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h- .hack//Mutation [PS2]
With the "unique" aspect now out of the way, how well does the game hold up the second time around?
With no significant changes since Infection, the graphics remain solid yet dated. Slowdown seemed to creep in a bit more this time around, but it still takes quite a bit of action onscreen to notice.
The newer music tracks maintain the vibe set from the first game, while sound effects both in the game and on the menus are natural and mostly carry over from Part 1.
While I had qualms about the English dub in Infection, the characters introduced here sounded much better overall. It felt like there was a deliberate attempt to differentiate the character voices, and though that could sound like a negative, it worked surprisingly well. I even found myself tolerating voices I abhorred in the first game, but I can't really tell if that was due to better acting or just prolonged exposure. Still, the inclusion of the Japanese language track certainly doesn't hurt.
Kite shares the cover alongside Blackrose and Helba with the destruction of an area in the background. The back offers a different synopsis but basically the same information as seen on Infection, highlighting the positive reviews and inclusion of the .hack//Liminality OVA. The case inside is structured same as before with the anime DVD on a flap and the game itself on the right side, while the instruction manual is basically an exact copy of Infection's with new pictures and updated advertisements.
Taken from the back:
"As the outlaw player, Kite, you're on a mission of truth. Take a journey into a virtual world where anything is possible, and nothing is as it appears. Fight your way through contaminated levels of cyberspace as you take on and eliminate enemies, and unlock codes that will allow you to gate hack to even more environments - all in a desperate attempt to discover who or what's behind The World."
Those who have already played .hack//Infection should feel right at home. The game starts out with a recap of the critical moments from then to act as a refresher to those like me who went an extended period of time between the games. Combat remains psudo-real-time, as you can call up the menu whenever to input commands and/or pause the action.
With the concept no longer fresh, the story is forced into carrying a heavier load. While I was a bit concerned about this revelation, there was enough of a plot present to keep me entertained. The last few hours kicked things up, making for an intense final sequence and cliffhanger to end the chapter. I found the new characters that join up as a very diverse bunch, so much so that any player is sure to take a liking to at least one or two. Finally, there's a small sequence that parallels to .hack//SIGN, which, while played out as more of a teaser, I can't help but hope leads to more of an interaction between the mediums in the future.
Of course, being that this is a continuation of the same story, little has changed. Progressing the plot comes down to clearing out your checklist of dungeons, and there's really very little surprise as to when something big is about to happen. I'll admit to times when it all felt just a bit too tedious, though luckily most were followed by a major event to win me back. The added in-town "Flag Race" with your Grunties provided a nice distraction, but I found it rather simplistic and easy to defeat. And yes, playtime is once again short for an RPG, with the story itself likely to clock in somewhere around 20-25 hours.
While there's nothing severely wrong with Mutation, one's personal experience with .hack//Infection will likely decide their individual level of enjoyment. Those who loved the setup and combat system will have no problem, as it's more of the same, but those who found Infection as mediocre or worse overall might want to invest their time elsewhere. For those wanting to jump right in with Mutation, I'd advise them to track down and play Infection first to have a better understanding of the backstory, which should help them to form a better opinion. Regardless, those who complete Mutation will likely seek out Part 3, .hack//Outbreak, if only to alleviate the jagged cliffhanger left to contemplate.
Grade: 4 of 10 (2 Stars)
1.) According to the box, this game is rated "T" for Teen due to Mature Sexual Themes, Mild Language, and Violence. As with Infection, the first one astounds me and I can only assume this rating spans across all four games and deals with something that has yet to happen, but again, it's best to be advised.
2.) My usual 'clear out everything before moving on' attitude with games of this genre strikes again. While it took me less than 35 hours to complete the story, I went ahead and finished all leftover sidequests, unlocked everything, and did my usual share of trading with everyone, leveling up, and rare item hunting. My final time for .hack//Mutation was about 50 hours, making my combined time for both games at this point just over 100 total hours.
3.) For those wanting a more in-depth description of the series' gameplay and features, feel free to check out my review for .hack//Infection, also on the Infolink.
Added: August 29th 2004
Related Link: Official Website
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