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An Outbreak of Outrage
By: Paul Koehler
The series promised to revolutionize console RPGs, and it promised to provide an epic saga that many gamers would buy into. In fact, many bought into the myth to begin with. What looked at first to be a great series has turned into not only a huge disappointment, but also a huge rip-off thanks to the machinations of Bandai's marketing department. The third installment of the .hack series, .hack//Outbreak, starts to provide some resolution to the overall plot, but is nevertheless a major letdown. There are few extra features to be found within the game, and it is not worth the current asking price simply because of its notoriously short length. Even with the series' respective innovations (among them being the fantastic plot and its first steps in localization), these alone can not stand the major letdown that is the .hack saga.
Not much explanation is needed of the game's battle system, which has remained mostly unaltered since the beginning of the series. All of the respective equipment, abilities, and items have been altered so Kite and his party can deal with the new enemies on the Sigma server. Even the new arsenal provides only a slight antidote to the true challenge of battles in Outbreak, as encountering enemies with either physical or magical tolerance becomes a regular occurrence. The introduction of Wiseman as a Wavemaster becomes all the more useful as magic becomes an indispensable tool to the party. Kite's famous bracelet gets yet another upgrade with the 2128 Drain, which is able to gather rare items from drained enemies on a consistent basis.
There are few changes made to the interface of Outbreak, and most of them center on the use of Grunties. Different Grunty types may be called to perform different tasks, like searching for items in dungeons or scouting out portals. This game also introduces Grunty Racing, which can be used to gain various items and stat modifiers. Surprisingly, these stat modifiers become an important tool for Kite as he deals with the first portion of the game on his own. Those first few hours can be extremely frustrating for players who haven't leveled Kite enough from Mutation, and it adds an almost unnecessary amount of difficulty to the plot.
Most of the satisfaction from Outbreak comes from the revelations made in its plot, which can be best summed up as a "semi-resolution". Gamers who have been watching the Liminality series will have the same feeling, as Volume 3 ties up a significant number of plot items as well. Not only are some of the specifics involving the Epitaph of the Twilight revealed, but several characters from the .hack//Sign series make an appearance within the game, provided several pre-set conditions are met.
Although many other titles have followed the series' lead with regards to localization, .hack//Outbreak still does a fine job with regards to voice acting and translation, in both English and Japanese. Again, most of the characters' voices reflect their individual personalities, even with the ones who are obviously blurring the line between their real-life and online activities.
While the characters themselves are interesting to listen to, they certainly are nothing to look at in the confines of "The World". For an MMORPG that is supposed to be set in the latter half of this decade, its graphics are decidedly substandard. Aside from the smorgasbord of new backgrounds to be obtained for the desktop interface, little, if anything at all, has been changed since the first title with respect to graphics. Even the occasional FMVs simply push along the plotline.
Outbreak's music falls in the same category, but not because of the quality of the tracks. They'd be acceptable if it wasn't for the fact that they are repeated multiple times throughout the fetch quests that make up a large portion of the game. However, two particular aspects stand out. Aura's Theme is the beautiful choral track that is played throughout many dramatic cutscenes, and noticeably stands out. Also, one of the Phases in Outbreak will call out some of his attacks with a demonic voice, which helps break the monotony of most of the battles.
For those gamers who have already bought into the hype of the .hack series, .hack//Outbreak is necessary to advance the storyline. If the difficulty of the game is any indication, the upcoming Quarantine will provide for an intense finale for Kite and his party. Aside from the loyal fans, it should be reiterated that at its current price, Outbreak is a ripoff. The phrase "one game for the price of four" is a nasty but truthful slap against the series, which has proved to be a cash cow for Bandai but an incredible ripoff to gamers that have bought each of the respective games immediately after release date. Careful observers will note that both Infection and Mutation can now be found for about $30 US Dollars.
Even with the additional sidequests, Outbreak can be defeated in less than 20 hours, although completionists might want to spend the extra time either racing Grunties or attempting to find the ghosts of all of the .hack//Sign characters. For others, this game should be a reminder to wait for the series in box-set form. It would be wise for Bandai to do this, because despite the large promises laid by the .hack series, it has been nothing but an incredible outbreak of outrage for the gamers that have picked up the titles near their release dates.
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