Reviewed on PS2

.hack// (Part 1: INFECTION)

                      Reviewed By: John Wade, IV

Computer Platform: PlayStation II (Sony)
Produced by: Bandai/CyberConnect2
Price Range: $41-50
Learning curve time: 31-60 min.
Age level: Teens
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Genre: Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Simulator
Christian Rating: 3 of 5
   (some objectionable elements)
Gameplay: 4 of 5
Violence: 3 of 5
Adult Content: 3 of 5

dothack.  Illustration copyrighted.
If you haven't heard of .hack// by now, I assure you that you will soon. The latest Japanese juggernaut, it is featured in television, video games, and manga (Japanese comic books). All were developed at the same time, and all tell the story of a game called The World, and the ongoing story of the people that play this game. .hack//Part 1: INFECTION (known hereon as .hack//) is the first video game out of a series of four from this franchise.

.hack// is the World's first Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Simulator. It's also part one of a four-part series that will be released a few months apart. Confused yet? I know I was when I first heard about this game over a year ago. Being a big anime fan, as well as having 200+ hours logged onto Phantasy Star Online (a title similar in gameplay), I really anticipated this release. I can safely say that it delivers where it counts, especially for anime fans, but there are a few flaws both in gameplay and in moral content.

But before I go into the story, allow me to first explain the concept of the game. As I previously mentioned, it's a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Simulator, meaning that it's an offline game that mimics the effect of games such as PSO and Everquest. The game has three sides, you computer's desktop (complete with e-mail, newsletters, and switchable desktop themes), there's the title screen to the World that allows access to the bulletin board system (bbs) for general info and sometimes clues, and the actual game itself, The World. You aren't playing as character in a game, you're playing a character that's playing a game, and you're using his character, a twin-blade user (his character class) named Kite. Each server (of which there are two in the first volume) has it's own town in itself that serves as a living, breathing environment populated with shops, and it serves as a hub where player characters (known hereon as PC's) log in and out, as well as switch s ervers or enter a playing field to battle monsters, and seek treasure and items in dungeons. You level up your character, interact with other PC's, and even form a party to go adventuring. The game pulls off the interaction part quite nicely, as you can trade items with other PC's, or simply have the traditional RPG conversation, except what each PC says can and does differ quite often. Sometimes it took talking to a PC several times before they repeated something. Even your own party consists of PC's that happen to be logged on at that time, and you can send them an e-mail to join your party or to simply chat. After having a discussion with Mistral over whether or not to put butter into beef stew, I decided that CyberConnect did a great job of making the game really feel like it was online. Even the manual is done in a way that makes it feel like a manual to The World, and not .hack. But there's a clever presentation on the last few pages that discuss the concept of gate ha cking, viral infection, and data drain that make it seem like it was placed there by someone other than the game developer. It's even written with a different style than the rest of the manual.

What it does have though, that the games that it mimics do not, is a very interesting and well-developed plot. Tying in along with the anime and manga releases, .hack// is the story of a game called The World, the first MMORPG that was allowed to be released after a deadly virus called Pluto Kiss wiped out the (real) world's computers and caused many deaths. Well, needless to say there's something going on in The World, and it causes your friend Orca to go comatose while playing. You, controlling your PC Kite, are bent on discovering out what happened to Orca, finding out who keeps sending you garbled e-mails, and why a mysterious girl in white gave you a bracelet that allows you to hack into places you shouldn't be, as well as the ability to rewrite a monster's information and recreate them into a lesser (often a parody) version of itself.

It's the concept of Data Draining and gate hacking that really make the game worth playing. It's an idea that really hasn't been used much, especially since you're not playing the World, you're playing a character playing the World, so you're hacking in real life and see the results of it in The World. Data draining monsters allows you to defeat certain bosses (they are infected by viruses that give them infinite hp), and sometimes it's required to get the best items. It can really backfire though, sometimes data draining causes an overload and will create such random effects as losing a level, having your hp/sp reduced to 1, restoring your whole party's hp/sp and curing any effects, or sometimes the bracelet will flash and you'll receive a new Book of 1000. The Book of 1000 is composed of eight books (note that 1000 in binary is 8) and each one keeps track of such things as: characters and monsters met, fields and dungeons cleared, and even the number (and types) of Puchigus os (I REFUSE to call it a Grunty) that have been raised. When you reach a certain level of playing, like a certain number of characters met, or magic portals opened, certain items like new desktop backgrounds, desktop music, and viewable movies (once the game is completed) are unlocked.

Gameplay: 4

Aside from the innovations listed above, it's your conventional hack 'n slash, slay enemies and find treasure, level up your character RPG. Combat can be a little repetitive, and can be won by simply beating the living daylights out of the enemy using either physical attacks or skills until they fall over. The other PC's in your party fight as if they have their own agendas, but thankfully by using a menu-driven system you can issue either general or specific orders to them. While the story can be completed in around 15-18 hours, there are a wide number of sidequests though, and a VERY well created (yet wholly confusing) keyword-based level generator will ensure that gamers that enjoy exploring will have at least ten more hours. I myself have about 35 hours "logged in". For the most part it's nothing we haven't seen before, but features like data draining, the level generator, and the Books of 1000 adds the twist needed to make the game something special. The really weird thing is, that since this is part one of four I'm afraid that there won't be any real differences between the other games other than the progression of the story. Some gamers may also be turned off by the fact that to play the full game it'll ultimately cost $200.

Violence: 3. The games nature of whacking the enemy until it falls over dead earns a modest 3 in the violence rating. Thankfully, killing an enemy isn't a gory experience. They just fall over and fade out.

Adult Content: 3

A popular question I'm asked is "Why does it say 'strong sexual themes' on the back of the case?" This is probably due to some of the following:

• A hacker named Helba wears a costume that covers very little of her breasts, it's almost as if she were wearing a long flowing robe, with the chest area being a French-cut bikini designed for an C cup, and she's obviously a D. Thankfully there's a shot of it on the back of the case, so concerned parents can take a look for themselves. —A character named Natsume accidentally offers herself, when she meant to offer her services. She's a rather innocent PC, and given her personality if it were a real MMORPG it'd be taken as an honest mistake.

• Some of the character designs (namely Black Rose) sport slightly revealing clothing (a good reference to go by is Mimiru on .hack//SIGN, they're the same character class)

Another thing about the game that really irks me is the language. While certainly nothing you won't hear on TV, and nothing graphic, it doesn't exactly make for a hospitable environment. I got really tired of seeing Black Rose say "Kite, what the h*** is this? Heal me NOW!" whenever she was affected by a status ailment (poison, cure, etc). Thankfully the Japanese voice track (which doesn't feature any swearing) was included as a bonus but unfortunately most of us won't understand Japanese so we'll have to use the subtitles which were written from the English translation, swearing and all. Bandai should have written the subtitles from the Japanese translation, which as I stated didn't have any swearing in it that I could tell. (NOTE: The author of this review is currently studying Japanese for future missions/ministry work)

Christian Content: 3

I included this last for a reason. As much as .hack does right, it also does a few things that are just plain weird.

Positive: There are many positive elements such as Kite's disregard for his own safety and risking viral infection to discover what happened to his close friend. Balmung of the Azure Sky is a very noble character that pursues truth and justice, and is your typical knight-in-shining-armor character. Pardon the informality, but he even has a pair of sweet looking angel wings as part of his armor. You're encouraged to give items to your friends. Doing so increases their affection towards you and is tracked in a Book of 1000 to unlock items. Through e-mail you develop friendships with the “real life” people behind the PCs in your party. There's not really a magic system, but a character class called a Wavemaster can use staves that allow magic like effects, and other character classes can equip weapons or armor that allow them to use skills (such as spinning around and slashing, or a double handed pole arm attack) or magic-like elemental attacks. It's similar to the idea that you use a flamethrower to shoot a flame, or a gun to shoot a bullet. Another idea that I give Bandai kudos for, is that the main villain, Skeith, carries a cross in the Japanese version and when he data drains people it resembles a crucifix. In the English version it's changed to a Q looking shape. Word has it that it was changed so that it wouldn't offend Christians, but this hasn't been confirmed. Either way, kudos goes to Bandai. And while not part of the game, .hack comes with part 1 of .hack//Liminality, an anime produced by the makers of Ghost in the Shell. In the anime, a girl makes it clear that she is uninterested in a boy's physical advances.

Negative: Unfortunately, there's a lot of weird stuff in the game. Some of the fields themselves contain various images like non-anatomical nude statues in sometimes amusing positions, such as laughter, or pointing fingers at each other, or even one smacking the other with a briefcase. Some playing fields display skeletal remains of demons with flames abound. Others have beautiful shadows from what appear to be clouds, but upon inspection come from giant statues of men with exposed rib cages, hovering in mid air and rotating. It's almost like seeing the paintings of Salvador Dali in a video game. I'll give them points for originality, that's for sure. The dungeons themselves vary from stone covered walls to the fleshy insides of a beast (complete with a “splat” noise when walking). One of the dungeon entrances is a gigantic, half buried face complete with hands that have greedily wiggling fingers, like a bottom-feeding fish lures its prey. It's just weird. Each dungeon also h as a statue called a gott statue (gott is German for god) which when found, opening the chest in front of it will give three high-value items. The flesh dungeons also contain carrion of fallen heroes that, when shattered, give such items as healing potions, antidotes, and skill scrolls. And speaking of scrolls, some of them have names like "The Death", "The Devil", "The Moon", and “The Lovers” which allude to tarot cards. Some of the keywords in the level generator have keywords such as “Pagan”, "Sunny Demon", “Detestable”, “Gluttonous”, “Hopeless”, and “White Devil” that definitely don't honor God. So there will be levels with names such as “Great Smiling Holy Ground” and others like "Putrid Corrupted Organ Market", or even "Beautiful Distant White Devil". The names are necessary though, because the keywords you enter directly affect the field and dungeon type, as well as the monsters that dwell in it. So in other words, Voluptuous Her Remnant would generate a ground level field with an element of water and a lot of magic portals (what enemies pop up in, a clever device to eliminate load times). And the more questionable names would generate fields with enemies of a darker nature. Again, are you confused? Don't feel bad, I still am.

Reviewer's overall take: Positive

Despite the fact that I think that some of the stuff in the game is just, well… weird, I loved .hack//INFECTION. Overall, I recommend this game to a more mature gamer that loves games like Phantasy Star Online but want a deeper experience. It does has some elements that would keep it from being suitable for anyone younger than a teenager, but anyone that looks past the oddly-placed grit will definitely find a diamond. I myself am anxiously awaiting the next three volumes!

Year of Release—2002

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Christian Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Films for Christ or the Christian Answers Network.

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