.hack//Mutation (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect 2 Corp / Publisher: Bandai Games || Overall: 8.5/10

As the second part of a four part series, .hack//Mutation continues the story of the .hack//Infection before it. Quite simply, .hack//Mutation is a continuation of the story and little more. In terms of game play, .hack//Mutation is the same game as .hack//Infection. While the length of the game isn’t as long as it feels like it should be, .hack//Mutation is really just the part of the story that adds more mysterious aspects to the world of .hack. If you haven’t played .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation might not be for you, as you’re not going to understand 90% of the story elements even though there’s a little summary at the beginning of the game. One of the cooler features .hack//Mutation has is the ability to transfer over your game save from the first game so that you are basically playing with the same characters, items, weapons, and levels you acquired during the first game. If you didn’t play the first game, it’ll definitely be harder for you to complete the second game without those much-needed levels. With that said, it is a recommendation of mine to have played through .hack//Infection before playing through .hack//Mutation.

The foreground of the .hack games is quite simply the story. With a very intriguing story that was introduced with .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation just adds more on to the story, giving you more questions to be answered by the end of the game. .hack//Mutation is more like a second introductory game, to get you even more introduced in the game and immersed deeper into the elements of the woodwork that is the .hack series.

For those who do not know anything about the game series itself, .hack is a game divided up into four parts. Each game in the series is quite literally the same game, except with a different leg of the story to experience. The series takes place in a game-within-a-game world of an MMORPG called The World. With an interesting computer-desktop-like user interface outside of the regular game (complete with parts such as email, news, and forums), you will feel like you are playing as the person playing the game. The feeling itself is definitely unique to any other game. Events that take place within The World have an effect on the “real” world throughout the story of the person you are playing and vice versa. Needless to say, it is very involving, and without ruining the story of the first game, it’s hard to explain how it has evolved in the second. What can be said about the second game in regards to whether it keeps up this unique feeling well, the answer would be yes, and as mentioned before, it adds to the mystery that is to be solved created in .hack//Infection.

Unfortunately for the series itself, it has aged quite a bit in terms of game play mechanics. I constantly compare the game’s action elements to superior games, like God of War and Dark Cloud 2, which are far better executed and obviously more fun to play. While the game play mechanics aren’t totally unbearable to play with, I do find myself wishing the game had done better in the department to enjoy it more. My main inhibitions about the game play is how you can attack, having to be next to an enemy before you can use your regular melee attack as well as not being able to have a “shortcut” of sorts to use a particular kind of special skill. However, what really saves the game from the less-than-spectacular game play mechanics is the story, which I cannot praise enough, as it really has me hooked.

Continuing the quality of .hack//Infection, the voice-overs are on the same level. All the voice actors from the first game are back in the second game, which is of course mandatory for this kind of game. Of course, this also includes the annoying voices for characters that make their appearances through the game that made their debut in the first one. Luckily, you can choose which characters accompany you in your travels through the game, so it’s not that big of a deal. Also carried over is the option to have Japanese or English voice-overs. The music is also relatively the same stuff as was heard in the first game, with a couple of new tracks added for the new areas you visit in the second part. The graphics have all been carried over from the last game, and there aren’t many improvements to the game in that department. Though there are new kinds of areas you can visit, which all look pretty nice, it’s basically what is to be expected of the Playstation 2. The movies they include in the game look very nice, but there aren’t too many to really be seen, as much of the story in the second part is delivered through in-game sequences.

Like the first game, .hack//Mutation’s battles take place in real time in full 3D. During the fights, you can request of your allies to do certain things by telling them to do anything from a general command to using a certain skill on which enemy. Data Drain has also, quite obviously, been carried over from the first game. The Data Drain ability, while being an important story element, is another one of the unique parts of the .hack series. The Data Drain helps tremendously against enemies that are hard to beat, as well as helping to get rare items you need/help you out as you progress through the game. But using the Data Drain too much can do irreparable damage to your character, anywhere from decreasing exp gained, casting a status effect, or even killing your character completely since it is, in effect, a hack, helping spread the virus that has infected The World. Town interaction still takes an important part of the game, as you can trade for weapons and items you need, and it’s almost a must so you can attain better weapons for you and your allies.

The weak point about .hack//Mutation is the length of game play. Not being quite as long as the first part, it took me maybe 10 or 15 hours at most to get through, while the first was closer to 30. But it’s nothing to really get sad about, since after this one there are two more “full” games to play through. Though, it is a sign that you are halfway through with the story and to the explanation of all the happenings. Also included is another episode of .hack//Liminality that may or may not have connections with the actual game as you play more of it. It gives another aspect of what’s happening with the story outside of the game world you play in all the time, which is also something that is unique.

Quite frankly, .hack//Mutation is the same game that .hack//Infection was, and little more. The story progresses to greater heights, forcing you to further delve into the world the series has created, but really nothing noticeable has come about to make the game play experience much better than has been created with .hack//Infection. And from the looks of it, the other two games in the series may share this same characteristic with .hack//Mutation.

 

Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Bandai Games || Overall: 7.2/10

Gundam video games have the potential of being some of the most fun around. This is simply due to the fact that the games feature giant robots with big guns blowing the crap out of each other and their surroundings. I sort of feel sorry for those who do not find this type of stuff entertaining, because if you haven’t guessed already, I love these types of games. The Front Mission and Zone of the Enders series are two of my favorites and there’s definitely room for more of these type of games for me to love. However, Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam lacks many things needed in vital areas thus making it not as fun as it could’ve been, but its still fun nonetheless. Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam features over fifty mobile suits to pilot, thirty-one of which are completely new.

Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam mirrors the anime series of the same name. While the plot of the anime is the basis of the whole game (in terms of characters, mobile suits, and situations), the actual story is not represented well at all. Most of the story is delivered through objective summaries, character sound effects, and events during gameplay. Scenes from the anime or even a simple voiceover could’ve worked wonders and made things make more sense, but they aren’t featured anywhere in the game. Of course, someone who is a follower of the series will understand everything that is happening and as a consequence for those who have not seen the anime, like me, I have a feeling that I could’ve enjoyed the game more if I even knew what the heck was going on. After a little bit of research, though, I found that the Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam anime takes place after the original Mobile Suit Gundam (which represented the One Year War), which I did watch semi-frequently. Lending some knowledge I had from watching the original anime, I understood a little bit more about the things that were happening in the storyline of the game, since it took place in the same universe. Mobile Suit: Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam features a few of the characters from the original series in addition to new ones. Assuming that the whole Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam anime series is represented in it, someone that is a fan of the series will definitely enjoy the game, reliving and fully interacting with the experiences. It just won’t come off as well to someone who doesn’t know much about it.

A major strong point of the title is that it is not short at all. Even just restricted to the single-player modes, you will be playing for a long time. The main modes, being Arcade and Universal Century Mode, will take the majority of the time you spend on the game and while there are multiplayer features, none are online. In Arcade mode, you basically pick which mobile suits you want to use for Ground and Space and then off you go. You chose the difficulty level and everything, and once you get through it, you want to have as many points as you can so you can get on the high score board.

Universal Century Mode is where the real game begins. The mode chronicles the series from the demise of the Earth Federation in which rival factions clash for control of Earth and its space colonies. Being a stricter adaptation of the anime than Arcade mode is, you’ll play as the “influential” pilots that had made their way in the series, and learn little parts of their story, such as why and how they joined the faction they’re a part of. You will play all sides of the battle from different perspectives of the respective pilots; however, the different “perspectives” aren’t very apparent except for the character voices being played and which side you are on in the conflict. So, you’ll end up being able to play as many different pilots for one faction as you follow their independent (but sparse) story. If you don’t pay attention to this story element, it will seem like you’re playing the same battles continuously over and over, since many pilots participate in the same particular battles (albeit, like the anime, probably). On top of that, there are three factions you can chose from (the AEUG, Titans or Axis), each having their own repertoire of different pilots, so you’ll be able to, as mentioned before, play on all sides of each conflict. The game is truly loaded with gameplay, and may seem a little daunting to get through all of the missions. However, the immense amount of playability comes mostly due to playing the same levels over and over with different pilots and under different storyline-circumstances, and it can get very repetitive. The way the mode works is by following events on a timeline, as you follow the pilot’s sequence of events. Sometimes, though, when a character is technically supposed to die in the anime, you can change their fate by not dying during the mission they were supposed to die in. This results in a splintering of the main timeline for that character, and shows what would have happened had they survived. Sometimes when a character lives instead of dies, it can splinter off an alternate path for another pilot as well. While this concept is interesting, it really doesn’t accomplish much except attaining more chances to replay the same battles again except this time with another partner who does nothing differently and does nothing in a unique way that would make it seem like it was worth having the person survive. To top it all off, when you complete a certain pilot’s storyline, the ending sequence says what happens to the character, but says something to the effect of “there could have been other choices, play through the character’s timeline again!” I don’t think anyone will be that obsessed with the title to replay every level in a person’s timeline due to the extreme repetitiveness of battles. Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam’s gameplay can be fun, but only in short strides.

While the controls don’t feel as natural as they should, they can get the job done once you get used to them. However, when in a space battle, which is by far the most frustrating part of the game, the controls become very difficult to use due to some funky moving issues that don’t allow you to move as well as you should in a full 3D arena. Granted, the machines that are flying through space are supposed to be clunky because of their nature, and mobile suit pilots in the animes have trouble commandeering their robots quite frequently, it ends up being more of a frustrating control issue than any sort of homage to the anime. Also, maybe it’s supposed to be gravity or something, but it is really hard to simply move around in space. Having no way to control the camera does not help the cause either. Sometimes when you’re doing nothing, you will slide away to a point away from where you were, drawing farther away from where you were, forcing you to almost struggle to boost away from where you were sliding so you can re-enter the battle. The biggest downside to the whole fighting system is how you’re not allowed to hurt your enemy unless the target on them is red. They will usually turn to yellow after hitting them a certain amount of times. If you try to attack them while the target is yellow, your attacks will very unrealistically (and stupidly, I might add) go right through them; whether it was a rocket or a freakin’ beam sword. This will force you to hold back on your attacks until the target is red again, stopping any chances of relentless combinations and attacks on a particular enemy – a far cry from the sword-slicing-in-half action I’m accustomed to seeing in a Gundam anime. What Universal Century Mode ultimately comes down to is a lot of play time, and that is definitely the game’s main strong point, especially if you enjoy the gameplay or playing with different mobile suits. Containing over 200 missions isn’t too shabby either, even if many of them are repeats. The structure of the game is based on battles rather than being adventure oriented; they basically give you an arena to fight in and send mobile suits to kill you or be killed by you.

The Gallery mode in the game persuades the player to play through it and all its different modes to unlock gallery items, allowing you to learn more about the mobile suits that can be played, as well as viewing illustrations, hearing character speech, and looking at all the different parts of the game. The information about the Mobile Suits in the Gallery mode really should have been put into the main part of the game so you would better understanding of them before you chose them, but at least it exists in some way, even if you do have to unlock it first. The mobile suits are more or less unique in what they do, and each has a relatively unique experience while piloting them. Different combinations of weaponry, speed, strength, armor, and special abilities (if available) can influence one to try out each mobile suit and find one you like the most.

The sound is pretty good. The music, character speech, and sound effects are all ripped straight from the anime. The use of the old sounds from the show gives Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam a cool feeling, making it feel more like the anime. However, a main problem with the game is how the sound effects and background music totally overcome the limited amount of character speech that is used during missions, often making it inaudible, even when you turn down the sound effects and background music to a level you still want to be able to hear them at. Regardless, the character speech really should have been integrated better, because it’s also hard to understand what they even say sometimes. The graphics are pretty good for a PlayStation 2 game, definitely being at the level that most games at this point in the life of the PlayStation 2 should look like. Attention to detail is really what makes the mobile suits look cool.

While Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam can be a quite enjoyable game to play in short bursts, it really cannot be played for hours on end because of the repetitiveness of its mission structure. Although, if you like the anime series or the other Mobile Suit Gundam games, this game will definitely be right up your alley. If you’re not in the Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam anime crowd, unfortunately it may not garner the interest needed to really enjoy the game.

 

.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.