.hack//Infection - Staff Retroview  

Infectious or simply a Hack?
by Tyler Willis

20 hours


Rating definitions 

Remember when hackers simply wanted fame? Or wanted to hold governments ransom? Or just wanted billions upon billions of dollars? Or even hacked simply for kicks? Ah, these good old days have left us; unfortunately viruses and hacking have taken a turn for the worse - much worse - in the .hack saga.

.hack//Infection is the first of a four part game series that is in turn part of an overarching saga that includes other artistic expressions - most notably several anime series. Infection and subsequent games are not merely a retelling of the anime, but a unique entry into the .hack canon - adding its own distinctiveness to the collective.

The story is told in aggregate over all four games, and the beginning is intentionally dark and mysterious, so do not expect much in the way of grand revelations. Infection does have distinct starting points, end points, and plot twists, so it can stand on its own merit, but it is ultimately designed to be only the first entry in the series.

Kite is an average eighth grade kid who finally decides to join the ultimate MMORPG - The World - which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. His real-life friend, Orca, decides to take Kite under his wing and show him the ropes.

It IS possible to talk and fight at the same time! It IS possible to talk and fight at the same time!

In their very first dungeon outing, Orca is attacked by a mysterious monster and killed. Normally a character death is not much cause for concern, but this unusual event to the character also causes the real-life friend to lapse into a coma. Naturally, Kite is concerned and is quickly caught up in events beyond his control. A short while into the game, he obtains a unique ability which assures that he will play a major role in uncovering just what is happening within The World.

His investigation occurs through various means: a simulated message board, emailing NPCs, making friends, exploring safe capitals, and conquering dungeon areas. The cities are littered with talkative NPCs, item shops, storage dumps, etc: all the elements of an MMORPG, minus the monthly fee.

Infection is an instanced based action RPG. Kite et al travel on an overworld map and encounter enemies, engaging them seamlessly in battle mode. In battle mode, the player controls Kite in real time (with pauses for menus), and the AI controls his companions. The AI is influenced in its attack style by a series of overarching strategies, but companions can also be directly ordered if necessary.

Clashes are usually fast, frantic, and fun. The AI does a decent job of following orders and is usually adept at staying alive. Controls are spot on with good shortcuts for all the major necessary actions. The only exception is the camera which is completely manual and becomes a pain to keep up with during the heat of battle.

Kite can recruit other players in The World by interacting with them or fulfilling certain sidequests. Once recruited, these characters can be chosen to fill in the two spots in Kite's party, but, just as in real life, some players logoff and are not always available. Characters are locked into a certain class, each with the expected strengths and weaknesses.

Dude, Where'd I Park My Grunty? Dude, Where'd I Park My Grunty?

Characters level up in the traditional manner, but the game is designed so that there is a soft upper limit to the max level that can be reached in this first installment. Characters gain experience for each enemy defeated, but the amount of experience decreases as characters gain levels, ala Suikoden.

This experience limitation was likely implemented because save data can be transferred between all four games, giving veterans access to better equipment and higher levels, but a limit was needed to prevent players from over-leveling in the first adventure. Players can still continue to play and level after the story is finished, but serious powerleveling quickly becomes difficult.

Notably, the game is packaged with a 45 minute anime DVD that is designed specifically for this game; the events of the anime coincide with Kite's quest and lend a real-world perspective to The World's happenings. In game, there are also unlockables for customization, most of which will be found naturally over the course of a playthrough. Infection also sports a pet raising system for which Kite can opt to raise a Grunty by feeding it various foods gathered along the journey.

Infection does have its share of difficulties and frustrations. Most prominent is the fact that story event dungeons usually have a treasure at the end of the dungeon and, once the story event is initiated and completed, Kite et al are transported out of the dungeon. Without the treasure. Of course, since monsters respawn, getting that treasure can become a bit tiresome.

Infection is also short for an RPG, clocking in at under 20 hours. While some RPGs can get away with being short, knowing that there are three more games immediately following Infection can bring frustration and pain, not only to the RPGamer, but to the wallet as well. This seems more marketing gimmick than anything, as much more content could have been included in each release. Adding further insult, there is almost no replay value once the main story and sidequests are completed.

Visually, Infection sports a believable MMORPG style world. There are obvious anime influences, but cut-scenes are rendered with the in-game engine. Environments are detailed and varied according to the atmosphere. Aurally, Infection renders a good soundtrack that provides a fine complement to the visual styling. As an added bonus, players can choose between the original Japanese voice acting or the English dub created by Bandai. Veteran anime watchers will likely recognize familiar voice actors, and the dub is good effort by professionals, much better than many game voice-overs.

As for the recommendation, it is hard to recommend Infection by itself since it intricately ties into the rest of the series. However, Infection can easily be used as a barometer to test interest before investing further. The concept is original, the battle system enjoyable, and the story mysterious. A must play for fans of the anime and recommended for action RPG-lovers looking for something original and unique.

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