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Retro Review: .hack // INFECTION

I like this cover art

I like this cover art

In the early 2000’s, a very unique game series came out that began to do something previously unheard of: create a series of rpg’s with direct sequels. .hack//INFECTION was the first game in the .hack series (pronounced “dot hack”), which is a four part sequential game series that all star the main protagonist Kite, and tell the story of his interaction with an online MMO called “The World.” The games are unique in the following ways:

1. They are structured in such a way that you get to play four different games, but they are all basically the same story arc. You import your save file each time you load up a new game. I am just finishing up INFECTION so I will have more details on how well the sequels/save file transfer systems work in the future.

2. An anime was written and produced to coincide with the game itself, and was released as side content with each game package. Some people even argue that the anime is actually better than the game’s plot. I personally disagree, but it’s still a pretty novel idea to mix and match media forms.

"Inception" didn't have this many layers of reality

“Inception” didn’t have this many layers of reality

3. The game content was created as a “pretend” MMO”, meaning that the game was actually a game within a game, creating three different levels of reality for the player to interact with (actual reality, the fictional characters’ reality, and the fictional characters’ virutal reality experience in “The World”…confused yet?) I really enjoy this kind of thing.

All of these reasons made me incredibly interested in the .hack games. So when I saw that the original .hack // INFECTION was on sale at a local retailer for a relatively cheap price, I picked it up. The PS2 package opened to reveal both discs: the game itself and the side content anime .hack // SIGN. Sweet!

The first thing you should know about the .hack games, is that they get more expensive as you go along. You can pick up the first title for around $15, but the second game is about double that, and third and fourth sequels are even more costly. So be aware that purchasing the entire series will probably cost more than you really intended: approximately over $100. Value wise, this may seem like a good deal or bad, once you hear a few more details.

Each game is short. INFECTION is only about 15 hours long, unless you really spend lots of pointless time grinding (which is both boring and unnecessary). So you will kill each game in practically no time at all. So what in the world would cause you to want to dig into this overly priced, odd MMO fake-out series, that provides weird anime side content?

Because the story is really really good.

Kite spreads Virus's around like a G

Kite spreads Virus’s around like a G

The game starts out in the real world. Your character is invited by his friend to join him in his favorite online MMO: The World. So the two of you join up together in The World, and you meet up to discover he is a lvl 50 beast named Orca, and you are a lvl 1 chump named Kite. Boo! Not long into the game, you discover that some sort of virus in the games code is killing people. No, not avatars…the ACTUAL people. Or at least the fictional actual people. You’ll figure it out. In any case, your best friend Orca is in a coma, and unless you can somehow manage to delve deeper into the many layers of code in The World, you may never figure out how to save him.

So Kite becomes, for all intents and purposes, a “hacker” in the game, who uses a special bracelet to transform enemies into virus codes, that can be used to hack into levels the game doesn’t want it’s players to get into. Describing it is actually more complicated than just playing it. A few hours in, and you will be hacking worlds like a champ.

The rhythm of the game is pretty simple. Check your email, check the discussion boards in The World, and then use the access codes to enter specific dungeons that will move the plot along. In the meantime you will be meeting lots of great characters, upgrading your equipment, and interacting with strangers trying to trade them for their goodies. Its a pretty simple but well rounded system that actually feels pretty well realized at times. While you will certainly never be convinced that you are playing an online MMO, the vibe is simple and friendly, if a bit on the stale side. My biggest issue with The World is simply it’s lack of any purposeful interaction. NPC’s don’t really have anything to say, and while there are a few sidequests, its pretty empty. Thankfully, the recruitable characters keep things fresh with optional sidequests along the way, as well as email exchanges that bring the character development to life in a unique way. (Granted a two word email about your opinions on apple pie is a pretty low end kind of character interaction…I digress.)

Probably should cast a healing spell right about now...

Where’s the Phoenix Down?! Oh wait…wrong game

The battle system is both incredibly simple and complex. You encounter enemy zones in dungeons and in area maps, and then engage them in an interesting combination of action and menu based combat. What this ultimately looks like is you hammering on the X button to attack, until you need to command your team to heal, use skills or magic, or open up your own skill page. At times the battle system bored me. And at other times I found it fascinating and filled with strategy as I was forced to used both buffs and debuffs, as well as specific elemental magic. Aside from issuing general commands to your team, they operate on a pretty decent AI. As far as difficulty is concerned, if you are even close to the level of the zone you are in, and have been keeping up with your equipment you will probably find it a bit too easy. After you become comfortable with the system however, you will find it much more interesting to push for higher level areas to enjoy the challenge and experience.

.Hack // INFECTION is a short and simple game, so there’s not too much more to say. Combat is pretty good, the story is unique and interesting, and the characters are diverse and enjoyable. I’m almost at the end of the first game, and already looking forward to part 2. It may not be for everyone, but it’s a solid title that still entertains if you’re in the mood for an old ps2 jrpg.

Time for the Rundown!!!

What is your favorite thing about .hack // INFECTION? That’s easy: the plot. Anytime I started feeling bored with the battle system, I just made sure to hit a story dungeon as soon as I could, and it kept the game fresh.

Does the anime include the same characters and story? Well, sort  of. The anime tells a story that happens simultaneously as the game, and it fleshes out some of the games plot points. Sign uses different characters however. It’s generally recommended that you watch the anime after you finish the game, as a kind of reward for completion maybe?

How hard is this game? Easy cheesy. Unless you take low level characters to a high level zone, in which case they will keep dying. But it’s still not really hard, it’s just annoying in those cases.

How long is .hack // INFECTION? Figure 15 hours if you play at a reasonable pace, without really much grinding. And like I said previously, grinding is really pointless. (It will also make the later games kind of boring if you are over-leveled or so I hear.)

Should I use an FAQ for .hack? Nah. Just make sure to check your in-game email and the message boards anytime you feel lost and they will set you straight. If you need to find a specific item or something you could reference a guide, and I think there are a few hidden bosses to hunt down (don’t quote me on this, like I said I’m actually not quite finished with the game yet).

Should I play this game? Yeah! At least try out the first installation. It has some flaws, but the .hack games seem to have enough unique elements that playing it feels really fresh and fun. Just don’t drag it out. It’s not only totally unnecessary but it will kill your .hack buzz. Only reason to avoid it might be the high cost for completing the series; for me it’s worth it so far. (For the reader’s information, I currently own INFECTION and MUTATION, but still have yet to purchase parts 3 and 4.)

Thanks for tuning in! Here’s a final video to get you pumped up about .hack!


Retrodragon

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4 comments on “Retro Review: .hack // INFECTION

  1. My PS2 backlog is already too long… But I’ll pick this up if I see it. I think my brother tried one of the .hack games and liked it, but I don’t think he really got far and I don’t know why. I’m more of a completionist than he is so he probably just started playing the next shiny thing. Not sure I’m so happy about those last games being so expensive, but my wallet will only cry if I decide to get them all, and a cheap investment into the first game doesn’t sound bad at all.

    • Yeah that’s pretty much what happened to me. I found the first two games in the series for around $10 each so that wasn’t too bad. I’ve been checking ebay lately, and you can potentially find parts 3 and 4 for around $20 each now if you time it right; I think the prices have dropped a bit for the original .hack games, because the .hack GU series is much more in demand (and apparently much better so my curiosity is spiked lol)

  2. I used to own the first game, but never bothered getting the rest as the combat system wasn’t my cup of tea. A friend loaned me the anime and I found it kinda dull. Guess you need to complete the games to get the full experience.

    • Yeah the .hack games are a series I have come to sort of avoid for one simple factor: they are so stupidly easy they can’t possibly remain interesting beyond the intro scenarios. I wanted to love it as a series but it really started to drag and I moved on. The problem isn’t that they are bad games, just dull. But in some ways isn’t that a greater sin? Lol I did stay interested in the plot but it wasn’t enough. Too many games in the genre that are just much better

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