by Zac Bertschy,


Game Vol. 1 - Infection - Playstation 2

In .hack://INFECTION, you take on the role of Kite, a first-time player in The World, the most popular fantasy MMORPG available on the market. Something's wrong in The World, though, and your best friend Orca is attacked by a mysterious force that can't be explained. To top it off, a strange glowing girl hands you a legendary item capable of amazing and bizarre powers; just what the heck is going on, anyway?!
hack://INFECTION is the first volume in the .hack game series, which is the largest chunk of the .hack world Bandai has assembled. It picks up about six months after the .hack://SIGN TV series, and it should be noted that your playing experience will be greatly enhanced by having seen the end of that series. That said, .hack://INFECTION is a competent if not overly inventive RPG that'll keep veteran players entertained for a weekend and novice players busy for a while.

Most people are familiar with RPGs via the old standards: Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and so forth. .hack://INFECTION mixes up the formula somewhat by having a very unique and original storyline. There is an overwhelming sense of mystery in .hack, and the people behind this game have assembled a very engaging scenario that will keep you locked to your seat during story portions of the game. Typically, RPGs follow a very simple storyline: kill these five bosses, collect these five items, and then kill the final boss--all while leveling up and reading text box after text box of relatively unimportant dialogue. .hack does away with that formula, requiring the player to play basically two games at once: one inside The World, and the other gathering clues and communicating with other players outside of the game via the virtual bulletin board system. It's incredibly unique, and Bandai did a wonderful job maintaining a mysterious atmosphere. The storyline is what will keep you playing this game.

The game is about two years old, however, and was in development for a long time before the Japanese release. It should be said that the graphics are fairly primitive for a recent Playstation 2 game. Textures are fairly low-res and the game's characters don't have many polygons. The World, as a result, is somewhat ugly and pretty outdated. If graphics are an important factor in gaming for you, you may want to try something else. The music is fairly well done and complementary to the game, although it isn't as remarkable as it was in the .hack TV series. Then again, it doesn't overpower the plot or dialogue as it did in .hack://SIGN. The game does give you the rather pleasant option of playing in either Japanese or English. Since the dubbing is a little below par for Bandai, I'd suggest playing the subtitled version, but the English isn't completely unbearable.

The game is also very short. Experienced gamers will be able to blast through .hack://INFECTION in a mere 10-15 hours, which is almost unacceptably short for an RPG. It seems like they took one average-length RPG and cut it in to four smaller parts. The ending cliffhangs pretty badly, so if you're in to serious resolution, you may want to wait for the remaining three volumes to be released. If you do all the side-quests and minigames, .hack will last you a while longer, although not by much. I can't see anyone getting more than 30 hours out of this game. Considering that most other RPGs have at least 80 hours worth of stuff to do in them, .hack falls very short in this category. Novice players, on the other hand, will find a lot to like about .hack's length. It might be a great introductory RPG for newbies to the genre. Keep in mind, though, it'll cost you two hundred dollars to play the entire game, which isn't any longer than your average RPG in the end, assuming the remaining chapters have an equal amount of playtime.

.hack://INFECTION's gameplay is where things start to slow down a bit. Combat essentially consists of smacking the same button over and over again, getting the experience, leveling up your characters and moving on. There isn't a whole lot of customization to explore and the character class system is fairly limited, so people who play RPGs for statistics alone will be disappointed with .hack. A more varied combat system would have been appreciated, but as it stands, it's certainly playable. Again, the gameplay isn't what players should focus on here; .hack's amazing and involving storyline is more than enough to warrant playing the game.

The game also comes with a 45-minute OVA episode, titled .hack://LIMINALITY. It follows the exploits of the real-world counterparts to the players in The World, and honestly, I found myself dozing off repeatedly. It's not that the storyline isn't interesting; it just isn't paced or executed very well. What happens in the real world isn't nearly as interesting as what goes on inside the game. .hack://SIGN and the new .hack://DUSK both managed to find an excellent balance in storytelling between the real world and the game, and with .hack://LIMINALITY, the scales are tipped a bit too far in the wrong direction. It's a nice freebie to include with the game, but is wholly unremarkable on its own.

Basically, if you like RPGs or enjoyed .hack://SIGN, give .hack://INFECTION a try. It's a decent example of the genre and has one of the most intricate and involving storylines to be seen in an RPG. Given the game's short length, it might be better suited for rental, but hardcore .hack fans and gamers alike probably won't be disappointed despite the game's obvious shortcomings.
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B

+ Cool storyline, great music
Outdated graphics, repetitive combat system, incredibly short

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