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The Place We Belong To...
Yet another three months has passed, and the third part in the .hack series is finally here. While my experiences with .hack//Mutation weren't anything special, .hack//Outbreak really was something special. The series really took a giant step forward this time, and to just sit here without having a clue about how it's going to end, is indeed painful.
As expected, the battle mechanics and interface in Outbreak are exactly the same as in the two earlier games, and this is something that will probably never change throughout the series. The battles are in real time, and will only take place on a field or in a dungeon outside of town. Your party consists of up to 3 characters. Skills and magics are performed from a beautiful menu that is easily accessed by pushing the triangle button. Outside of "The World", the players can visit their computer desktops to read mail, news and listen to the music from the game. You can also change your desktop wallpaper. While nothing has changed in this battle system or interface, I suggest readers who are new to the series take a look at the reviews of .hack//Infection or .hack//Mutation that can be found on the server for more detailed descriptions. I must add though, that the AI of both the enemies and your allies have been improved a lot since the previous titles. Also, some of the strongest and most important characters in the series joins your party this time as well, which makes the game a lot easier and more enjoyable. Unfortunately though, the camera controls are still annoying, and I can't figure out what anyone would use the first person view for, save for looking around at the uninteresting stuff scattered out in the field.
In the music section, things are really growing repetitive. They've used the exact same tunes over and over during the entire series. I guess they can't be blamed for it though, as it is indeed the same "World" as it always have been. It would have been weird if they suddenly started to use totally different tunes in the older areas... although they could've added a few new tracks to the new places you visit in Outbreak.
The Localization job is spectacular this time around, save for a few weird sentences. I experienced a lot of strangely translated sentences and spelling errors in the second game, but this time it felt just like in Infection. Almost all of the voice-actors are very realistic, and the abillity to switch instantly between japanese and english voice-acting is very appreciated.
.hack never had any outstanding graphics. The character models are indeed vey detailed and smooth, but the fields and cities aren't that pretty compared to most other RPGs for the PS2 today. Battle effects are okay, but they are also way too few. It seems like it doesn't matter at all which skills I perform with Kite... he will always be limited to two different movements. The only thing that differs is the damage delivered. Couldn't they have come up with at least five different moves? This goes for all characters, unfortunately.
Just like in Mutation, the plot is what really shines in Outbreak. This time around, 'The World' is totally infested with viruses and data bugs. It is also suspected that the virus has spread out into the real world, affecting all kinds of things. Kite and the others keep fighting though, even if it seems kind of hopeless at times. They do, however, receive lots of much appreciated help from the more important characters in the plot this time around, wihch also makes the game a lot more interesting. Some of them even join your party, as I mentioned earlier. What also made the plot a bit more interesting was the appearance of some of the characters involved in the famous TV series .hack//Sign. While they don't seem to play a big role in the games, it was still fun to see them around.
As for replay value, it's just the same as with the other games. There are tons of sidequests (most of which can be accessed almost at any time during the game, not only in the end), but there is no point whatsoever to actually replay the entire game, unless you're starting from the very beginning with Infection.
The game is still quite hard, in my opinion. There are still a few occassions in the game where you are left to explore entire dungeons all by yourself. While my Kite happened to be quite powered up since Mutation, the game was a bit easier than it could've been... so watch out. Just stock up on healing items and get yourself a good weapon, and I guarantee that all will be fine.
The completion time of .hack//Outbreak varies a lot depending on how many of the various sidequests you are planning to complete. While almost none of the quests you receive where your friends ask you to help them are essential for the game's main plot to continue, it is still highly recommended to complete them. By doing this, your party will grow stronger, and you may acquire a lot of good equipment. This sort of explains itself, doesn't it? Anyway, you'll probably end up somewhere between 10-25 hours.
In conclusion, .hack//Outbreak sort of saved the series. I was disappointed with .hack//Mutation because it felt like nothing really happened in that game. In Outbreak however, you can count on hearing lots of long conversations and experience lots of plot twists. This time the plot really moved forward, and I can't wait for the final part to arrive. Despite being almost a year old now, the .hack series still stands tall as one of the most original series ever made for any console. While it may have cost us RPGamers a lot of money to buy all of these games, the experience most of us have had with it was more than worth it. Until the next part arrives, go feed your Grunty or something.
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