Review by dGalloway

Reviewed: 07/06/04

A good idea ruined by greed.

I heard about .hack when it first came out, but never bothered to play it. After a long time, and an attempt at watching the anime (which ended with me collapsing in a lifeless shell), I decided to rent this out of sheer curiosity. I was surprised at how it was more interesting than the anime, but it still suffered from the problems associated with episodic games. That, and the game play was rather dull.

Graphics: The characters look very anime-like (which is to be expected, since the game is BASED on an anime). Also, some attention to detail was made, although not very much (lots of blocky and jagged edges abound). Also, many of the characters are based on the same design (then again, this IS set in a MMORPG world), and thus have little variety. And of course, the seizure-inducing Data Drain sequences are pure pain on the eyes, which is why I always skip them (that, and they take way too long). Still, the graphics are tolerable, and don't detract too much from what's important. (7/10)

Music: Almost every area sounds exactly the same, which is a bad thing. Every town has the same theme, every dungeon has the same theme, every boss has the same theme, etc. The only times the music changes is during important cut scenes, which are few and far between. (6/10)

Sound: Every single attack has the same "thwack!" sound. While this is alright for swords and staves, I expect something better than a "thwack!" when they rain unholy hellfire on enemies. The voice acting isn't that great, although it's not the worst I've ever heard *coughREcough*. The sound needed more variety, if you ask me (and by reading this review, you technically are). (5/10)

Game play: .hack has a mixed bag in terms of gameplay. The game does a good job of simulating a MMORPG environment. You always start at a computer desktop, where you check e-mails, customize background tunes and wallpapers, review key points of the story , and occasionally get new objectives (via e-mail of course). Afterwards, you go to the main log-in screen of "The World", the game .hack is centered around. There you can either go back to the game or check the message boards, which contain new locations, clues, story pieces, and sidequests. Finally, when you reach "The World", you explore towns and buy items, then join up with other players to go to randomized dungeon fields, where you fight monsters to gain experience and items. Then you go into the dungeons themselves, and fight your way to the bottom, where a much more powerful item waits for you.

It sounds dull compared to most RPGs, and in fact, it is. The dungeons are almost all the same, and the boss fights all have the same strategy. Still, this is an emulation of MMORPGs, a genre not well known for being creative or immersive. Also true to the genre it imitates, there are only six classes, but many different characters. As a result, your party gets clogged with repeats early and often.

Can a game survive this? Contrary to what most critics say, it can. The whole concept is an imitation of MMORPGs, so I wasn't exactly expecting Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. Also, the randomized dungeons are good for an occasional run-through, as they can be fun when you get difficult enemies. Still, the game suffers from being too dull. (7/10)

Story: This is where the game really shines. The story starts out simply with a player entering the world, controlling his character called Kite. He meets with his friend's character, Orca, who is a legend among "The World's" community. After they go to a newbie-friendly dungeon, a girl in white gets chased by a virus-infected creature. After a brief fight, Orca is killed, and the player controlling him falls immediately into a coma. As the story continues, more and more people fall into comas, and someone quickly starts hiding the evidence. It's up to Kite to solve the mystery and save his friend.

Unfortunately, the story takes a long time to build up, and I mean a LONG time. Since this is an episodic game, you barely scratch the surface here, leaving you eager for the next game, which barely scratches the surface yet again. Not only that, but the story doesn't build until the final installment, leaving you at a Hulk-level of rage until then. For all it's worth, though, it's still a good story. (9/10)

The final problem with the game, however, doesn't fit into any of these categories. It is, in fact, Bandai's greed involving the .hack series as a whole. In order to understand everything, you have to buy every anime, manga and game they release, leaving big money for them. To add insult to injury, all four installments play the same, so this could be used as a general score for the series. The only way to cheat the system is to rent at least the first three installments, save your data at the end of each one, then either buy the (now reduced in price) fourth installment, or simply rent the last one to finish the plot up. Remember that, and you will have saved almost $150.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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