Review by Xenon
"While you're almost guaranteed to get an Infection, it may not be good for all of you."
In theory, dot hack is supposed to be a MMORPG(Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game) simulator. In other words, dot hack tries to be a single player version of a multiplayer game? Since most games get more fun as you add people, taking them away seems like quite a twist. So, does this simulator FEEL like a MMORPG. Yes, it does, but that's part of the problem.
Being a MMORPG simulator, some things are a little different from your standard RPG, but those come in more advanced factors. If you strip everything away from .hack, it becomes just another action RPG.
In .hack, You'll start out the game on your desktop, where you can read E-Mail, read news, change the background of your desktop, view movies you've collected, and change the sound on your desktop, well, you can also go to The World. Most of the stuff that you can do on your desktop has no effect on the actual gameplay. News just gives you background information on the game's universe, as well as events that are occurring on the outside of ''The World''. Mail is actually important to gameplay, as many times you'll get new locations, as well as just conversations between characters. Once you're done with the fluff, you can go ahead and move on to ''The World''
Once you select ''The World'' You'll be taken to ''The World'' main menu. From here, you can go back to your desktop (you just came from there!), go to the Board, or ''Log in'' to the actual game. The Board serves almost the same purpose as the Mail on the desktop, but it's from different sources. However, you still need to check the board every once in awhile to make sure you don't miss anything. Actually, it tells you when there's a new message on the boards, so don't worry about it too much. Once you're sick of reading all this crap, select ''Log In'' to start playing.
As Kite the Twin Blade, you can use your Twin Blades (original class name, huh?) to attack nearby enemies. Or, Kite can use one of his various skills to defeat the enemy. Battles are done in real time, except when you open up the menu, options menu, or party command menu. The battle will freeze for that period of time and allow you to cycle through your menus. This is the first deviation from real MMORPGs, but it's a welcome deviation. You'll need to use the menu to use items, skills, re-equip your characters, as well as give orders to your AI partners. And in case you were wondering, no, you can't change which character you control. Every character that joins you besides Kite will be computer controlled. After all, in a REAL MMORPG, you can't control your buddy's character (well, unless you knew his user name and password, that is :/ ).
Speaking of the party command menu, throughout your quest to save ''The World'', different characters will join you for one reason or another. Once the player joins you, you'll be able to add them to your party (most of the time) by opening up the menu and selecting the ''Party'' command. No, you aren't going to go Animal House, you'll get a menu with a list of all the character's who have joined you. In an attempt to make the game simulate more of a real-life MMORPG, not all of the characters are available all of the time. It's not random, though. Rather, the character won't be available until you've made progress in the story to a certain point. Once you HAVE a party, pressing the square button will open up the party command menu. From here, you can give your party a group order, an individual order, or change the group tactics. You can't directly control your allies, however. You can only give them a general order, they'll then follow through. You don't have to worry about rebelliousness, either. If you give them an order, they will do it. Also, you DO have direct control over there equipment. That is, you can have them equip anything that they have in THEIR inventory. The use of items is similar. There is no group item list, each character can hold and use their individual items, but cannot use what's in YOUR inventory. This adds to the simulator aspect of the game. Of course, you being able to equip them doesn't follow, but it's a rare diversion. Also, while your allies will acquire their own items, they will NOT upgrade their own equipment, so you'll have to update that, too. A final note on the party system is that character's that aren't in your party still gain experience, just not quite as much.
In .hack, skills given to your characters based upon what equipment they have. There is no way to get the skills permanently, so as soon as you take that piece of equipment off that had your favorite skill, you lose that skill, period. This adds a little bit of strategy, as you can't just find the strongest Armor or Weapon in the game, you have to look at the skills. You could find an updated version of the spell a stronger piece of armor with the same skill, or just give up the skill for a different one. However, this isn't much of a factor, as there are only a handful of skills in the game. Plus, the skills are fairly similar. The only difference between many is their element.
There is also one special skill that is acquired by Kite early on in the game during a special game event, Data Drain. Once you've caused enough damage to an enemy to ''Protect Break'' an enemy (it'll be obvious), you can use Data Drain. When you use Data Drain, you'll reduce the enemy down to a wimpy level and you'll get an item from them. While just a nice feature for the most part, Data Drain plays an important role in the story and is necessary to defeat most of the game's bosses.
There are only two towns in .hack//infection. The one you start at and another that you gain access to after about 60-75% of the game. There's a weapon shop, magic shop, item shop, item storage place (called Elf's haven), and Save point. The weapon shop sells decent items, but you can get much better with ease by trading with the other ''players'' in the town, so it's basically obsolete. The same obsoleteness applies to the Magic shop, since not only can you trade for said magic scrolls, you can also (and, oh, how you will) find these scrolls in dungeons with EASE. The item shop does serve some purpose, as some items are difficult to find in dungeons, ok, A LOT of them are.
In the second town, there's also a Grunty stable where you can raise a Grunty. Grunties are an animal that's like a giant pig, they also serve as a game-long sidequest.. Once you raise the grunty to full size, you can ride on top of it, also, you can trade with the grunty!
While there's only two towns, there are literally thousands upon thousands of Field areas. In a field area, there are Magic portals and a Dungeon. Magic Portals (which also make appearances in the dungeons) are points where monsters or sometimes a treasure chest will appear when they are approached. One of the side quests involves opening all of the magic portals in a single dungeon. Speaking of Dungeons (or writing, I suppose), I guess I should give a bit more information on them, since you'll be spending so much time in them. Dungeons have somewhere between 2 and 5 levels to them. The levels are determined by the keywords that you use to get to the area, we'll get to those in a short while. You are free to travel in between the floors as you want, so long as you can get to the stairs that lead down to the next level (or up, if you wanted to go back). In these dungeons, you'll find treasure chests, pots and various other stuff to break to get items, but, mostly, you'll find monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. There are several rooms to each floor, and almost all of the rooms contain at least one magic portal. This adds up to a LOT of monsters. Eventually, though, you'll reach the bottom of the dungeon, where you'll find a Gott statue. These statues contain valuable items for you to use.
Anyway, now that you're informed about Fields, you need to know how to get there. In each town, there's a Chaos Gate. This gate allows you to input three keywords in order to travel to the corresponding field. You can also just choose three random keywords using the random command, return to previously visited fields by checking ''warp history'', and most importantly, go to the keywords that you've been given (most of these are story related) by going to ''word list''. All these options will give you quite a bit of freedom, while still enabling you to move on to the next part of the game.
All of these features make .hack//infection very original. The whole concept of being able to play a MMORPG by yourself is interesting, however, that trait is also one of .hack's weakest points. For one thing, while there are other ''players'' in the game, Black Rose and Orca (and to a lesser extent, Mia and Elk) are the only important ones. The characters that join you have an introductory event, but then are only there in your party with the exception of maybe one or two events. In a real MMORPG, the characters would be more involved and have more than just the same tired phrases to say over and over. The NPCs are worse, having the same inventory and saying the same things for pretty much the entire game. One of the most important aspects of MMORPGs is the social interaction. Needless to say, when it's a one-player game, the interaction is pretty limited. But these are minor, especially to the gameplay, since those are mainly story issues. The fact that the game becomes monotonous, however, is not minor. The biggest problem with .hack is that it's ALL the SAME. You check your mail, look at the board, log in, event, field, dungeon, event, field, dungeon, boss!, event, etc. It goes on like this for the ENTIRE game. EVERY new event or goal requires you to go to the given field and get to the dungeons bottom level. This gets boring, as you can imagine. It really feels like 2 hours of gameplay has been stretched to 15. Also, the biggest part of the trading system is far too easy to abuse. Making the game really easy.
This is a very strong point for .hack//infection, especially if you're into the Anime .hack//sign. The whole linking thing hooks you into the story quite well.
The game starts out with you, as Kite, buying ''The World'' and Logging In for the first time. You meet your friend Orca, who has been playing for a long time. On your first foray into the field, however, you meet this strange girl who is being chased. During the meeting, her attacker attacks and defeats Orca, but not before the girl gives you a strange Book. Once you log off of the game, you find out that the real world Orca has fallen into a coma. Confused and seeking answers, you log back onto ''The World'' hoping that help for Orca can be found there…
While the same ''Two Hours becomes Fifteen'' thing is going on with the story along with the gameplay, it isn't that bad. Especially if you're into the anime. AND, if you ARE into the anime, then the bonus .hack//liminality OVA anime disc included with the game will appeal to you greatly. The .hack experience is a good experience, if you agree with me.
The actual character's and places are well designed, but there's nothing that fancy. Many of the characters look similar, but that goes along with the whole MMORPG simulator thing. Also going along with the MMORPG simulator are the spell effects, which are, to be blunt, quite primitive. While this would be expected in an MMORPG, since this is just a simulator, I would've appreciated a little more in the effects department.
Once again, the sound fits what the game is trying to do, be a MMORPG. That means that the music is very generic. There are a few tracks that I enjoyed, but for the most part, they do their job of providing BGM, but not much else. Also, there are numerous sound effects that go with the attacks and spells. There's the sound of footfalls when you're walking, as well as talking items (you'll understand when you see them). Character voices are numerous as well.
.hack is pretty much too monotonous to replay. I only recommend playing through once for the story. The real side-quests can be done at any time, so you can't miss them and have to re-do anything. Just play it once for the story.
.hack//infection isn't a BAD RPG, but it's only above average. It's Part one of the .hack game ''series'' and you can tell. I didn't feel satisfied after I completed it, because it wasn't complete. It felt like the first two hours of a normal RPG. It'd be like quitting Final Fantasy VII after Midgar. It's not a bad game, but it's a kind of commitment since you'll really want the other three in order to finish the ''whole'' game. There's really not that much extra to the game either. If you've seen .hack//sign, then you should definitely rent this. In general, because of it's length, .hack//infection should be a rental, but nothing more. The only real reason to buy this is if you're a serious .hack enthusiast, or you just wanted the anime DVD. :)
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/03
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