.hack//Mutation - Reader Re-Retroview  

Same Game, Little Mutation
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

10-15 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Bandai's .hack series for the Playstation 2, based on the .hack//Sign anime, provided gamers the experience of an MMORPG without the need of an Internet connection for their game consoles, following the adventures of Kite, a character in The World, and his quest to awaken his friend, whose in-game character is Orca, who fell into a coma while playing the game. The franchise began with Infection and continues with .hack//Mutation, which is essentially the same game with a few minor tweaks. Whether or not this is a good thing largely depends on the player, although the second installment could have certainly been better.

   With few exceptions, combat is almost exactly the same as it was in Infection, with the player's party of three characters approaching swirling yellow portals on fields and in their respective dungeons to engage in real-time combat with an enemy party. The only new feature is that Kite has a new Data Drain ability allowing him to drain multiple enemies whose HP is low enough, again providing Virus Cores needed to hack into certain keyword areas or equipment. Again, the player must use this ability sparingly, since frequent use can have dire effects on the player's party, even result in a Game Over.

   Most of the same strengths and weaknesses of combat present in the first game apply here. Strengths include occasional strategy through the use of elemental skills, and weaknesses include the greater annoyance than strategy of status ailments, frequent menu perusing to heal, the need at times to spend a long time hunting for certain types of Virus Cores to hack into areas to advance the game if the player doesn't have them, and the inability to save anywhere in fields or dungeons. The battle system could have been better, although it could have been worse, as well.

Stupid Dali! When evil clocks attack

   The interface is also largely unchanged, which isn't necessarily a good thing, as exactly the same flaws from the first game here apply in the sequel, such as the utter inability to view ally stats or manage allies unless the player has them in the party, the inability to save the game anywhere outside towns or the operating system interface, and the like. There is a mini-game called Flag Racing that the player can access after successfully raising three different types of Grunties in a town, although a guide will likely be necessary to do so. Overall, interaction is one of the sequel's low points.

   Since Mutation is a direct sequel intended to keep its predecessor's mechanisms, music, graphics, and the like, one can't really blast it for being "unoriginal," although the series, as mentioned, is based on the .hack//Sign anime. As for the story, it certainly has its moments, although as with Infection, the somewhat shoddy way in which the game tells it doesn't help matters, given the utter lack of any peek at any events outside The World (aside from occasional newspaper articles), the poor connection between the anime included with the game and the game itself, and the general misguided focus of the game's plot.

   The quality of the music and voice acting throughout the game is also pretty much the same as in Infection, with the soundtrack largely being hit-or-miss and the voicework generally being lackluster, providing little motivation for the player to stop and listen rather than just reading and instantly scrolling through the dialogue if possible.

   The graphics, too, are exactly the same, which isn't a bad thing as they're generally above average and definitely fit the mood of a corrupted online RPG such as The World. As with before, though, some the environmental textures look pixelated on close-up, and there is a little slowdown when multiple NPCs congest the screen in town, but otherwise the visuals don't leave too much room for improvement.

   Finally, the game, given the need at a few points to go on long hunts for Virus Cores, is only slightly longer than its predecessor, taking somewhere from ten to fifteen hours to complete. Overall, .hack//Mutation is pretty much the same experience as its predecessor, save for some very minor tweaks, having exactly the same strengths and weaknesses as Infection. Those who enjoyed the first game will certainly enjoy the sequel, although those that didn't like the first game certainly won't find anything to celebrate in the second .hack game.

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