.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth - Staff Retroview  

Rebirth of .hack
by Michael "Wheels" Apps

Click here for game
20-40 Hours
+ Incredible detail paid to worldbuilding
+ Great visual style
+ Fun and challenging combat
- Battle system starts off slow
- Dungeons can get repetitive
- Ends with a cliffhanger
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   .hack // G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth is the first entry in the second series of games in the massive multimedia .hack project. Using the unique MMO setting to its advantage, Rebirth manages to not only outdo the original series but also use a fantastic  cel-shaded style and well-paced story that stands the test of time. The fast-paced, realtime combat provides enough diversity to keep things interesting but takes a bit too long to get going early on. Though it does have some of the repetition issues of the original .hack series, a much better story and cast, the improved combat, and pruned length more than make up for these.

   Taking place almost completely in the massively multiplayer online game The World, Rebirth follows the adventures of Haseo as he tries to track down the mysterious character known as Tri-Edge. Tri-Edge is responsible for somehow knocking Haseo back to level one and causing the mysterious disappearance of a friend. While on this search, Haseo meets up with a group dealing with various mysterious happenings in the game. It will be a bit weird for those not already familiar with .hack, but Rebirth packs an amazingly well-defined world. Haseo is initially a very angry and unfriendly character and quite unlikeable. As things move along, however he shows some growth and shows he cares more about his companions than it initially appears. It's an interesting story, though being part one of a trilogy it naturally ends on a cliffhanger and leaves many things unresolved. Even so, the story will leave players wanting more rather than leaving them unfulfilled.

The cutscenes have a
                                        tremendous visual style. The cutscenes have a tremendous visual style.

   Helping define the game's world and expand backstory and character relationships are the faux-MMO elements, complete with convincing e-mails, forums, and even news reports that players can read through and explore at their leisure. The World's players complain about the game, share rumors, and even talk about Rebirth's main characters complete with fan art. E-mails from party members provide hints at those character's offline lives as well as offering players a deeper level of interaction with them. How the player responds to these e-mails can improve relations with that character and leads to further character detail being provided in Rebirth and its successors. Meanwhile, news reports give an overview of happenings outside of the MMO, painting an interesting picture of the near future. These aren't always unrelated to The World of course, as they sometimes take a look at strange events related to the game.

   The gameplay that goes along with this wonderful story is fun, despite retaining some of the repetition of the original. Players can explore the game's city, buy equipment, visit several guilds, interact with characters, or take on optional quests. Quests take place in relatively short dungeons generally with simple objectives such as hitting a certain number of switches or similar objects to unlock treasure or a boss fight. Environments are reused but appear with enough different configurations as to not get too repetitive. In dungeons players will experience plenty of combat, and thankfully it proves to be a highlight. Enemies are visible on the map, and when the player comes into contact with them by attacking or running into them, combat will begin in an enclosed area. Battle takes place in real time, though with a measured pace since the action will pause when selecting a skill, using an item, or commanding allies. Combat is still fast-paced and fun. By the end of the game the player will have two classes to switch between, each providing a good variety of skills. Even so, Haseo is stuck with only a single skill for a bit too long, making early portions drag, especially when the party consists of Haseo or only one other ally. It does give time for the player to learn the ins and outs of the system, but it still feels like this could have been handled in a much better way to keep things interesting. Skills transfer from one game to the next so at the very least this issue is not repeated in the latter games.

Despite the game Despite the game's age, Rebirth's world still looks great.

   Battles can be fairly challenging, and boss fights in particular prove to be a fun highlight. In addition to regular combat, special arena battles are spaced throughout the campaign. These don't allow items, and provide some challenging battles for players to conquer. A lot of the story centers around these battles, which helps enhance these often tense encounters. It feels like more optional fights could have been fit into the arena, but thankfully there aren't any issues once past the tedious early going. Once the story is complete, players are free to keep doing side quests to get more gear and levels to carry on into the next game, though there is a level cap.

   Thanks to a great cel-shaded art style, Rebirth is still a fantastic-looking game despite its age. Some of the environments can be a bit bland at times, especially in some reused dungeon styles. Enemies and characters in the player's party look and animate quite nicely. Environments look nice, but they do get reused a bit, especially if the player takes on optional side-quests. The music does not disappoint, providing many memorable tracks and helping enhance every aspect of the game. To top it off, the voice acting includes stellar performances from a variety of actors familiar to JRPG fans such as Yuri Lowenthal in the role of Haseo. Those worried about how this old PS2 game will look and sound have absolutely nothing to worry about.

   The original .hack series was a bit of a disappointment in many respects. Thankfully, the developers have fixed many of the issues that plagued those games, and the result is a wonderful part one that sets up this new trilogy nicely. It has some minor issues, primarily a slow buildup before combat gets truly interesting. However, the worldbuilding on display in the game is incredible. There's everything from accurate online forums to a series of videos about an obnoxious reporter investigating mysteries related to the game. There are plenty of references to past .hack media as well. .hack // G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth truly executes on the promise that the first series never quite lived up to, and sets up perfectly for its followup. All fans of JRPGs need to play this game.

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