Review by NojoJojo

"Yeah, it's a hack, all right."

Yeah, it's a hack all right...

I'm going to start this review off by saying that .hack//infection is clearly a well-made game. Bandai poured a lot of money into its development, and this shows in things like the character models, the user interfaces, and the concept (a ''fake'' MMORPG, with lots of details to make it ''authentic''). It also showed in the marketing, which was mysterious and interesting enough to coax me into buying a game that ordinarily I wouldn't have touched.

This is because I'm not remotely interested in MMORPGs, fake or otherwise. I'm one of those people who likes the kinds of RPGs that so-called ''true gamers'' always complain about---linear, story-heavy (vs. gameplay), ''pretty''. Basically Square games, although I've enjoyed lesser RPGs like Shadow Hearts too. So I'm going to recommend that if you're like me, and you really like the things that made Final Fantasy and Chrono Cross fun, you're probably not going to enjoy .hack//infection much. That's because you're not going to get:

-Character development. You literally never know your character's true face or name, just his in-game role. Worse, he pretty much has no personality. (Maybe to make it easier for players to ''immerse'' in the role? Whatever the reason, he's incredibly boring.) Your ''friends'' are complete mysteries which are never solved. (For example: What's with Elk and his stalker-fixation on Mia?) Your enemy is even worse: it's basically an anthropomorphic pile of rocks.

-Closure. .hack//infection is the first of a lengthy series of similar games---and it shows in the fact that its ending resolves absolutely nothing and is essentially a cliffhanger. Some people might think this is great, but it annoyed me to no end. If I shell outt $50 for a game, I want some closure, doggone it. =P At least enough to entice me into buying the next game. For me, there wasn't enough. Other peoples' mileage may vary.

-Plot. One of .hack's strengths is that it's almost totally non-linear. As a result, the game's plot consists of a) go into field/dungeons and fight enemies, b) wait until somebody tells you where to go to next, c) go to that field/dungeon and fight enemies. For a non-linear game, I found this incredibly linear, and really dull. There are no puzzles to solve, no surprises to discover. No thought required---just proceed from Dungeon A to Dungeon B to Dungeon C. You have no emotional investment in the characters, so it's hard to care whether they succeed in their mission or not. The central problem of the game (figure out why the game put your friend in a coma) is never resolved at the end. Other plot elements, such as a mysterious girl and a strange ''bracelet'' you receive, are just tossed out and left hanging.

It's pretty clear why these problems exist. .hack is a Bandai creation, and Bandai IMO has never made a product that couldn't be milked for every dime possible. To get the full story of the .hack series, players will have to shell out several hundred dollars for all of the games, and probably for the anime too. I can't really blame the company for this; they have to make money, I know. But the result is a game which is high on merchandising and sequel potential, and low on all the things that make for a truly memorable, enjoyable gaming experience.

HOWEVER... that's just me. I want an RPG to play like a good book, but interactive. I want to care about the characters. I want the story to be well-constructed and comprehensible. I want a strong central plotline, which doesn't have to be completely resolved, but which should have at least made some clear progress by the end of the book. If that good book/game is part of a series, I want each one to be able to stand on its own. I want there to be more to it than just action scenes strung together with a little bit of pseudo-plot.

But if you're not like me, then you'll probably love .hack. Like I said, it's a well-made game. Graphics are excellent, considering there's no FMV---it's actually kind of a pleasant change of pace to see a game which doesn't rely on 20-minute movies to advance the story. The music isn't particularly memorable, but it won't get on your nerves either. I love the fact that it has the original Japanese track, so you don't have to endure the awful English dub voices unless you want to---I played the whole game in Japanese with English subtitles. (Wish more games were imported this way.)

The gameplay has some flaws, such as:

-I found that all of the fields/dungeons were too alike to hold my interest after I'd played through them once or twice, even though they looked slightly different in each case. Really monotonous after a while.

-The camera drove me NUTS. It's not an automatic camera; you have to manually adjust it. I found myself adjusting it ALL THE TIME. It was completely annoying to try and fight enemies while watching my HP while trying to wrestle with the camera controls. I've read other reviews which raved about this feature and I kept wondering why would *anybody* think this was fun? On several occasions my characters died because I couldn't adjust the camera fast enough.

Aside from these minor flaws, however, I found the gameplay easy to handle and even a bit interesting---the fact that you occasionally get ''email'' from other game characters was a nice way to dump information on the player. You still have to do the usual RPG thing and walk around/talk to every character, however---if only to trade for good weapons/items, if not to get useful info. I liked the little touches of a simulated MMORPG: obnoxious players, emoticons, a BBS where threads go way off-topic and even devolve into flamewars. (On second thought, I didn't like that, ''authentic'' though it was. I can get flames and OT chatter in real life; don't need to see it in my games. =P ) If gameplay is a top priority for you, you'll love this game.

If you want anything else, though, be prepared for disappointment.

I'd suggest renting it first, then buy it if you like it. You can judge this game pretty well by its first 30 minutes, because it doesn't get any better from there.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 03/26/03, Updated 03/26/03

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