a true blessing, because there would otherwise be almost no reason to play Infection. On the bright side, the game does include volume one of the .hack//Liminality anime series, which takes place in the real world. To clear up any confusion, .hack//Sign comes first, while the games and Liminality happen simultaneously, six months after Sign's ending.

   When all is said and done, .hack is a pretty good game that had so much more potential. Perhaps later volumes can perfect the formula.

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