Review by Meep
"A textbook example of splintered content and wasted promise. Best game ever? Ummm... no."
Ahhh, .Hack -- a game with such an interesting concept and an obvious mountain of aspirations which all unfortunately serve to do nothing but raise the hopes of the player, then quickly and efficiently snuff their aspirations like a candle.
Why, you ask? Well, read on as I describe to you my truly disappointing and frustrating experience with a game that many seem to praise as the greatest of all time. What a silly notion that is.
Story: The year is 2007. Microso... I mean, corporation ALTIMIT has taken the technology world by storm after releasing the ''perfect'' computer operating system. One of the titles for this OS happens to be the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Game ever. Vaguely titled ''The World'', this newfangled method of decreasing interaction between humans boasts some twenty million participants. Unfortunately, this massive scope never pans out, only adding to the pile of failures that this disjointed mess heaps up. More on that below. Now, you play the role of a kid named ''Kite''(you can change that to whatever the hell you want; I chose Derelict) who is introduced to The World by his friend Orca. You spend the first part of the game running through a little tutorial in order to familiarize yourself with the numerous aspects of combat, menu navigation, and travel between one location and another. Sadly enough, fantasy bleeds into reality and, after a weird bit of familiar dungeon crawling, Orca is trapped and Data Drained by an apparent system anomaly known as Skeith. This results in Orca falling into a coma. All hell breaks loose for a moment and, once the dust clears, you take up the task of finding out what the hell just happened and why. One of those is explained, if unsatisfactorily, and the other really isn't explained at all. Guess which of those that applies to.
Controls: The controls in .Hack are relatively simple. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but the PS2 controller is utilized well, making frolicking around the .Hack countryside a breeze after a short learning curve of maybe five to ten minutes, depending on whether or not you pay attention to Orca's instructions. The camera can be a bit of a problem, but if you get used to constantly shifting the thing around like I do, it won't bug you too much. As far as responsiveness goes, .Hack can seem rather clunky at times due to limited and occasionally awkward animation. It's nothing you haven't seen before, however, which proves to extend well beyond the realm of simple controls. Despite what some would tell you, that is simply not a good thing at all.
Graphics: The graphics in this one, aside from the terrible looking technicolor intro, are pretty good. For all of about an hour or so. After that, the scenery gets repetitive, the enemies become mere color swaps, and it all just burns itself into your mind as totally generic. Soon, everything from the sky to the ground, walls, floor, and ceiling will start to look just too damned familiar. The method of choosing which map to fight on is pretty good on paper, but it's execution leaves much to be desired. After approaching a gate, you enter a series of three keywords, all of which determine things about the area generated, such as the weather(rainy, sunny, windy, snowing, whatever), basic element type(water, fire, earth, so forth), and enemy difficulty. The result is some weird sounding dungeon name like Chivalrous Groovy Apedancing and, say, a hot ass desert environment filled with bizarre, anime-ish enemies. Sounds great, right? Well, as you move on and visit many different areas, you find that the aforementioned sense of familiarity sets in and you slowly realize just how limited this game's core execution is. Just like everything else, the graphics get repetitive. This, of course, goes without mentioning the hilarious combat animation, which consists of two slashes and not much else. Even Morrowind has deeper and better looking combat than .Hack, but it doesn't win by a terribly large margin.
Sound: Annoying voice acting. Annoying sound effects. Your ears will grow tired and fall asleep, rendering you deaf. Upon waking up, they'll be likely to hop off of your head and find a new body to adopt, seeing as you decided to abuse them by making the poor little things listen to this. The dialogue gets largely overbearing and inane and starts to drag on into nowhere. It's as if the characters realized the story wasn't moving one whit and decided to ramble on about typically nothing; sprinkling hints of actual fleeting personality(*GASP*) across the tired and stretched out .Hack script. It isn't really doomed to repetition like the other gameplay elements, but it's stupid and tiresome nonetheless. Just shut up and help your god damned friend, all ready.
Overall: This game promised so much, yet delivered so little. All of that above isn't even the end of the flaws in this game. Rant time.
- For one, The World claims an unthinkable amount of people, yet you'd never really know that by looking at it. The typical town map is filled with a handful of people running from one end of the small and boring place to the other while complaining about any number of things, many of which you'll see about three hundred times, all worded exactly the same(ditto for the in-combat comments from your partners, who seem to like repeating themselves ad nauseam -- NO. THERE IS NO. DAMNED. AROMATIC. GRASS.). These idiot drones will literally charge mindlessly about some random street, hit a dead end, turn around, and run back the other way. It's like the rioting crowds in State of Emergency, only .Hack insults your intelligence by trying to pass all of this off as realism when it clearly isn't realistic in the least. The World is vast only in it's claims, yet is truly shallow in it's performance. When the RPG your character is playing sucks as much as this, how can you expect the game itself to be any better?
- Character interaction is minimal. You can speak to people pandering aimlessly about the towns, but they usually don't say much. You can also trade with them, but the items available from character to character didn't really vary a whole lot. The trading system is a decent idea, but you'll be sighing as you mentally toss this on the rapidly growing pile of flaws and failures, too. Here's how it works. You pick an object you want, then offer up to three separate items(with a limit of ninety-nine for each) in exchange for it. A star gauge representing the character's interest lights up if you have something they really want. Sometimes, one piece of armor or a decent weapon will tickle their fancy and instantly fill the gauge. Other times, you could give them ninety-nine of one thing, seventy-two of another, and fifteen of yet another and still not even pique their interest. Once the star gauge is complete, though, you can finalize the deal and whatever it is you wanted to trade for is now yours to use and abuse. As far as interaction pertaining to the main story goes, no one save for a few characters really have any sort of personality to begin with. It's all just a bunch of bare, generic sketches with scant back stories that never pan out, because the main story itself moves at a snail's pace. Even if there was a deeper element of player-to-player interaction, you wouldn't really give a ****, since nobody is worth talking to. In case you're wondering, I indeed spoke to everyone possible and participated in boring eMail and forum chains, hoping to absorb some of the details of the story, since just playing the game obviously wasn't doing that. I wasted my time. Nothing ever came of it. From all the praise and glorifying of .Hack's so-called ''realism'', I expected the feel of an actual MMORPG, but instead got a mechanical, underwhelming attempt at emulating true behavior. This attempt fails. Oops.
- Greed. See, Bandai decided to cut the game into four parts, each about twenty hours long. You might look at that and say ''What?! Only twenty hours?!'', but you'd be surprised at how long those scant twenty seem to drag and how little can be done during something so bromidic. Once the novelty wears off, you're left with little else to occupy your time with. Well into the third addition(Outbreak), I simply gave up. There are just too damned many problems and unfulfilled promises to make me go forward. I refuse to put up with the grinding, tedious boredom of even one more dungeon in the hopes of seeing a quick cutscene that will either advance the plot a tiny bit or do absolutely nothing except make you sigh with saddening grief at a laughably bad game that is drowning right before your eyes. Choose a map. Beat some enemies. Gain treasure. Back to town. Choose a map. Beat some enemies. Gain treasure. Back to town. Choose a map. Beat some enemies. Gain treasure. Kill me. Now.
- Above, I mentioned the story. I'll elaborate here, since this is one of my biggest gripes about the series. The little bit of the story you get does not move on at all. Your time is spent doing the most meaningless tasks that ultimately have absolutely nothing to do with any branch of the story, much less the very reason Kite is playing The World to begin with. Here's my feelings in a nutshell: Your friend is in a ****ing coma. But YOU are stuck trudging around a generic area in order to look for a antidote that will free some pretentious idiot from the effects of a deadly... LOVE POTION. Or you'll be drug into yet another stretch of dungeon crawling monotony(which is all this game offers in terms of ''action'') for absolutely no reason whatsoever. You go in, bore yourself with endless hacking and slashing, then retrieve the treasure from the bottom level of the dungeon only to be met with a ''...'' from Gardenia or any of the other bland, cookie cutter ''people'' you meet. Then it's back to the town map and you just wasted a bunch of time doing nothing at all to advance the main storyline. Gyyaaaarrrggghhhh!
- Bottom line, this entire series is boring. There is no excuse for cutting this up into pieces and dishing it out little by little. .Hack could have easily been a one or two game set. Cut out all of the nothing that plagues any one disc's pitiful twenty plus/minus hours, shove it all together with at least some semblance of fluidity(which is lacking even in .Hack's current shattered state), and you'd have yourself a decent game. Unfortunately, you don't get that, as Bandai wants you to buy all four games, watch the anime DVD included with each installment, collect and read the manga, and watch the virtually irrelevant series in order to pick up the bits and pieces of a splintered half-hope that never got so much as a passing chance to materialize before it died a screaming, unsightly death in your PS2 disc tray. Many people have picked up the embarrassing remnants of a dream long since gutted and attempted to piece it together with the tape of wishful thinking, but I feel truly, truly sorry for them, as there is absolutely no possible way to defend or explain this idiotic mess. It's a shame to see what has been done to such a cool idea. It's not entirely original at all, simple fact, but Bandai took a hammer and broke something that would have been fun into confused and pathetic shards of crap before the original product had even grown up and flowered into something coherent. They killed it before it broke out of the egg. If all of this wasn't such an obvious money whoring venture, I'd have liked it. Sadly enough, .Hack has turned out to be the most shallow, boring, disjointed mess of an unrealized concept that I have ever seen in my life. Matrix: Revolutions was satisfying compared to this dreck.
Conclusion: All said and done, I don't recommend this piece of **** to anyone with even a modicum of sanity left in their tired, war weary souls. Stay far, far away and you'll avoid wasting your time on a carrot dangled by a company that is successfully sucking the money off of gullible fools everywhere. Not realistic, not interesting, not fun. This game sucks. 3 out of 10.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/03, Updated 01/21/04
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