.hack//Infection (PS2) Review

Publisher: Bandai Games / Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. || Overall: 9/10


Overview:
Part one in a series of four games, .hack // INFECTION takes place in a simulated MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called The World. What .hack manages to accomplish, is give the feel of playing online, with the ability to trade with other players, explore many different areas, and go on assortments of different quests, in addition to plenty more. Your allies even act as their own independent player (for the most part), like they were being controlled by another player, playing alongside you somewhere else in the world. The main difference from .hack and an MMORPG is that there is a structured story, with characters in the game that you’ll encounter repeatedly throughout its tenure.

If you don’t like complicated games that take a long time to get into, this is probably not your game/gaming series. There is a lot to learn about .hack: weapons, shops, and areas in the World, Altimit (your simulated computer’s operating system), and more. As you progress through the game, more is added on, and that’s only half the game. A big part of the game is the story. The whole time you’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on, and just when you think you understand what’s going on, a bunch of random occurrences are tossed at you, confusing you even more, as well as enticing you to buy the next game in the series.

Graphics:
The graphics are great. There’s nothing to say bad about this game graphic-wise. For the most part, you can easily define something that is of interest from the scenery, and it’s easy to tell whether or not something is an enemy. There is constantly a myriad of colors for you to submerge yourself into. During battles, there are different colors flashing, things coming out of the ground, and things flying out of the air, all summing up to be a nice blend. The game’s frame rate almost never slows down, unless you have a horde of enemies unleashed at the same time.

The only unfortunate thing is how there aren’t any CG movies. There are movies, but they are usually done with an in-game sort of feel to them, not looking any different than what it does in-game.

Sound:
Something you don’t see in 99% of the games out there is that there are two different language settings. Some people don’t like to hear their games in English, so they can switch it to Japanese. I don’t like to hear the Japanese banter and having to read the text boxes in order to understand what’s going on, so I leave it on English. This will appease some of the whiners out there who wish that all their games are in Japanese instead of English, I suppose. Practically every time you talk with another character, there is a voice that accompanies it. The only time you’re not going to get voices are when you talk to the people in towns you trade with.

So, I guess by this time you’re asking “how good is the actual voice acting?” Well, it’s some of the best that I’ve ever heard. There are some annoying voices I’d rather not listen to, but I just don’t use those characters, and that basically solves the problem.

The musical score is definitely a well made one. Certain songs do get redundant because you visit certain areas which use the same music over and over. Certain examples would be dungeons, and root towns. You spend almost the whole game in either one of them, so you’ll begin to know the music by heart.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is superb. Yes, superb. If you don’t understand what it means, just take the “b” out of “superb”, and it’ll all make sense. There are three parts of the game I would like to discuss, gameplay wise, and they are:

The Battle System
All the fighting is done in real-time, and in full 3D. You can pause the game to request abilities that your allies have, or to use one of your abilities, but its basically non-stop action once you get into a battle.

An interesting part of the game is called Data Drain. Throughout playing .hack, it will keep reminding you that The World is a game inside your game, and this is one of the reminders. Data Drain is the ability/virus that rewrites an enemy’s data, and makes them into a weaker enemy. Every time you use Data Drain, you also obtain a rare item. It’s a great help at times, but if you use Data Drain too much you run the risk of having the viral infection in your character to spread enough that it can take away experience points, give status problems, or even kill you. Don’t ask me how that happens, it just does. The reason you have the ability in the first place, is because you have a bracelet that no one can really see. The bracelet was given to you by some girl named Aura at the beginning of the game, and when you complete this game, you still wonder who she is. I’m not expecting to find out who she is till Part Four.

Allies are a big and very essential part of the game. When you defeat an enemy, experience is not divided between allies, so you may as well have allies going along with you when you’re out in an area. Allies can help you out with healing, fighting, and special abilities. They even take care of themselves, buying items they’ve used during battle when they go back to town. The only downfall is that your allies have to be sort of babied. You have to constantly look out for them, and hope they’ll heal themselves before they die, resulting in the use of an expensive resurrection item. In addition, you also have to give them weapons, armor, and accessories so that they can actually help you in battle when you get to the higher levels. You have to be very careful, because if you give them an item you didn’t want to give them, there’s no way to get it back.

Town Interaction
Interacting with people, roaming the towns, and using the shops is a big part of the game. You usually can’t get very high levelled weapons at the shops, so that’s why you need to trade with the other players of The World. It’s a shot in the dark whether or not someone is going to have something you want, but when they have a weapon or a piece of armor that is obviously better than one you or an ally has, you’re going to want to trade for it. Most of the time it’s definitely in your favor when it comes to trading, but to get some of the very highly leveled weapons/armor, you won’t get them unless you trade rare items (or fairly hard to obtain items) for them. There is only one town per “server,” so you get to spend a while at each town before you get to go to the next one.

A portal, called the Chaos Gate, is in every town. The Chaos Gate is used to send you and your allies to an area in The World. Each area is made up of three different keywords, each influencing the kind of area it will be. This gives the possibility for a seemingly endless amount of areas to go to, and going to the same keywords on a different server is going to be different as well. There’s a long list of keywords as well, and if you wanted to go to an area to level up, you can choose to put together random keywords.

The Backend System
The backend system is useful and very easy to understand. You can get used to it in almost no time at all, but there are certain restrictions you’re just going to have to live with.

Like other MMORPGs, you have a limited number of items you can carry at any one time. So, the makers of The World have generously given you ninety-nine extra slots for distinct items (not multiples) at a place easily accessible in the root town. You aren’t able to use these in battle, however. You’re only allowed to have thirty distinct items at your disposal. It’s a good idea to keep it to the bare minimum, because when you go to an area through the Chaos Gate, and go through a dungeon, you’re going to get a lot of items.

Skills and abilities are fairly important as well. Unlike most RPGs, you don’t keep obtaining more and more skills to have all the time. The skills you have depend on what weapons and armor you have equipped. In general, it is simple to figure out what weapons/armor are generally better than others, because each has a Level designation. Sometimes a Lvl: 27 armor may be more useful to you than a Lvl: 32 armor, because of the abilities the Lvl: 27 weapon has. If you don’t care to have that certain ability, and would rather have the higher attack, you’d most likely go with the Lvl: 32.

Another part of the backend system, which is indirect, is the operating system Altimit. Everybody in the “real” world of .hack uses Altimit. With Altimit, you can read email and read news about what’s happening away from The World (because The World is just a game, after all). You find out a lot about how The World has made a few cases of seizures and comas through the news site (basically the whole reason why you’re playing this game, is because your friend Orca was one of these victims). There’s also a “bulletin board” type feature for The World, which answers questions people would actually ask on a help board for a game. This is basically the developer’s clever way of integrating an FAQ into the game. Parts of the story unfold on the bulletin board as well, and you find out areas that require your visiting to progress the story, or just to obtain rare items/allies.

Overall:
.hack Part 1 is a fairly short game, clocking in at around thirty hours. Personally, I beat the gane within two weeks. It’s a fairly aged game, so it was only $19.99 when I bought it, not $49.99 like Part 4 is currently. Even though its thirty hours, there ARE 4 parts to this game series. If each game is at least thirty hours, that’s 120+ hours of .hack fun. If you’re interested in this series, it’s probably a good idea to start with Part 1, as you’ll be able to understand the story, how to play, and be at a sufficient level to be able to play the other parts.

In addition to a great game, you get a free 45 minute DVD of .hack // LIMINALITY, which is exclusive to the video games. It gives another insight into the world of .hack, and how it influences people outside of The World. Stop reading and go get .hack // INFECTION.

 

Front Mission 4 (PS2) Preview

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix ||

Square’s Front Mission series isn’t one that many will recognize… The first game in the series, simply titled Front Mission, had been a strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, and the second a unique side-scroller where mechs called Wanzers jumped around and shot at each other. These first two Front Mission games had only been released in Japan, and were average games at best. However, the third Front Mission succeeded where its predecessors could not, with the PlayStation’s Front Mission 3.

Front Mission 3 is an amazing game. It has huge mechs blowing the crap out of other mechs (called Wanzers), the ability to elaborately customize your own Wanzer (or even create one from spare parts), and a story that is actually good enough to keep you playing. On top of that, there are two different stories you can go through. A huge part of Front Mission 3 is an “internet” type of feature in which you could go to different “web sites” that are in-game, and an email system. Unlike any other game, the vast in-game history of the world (and a little bit of actual world history) is a big part of understanding the game and why things happen.

Front Mission 4, also a strategy game, looks spectacular. It is set in 2096, and takes place in Germany and South America six years after the original Front Mission’s Second Huffman Conflict. Front Mission 4 intertwines the stories of two Wanzer pilots Elsa and Damil. In the world of 2096, there are 3 main economic powers: the OCU (which is made up of the countries between Japan and Australia, along the coast), the UCS (the U.S., Canada, and South America), and the EC (basically all the countries in Europe).

The game starts with Elsa’s story in Europe. Elsa is formerly a wanzer pilot in the French army, and is now in an EC team that tests and researches wanzers, called the Durandal. When an EC German base is attacked by an unknown force of wanzers, the Durandal is sent to investigate the attack, and uncovers a dark plot. The story switches over to Damil in South America. The UCS Venezuelan governor declares independence from the UCS, and deploys troops to blockade the country. UCS troops are sent in to repress the Venezuelan forces. Damil and his unit are among those deployed, but they have no interest in war. Damil’s story starts when he and his unit witness a plane crash in a Venezuelan jungle. What they find inside the cargo plane shapes their destiny.

The battle system in FM4 has been changed a bit from FM3. The main addition for actual battles is a new system called the Link System. Utilizing the new Link System allows you and your team members to use particular maneuvers against your enemies, whether they are Attack or Defense Links. With the Link System, you can have more than one friendly unit attack an enemy unit at the same time, obviously giving more damage to that enemy unit, or decrease the amount of damage given to a friendly unit.

Another noticeable change is in the Pilot System. Instead of having skills randomly become obtained like in FM3, it appears that you can get skills more freely by using “Enhancement Points” your pilots earn after a battle. The skills you are able to obtain increase with your computer’s rank. When you upgrade your computer, you can choose from more abilities to acquire. There are three types of skills that give you advantages during the game. There are Battle Skills (randomly activated during battles), Passive Skills (in effect as long as they are equipped), and Command Skills (available from a pilot’s list of commands).

Front Mission 4 is set for a release on June 15, 2004.

 

 

Unlimited SaGa (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 3.0/10


Overview:
Unlimited SaGa is the latest in the underrated SaGa series. Let me tell you right now, you’re in for a big disappointment. This game seems like it’s an experimental mending of 3 games: SaGa Frontier 2, Legend of Mana, and Final Fantasy Tactics. The best way to explain each aspect is to put them in a numbered list.

1. The vastly different character choices and their journeys (from SaGa Frontier 2) is the basic formula for Unlimited Saga. Seems interesting right? Of course it is. That’s why I liked SaGa Frontier 2 so much (and still trying to beat it).

2. Remember the adventure stuff you always sent your allies on in Final Fantasy Tactics? Well, you get to do them now! Hooray! The only good thing it takes from Final Fantasy Tactics are those adventures, but the bad things it takes from it make this one good thing bad. This game also has the same basic towns, meaning they’re just pictures, and you don’t get to roam around. The whole game you don’t get to roam around at all. There’s no actual moving of a character in a conventional sense, like in any regular Final Fantasy (or really any) game. You hop around like it’s a board game. This is sort of like FFT, in that you just tell the person where to go and they go, and you don’t actually move them.

3. Most have probably not played Legend of Mana, but it was a pretty fun game. Unlimited Saga takes from this game the kind of towns there are, meaning the different places you can choose to go to in the city itself, but then mixed with the FFT towns. You don’t actually move anywhere, you just select the place you want to go and a picture comes up for the place. Legend of Mana was just one big game of different adventures you had to do for people, sort of like this game.

Now, take a game that mixes that interactivity you had in Legend of Mana for those missions (which you actually play), and the adventures you sent your allies on in FFT (which you didn’t play at all). You get something of a 50% interactivity game. That game is Unlimited SaGa. Oh, and you don’t get to see any of the places you’re traveling except for a little random picture in the top left corner.

The people in the bars that you can converse with are about as dumb as the main characters are flat (and that’s pretty bad). I’ve only played one out of the 7 characters you can choose from so far for about an hour, and I can say that there are some interesting aspects to this game. However, after a while these “interesting” things don’t become so interesting anymore.

Graphics:
The strongest point about this game is the graphics. Everything about this game graphic-wise is beautiful, because I actually really like hand-drawn-looking graphics. The only bad thing is, is that there is no animation except in battles, and the animations aren’t very good. Enemies look better than your characters actually do. Half the time you’re playing a board game, and the other half you’re battling. This gets kind of boring, because when there are some story scenes (which are rare) the only things that you see are the cut-outs of characters talking about stupid things.

Sound:
The music is good. It definitely sets a mood, depending on which adventure you’re in. But the game itself is not executed well, so the music becomes sort of useless to listen to because you don’t really even see what kind of a place you’re in. For example, there’s creepy music in an abandoned castle. But you don’t see this castle at all, so it takes away from the experience of enjoying the music.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is executed well FOR WHAT IT IS. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how to move my character across the board-game part of the game, until I accidentally hit my left analog stick. A weird circle thing popped up, and pointed towards the ????? box. OHHHH so that’s how you move. And the first time I saw my character move I was horrified to see that all it was, was a still black and white image of my character jumping around. “Isn’t that terribly fun?” you might ask. No, it isn’t.

Now, you have to say, “The battle system is good, isn’t it? That’s what you come to expect of the SaGa series!” Yes that’s what you are expecting, but you are let down and then shot in the head like a lame horse in the backyard. The battle system makes no sense. Let me start at the beginning. Ok, you enter a battle. Like in other SaGa games, you have HP and LP. Your attacks actually use HP, and in no time you’re down to 0 HP. Supposedly, HP is a wall “protecting your LP.” But since HP is depleted so fast, I see no real reason why HP even exists in this game. Sometimes, when you even have HP, your LP is decreased for no real reason. When you lose all of your LP that character dies, and doesn’t come back till you go back to a town.

There is also a “combo ’system’” (notice how I put system in double quotes, because this game really doesn’t have a system of anything). The combos are helpful, yet not helpful during battles. Moreover, it just doesn’t make sense. When you attack, you have 2 options. To either “Go!” or “Hold.” If you go, you just attack. If you hold, then you get the chance to string together multiple attacks by your allies, or the one character. Yet, you also run the risk of having an enemy get into your combo and deal more damage to you than you did to him. That happens almost every time, and makes you not want to use combos at all. The whole battle system is a mess, and there is nothing really going for you. You can’t even heal your freaking health, LP, or get rid of status problems without going back to town. It’s confusing what actually happens in a battle.

The backend system is even more confusing. There are these things that are called growth panels, but nothing (not even the instruction booklet) explains the functions of these panels and how you can increase your abilities using them. After every adventure you complete, you are forced to put abilities on to the growth panel whether you want to or not. That means when your growth panel is full, you’re going to have to replace one skill with another. So, it’s almost impossible to actually get ahead in this game. The rest of the backend system is just a cluttered mess that makes even less sense than the growth panel. After actually looking through it, you say to yourself “what’s the point of any of this?”

You won’t see yourself going to the main status menu very often anyway. It’s not like any of it is useful.

Crappiest Part:
The crappiest part is how this game does not get you into playing the game at all. The game does not tell you why you are playing, and it feels like its holding back on the actual story of the game. The rest of the game wouldn’t be so horrible if it only had some sort of a good story to keep you going on. After a while, the only reason I was playing this game was because I spent money on it. Fortunately, it wasn’t that much, so I’m going to see if I can get some cash off of it. Well, I came back from 2 places, and I couldn’t get anything more than 5 bucks for it. I bought the game off of EBay for 10 bucks. I may as well keep it…

Overall:
This was a horrible execution of so many good ideas. This game would have been good, if it were more interactive, and if it were an actual GAME. This game is just a bunch of commands that you don’t have any fun in doing. The only thing you actually get to do is when a random spinning wheel comes up and you hope you succeed in what you’re trying to do.

Don’t get fooled by the box, when it says to “embark on … quests and encounter completely new battle systems, [and] open-ended stories.” There are only crappy quests, new crappy battle systems and anything but open-ended stories. Unless open-ended means you make up your own story in your mind…

Unlimited SaGa isn’t a game I would suggest to anyone, not even to those who were fans of the previous games in the series. The game lacks interactivity and isn’t too appealing. Perhaps if you’re looking to waste some time, Unlimited SaGa would be worth looking in to, but it would be wise to search elsewhere.

 

Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) Preview

Developer: Insomniac Games | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Ratchet and Clank are back for another go around, and from what I’ve seen in the past, it’s going to be one heck of a game.

Ratchet and Clank is a 3D action game in which you control the characters Ratchet and Clank. Ratchet has at his disposal a vicious set of weaponry, ranging from flamethrowers to rockets to strong magnets. Clank assists Ratchet along the journey, and is most of the time on Ratchet’s back, occasionally becoming a helicopter, talking in a British accent when the story needs to be moved along, and more. Clank can also be used as his own independent character. The series seems to get better with each game.

Already packed with enough weapons to raze a small country, the addition of more weapons will make for an even more action-filled experience than its predecessors. Also with an online mode included, this game will be an awesome experience. Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal is set to come out in Fall 2004.