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By: Michael Beckett
Surprisingly enough, .hack//Outbreak represents something of a lull in the story arc. Despite the revelations and fairly unexpected ending that Mutation produced, Outbreak feels very rote and unsurprising - Kite enters The World, he gets a few new allies, he fights another of the Eight Phases, and nothing is really explained. At the end of Outbreak, gamers might be left wondering just what the point of this episode was.
Many things return from the earlier installments - unsurprising considering the nature of the .hack series. Outbreak of course recycles the same combat system, music, interface and art found in the first two editions, none of which is really a problem. .hack's previous installments possessed a unique visual and aural style. It's combat system takes a little getting used to and can be a bit repetitive at times, but it successfully mimics the combat systems of any number of online RPGs. It's a pity that Outbreak doesn't do more with the system it has. Kite and his allies will gain a few new abilities - Kite himself gains 2128 Drain, a variation on Data Drain that steals rare items from foes instead of Virus Cores - but for the most part things are exactly the same as in Mutation.
Although Mutation set the stage for an explosive series of revelations, Outbreak progresses in much the same way as Mutation did, with a further deepening of the mysteries surrounding The World. Who is Aura? What is the Cursed Wave, and what is the virus that seems to follow in it's wake? Why is it attacking The World? And why do all the events in the game so closely mirror The Epitaph of Twilight? Just how much of this is a game? At this rate, either .hack//Quarantine will end with little or no resolution or it will be so full of exposition as to induce nausea.
Localization has been fairly consistent throughout the entire series. While it isn't the best translation ever, it works well enough. Lines come off as a bit odd on occasion, usually as a result of dramatic pauses that really don't work. Once again, .hack//Outbreak provides the ability to switch between Japanese and English voiceovers.
The replay value and difficulty of the .hack series really both depend on how many sidequests the player chooses to perform - the more sidequests the player chooses to perform, the lower the difficulty and replay value. Sidequests pop up with disturbing regularity in .hack, from allies e-mailing Kite to ask him for help clearing out a dungeon to the special dungeons and Uber-bosses that appear at the end of every episode. These sidequests provide levels, rare equipment, and other benefits that serve to make the game easier and longer. In any case, expect to play each installment of .hack for between fifteen and twenty-five hours.
In conclusion, the .hack series has it's ups and downs. A few of the high points; immersive gameplay, solid music by Yuji Kajiura, incredible character design and an imaginative setting. A few of the low points; repetitive combat, a somewhat questionable menu interface, and middle of the road at best voice acting. So if you don't mind wading through the occasional overlong dungeon in order to get to the plot, .hack wouldn't be a bad choice.
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