.hack Impressions
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Bandai's .hack just might be one of the best and most unusual RPGs to come to North America in several years. For those who are unfamilar with .hack, it has the unusual feature of simulating an MMORPG within a RPG.

.hack follows the story of Kite, a 14 year old boy, and his friend, Orca, as they play an online game called The World. While playing, they are attacked by a monster and Orca is left in a comatose state. Believing that the key to reviving his friend lies within The World, Kite continues playing.

When starting .hack, players are presented with a typical MMORPG interface. Among the options are email, message boards, and of course, the game. Kite can receive email from other players of The World, and participate in mass discussions on the message boards. Of course, the real action in .hack is located within playing the virtual online game.

Upon entering the game, the player is brought to a town where they can meet up with other players to form teams of three for exploring the randomly generated dungeons. Before leaving for the dungeon, the player is prompted to choose from 3 different options which will influence the difficulty and size of the dungeon.

Once in the dungeon, the party explores just like any other RPG. Combat is handled like typical action RPGs, with the main player running up to enemy to attack or attacking from a distance with magic. Meanwhile, the other players are controlled by the AI, in order to add to the feeling of participating in an MMORPG. However, the combat of .hack is the only weak point. The range of physical attacks appears to be quite limited, forcing Kite to be extremely close to the enemy before he can attack.

Graphically, .hack looks quite pleasing, with a distinctive anime feel. Which stands to reason as the character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, is also the character designer for Evangelion and the storyline is by Kazunori Ito, the writer for Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor. As an added bonus, .hack will come with a 40 minute anime show, which follows a storyline similar to that of .hack, but set in the offline world.

The audio that could be heard on the show floor was acceptable, but nothing memorable. With a nod to purists, Bandai has given the player the option of English or Japanese voice overs.

Overall, .hack provides an oasis of uniqueness in a desert of similar and bland, repetitive RPGs. If the final product can live up to the expectations created by the early demos, .hack should provide RPGamers with hours of entertainment come October.

by Martin Drury    
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