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.hack Part 1: Infection (PlayStation 2) artwork

.hack Part 1: Infection (PlayStation 2) review

"Many years ago, I watched an anime called .Hack//Sign and absolutely fell in love with it. It told the tale of a young boy trapped inside the virtual reality MMORPG, The World, and how he copes with his existence. As other players heard of and attempted to unravel the mystery behind his condition, they discovered a series of potentially fatal anomalies involving the game’s own mythology. It was the sheer complexity of that mythology and the mystery behind it that drew me in so thor..."

Many years ago, I watched an anime called .Hack//Sign and absolutely fell in love with it. It told the tale of a young boy trapped inside the virtual reality MMORPG, The World, and how he copes with his existence. As other players heard of and attempted to unravel the mystery behind his condition, they discovered a series of potentially fatal anomalies involving the game’s own mythology. It was the sheer complexity of that mythology and the mystery behind it that drew me in so thoroughly, so when I found .Hack//Infection on a random shopping trip, I eagerly snatched it up in the hopes of learning more about this fantastically intriguing realm.

It did not disappoint me, and I remained thrilled with it until years later when I played the loosely-related .hack//G.U. series for the first time. In a fit of curiosity, I decided to return to the original four-volume set; it was then that I realized just how much those later additions had impacted my .Hack experience.

When a high school student known as Kite in the game tries out The World for the first time with his friend Yasuhiko (character name: Orca), things don’t go as planned. A simple tutorial quickly turns to disaster as the two stumble through what should have been an easy dungeon. The pair meets a mysterious girl in white who gives Orca a strange book, worried that her pursuer will get to her before she can pass it off. Later, her fears become reality as a large, black, devil-thing with a red “wand” catches and “kills” her using a skill neither of the two players had ever seen before. With the duo incapable of inflicting any damage against it, the beast turns on them, attempting to do the same to Kite, but Orca takes blow instead. As the veteran warrior dies, Kite inherits the book only to be forcefully booted from the game by some unknown force.

Once Kite logs back in, we learn that the manner in which Orca died led to the hospitalization of his human counterpart who had slipped into a coma. Kite, wishing only to help, attempts to learn more about the thing that killed his friend. Forum posts and e-mails often point to restricted areas or areas rife with strange anomalies while the friends he makes not only join his party, but also provide clues of their own.

Investigating these clues only deepens the mystery. When Kite finds the answer to one question, a dozen more appear. Like when he and fellow newb Black Rose encounter a corrupted monster known as a databug in a place where monsters normally don’t appear. Infinite health makes it immune to attack – not even Orca’s partner Balmung (who conveniently swoops in at that exact moment) can damage it. But just when all seems lost, Kite remembers the book. Activating it grants him the Data Drain skill, which he uses to destroy the virus infecting the monster, rendering it killable. So, now we know what put Orca in the coma, but just what it is that’s going on inside the game that could be causing all this? And why can’t the system administrators contain it?

These are the sorts of questions that gradually get answered as the series continues, but the rest of this volume focuses primarily on Kite and his newfound abilities. And it’s here that my revisit grew tiresome. Sure, there were neat moments that I still enjoyed like when I had to single-handedly slay a mighty databug wyvern just to prove to a weird cat-player that I had the strength necessary to access my full potential. However, the game just wasn’t the same anymore. I had forgotten (or perhaps never realized) that in the process of “discovering the truth”, much of your tasks would be rather… boring. Even the anomalous areas you explore no longer drew excitement because I no longer found them exciting. I’d expected to fight an awesome databug boss at the end of every corrupted area, but instead, most were filled with disappointment as Kite & Pals discovered that the place was nothing more than a dead end.

Furthermore, most of your time will otherwise be spent with non-essential tasks like finding a rare item buried deep within a dungeon for some useless character who insists on joining your party afterwards. Again, this had never caused an issue for me until now because, although it seemed largely unnecessary, I still went in with the mentality of “Awesome! I’m exploring a new dungeon!” But now, it just feels like “Oh… I’m exploring a ‘new’ dungeon again. What’s the quickest way to get through this…?” It’s a shocking change of mindset for me because I’d always considered the randomness of each area layout to be rather refreshing.

I suppose a large part of this sudden transition lies with combat. As a Twin Blade, Kite can wield two daggers at once, which enable him to use a set of skills unique to his class. However, in regular combat where no skills are used, all you really do is press a single button repeatedly while watching him attack with roughly the same speed as some of your fellow (slower) party members. Thankfully, you’ll rarely resort to standard combat, as skills are much more effective. But these have their own flaws that I once happily ignored because I found the game so compelling.

To use a skill, you have to open the menu, select “Skills” then wade through the various categories until you find the one you want. You likely won’t have many to select at any one time, as they’ll be split amongst the various categories. That means, while you’ll likely only take three seconds or less to select the skill, those three seconds interrupt the flow of combat; time that could be better spent killing things. Granted, there IS a bright side to this system. Using a skill prevents enemies from moving or attacking, which can be lifesaving if you’re about to get hit with a devastating attack.

To be fair, most of my disillusionment stems from fact that G.U. simply does nearly everything better. Period. In addition to the clunky combat, Infection has a somewhat unorthodox equipment system: you can equip any piece of armor or any Twin Blade weapon regardless of what level you are. And because characters “learn” skills through their equipment and not through leveling up, it’s really easy to customize your character in such a way as to make him a veritable powerhouse.

But, Infection and its three sisters do a couple things right that G.U. doesn’t, and for that, I still love them. Most monsters in the .hacks have an element to which they are resistant (a few even have immunity), but unlike the later G.U., enemies in the originals also have weaknesses. If you find yourself getting slaughtered by an army of bees that seem to dodge every other physical attack, knock them out with a spell instead. If those horsemen immune to dark attacks beat you to within an inch of your life with one lucky strike, then crush them with coiling blades of thunder.

The game’s other saving grace comes from its sheer volume of unique areas. Whereas G.U. has only about four noticeably different areas, Infection and its successors have at least twice as many, each with its own theme. Going to a fire area could land you in a sandy beach, a lonely desert or even in a field of lava. Depending on element, you could land in a rain forest or a snowy tundra. It could be night, day, or sunset; sunny, cloudy or raining, with a chance of lightning. So, even though you’re basically doing the same thing every single time (looking for the Big Treasure while opening every monster portal), it won’t always feel that way.

That is, unless you return to it shortly after playing a vastly superior game. In which case, some of its charm may have long since worn away. But, even if it has, it’s still worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of the .hack//Sign. And that’s coming from someone who has since become disillusioned with it.


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Community review by wolfqueen001 (September 04, 2010)

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