.hack//Infection - Review

Incomplete Transmission
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 10
   Story & Plot 8
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 15-20 Hours  

The game offers some Celtic themed design which is actually quite original and refreshing.
The game offers some Celtic themed design which is actually quite original and refreshing.

   Serial games - not sequel games, but a single game broken up into multiple episodes - are somewhat rare this side of the Pacific. .hack//Infection may just be the first such game we Americans have gotten, and it was well worth the wait. .hack presents an imaginative setting, an exciting and original plot, and wonderful design. Of course, it's far from flawless, with a sluggish, fractured combat system, questionable control and some uninspired voice acting, but the game is still a highly enjoyable, highly playable game, and sets a good foundation for the further three games in the series.

   .hack//Infection's combat system, much like the rest of the game, is based largely on the MMORPG framework. This means combat in .Hack is real-time, with magic and items being handled by a menu system. While combat can be extremely entertaining and at times downright frantic, the use of menus in a real-time combat system breaks the action up and slows it down. .hack's combat system is exciting, but with a better Magic and Item use system it could have been even better. Another way the design could have been improved was by varying the methods of physical attack, or by including a combo system of some kind. I also would have liked the use of AI scripts for allies, as handing out new orders at the beginning of every battle is a bit irritating. As it stands, the combat system feels incomplete.

   Character development is handled by the traditional level-up system. The highlights: Each level-up requires 1000 EXP, and the EXP monsters hand out is varied depending on their difficulty and their level as compared to yours. The system isn't at all complex or particularly interesting, and could have used a bit of originality.

   Control in general is fair. In menus, the cursor seems a bit loose and easily confused when using the analog stick, but a bit of caution takes care of that. On the field, control is good and responsive, exactly as it should be.

It's not that I'm against rabbit women, but *purple* rabbit women?
It's not that I'm against rabbit women, but *purple* rabbit women?

   The soundtrack to .hack is largely forgettable. There are a few standout tracks, but the composer, whose name escapes me at the moment, doesn't seem particularly inspired. I will say that the techno-ish tracks fit very well with .hack's EverQuest-cum-Tron setting, and that the themes work very well with the situations Kite and his friends are thrust into. Voice acting is a bit of a sore point. While there are definitely some big names included here, (Wendee Lee, she of Cowboy Bebop fame, for instance) there are a few serious errors, the biggest of which is Shatner's Syndrome - unnatural pauses in dialogue. On the other hand, there seems to have been a conscious effort to match English and Japanese voice actors, so that characters that had high squeaky voices in Japanese don't end up with deep voices in English. And for those purists amongst us, the option has been included to switch between English and Japanese voiceovers. Other sound effects, like footsteps and monster noises, seemed fairly realistic. There were no unintentionally silly sounds or obviously cheap Foley effects. Just as a side note, though, whoever did the voices for the Grunty Food deserves some sort of award for Silliest Way to Say 'Mushroom'. And 'Oh No Melon'. And if it's an Invisible Egg, why can I see it?

   Getting back to the actual game, .hack/Infection is one of the most original games to come across the Pacific in a long, long time. Just the plot and setting gets it an eight, but being a simulation of a game that emulates life in another dimension had to make it a ten.

   The plot takes only a few minutes to get rolling, but stutters in places. There are breaks in the plot that are obviously designed to give the player a chance to level build and explore, which is a refreshing break from the highly linear RPGs the PS2 has been seeing lately. In general the characters introduced in .hack//Infection are not very developed nor complex, but that seems to be due more to the game's under-twenty-hours-to-complete size. The plot of .hack//Infection does a good job of laying the ground work for the rest of the series, and I love the idea of a real battle between good and evil taking place inside an imaginary one, but the fact that said groundwork takes the place of any real development conspires to make the plot of .hack//Infection a bit boring. On the other hand, the plot of .hack//Infection just reeks of conspiracy and shadows, and pulls the player in to an alarming degree. The only other serious problem is one that it shares with Chrono Cross - too many characters, not enough development.

   While character development leaves something to be desired, characterization is more than satisfying. Each character you get has a highly unique personality, even the seemingly uninteresting side quest characters. I particularly enjoyed playing as Kite, whose pauses seem more emotive and sarcastic than mere dots should be. Other aspects of the localization are quite well done, with text never seeming unprofessional or unnatural. As if we could expect anything less from ADR.

BlackRose has some ulterior motives, but you don't get any information about that (or anything else) until May.
BlackRose has some ulterior motives, but you don't get any information about that (or anything else) until May.

   Replay value for .hack//Infection isn't bad, but will most definitely be enhanced with the release of the other volumes. As it stands, the large number of available areas and playable characters, plus an assortment of side quests available after the ending credits provides for a wonderful way to tide the player over until May, and the release of .hack//Mutation.

   Visuals weren't particularly stunning, but they didn't need to be. The character design is top-notch, and the Celtic/Irish feel to the design is a lot of fun. Spell effects and things aren't impressive, but that doesn't particularly detract from enjoyment of the game. Design in general is high quality, and the illusion of an online RPG is convincing and unique. For example, since dungeons in MMORPGs are quite frequently randomly generated, the dungeons in .hack//Infection were specifically designed to make them look randomly generated. Now that's attention to detail.

   .hack//Infection is very short, only 15 to 20 hours long. Granted this brings the grand total out to approximately 80 hours for the whole series, but Infection is just part one. Slightly more difficult than most console RPGs, part one earns a Medium.

   Despite .hack//Infection's flaws - lackluster graphics, a torpid combat system, and enough tie-ins and sequels to make Capcom really jealous - it is an ultimately enjoyable and very playable game. Its characterization, translation, design, and sense of mystery and conspiracy make for a highly enjoyable experience, no matter how short.

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