SPOILERS FOR: .Hack series
Itís a powerful word; perhaps, a small bit sexy; like the words you read on the blurbs you read through to pass quick judgment on a novel that your probably not going to buy anyway; really, how many people have you seen pick up a book, read the little paragraphs, and buy that book? Seriously?
Maybe Itís Just Me.
Thatís probably it; yes, of course, something just isnít right here. This isnít right, it isnít right. Thatís what I kept telling myself while I played through .Hack//Infection. Thatís what I tried to tell myself, as I dragged myself through it; because I had this absurd hope that it would satisfy me later on, and even though it isnít a bad game, it never really left me with any sort of..closure. That was understandable, I didnít blame the game for that; this is the first game after all. Iím being way too hard on it; I realized that. But I knew with only three months between each game, there wasnít a whole lot of time for improvement. Mutation has confirmed my assumption; one that I was really hoping wouldnít come true, Iím a little ways into it; not that far really, and the last few remnants of hope I had for the series has started to inevitable evaporate. Thereís still some hope left, but not much.
To say I donít like the whole .Hack scene Bandai has so craft fully woven into a franchise would be a lie; and a bad one at that, even if it does come dreadfully close to the truth. But to say I enjoyed playing through the .Hack games? That would not be a lie at all; it would be a monstrosity of a comment; a ruination of what I truly felt when I played through the game. Read Solon and Paul Koehlerís reviews for some of the reasons why I find myself disappointed with the series in question. But Iíve decided, that in truth, you people arenít really going to be happy with me going on and on about the games. Most of you, indeed, have heard enough about it. Whether itís that infamous quote about people ďputting crap like FF6 and worshipping itĒ instead of liking the .Hack series that I have not yet come up with a true comeback thatís on par with Solonís, or flames that went along with the whole topic; although, Iím semi-happy it hasnít degraded into a flame fest completely. Iíve decided not to go into a (complete) rave about why I donít like the game, because you people will read it halfway through, and probably stop and just turn away more than likely; why? Because youíve all heard it before, youíll either nod, mutter, or whatever you wish to do in agreement, or consider me yet another guy who just doesnít seem to notice .Hackís brilliance.
So, instead of limiting myself to that, letís examine Bandai; and how theyíve managed to make .Hack into such a hot topic.
Despite all the bad things Iíve heard about the whole .Hack franchise, Iíve never heard anything about how Bandai marketed the games, the anime, the manga..and who knows what else. Of course, you never really hear all that much about how something is being marketed unless itís being marketed badly. Not that many people pay attention to it, I donít pay much attention to it. But while I myself nearly fell into the .Hack crowd, I backed up a fair distance, and looked over everything. I looked over who they hired for character designs, I looked back at how they had not simply brought the .Hack series into the States, but weaved something more, something clever, something that could be considered either insidious, or some dangerously, wildly brave and so carefully glued together idea. I consider the truth to be; as some truths are, somewhere veiled, obscured in the middle. It was at this moment that a not so surprising revelation came to me, rose out of the depths:
Someone at Bandai, is ingenious.
Or, more than likely, a large group of them are. I noticed that, .Hack wasnít just a some video game series that had a decent anime backing it up, and a bunch of other things thrown in the pot, but it was a cleverly placed ďtrapĒ of sorts. If the anime and game were separate things, if they had come at different times, I sincerely think that .Hack mightíve had an impact, but it wouldíve lost a small ďsomethingĒ, it wouldíve lost some substance, something special. I see now; in the marketing world, a ďgoodĒ mistake is not a rarity, but more akin to an oddity. Yes, itís pretty obvious to me now, whether itís simply an obvious, but rather underrated truth, or my mind making wrong assumptions, I know what I believe; .Hack was made to be an unavoidable conglomerate of marketing fury of which Bandaiís audience could not escape. It was, a vastly original, highly acclaimed and admired idea that was used just the right way to turn by those guys at Bandai to intrigue just enough of us to make a small devoted and dedicated following. Bandai has milked the franchise for all itís worth, and in a fashion that shows there finesse, and knowledge in the area.
Now, it might seem like Iím making Bandai look like some money grubbing corporation thatís out to suck all of our money to line their pockets, and laugh at all the gamers who fall for itís clever marketing ploys, and to that, I say thatís only a half truth. Bandai is money grubbing, but what company isnít? Thatís what runs a company; cold, hard cash. But Bandai has the sense to realize that theyíve got to respect their customers, theyíve got to be (or act) as if they really care about the peopleís opinions, and theyíre much better than some companyís Iíve seen as of lateÖ
Iím looking at you THQ, you and your Aidyn Chronicles.
Anyway, I commend Bandai for what theyíve turned .Hack into; a living, breathing franchise, a unique one. One that they looked at, and said, ďDamn, this is gold!Ē, and proceeded to make sure everyone else believed so. They did so by making it virtually impossible to avoid the thing; you didnít have to play games to know about .Hack; if you watched anime, you knew about .Hack, if you watched television, you knew about .Hack. I saw more commercials for .Hack//Infection than for any other game, and thereís a reason for that; and that reason is, simply, that Bandai knew what they were doing. They made it open to almost every connection they could think of, everyone could they could think of. But itís not like I have a load of contempt for Bandai; quite the contrary, Iím glad with what theyíve done with the original idea they got theyíre hands on. Iím 14; and in Texas, thereís almost no possible way Iíd be able to go to E3, but Iím pretty sure Bandai made sure everything was set to hook gamers on for sure. I know Iíve read a few posts with people talking about how much .Hackís presentation stood apart from the rest of the crowd in itís brilliance; and Iím whole hearted in my assumption that theyíre probably right; Bandai went all out. Theyíve succeeded in creating a hugely successful franchise by putting their hands in everything they could; from games and beyond.
..And so begins my rave.
..And it begins, with an irony of sorts; one that seems to be bittersweet to many gamers; including me. Bandai was wholly triumphant in getting .Hack out in the market; making certain it would have a solid presentation by hiring whoever made those beautiful character designs, and scattering the game with little touches that save it from a terrible fate. They carried something they knew to be gold to the top.
And therein lies .Hackís true flaw, and Bandaiís one crippling flaw in itís endeavor with the series:
Between choosing treating gold, like gold, they settle with treating it like silver.
Mediocrity, people, is not a suitable substitute for greatness; it never has been, and never will be. But Bandai didnít seem to notice that fact, or rather, they didnít think about it, and that shows; it shows because it turns what couldnít been a great playing experience into drudge. If this ďThe WorldĒ is what future MMORPGís will look like in 2007, Iím glad I havenít had the time to play any; the towns are the only real breath of life compared to the other graphics. The dungeons donít really spur the imagination; they look the same just used with different colors and semi-different layouts. .Hackís soundtrack suffers from the same fatal blow as almost everything else in the games; sheer repetitiveness. Itís not like itís bad or anything, but most of the music just seems nice..but rather uninspired; I dub this disease, the Suikoden 3 syndrome.
I hear people talk about how .Hack has such wonderful gameplay, such a unique battle system. Please, I swear they stripped the whole battle system from Kingdom Hearts, and added a few elements too it to make it seem more stand-offish. The new elements would help the battle system from getting boring as quickly as other games, but instead, the new elements made the game even worse than it wouldíve been. The battle system could be used as an example of everything that is wrong with the .Hack games; instead of simplicity, and greatness, it chooses to be unique, but almost unbearably frustrating and seems to vex me at every turn. The chat command is my prime example of this; on the outside, it seems to be engrossing, it seems to make perfect sense, but it lost everything that was going for it when I realized I was going to be bringing up the chat menu during battle more than I was going to be actually fighting. Why? Because the system is so poorly implemented; I shouldnít have to tell Mistral to heal herself when sheís near death; sheís a Wavemaster, she should know to do it herself. I shouldnít have to tell Elk to fight off his shyness every time I get into a battle and stop standing around; I shouldnít tell order my spell caster to start doing his job, and cast some damned spells to make himself useful.
Imagine for a moment, the scene I shall describe; the desert wind blows against me, as if it were an omen of the evil I shall soon face. The wind that blows past my ears as I ruthlessly walk against the desertís plea, crunching against the my worn shoes seems to whisper for my demise, whisper for me to turn back, and yet I continue; resisting the desertís cry, knowing full well that my footsteps are a heresy against the vast bleak world that engulfs me. I hear the familiar sound of an enemy that wished to foolishly thwart my journey for the time being. 3 Wisps appear before me, theyíre shrunken purple bodies and the rotting flesh of their multiple, deformed heads drive me as I swiftly deal death to them in a flurry of attacks with Danteís Bladeís. I wield my blades once more to strike the last two down, but both of them start directing their attacks on me, Blackrose arrives to my rescue swiftly finishing off one I had already wounded. But soon enough, 2 more enemies appear, and suddenly I find myself under a never ending attack as Blackrose keeps fighting on her own. ďWhere the hell is Mistral?Ē I wonder as I realize Iím out of potions, and then I turn around and see sheís uselessly flailing her staff against an enemy, forcing me to open the menu and tell her to heal me before I die. Then, I have to do the same for Blackrose as she bravely, but foolishly fights on as she starts coming moving toward an impending death.
..Now, ignoring how much I tend to dramatize things, maybe you got the full understanding of what I meant to achieve; what my point really is; the chat command interrupts the flow of the game. Itís like Iím forced to baby sit my characterís whenever Iím in a battle. I think my fatherís reaction to my Algebra grades on my report card is the most understandable way to put this (mostly because heís so blunt); itís a half-assed approach, you can do better, even if your not that good at it, you can do better. I know Bandai can do better, they couldíve done much better, I wouldíve gladly waited another 6 or 8 months for them to touch a few things up to make most of the games areas more like realistic, enjoyable places, instead of reminding me more of dead animal. Thereís just a few things that they couldíve done that wouldíve made the game so much better besides anything drastic; why does Kite use the same dancing animation with only slight variations? Why not add a few more? Why am I restricted to two or three battle commands for my party to follow? Union Battle can only do so much; why not add a few more tactics for them to follow? Why does the sound effect used when BlackRose manages to connect a combo with her Heavy Blade of choice sound the same as a spell cast by Elk against an enemy, or the same as when Kite slashes with is daggers? Why didnít you add different sound effects for those things to make it seem more realistic instead of dulling our senses with monotonous battle after monotonous battle? I understand that you might be doing the sound effects because this is supposed to be an MMORPG, but come on; gamers can be choosy, and Iím pretty sure Bandai knows this. So why donít they act like it? Why donít they treat the series with the same cleverness and craftsmanship as they did with their marketing campaign? Why don't they show this incredibly original idea, these (particularly) interesting characters, some much needed admiration and above all, respect? I guess weíll never know.
I hear Quarantineís going to out soon, but Iím not looking forward to it. Even if I still have some hope about the series, with Bandai following their three-month period as usual, it doesnít look like Bandai is going to change their ways wit the series..but maybe, one day, some company with that next big idea will realize from Bandaiís mistakes, and treat their series with a bit moreÖvalue.
One can only hope.
But for now, Iíll remember the games that made one word stand out above all others: Ambivalence, and with it, mediocrity, Iím beginning to think both words come are close knit in some instances; .Hack has taught me that at least.