.hack//G.U. Vol. 2: Reminisce (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall – 8.5/10

Continuing its engrossing story from the first volume, .hack//G.U. 2: Reminisce is the second in the .hack//G.U. trilogy. Acting more as a bridge between the beginning and the end of the saga, it makes sense that by the time you complete the game you’ll be left wanting more. If you made it so far as to finish the first game, you’ll want to dive in head-first after the almost-too-long wait for the sequel.

Reminisce is a great continuance of the adventure laid out in the first .hack//G.U. There are some story elements that will answer questions, while new ones will be raised in their stead. What you once thought to be Haseo’s ultimate goal turns out to be something completely different. Without spoiling too much of the story, all I can say is that even though you may have defeated Tri-Edge in the first game, think again if you believe he’s actually gone for good.

The gameplay is virtually the same as the first volume. However, there are slight improvements that alleviate some of the annoyances in the first game. First, there is the Skill Trigger, which allows you to change from Haseo’s currently equipped weapon to another weapon, depending on the skill you have equipped. The only thing bad about it is that you may not be able to use as many of the skills for a particular weapon as you may like. You can only ultimately equip 4 skills, leaving you to basically equip one skill for each weapon and an extra one that you like. With Volume 2, A new Awakening is available called Divine Awakening which allows you to time hits correctly using the power of your teammates and throw a concentrated burst of energy down on your enemies for a massive amount of damage. It’s quite different from any of the Awakenings that were present in the first game, and it is a welcome change to the gameplay.

As you progress through the game, new and stronger weapons will be available. This game allows you to go up to Level 100, as opposed to the first which only let you go up to Level 50. There is also a whole new arena to take part in, so you’ll be on the warpath for a little bit of the game. This time around, it’s not as huge a part of the story as the first was. The game packs a lot of drama and shows the first effects of what uncontrolled AIDA will do to The World, which is amplified to near anarchy near the end of the game.

Practically all the production values have been carried over from the first game. As I said in the review of the first game, they are very impressive in the way that the game almost literally looks like a 3D anime. Not only is the game presented as such, but the game’s structure itself is actually laid out as if you’re playing through episodes of an anime, a little chunk at a time. Many of the CG movies are noticeably better than the in-game graphics (especially because of the lighting they use), but it keeps the same style going. The CG movies are fantastic — they portray The World in such a distinctive way not possible through in-game graphics, and just like a little 10 year old boy, I’m actually excited when I get to watch one of the movies.

Obviously, those that had tried out the first game and disliked it will most likely not enjoy the second volume of .hack//G.U. Though, for someone that really enjoys the game, it is a worthy sequel to an already pretty solid game. As the story is the main reason to play the game, the gameplay still needs a little bit of a reworking before there can be a killer game in the .hack series. While the gameplay feels ultimately mediocre, the additions to it in .hack//G.U. 2 does make it a bit more interesting. In the end, .hack//G.U. 2 can really be summarized as more of Volume 1 with minimal changes to the way it plays. .hack//G.U. 2 is simply a progression of the story, with a lot more AIDA battles.

Fans of the first game who are engrossed in the story and enjoy the gameplay well enough to keep going with it will find an immensely enjoyable game. Now that Volume 3 has finally been released (this time only a few months after the last volume’s release), Volume 2 is a vital part of the .hack//G.U. trilogy that should not be missed. Though the game doesn’t have many noticeable improvements over the first, it is still a worthy purchase or, at the very least, a playthrough.

 

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Crossover synergy licensing is one of Namco Bandai Games’ keys to success. Well, when they find the right key that is. In the case of Naruto, they’ve definitely unlocked one of those doors. The popular anime on Cartoon Network has garnered quite a large fan base, so much so that they have games coming out on every console from separate licensees. Namco Bandai has the exclusive PS2 license, and their fighting game sequel, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2, is a special sort of game that will definitely appeal to fans of the series. But if you’re an outsider to the series, unless you put some major resolve into it you might not find as much enjoyment as what was intended.

The simplest way that I can describe Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is that it’s a Super Smash Bros. game with all Naruto characters. All the battles are one-on-one, however, only because it’s more of a traditional fighting game in that one sense. That is about all that is conventional about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. It’s just one of those games that before you understand what could be going on, you’ll be screaming some words that shouldn’t be heard by anyone under the age of 12. I guess if you watch the TV show (I never have, personally) you’ll understand that the way battles go on are pretty crazy, with people just disappearing and reappearing right behind you, long “special” attacks, ninja stars, the works. This game is crazier than any DBZ game you may have played and then some. I understand a lot about DBZ, but Naruto left me completely perplexed for the first two hours of play time, just trying to get a hang of the battle system and the constant switching of characters through the single player mode.

There are multiple ways to play Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. There is the one-on-one Vs. Duel mode, where you can compete against a friend or against the computer. You’ll be on your way to an endless amount of battles if you choose to do so. The characters for that mode are unlocked in the other mode: a short single player story that felt like an episode of Naruto. I got to the credits in five hours, but there was still extra story afterwards. Your mileage may vary here, depending on how well you fight against the insane difficulty of the computer. I whined a lot while playing about ’How can they do that?’ Throughout the story you will fight as different characters from the show, not just Naruto, which is a mixed blessing. First, it’ll give you some variety, but also it can be hard to master any one character’s abilities. As you play through the single player mode, you’ll unlock more characters to play in the Vs. Duel mode, as well as gain the ability to customize characters to have higher attack, more speed, or what have you. There are also special missions where you can travel around town and find someone that needs help achieving a special goal. It can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour and be as simple as a normal battle or just fighting with your long range weaponry.

Every time you fight, no matter which mode you’re in, you’ll get money based on all the moves and stuff you did in said fight if you win. The money will accumulate as you play through all the different fights. What you can spend money on is mostly stuff that you would only enjoy if you like the TV show. There are videos of all the special moves each character has to offer, model statues, Ninja cards (pictures of characters and such), and a few other things. Not only that, but most of what’s there is really freakin’ expensive, so you’ll be playing a long time before you have enough money to buy all of it. Couple that with some “overall game” goals, such as unlocking all characters, fighting each one three times in Duel mode, and so on, and you’ve got yourself a meaty game if you don’t get sick of playing by the time that all happens. At least each time you play, it will actually go towards something when all is said and done.

As far as graphics and sound go, they are pretty much in-line with how the TV show is (I’ve caught at least one episode on TV since I started playing the game). The game is in English, so if you don’t like the English Naruto voices, sorry. The graphics do their part in making the game seem exactly like the anime with cel-shading. It gives the game a sharp look and makes any jaggies essentially disappear, like most cel-shading games seem to do. Loading is not a huge problem, although there are load screens every time the disc is hit (no subtle background loading here). Speaking of not being exactly subtle, there is no auto-save which is bad for a fighting game since it breaks up the game in an unnecessary way. Since I played the game on the PlayStation 3, save times were very short, but if you’re on the PlayStation 2, it might take longer.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is a great game for fans of the series, and fans of the first game. If you like the anime and fighting games, this could hold a special place in your heart, as it isn’t a bad anime to game conversion as I see it. The game itself is solid, and is through and through about the anime it is portraying. CyberConnect 2 did a fine job in the development of the game.

 

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 9.0/10

The .hack franchise is back for more, and does it ever impress! Namco Bandai Games’ CyberConnect 2 has breathed new life into the faux-MMORPG series with .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth. More than simply being “reborn,” .hack//G.U. takes all the strengths of the experiences of .hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine; it expands on their concept and rolls it all into a package that is one of the best RPG experiences I’ve had in a long time. The almost masterful retooling has reminded me what made the original .hack games so appealing.

As with the previous .hack games, you play a game within a game. Called “The World,” it is an MMORPG played by people in the relatively near future of 2015 when online gaming and the Internet rule everyday lives. As always, there is controversy awry about The World and its impact on its youth. Taking place seven years after the events of the originals, this time around the story follows a The World legend known as Haseo, The Terror of Death, known for killing player killers. Haseo is distraught by the loss of someone he grew very close to to the mysterious player known as Tri-Edge. Tri-Edge has the appearance of Kite from the first four games, but something is obviously not kosher with the way the character looks or acts. Is Tri-Edge a player or a computer program? “Who is Tri-Edge?” is a revolving theme in the first volume of .hack//G.U. The story is presented in more of a traditional mystery with less “weirdness” than what was seen in the previous four. Less symbolism and underlying meanings are required to be understood, and because of all this, the story progresses at a nice pace that is more similar to how an anime might play out rather than a game that has all the time in the world to explain things, especially with two sequels coming up right after it.

As you progress, new gameplay elements are slowly introduced at a somewhat consistent pace. There is quite a bit to learn about The World, and the way the game introduces it all is satisfactory. The Operating System, Altimit, is back again, and is a lot slicker than what was presented in the originals. Some news announcements about things happening in the real world have short newsreels lasting about fifteen seconds. There is also a humorous news magazine called Online Jack, where he investigates a sickness called Doll Syndrome, that seems to stem from playing The World. Though there isn’t that big of a bonus from loading saved data from any of the previous games (all you get is an email from BlackRose), its only worth it to know the gist of what happened before G.U. and the references you can catch. The World from the original games is referenced to as The World R:1, with the The World in G.U. being called The World R:2. The gameplay and story are different enough that I could see there being little problem with going back and playing the previous games after diving into G.U.

.hack//G.U.’s main improvement has been with the battle system that desperately needed to be revamped after playing through four full games. With no improvement at all to be seen between each of the previous games, there was a lot of time to pick out what needed to be improved and what annoyances had to be removed. Nearly all the complaints I had with the previous games in the series have vanished. And while I have not personally beaten all four of the originals at the time of writing, (I’m in the final hours of the third part) I can easily say that if you liked them, you will love G.U.

The battle system has become much more action-oriented. No longer do you have to run right up to an enemy and be right next to them to use your weapon. The battle system allows for you to strike at an enemy even if they’re not in your range. Though in writing it may seem like it’s sort of a dumb thing to mention, in actual gameplay, it expands the amount of “freedom” one has during a battle, by not being restricted in their attacks. Though only the X button is used for every single attack, you can hold it down for a charge attack, or tap it repeatedly at the right time to inflict extra damage. Even though it would have been nice to toss in a second button for a different kind of attack, for instance a light or heavy attack, to increase the versatility of the battle system (as well as having more complex combos), it’s really the only thing to complain about when it comes down to it. The Circle button is used as defense, and the Square button is used for activating a special attack, which will be described later on. That is the battle system in a nutshell – but what makes it fun is how fast-paced it is and how hectic a battle can become, especially in the later stages of the game.

Battles are fought on the screen, just like before, but what is different in G.U. is that it treats battles in a little more traditional way; battle mode is started, and at the end, a dialog box displaying experience/items earned. When a battle is initiated, a circular boundary is created that you cannot escape from without using an item called a Smoke Screen. This forces you to stay within the confines that are created and not easily run away from enemies, which could be used to your advantage previously. The camera is a lot smarter this time around, and doesn’t rely so heavily on user input when in battle, as it will draw back away from your characters from the regular third person angle and take a more disconnected look at the battle playing out. By doing this, the action is easier to see unfold, not to mention easier to control your character since you don’t have to fidget around with the camera all the time.

Another big difference that is noticeable is the lack of on-the-fly party commands. In the previous installments, you were able to press the Square button and tell your party members to do something specific outside of their normal assigned strategy, such as healing or using magic. In G.U., your party members are much more independent, but are smarter in the sense that they will heal themselves (and you) when they need to within the constructs of one of the strategies you tell them to execute when in battle. Less control over your party members can be seen as a good and bad thing, as you can focus more on what your character is doing in the battle, but have less impact on the overall execution of it. The lock-on system is very effective, with little to no foul-ups. The only times the lock-on system can be faulty is when you’re facing against multiple flying enemies, but perhaps that’s just the difficulty of that particular enemy rather than a fault with the locking on.

A Morale Gauge is represented in the upper right hand corner of the screen during a battle. When you perform combos with regular attacks, or a critical combo called a “Ren Geki,” your party members will notice your effort and slightly fill up the gauge, the most being earned after a Ren Geki. Once the Morale Gauge is filled up, it will tell you to press the Square button. Pressing the Square button when the Morale Gauge is filled up all the way will activate an “Awakening.” Depending on the type of Awakening you’ve selected from the menu screens, you can either cast a magic spell with your party members that deplete absolutely no Skill Points or go into a “berserk” mode that increases your speed and strength tremendously as you beat the crap out of your enemies. Ren Gekis also add on a small amount of experience points on top of what is already earned from the battle, so while it is good to still do a Ren Geki whenever you can, if you do a Ren Geki that ends the battle, the Morale Gauge will not fill up, due to the couple of seconds it takes for the gauge to initiate its “filling up” after one is done. That amount of time is longer than what it takes for the battle to end after defeating the last enemy, which is very unfortunate.

Abilities and magic are also vastly different in their implementation. Instead of being reliant on what armaments you have equipped, magic will rely on simply buying a very expensive item that teaches you the ability. As money is hard to come by in G.U., you’ll have to spend your money wisely and consider which magic you really need or want, as well as which ones your party members should have as well. Arts, which are weapon-specific abilities, rely on the experience you have with a particular weapon. The more weapon levels you gain using a type of weapon, you’ll get more Arts. The big disadvantage is that Arts are not learned very often, and can only be attained through battle. In the beginning stages of the game, you’ll have only one Arts until about ten hours or so in the game – which is much too long. It would have been nice if they tossed in an Arts when you reached weapon level 2, but the game pulls no punches in that department. Every time you use a skill or magic ability, you will deplete a certain amount of SP (or Skill Points).

You don’t only fight game-created monsters this time around. With the new version of The World, named The World R:2, a gameplay system for Player Killing (or PK) has been added. Player-on-player battles occur now in The World, and practically everyone is fair game. When exploring areas, you will sometimes see a Battle Area that has a battle in progress inside. By choosing to enter the Battle Area, you can help whoever is being attacked. While you cannot initiate any PKing yourself, the addition of being able to fight other players is a nice change-up every once in a while. The concept is expanded with the player vs. player Arena battling, where much of the story in the first volume of G.U. takes place and revolves around.

It still takes 1000 exp to increase your level. Experience gained from defeating the same-leveled monsters goes down as your level increases. This keeps the player motivated to go to new places to increase their levels and acquire better items to help along the way. Since Haseo is an Adept Rogue, he is able to use multiple classes of weapons. The Twin Swords and Broad Sword are the two weapons that will be mainstay of the first volume. Unfortunately, you can’t easily switch weapons in battle; you must go to the menu and equip the weapon you want and wait for Haseo to put away and take out the weapons again. The battle system is less versatile and fun than it could have been if there was a way to easily change weapons.

A little while into the game, Avatar Battles will be introduced. Avatar Battles are basically Zone of the Enders-esque mini games, just not as fleshed out. Though the Avatar Battles have surprisingly responsive controls for being what they are, they aren’t as good as their obvious inspiration. These Avatar Battles are a nice change-up in the pace of the gameplay, but can ultimately be frustrating, especially during hard boss fights. This is really no surprise, as I have already experienced all of that with both Zone of the Enders games, and didn’t quite expect it to be integrated in an action RPG.

As a whole, equipment is much easier to understand now. Equipment are assigned levels, and once your character achieves or surpasses the level of the equipment, you are able to equip them. It’s much more simpler to understand, as levels now have some sort of meaning attached to them other than being a superficial number that told you how good the armor was, like in the originals. Since equipment do not have any abilities or magic assigned to them either, you need only to make a decision about what to have on by the stats they change. Different classes of armor also make it easier to know which classes can equip what, as before, a piece of armor would just say who couldn’t equip something. As a result, there are “barebones” equipment that will change their name when you customize them with a customization item. The customization item will change the equipment’s properties, and have it consistent to what you actually want out of a piece of equipment.

While the inclusion of guilds makes the story a little bit more interesting, you can’t add anyone to your guild unless the story allows for it. The main purpose of the guild is for storing and selling items. When your guild expands, its uses will expand as well. One such use is something called Alchemy. Alchemy allows you to enhance a weapon by combining one or more of the same exact weapon up to five times. Once the weapon hits an Alchemy combination of +5, it may be used in Alechmizing any other weapon in the class up to 10 levels difference. This allow you to use extra weapons to enhance your existing weaponry, until your level is high enough to equip the next best weapon you may have acquired that can’t be equipped due to your current level. Each weapon is also noticeably different.

The exploration of areas has also been slightly improved. Treasure chests are a lot easier to open, since Haseo just kicks anything open. There is now only on camera view, and you can’t pull back or zoom in like you were able to before. This decrease in the amount of camera control can prove to be a little annoying when you chase down Lucky Animals, because they may be fast enough to run outside of your camera’s view. Lucky Animals are basically little animals that will give your characters bonuses if caught. Haseo is a fast runner, so you can get to Point A and Point B relatively quickly. You also get a Steam Bike that allows you to go “faster.” I put faster in quotes because the bike sucks – it doesn’t go fast at all. I avoid it like the plague, quite frankly.

The area word system is much simpler to use. There aren’t any complex readings you have to make with what is being displayed by flashing lights – its all given to you in plain English, with a helpful description at the bottom of the screen to make you even more informed as to what kind of area you’re going into. There are three types of dungeons you will encounter: The Japanese house, cave, and grassy island field. The selection of different areas is nice, and it’s not as dreary as being inside of an actual dungeon all the time, which is where most of the gameplay was in the originals. At the end of the dungeon, there will be a Beast Statue and a treasure chest with a rare item in it. There is also an assortment of unique areas called “Lost Ground” where story takes place. Different quests and jobs are available every once in a while which gives you opportunity to increase your level in between parts of the story.

The graphics and sound are some of the best parts about .hack//G.U. The frame rate is very consistent, at about thirty frames per second. The only time the frame rate drops is when a lot of things happen on the screen at the same time. Cutscenes virtually never have any slow-down. The graphics themselves are very nice, and capture an anime feel, especially in the cutscenes, which are very stylistic in nature. The character designs are also very stylistic and look like they’re straight out of an anime, as well. Voice acting is also top notch. The main character, Haseo, has a very believable voice and an excellent voice actor behind him. Most of the characters in the game have very good voice actors, which really isn’t a surprise considering the first four games had the same quality of voice actors, with only a couple of annoying ones. Loading is also another positive. Loading is virtually non-existant – in one word, its perfect. Unless you were actually looking to see signs of where the game starts loading something, you will not notice it at all, since the developers devised a way of making the game seamless from one end to the next with no huge pauses like you would see in a normal Playstation 2 game. A commendable job goes to the developers for achieving this feat.

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth is a very enjoyable game. If you like the original games, you’ll have a blast with .hack//G.U., just like I did. Unlike the first four, gameplay does not pull down the game, rather supports it very well with a nice foundation. With three games planned for the .hack//G.U. series, I hope that we can expect general improvements to the already solid formula put in place by Vol. 1: Rebirth. The first volume of G.U. is also quite a bit longer than a single part of the originals. If the next two games show little to no difference, it might prove to be another bad decision in the progression of .hack games in general.

 

.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.

 

.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.