Review – .Hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak and Quarantine

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Publisher: Bandai
Platform: Playstation 2
Genre: Action RPG
Release Dates:
Infection – February 10th, 2003
Mutation – May 6th, 2003
Outbreak – September 9th, 2003
Quarantine – January 14th, 2004

Premise

“The World”, an online game of sword and sorcery, is one of the most popular games out there. As a new player, a PC by the name of Kite logs in for the first time, and with the help of a fellow classmate, a PC known as Orca, begins his adventures in “The World”, During Kite’s training, they are attacked by an unknown enemy and Orca is defeated. Kite learns afterward that his classmate is now in a coma in the real world. With the game seemingly connected to Orca’s coma, Kite begins investigating into the cause within the game, only to delve into many mysteries surrounding the players, developers, and the system administrators. What is the big secret surrounding “The World”?

Story

Since the story was divided up into four games, I felt the best way to be as in depth as possible was to review the entire series as one complete story.

The .Hack// games are part of a much larger world. A prequel anime entitled .Hack//Sign told the story leading up to the beginning of Infection. While the anime is not necessary to watch to really enjoy the games, there are several characters and side stories within the game series that make watching it worthwhile. The story is also very engaging, with conspiracies, hidden agendas, and issues that can be seen both in game, and when offline looking at news bulletins. You are given a real feeling that your actions while playing “The World”, have a direct impact on the happenings of the real world, and they are not always positive.

Characters

Since “The World” is an MMORPG, the characters are all PCs that you encounter in game. Some are very involved in the main story, while others are part of side events, and become in-game devices that allow access to side quests. As with typical online gaming, not everyone is online when you want them to be, so you may not have access to some PCs during points in the games. Your allies will also send you emails from time to time, and you can respond with pre-determined response choices to move the conversation along, and get to know these people in real-life.

Each character is a part of one of six main classes. Heavy Blades, Blademasters, and Heavy Axe users are high attack/defense. Twin Blades and Long arms are fast attackers, but with less defence, and Wavemasters are your spellcasters and healers. The majority of friends you make in-game are blademasters, which seems to be the most popular class.

Visuals

the .Hack// games were developed early into the Playstation 2’s run, making the graphics good for its time. the 3D rendering is good during the cut scenes, and some of the designs of the main enemies, most notably Cubia, really helped build the seriousness and atmosphere of the situation. About halfway through the game, and incident occurs in game that changes the overall look of the in-game environment, and these changes really set the tone for what has happened and what is yet to come.

The Character designs are standard MMO fare. Classes tend to look very similar to each other with different coloring, while your party PC’s tend to look a little more unique, but not enough to make them feel out of place from the rest of the PCs in game.

Dungeon designs can be a little creepy when you explore, as some of the entrances are the mouth of a giant worm or human-shaped face, and the dungeon is their insides. Other dungeons include caves, temples, and the occasional forest like dungeon.

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Audio

From the anime, to the video games, the .Hack// Franchise has prided itself on its musical score. The games’ soundtracks were composed by Chikayo Fukuda, Norikatsu Fukuda, Tomoyo Mitani, and Seizo Nakata. These composers have also worked on other games for CyberConnect 2, including the .Hack//G.U. series.

The games also include dual-language voice tracks with English and Japanese.

Gameplay – Exploration

There are three different types of areas available for exploration; Root Towns, Field areas, and Field Dungeons. Root towns are where PCs log in to when they first sign into the game, and are safe zones with no monsters. Here, Kite can form a party, save his progress, buy items and gear from shops, and interact with other PCs in town. Each PC has the option to start a trade with, allowing you to get better gear or items without spending money. Some PCs will also have rare items and/or gear and are asking for specific items in order to obtain.

Field areas are accessed through the root town, using the gate portal. an area is created by combining three different key words. These keywords set the elemental type of the monsters encountered, their levels, and types of other environmental conditions, affecting items like Grunty food (More on that later). Once in the field, it is littered with Field portals. When you approach one, it will release either monsters, or treasure chests. You won’t know what will happen until you approach one. Once in the field, you may explore these fields, clear out the magic portals, and then find the dungeon entrance.

Dungeon exploration is similar to Field exploration, except in many rooms, you cannot proceed into another room until you clear all the magic portals in the room you’re in. Typically, there is only one portal in a room, but there are rare exceptions to that rule. Dungeons are mapped as you go, but you may use an item in game to reveal the map of the dungeon floor. The goal of most dungeons is to obtain the treasure at the bottom floor. Plot dungeons will tend to have a boss fight, either on top of the end treasure, or in lieu of it.

When you run out of clues for what to do next, you can always log out and go to your Computer’s home screen. Here, you can customize your wallpaper, BGM, check your emails, and message boards, which can provide you with helpful hints and new areas to explore. This is one of the features I thought added to the realism of a simulated MMO, since it really shows that you aren’t just Kite, you’re the guy playing as Kite in “The World”.

Gameplay – Combat

Combat is done in a typical action RPG fashion. You have a standard attack command in the X Button, and can pause into a sub menu that gives you access to items, spells/skills, and party commands. Since your other party members are AI controlled, your commands are very helpful in creating a swift combat experience. Monsters have elemental weaknesses and resistances, and some are also immune to physical or magic, so a balanced party is key. After a monster is hit so many times, it may enter into a “Protect break” status, meaning it can be harvested for items using a specific skill in Kite’s arsenal. These items are vital for story progression, so it’s always good to stock up, but that skill cannot be used in excess as there are consequences for its use. For the most part, the battle system is not complicated and creates a relatively simple difficulty setting, but I find that the story is worth the grind.

Gameplay – Character Progression/Equipment

Character progression is strictly from EXP gain through combat. New skills/spells are attached to equipment. This means the stronger the gear, the more powerful skills that will be attached to them.

Gameplay – Optional Content/Sidequests

Since this is a Simulated MMO, it’s only natural to think that there would be side quests/events during your progression in “The World”. During the course of each game, you are given optional side areas to go to. Some of these will introduce you to new PCs to party with, and they will continue to give you side areas during the story to help you along. You are also provided a bonus dungeon area after completing the main story of each game, that helps you get to your level cap (There is no actual level cap per game, but it does become near impossible to level after a certain point each game.)

You are also given the “Book of 1000”, early into the first game. This book is for the completionists, as you are given many tasks to perform, and in doing so, you are rewarded with background music, wallpapers, and cut scene replay access for your offline home screen. These tasks include encountering every PC in the game, gifting your friended PCs, How many dungeons you have completed, treasure chests opened, and more. The Movies and images you can receive are game specific, so if you move onto game two without maxing out your Book of 1000 in game 1, you lose out on the opportunity to unlock further goodies from it.

And what’s an MMO without a pet system? In each root town, Kite has the option to raise a Grunty, a pig/horse/cow like creature. Grunties are incredibly low maintenance, as you only have to feed it whenever you want. Feeding it requires Grunty food, which can be found in fields and dungeons. The types of grunty food you feed it will affect how it will mature. Once matured, the grunty will become a member of the root town, and you will be able trade for his rare items. You will also be able to ride your grunty in Flag races, as well as through the field areas.

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Lastly, there are easter eggs exist in this game for those who were familiar with the .Hack//SIGN anime series. There are several instances starting in game 2 that reference, or even allow you to interact with characters from the anime series. Some of their weapons are available as rare weapons, and can be obtained by visiting the most iconic area in the game, as well as other side quests.

Final Thoughts

I spent a good part of my life invested in the .Hack// Franchise. I own the anime series’, the Manga, some novelizations, and i even have a Grunty Plushie. I have a full respect for this series, as it is a pioneer for some modern anime franchises like Sword Art Online. That said, while the games on their own are their own story, and an enjoyable story, one would get the most out of the experience by investing in the universe as I did. If that’s something you like doing, then you will be the target audience for these games, more so than others. Regardless, if you want a good story, then this 4 game series is the series for you.

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Review – .Hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak and Quarantine

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