Review by lbabinz

"An excellent addition to an intriguing franchise"

.Hack is one of those games that I want to love just because the premise behind it is so intriguing. I find the idea of a game that is causing real life chaos to its players and the stories surrounding everyone involved to be quite a fascinating venture. With that said, I really enjoyed the first .Hack (Infection) but was hoping for a little more story to flesh out the somewhat boring dungeon crawling. While the second .Hack (Mutation) solves one problem by adding in more great movie sequences and instilling a little more mystery into the world of .Hack, a new problem arises in that the game plays exactly the same as its predecessor and is quite frankly getting a tad boring. That said, I would also mention that anyone who wants to play this would feel right out of place had they not finished the first one. In fact, I am not even too sure how that sort of person would fare as the first story related dungeons in Mutation would kill any low level characters with one hit. In any case, I am writing this review from the standpoint that if you wish to enjoy it, you really should go play the first one.

The .Hack formula is fairly simple but yet rather fun (at first). Basically, you can pick a location from a listing of servers and keywords. Different combinations of keywords create different random dungeons to explore. Factors such as monster type and level come into play and you can use these factors to help pick the locations you want to warp to. Naturally, a fair many of these locations are story related and therefore must be tackled to advance the game. Locations all follow the same formula. There is an outside 'Overworld' that you can fight your way through or merely beeline to the dungeon contained within every location. Each dungeon contains a set amount of floors that all invariably lead to some sort of boss or treasure. The formula worked well for the first game, but to tell you the truth, it gets a little redundant and boring by the end of the second game, which is rather unfortunate. An update to the play mechanics would certainly have been appreciated for this continuation of the series.

The battle system in .Hack is basic hack and slash but with a few fun factors put in. Basically, you wander around until you find a portal that contains either monsters or a treasure chest. If it is monsters, then you go into battle mode and must continue to fight until either you or the monsters are finished (or you run away). Battle involves mostly button mashing, but in the harder dungeons some strategy comes into play. First off, each character has skills that are set according to the equipment he or she is carrying. These skills run the gamut from attack spells to healing spells, long-range techniques to short-range melee attacks. Selecting the right type of skill for the right type of enemy becomes an interesting diversion to the regularly mundane fighting. You can also control your party members to some extent by assigning them commands. Thankfully, Mutation seems to have upgraded the AI slightly so that the party members actually follow their orders more often and for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, while there are certainly some new techniques (including a cool new upgrade to the data drain) and spells, the battle system is entirely identical to the first outing.

So, what is new in Mutation? Well, there is a new side-diversion called Grunty (Big cow type animals) racing, that while fun for a little while quickly becomes stale (largely due to the fact that there are only 2 courses you can race on and only 5 different Grunties). There are the obvious upgrades to the system including new weapons, armors, skills, Grunties to raise, new items in the shops, etc., etc. However, the core game remains pretty much the same.

Thankfully, the story is very nice within Mutation. It starts off a little slow, and yes, there are some boring quests which basically involve meeting up with a new character, but on the whole, the story is quite excellent. There are new mysteries to be found, and old mysteries to be solved. The awesome semi-futuristic setting really compliments the techno-video game world. News articles and emails from your friends, not to mention message forums really help to draw you in to the awesome .Hack universe. The only problem is that just when the story really gets going and you think you are on the verge of unlocking .Hack's secrets, the game comes to an end leaving you once again on the edge of your seat.

Character interaction is light, but what is there is quite nice. Mutation really develops the unique personalities of your traveling companions and by spending some time with each, your relationship with them will grow. If you include each member in your party, they will send you emails and have different reactions to the plot points in the game (although they aren't too diverse, they are unique and suit each character well).

Technically, this game is the same as the first one. The graphics are fairly nice (I particularly like the design) but do not really set any new standards. The dungeons and overworld fields in particular are rather lacking. The music however, is brilliant. The techno beats somehow manage to mix upbeat with mysterious and pump out some very nice tunes. I had a few of the boss battle themes going consistently on my desktop (in the game) and always loved it when they fired up.

Basically, the decision on whether to buy .Hack Mutation comes down to this. If you have played the first one and were intrigued by the story and want to see more, then by all means dive on in. It’s not particularly long, and it is definitely more of the same, but it is pretty fun while it lasts and the story is excellent. If, however, you are looking into the .Hack franchise for the first time, then please go and check out .Hack Infection first. You may be quite lost in Mutation otherwise. Overall though, a solid offering and something that should keep RPG'ers busy until the next game in the series comes out.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/30/03, Updated 06/30/03

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