.hack//Infection - Review

Simply Stupendous
By: Dave Willis

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Story & Plot 9
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Easy
   Completion Time 20-30 Hours  

Kite and company out and about.
Kite and company out and about.

   .hack//INFECTION is leading the charge of Bandai's ambitious multi-medium franchise. Over the coming months, you'll see .hack practically everywhere; spanning TV, comic books, DVD's and of course, video games. INFECTION is the first in a four part series, with subsequent titles being released within months of each other. For the starting off point of the series, developer Cyber Connect2 probably had a couple of goals for INFECTION. Provide an introduction to "The World", and get gamers psyched up for parts two through four.

   The beginning of the game starts out innocently enough, but events soon take on a more sinister nature. The main character, Kite, is persuaded to play an MMORPG by his friend, Orca. This particular online game, The World, turns out to have a nasty darker side. Orca and others fall into comas, posts are mysteriously deleted on the message boards, and certain areas of the game are unreachable unless Kite hacks into them. In order to save his friend, Kite and other inquisitive minds need to uncover the truth behind The World.

   To be successful in battles, communication with your allies is crucial. Thankfully, issuing commands can be pulled off seamlessly after a little bit of practice. For someone who has little to no online RPG experience (like me), the battle system takes a little getting used to, but once the initial awkwardness has passed it's clear skies ahead. Also, each characters repertoire of skills is directly linked to their equipment. Each piece of gear has its own set of skills. Upon equipping the item, the skills are subsequently transferred to the character. That's also something of a double-blade sword however, once you put on a new piece of equipment, the old ones skills' get tossed. The interface for the whole game, including character equipment, is pretty slick. The menus get easier and easier to navigate as the game progresses.

Jumbo praying mantis' don't look so friendly.
Jumbo praying mantis' don't look so friendly.

   .hack//INFECTION shows prowess in the audio department in a couple areas, while other aspects feel uninspired. For one, battle music is seamlessly woven into the standard dungeon tracks. Pretty much the only way you'll notice the transition is if you really focus in on the music. The battle music itself is intense; it easily takes the battles to a new level. Attention to detail rings true as the sound effects are solid throughout the game. However, I wasn't a big fan of the techno-induced ending theme or much of the music heard while traversing dungeons (which takes up the lion-share of actual gameplay time). Also, the music in each field gets tired real fast. The English voice acting is highly erratic; some characters are lifeless and dull, while others show some real emotion. Text wasn't the problem; it looked and read ship-shape 99% of the time.

   The premise of the game is surprisingly original considering how many cookie-cutter RPG's sit on store shelves these days. Confusing as it sounds, the term "offline online" sums up the .hack experience. The World simulates an online game to a large extent of success. Characters use emoticons, there's item trading between players, and there are a couple of central "hub" towns with shops and the like. Also, the option to choose between English and Japanese voiceovers is a cool bonus. It's nice to see a unique concept like this one pulled off once in a while.

   The plot of INFECTION is top-notch considering it's the introduction to a four part series. You've got shady characters, unrevealed motives, and a mystery that hasn't even had the surface scratched, not to mention the suspenseful ending. It'll be interesting to see how Part 2 builds off the impressive storyline.

   Overall, the on screen eye-candy is above average. Character designs look like they've stepped right out of an anime, wide ranging from huge warrior looking types to petite magic casters. One thing that you'll notice however, is the dungeon backgrounds. They're practically identical except for a different paintjob and room layout. It doesn't really detract from the gameplay, but it's just one of those things that stick out.

AHH… freaks!
AHH… freaks!

   Even after you beat INFECTION, there's still reason to play. All of the character data, equipment, and current items, will be transferred to Part 2. So, how long will it take to complete Part 1? Anywhere from 20 - 30 hours, depending on the type of player you are. The game isn't really that difficult, you'll never be wondering where to go next, and the end boss isn't too tough if you're well stocked up on items.

   .hack//INFECTION looks like the beginning of a pretty enjoyable series. There's a lot of potential here to be tapped for the next three games. The intriguing story, unique cast of characters and the original concept make .hack something every RPG enthusiast should check out.

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