.hack//Mutation - Review

What the First Game Tried to be
By: Heath Hindman

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Story & Plot 9
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Easy-Medium
   Completion Time 17-20 Hours  

Black Rose is one of those women you'd just love to have kill ya.
Black Rose is one of those women you'd just love to have kill ya.

   With the first game in the .hack series hitting shelves just three months ago, it feels a little weird already playing the second volume. Wait. Actually, no. No, it doesn't, because for all intents and purposes, they are the same game.

   In case you were unaware, .hack//Mutation is the second installment in a four-part series. Each game is being released three months after its predecessor. The latter three games all feature the ability for players to import their data from the previous titles, as well. Much like a computer game, which the gameplay builds itself around the premise of, every title could be likened unto an expansion pack of the game before it. However, it is not necessary to have data ready for conversion to begin these games. Should a new player begin his/her trip through the series with a volume other than the first, he/she will be given a small item/weapon inventory and a handful of party members to start out with. However, the weapons a player begins with are only of average status and the list of companions is far from complete. Any players with any skill whatsoever will finish with an overall status that is much better than what is given at the start of later volumes. That said, there is indeed plenty of incentive to play through Infection before opening up Mutation.

   While the originality of the formula may be slightly diminished by the first game, Mutation rises above Infection, helping the series blossom into what it was meant to be. This is mainly thanks to The World being considerably busier than it was in the first game. Plain and simple, there is a lot more "stuff" going on in this game. Many more side quests appear on the message board and a couple of them toss in some unique twists. The new side quests involve ideas ranging an item-trading meeting to a personal challenge issued to Kyte. The downfall of this is that one must traverse bland dungeons identical to those found in Infection to get to the aforementioned twists. But seeing as Infection was only about 25 hours long, the gameplay didn't exactly have a very long time to grow boring, so this isn't much of a problem.

   Mutation's plot picks up right where the last installment left off, just after the brutal fight against Skeith. Players probably remember the interesting events that followed the battle paving the entry way for Mutation. From there, volume two takes players on a wild ride through the .hack story. The plot of Mutation moves much faster and gets more accomplished than that of Infection. Toss in a few more cameos from the .hack//Sign cast, and Cyber Connect really has quite a game on its hands. Those who loved the first title will not be disappointed in this game's story. By that same token, gamers that found Infection's story to be dull, boring, and silly, or concluded that the gameplay was not their thing might want to avoid .hack//Mutation.

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

   Like mentioned before, the game still works pretty much the same way. The desktop interface remains untouched, which is a good thing, since it was perfect to begin with. The gameplay has also remained almost exactly the same as Infection's. Enemies still charge at the player from all angles, and must be dealt with in the same action-based combat style as before, while using the analog sticks to make the camera zoom and rotate. The Sprite Ocarina is still needed to teleport out of dungeons and the Fortune Wire is still the item to turn to when "Risky Treasure" appears. The biggest difference from the last installment would be the addition of the Lamda server, which, just like the two that were previously accessible, can be reached via Chaos Gates in the The World's root towns. As would be expected, this new server offers a robust variety of new areas to explore, treasures to discover, and enemies to vanquish.

   The new server is where the majority of the action occurs in Mutation. Surprisingly, very very little is going on in the Delta and Theta servers. This may be due the fact that the other two servers have enemies of marginally lower levels, worth pretty much no experience. But one reason to occasionally hit the old servers is the new mini game, Grunty racing. Remember raising Grunties in the first game? Well now, players can test their speed against other types of the horse/pig-like creatures. Unfortunately, this is the only mini-game added. Hopefully Outbreak and Quarantine will also have neat things to add when they are released this August and November, respectively.

   Like most other elements that make up Mutation, the graphics and sound remain almost identical to those of the previous title. Only a handful of new tunes were added, and one can't tell Mutation from Infection based on looks alone. This was expected, though, so the game doesn't lose major points for that.

Balmung means business
Balmung means business

   The biggest complaint about this installment is, once again, the inconclusive ending. Mutation resolves a decent number of The World's mysteries, but ends (avoiding spoilers here) by simply leading into the beginning of the next volume. If nothing else, it does suggest that Outbreak's segment of the .hack story will rock even more than Mutation's part.

   It is strongly recommended that RPGamers curious about the .hack project check out Infection before any later volumes, as this game was obviously meant for veterans of the first installment and doesn't really aim for the newbie crowd. This is especially true considering that the game is bundled with volume two of the .hack//Liminality OVA; those who didn't see the first volume will have almost no idea what's going on in the second. As a game, Mutation uses Infection's formula more effectively and presents a more exciting piece of the series' plot. Basically, those who liked the original will probably enjoy this game, while gamers who were discouraged should stay away.

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