.hack//Outbreak - Reader Re-Retroview  

A Broken Outbreak
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

Less than 20 Hours
+ Magical elements add strategy to battle.
+ Decent graphics.
+ Emails add some depth to characters' players.
- Frequent menu perusing in battle.
- Virus Core hunts drag out game.
- Overall narrative could have been better.
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   In 2003, Bandai began to bring the .hack games to North America, starting with Infection and continuing with Mutation, with data transfer allowable between games. August that year saw the North American release of the third installment of these MMORPG simulations, .hack//Outbreak, which inherits its predecessors' gameplay and once again allows data transfer from previous chapters. While the third installment will certainly satisfy those who enjoyed the first two games, those who didn't enjoy its predecessors or haven't yet delved into the franchise aren't missing a whole lot.

   With very, very little exception, aside from the introduction of a new Data Drain skill affecting single enemies and allowing for random acquisition of rare equipment from enemies, combat is exactly the same as in previous .hack games, real-time and triggered when approaching swirling yellow portals on keyword fields and in their respective dungeons. As with before, exploiting enemies' elemental weaknesses with various skills determined by the player's party's equipment adds a bit of strategy, although once more, frequent menu perusing, whether to use healing items (which will happen quite frequently) or change A.I., often bogs down battle, and combat is ultimately average at best.

   The interface, moreover, contains no remarked improvements over the game's predecessors, with character management still being burdensome, given the need to have characters in Kite's party in order to trade equipment with them or give them more powerful gear to equip. Frequent hunting for certain kinds of Virus Cores to hack into restricted areas necessary to advance the game's story is again a problem, as is the inability to save outside root towns or the simulated operating system interface. Overall, interaction could have been far better.

Too much Aromatic Grass Mia gets naughty

   The idea of MMORPG simulation, once more, separates the .hack games from other RPGs, although they are based on the .hack//Sign anime. The story itself picks up where the second game left off, continuing Kite and company's quest to unravel the mysteries of The World and awaken Orca's player and other players that fell into comas playing the game. Email conversations triggered when using certain characters enough do add some depth to their players, although the general narrative of the games has at this point broken focus, given the somewhat shoddy method of storytelling, the disconnection with the world outside the game, the weak connection with the anime included with the game (although the links are a little better this time around), and so forth. All in all, most aspects of the plot could have been better.

   The third installment also recycles most of its predecessors' music and voice acting, with some decent tracks such as Harald's theme, although most of the music is all-around average, while the voice acting is largely hit-or-miss. The visuals too are more of the same, which isn't a bad thing as they are very much above average and decently simulate a corrupt, unstable MMORPG like The World, although they do have some minor imperfections such as some bland environmental textures when scenery is seen close-up. Generally, the third installment sounds okay yet certainly looks better.

   Like its predecessors, the third installment is fairly short, taking from eight to fifteen hours to complete, largely depending upon how quickly the player is able to find the right Virus Cores necessary to advance the plot. In the end, .hack//Outbreak is pretty much the same experience as its predecessors, with a battle system that shows promise but somewhat falls flat and a poorly told story, but okay music and decent visuals. Despite its flaws, it does succeed as an MMORPG simulation, although whether or not the game itself is good is largely a matter of opinion and very much depends upon whether the player liked the previous installments.

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