Review by Grenadier
"An excellent continuation of the .hack saga."
.hack//Part 1: INFECTION is only a small part of the overall Project .hack, one of Cyber Connect 2 and Bandai's greatest projects. It spans many different media; there was at least one novel published in Japan (.hack//AI Buster), two know animes (.hack//SIGN and .hack//Tasogare no Udewa Densetsu), and finally, the four PS2 games of which INFECTION is the first (packaged with the anime OVA, .hack//LIMINALITY). Considering how ambitious and broad this project is, the developers are bound to screw up something along the way--and they did, but the majority of the products are excellent. So, read on.
The most ambitious and innovative idea behind the entire .hack series is the fact that most of the events in it take place inside an MMORPG (like Asheron's Call or Everquest)--and thus, the PS2 games simulate this MMORPG, named The World. As such, you end up being able to control only one character in your three-character party (ala Kingdom Hearts), although you can command your party members by pressing the square button and selecting an item from a menu. Battles are held in an action RPG system; encounter enemies, and you see the words BATTLE MODE ON in large red letters on the screen and these words continue to scroll across the top of the screen while your allies charge into battle.
To preserve the MMORPG feel, the action of the game is modified somewhat from the smooth action of Kingdom Hearts or Seiken Densetsu. Hitting the attack button does not swing your weapon; it enters an attack command upon your target, which is the enemy or breakable object directly in front of your character. It's important to note the distinction. In a standard RPG, this means you can swing your weapon and the intended target can move out of the way, which determines whether the attack hits or misses. However, since this is a simulation of an MMORPG, everything is done with numbers, not with location--which means that every attack you make will be calculated not just for damage, but for accuracy. This is how MMORPG's work. And this same algorithm is reproduced in .hack, to greatly enhance the feeling that you're playing an MMORPG, not a conventional console RPG.
Characters can learn special attack skills and magic spells from their equipment, but they only keep it for as long as they have the equipment in use. This is not to say their abilities change a whole lot; it's tweaked well enough so that you'll be using at least the same types of abilities and not suddenly lose anything too important.
When in the Root Town of a server (where you'll see other players running around, whom you can trade items with), you can walk up to the Chaos Gate and use it to generate a randomized field and dungeon for you. Now, you'll very often have to flip through the menu a lot in order to find a dungeon that isn't full of monsters that'll kill you in one hit. But then, you'll also find a lot of nice stuff if you just punch in some parameters randomly if you're willing to risk the dangers of an unknown field.
My only complaint about the battle system is the actual presentation on the screen. Put simply, it's too cluttered. With the character status at the bottom, the BATTLE MODE ON message scrolling at the top, enemies, damage numbers, magic spell effects, PROTECT BREAK alerts and all the words that pop up in the middle of the screen for various reasons, you're often presented with a little too much data at the same time and quite rapidly. That's not to say it's unmanageable. But it's very often confusing and distracting, meaning you'll occasionally take a lot of damage without noticing. If characters were given the voice overs to shout out for help when their HP is low instead of flashing a text message on the screen, it might be easier. But it's still workable as it is.
OVERALL GAMEPLAY RATING: 8/10
Now, .hack's graphics aren't excellent--but they certainly aren't bad either. Terrain and doodads are quite well modeled and the lighting effects are nice. There's a monotony problem in the dungeons, but it's to be expected when most of the dungeons are randomly generated.
The people, however. . .the modeling is pretty good, but the animations are sometimes screwed up in the cutscenes. In one earlier cutscene, one character makes some of the most bizarre shaking motions while speaking angrily to the main character that I could almost swear she was having some sort of seizure. But on the plus side, the character designs are absolutely fabulous. They're quite diverse, imaginative and colorful. I'd easily say they surpass the work of the Final Fantasy character design geniuses Tetsuya Nomura and Yoshitaka Amano. And these character designs reappear all across Project .hack; remember, this is an MMORPG, and in MMORPG's, multiple characters will quite often have the same or quite similar clothing. BlackRose and Mimiru, from the .hack games and .hack//SIGN respectively, look nearly identical except for the color of their armor; as do Bear and Orca and Tsukasa and Elk.
OVERALL GRAPHICS RATING: 7/10
Now, there is voice acting in this game--and I must say, the English voice overs are quite lacking. They're overemotional and melodramatic--generally, bad. Luckily, Bandai had the decency to leave us the Japanese voice overs in the American release. In most cases, I'd gladly accept subtitles over dubbing.
The soundtrack is only slightly above average. Considering the excellence of .hack//SIGN's soundtrack, this was something of a disappointment. All the lyrical music for the background is gone; some of the beats are catchy, but nothing really stands out or makes the OST worth buying.
OVERALL SOUND RATING: 6/10
The entire storyline of Project .hack is quite strong and well planned out. After the events of .hack//SIGN six months before, an 8th grader enters The World after being convinced by a friend who plays the character Orca, one of the most famous characters in The World. While they're exploring a dungeon just to give the new player (named Kite) an idea of what to expect, the dungeon suddenly flashes out of existence and is replaced by a strange and mysterious area that Orca doesn't recognize. A girl wearing a long white cloak appears, gives Orca a large Book and a bracelet, and then vanishes. Then, a giant silver robot appears which Orca fails to defeat. (Those who watched .hack//SIGN will recognize it.) The robot Data Drains Orca, leaving Kite alone in The World to find out exactly what happened and how to help his friend, who is later discovered to be comatose in the real world. He's armed with nothing but the strange Book of the Twilight the girl had given Orca and a bracelet that lets him Data Drain enemies, hacking all the data out of them and rewriting their code to make them weaker.
Along the way, he meets other players who are willing to help him: the Heavy Blade user BlackRose, the Wavemasters Mistral and Elk, the strange character who looks like a cat named Mia, and several other eclectic denizens of The World. They'll talk to Kite via email, and he can respond to them according to the player's choice.
Since this is volume one of four, the game gives you a strong sense of conspiracy when certain messages on the game message board are deleted, threatening messages are received and strange, corrupt emails come from an unknown source. Also, it poses many questions that it fails to answer. To answer them, we'll have to wait for the next game in the series.
My only complaint (a rather large one, in fact) is that the translation is substandard. Granted, the emoticons and strangely typed phrases from some of the characters are realistic enough, but the translation of the actual speech could have been much better done. Oh well. At least we have Japanese voice overs, so we don't have to hear it. Better to just read it than have to hear it read to you (and overdrammatically at that).
OVERALL STORY RATING: 8/10
Being the first volume of the four, .hack//INFECTION is short. Quite short for an RPG, in fact. Only about 20 to 25 hours long. It's fun to play while it lasts, however. Also, when you finish it, you can save it and leave it on your memory card to resume with the next volume when it comes out. For this reason, you're probably better off getting a five day rental on it than buying every volume, but if you want to play through the entire series again, you'd have to buy them all.
OVERALL REPLAY VALUE RATING: 7/10
REPLAY VALUE: 7/10
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Comment: Having seen the entire .hack//SIGN series long before it debuted on Cartoon Network on Saturdays, I have longed to actually be able to play in The World for quite some time now. And now that I get to see it for myself, I can't say it quite lived up to the presentation that .hack//SIGN seemed to convey, but I can say that the continuation of the .hack saga is well worth it. I can't wait for the next volume. Cyber Connect 2 has done a good job at putting the entire thing together, and once it's finished, I have no doubt that it will be well remembered by all the gaming community.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/22/03, Updated 02/22/03
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