.hack//Outbreak - Review

By: Heath Hindman

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 7
   Originality 5
   Story & Plot 9
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Medium
   Completion Time 17-22 Hours  

Gee, is something wrong with Mia?
Gee, is something wrong with Mia?

   You've been down this road before. The third part of the .hack saga continues building on what was started in the first two volumes. Part one was a good introduction to "The World", but felt somewhat incomplete; part two made much better use of the .hack gameplay formula, but added too many throw-away characters who had unexciting quests attached to them. Enter part three. We have established the pattern of .hack games doing something great, but having some sort of drawback; so what does Outbreak improve, and what does it screw up?

   One thing in the "pros" column is the welcome upgrade in difficulty. You'd really only need one hand to count the number of tough, exciting battles in each of the previous two volumes, but Outberak is different. The new Sigma server has easily the toughest enemies yet, not just in terms of level, but these guys will really give the player a challenge. That in mind, there is no way on earth that this game should be played by those who have not been through the first two segments. It is obvious by the battles that Cyber Connect2 assumes that the player already knows what's up. The company did the right thing there.

   Unfortunately, this AI upgrade doesn't come to the player. Granted, for the first time ever, this reviewer saw an AI-controlled party member revive someone without being told to do so, but 99% of the time, the magic will not be cast and items won't be used without Kite's special request.

   Another reason this volume is best treated as a verterans-only affair would be the story. The complex plot has advanced so far that a new player will have no clue what most of the "Epitaph of Twilight" jargon means...and no, the 15-second intro at the beginning won't help much.

   Said story wastes no time getting things moving. Almost the entire first hour of .hack//Outbreak will consist of Kite bouncing around the different servers in "The World" to personally meet with key players in the story. He'll also be answering many an email in regards to how to crack down on this freaking virus that has been causing problems for quite a while now. From this we see early on that the plot will be this game's point of emphasis, which is exactly what ends up happening. Part two picked up the story's pace, since part one was used mainly to introduce the real player to the gameplay and situation, then part three comes in and moves things even faster. Overall, this volume of the saga packs the most storyline, making each new dungeon surprisingly more fun than they were in the last two games, even though they've all got the same gameplay as before.

The plot thickens
The plot thickens...

   The developers must've learned from Mutation that adding characters does not equal adding quality. While that part of the saga chalked most of its play time to the aforementioned useless character chasing, volume 3 only adds two new charatcers to the list. Also unlike before, both of the new faces are welcome additions to the crew, as one is a fairly important person in the story. While the other join up is completely optional, the quests you can take with her are awesome, with CG events and the like.

   As expected, the technical aspects are pretty much unchanged. The graphics still have that cool look and feel of a truly anime-inspired game and much of the music from the first two titles returns. However, while some of the music remains annoying, a few of the tracks begin to grow on the player. The music that plays during the CG sequences has always been the audio highlight of these games, though.

   And hey, for once, the ending doesn't suck. It shows significant conclusion and leads into the next game very well, whereas the last couple games couldn't quite grasp that first concept.

   In the end, Outbreak exceeds expectations. Silly quests, dull battles, a new brigade of stupid characters, a non-existent ending, and a lack of quality overall were expected from this game. Fans will be met with only a small amount of some of those things, and no such diappointments in other said departments. Most things worked out in this volume, and Quarantine will be something to see.

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