Review by PentiumMMX

"Even better than the first"

Back in early 2003, .hack//Infection was released for the PS2, getting people like myself hooked on its story. Just a few months later, Bandai releases the 2nd part in the story; .hack//Mutation. Is it any good, though?

Story
Similar to how Final Fantasy VII spanned 3 discs, .hack's story spans 4 separate games, released a few months apart from each other. .hack//Mutation is the 2nd part of the game, continuing the story of Kite; a player who is on a quest to figure out why his friend, Orca, fell into a coma after being defeated in the game by a strangely powerful monster. Before the game begins, it offers a quick summery of the first game's story to get you up to speed and ready for Part 2, though for the first-time player of the series, it's obviously better to have played .hack//Infection first.

I can't really go into much detail on what happens in this game to avoid spoilers for .hack//Infection, but the storyline is great; having you wonder what will happen next. The pace of the story in this part is rather slow; it can be a while before the next major plot point is revealed or a previous one is explained, which would probably turn some people off.
Story: 9 out of 10

Bonus DVD
Like the first game before it, one of the main features of .hack//Mutation is the bonus DVD included with it, which contains the 2nd part of the .hack//Liminality. It's an OAV that takes place during the events of the games, but following different characters in the real world

Shortly after the events of both Infection and the first part of Liminality, strange things begin to happen in the real world; fires breaking out, traffic at a complete halt, and the internet crashing, among other things, so while Mia (The girl who awoke from a coma in the first part) is doing research to find out what is causing people to fall into a coma from playing The World (An online RPG), another girl (Yuki) begins to follow a mysterious woman as they try to escape from a closed-down mall, and Mr. Tokuoka (A former employee of The CC Corporation; the company that created The World) tries to find Yuki.

Compared to the last part of Liminality, the pace of the story was much better.
Bonus DVD: 10 out of 10

Music \ Sound Effects
It's basically the same as before, but I'll go over it again. Since my review of .hack//Infection, the game's soundtrack has grown on me; it's actually not too bad, though it's far from being the best soundtrack ever. The sound effects aren't very impressive; it's mostly generic sound effects you've heard in other games. However, what is great about the audio is the voice acting; it's not overly cheesy, and the voices fit the personalities of the characters quite well. Overall, the only thing bringing this down would be the generic sound effects.
Music \ Sound Effects: 9 out of 10

Graphics
The graphics have not improved much over the first part; while it still looks great with detailed characters, the problem lies in the fact rooms in dungeons still have a tendency to look alike. However, because there is a on-screen map in the top right corner to hell you keep track of where you've been, you aren't likely to get lost easily, and does make this graphical problem mostly ignorable. There is still room for improvement, but it's still good enough to get by with the same score as the first volume
Graphics: 8 out of 10

Controls
The controls remain unchanged, because if they already worked great in the first place, why fix it? Like before, you have 2 menus available (Pressing the Triangle button brings up the Main Menu, allowing you to use items, skills, change equipment, check your status, and form a party. Pressing the Square button brings up the Party Commands Menu, allowing you to issue out commands to your party members), the camera can be controlled with either the shoulder buttons or the right analog stick, and you can control your character using either the D-Pad or the left analog stick. There are still occasional camera problems, but if you get past that, the controls still work great.
Controls: 9 out of 10

Gameplay
Like before, .hack is a single-player RPG that simulates the feel of an MMORPG. There are 2 parts to the game; the real world (Your character's desktop, where you can check your e-mail, save your game, read the latest news, and customize your desktop) and The World (The main part of the game. You'll be spending most of your time here, exploring dungeons and fighting monsters as you follow the storyline). What is amusing is how on the message boards in the game, they actually have fights break out between users (They've captured the feel of an official message board for a game quite well)

If you've already played and finished .hack//Infection, you can use the Convert feature to carry over all your stuff from the first game into the second game; this is great for the people who have already played the first to keep their rare items and powerful equipment, along with how powerful their character is. If you've never played the first, don't worry; you can still play .hack//Mutation (The game has a quick recap of the major events from the first game before you start playing, plus is starts you and your character's friends at around Level 30), though I'd highly suggest playing .hack//Infection first.

The characters you team up with all have unique personalities, ranging from the serious, professional-like player all the way to the lovable newbie. You find out more about the character's life outside The World from e-mails they send you throughout the game. It doesn't do much for the story, but is a nice addition for those who want to know more about their favorite character. Plus, you can actually reply to the e-mails they send you by choosing between 2 responses to send (So you can either be nice to the characters or be a total jerk to them. It's your choice)

The gameplay to the main game it's self involves exploring dungeons, fighting monsters and collecting treasure as you go. The battles are real time, but unlike some other games I've played, the game will pause when you bring up a menu, allowing you to take your time choosing an item or skill. No more frantically searching through a menu to find an item or ability you need while still trying to dodge enemy attacks, like in Kingdom Hearts. There are areas you have to enter as part of the story, though if you want to take a break from that and just explore somewhere for the fun of it, you can randomly generate a keyword to go into an area to build up items and experience points before you tackle the next story-related area.

An interesting ability in the .hack games is Data Drain; an ability that allows you to hack into an enemy and turn it into a weaker enemy and gain items from it (Typically, you'll receive Virus Cores, which are used to enter locked areas, though you'll also occasionally find new weapons and armor from it), but at a cost. If you use Data Drain too much, not only will you barely get any experience points, but it will cause your character's infection rate to increase (If your infection rate gets too high, you'll get a Game Over screen and have to start again from your last save), plus there's random negative effects to your party.

One new feature introduced in .hack//Mutation is Grunty Racing. If you've played the first game, remember those weird, pig-like creatures? Now you can race them! In the mini-game, you'll ride around on a Grunty trying to collect the 3 flags placed at different spots around the Root Town as quickly as possible while trying to avoid other characters walking around. While a fun mini-game that gives you something to do when you want to take a break from the main story, it can get quite annoying at times (Especially how everything seems to be out to slow you down, like the racing mini-game in Lego Island).

Like before, it's not without its flaws. The game does get repetitive after a while, though thankfully, it doesn't get repetitive as fast as Phantasy Star Universe.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10

Overall
.hack//Mutation is a little better than the first game, though I'd suggest playing .hack//Infection first if you're interested in the series seeing as that's where the story starts.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/27/09

Game Release: .hack//Mutation Part 2 (US, 05/06/03)


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