While playing your favorite online game, you stumble across a nasty virus that’s leaving players in comas. As you fight against it, trying to save your friends, you realize that the virus is escaping the game, and starting to affect the real world, managing to cause financial loss and even death. The company behind the game, in an effort to save face, is threatening to destroy the game servers, which would only fully unleash the fury of the virus on an unsuspecting network. It’s up to you to assemble a team to combat and contain this virus, before it’s too late.
.hack//OUTBREAK, the third game in the .hack universe, is definitely a turning point for the series. The story really picks up, with the heroes finally putting aside their differences and going on the offensive. While there’s still some time spent searching for information, for the most part you know what’s going on now, and you’re scrambling to put a stop to it. This scenario change affects the entire pace of the game, giving it a frantic feel, full of action. Even the side quest dungeons benefit from this. In previous games, they tended to drag on and be an annoyance, but they flew by this time. It’s amazing how much of an improvement this shift in focus can make.
Everything else in the game is largely the same, but the negatives really don’t stand out this time. Combat tends to be even faster than before, with a few challenging enemies thrown in to test you. Data Bugs, monsters than have been infected with the virus, were previously just used as bosses for various dungeons, but this game sees them become regular enemies. It adds a new level of strategy to combat, as you’re really forced to restrict your Data Drain usage. You have to use it to kill some enemies, but if you use it too much, then it’s game over. I initially thought all the Data Bug enemies were going to really slow combat down, but instead they kept me interested, making sure I didn’t just breeze through all of my fights.
Since this is the third game in a row using the same graphics and sound, I only have a few small points to make about them. First, even though you’re going through the same bland looking dungeons as the previous games, you aren’t forced to go through the exact same dungeon design over and over like the past. In fact, I can only think of it happening once, with the first and last dungeon being the same. Other than that, the order and style is mixed up well enough that it never became a huge distraction. Second, this game features a large side quest where you search out the “ghosts” of various .hack//Sign characters. While they obviously don’t look as good as in the anime, the transition in style is handled very well. It’s easy to tell who each character is, and you can even notice small details that have been included in their game designs. It was a great decision to add this into the game, and it really made me look forward to getting back to some .hack anime.
As I mentioned, the plot is vastly improved in this game, and the characters see some improvements as well. A few characters are taken off the board for the entire game, which allows the rest of the cast to get a bit more attention. For the most part, I didn’t mind this at all. It got rid of one annoying character, although I did lose out on of my favorites. Characters that have previously been roadblocks finally join you, including a legendary character who really adds some weight to your team. The one new character introduced is a sweet but naïve girl who just seems to be looking for new friends and a sense of freedom. Even though I only used her when I was forced to, I didn’t hate her, which puts her a step above many of the optional characters that have been introduced in the past.
When I began playing these games, I was worried that I would feel burnt out before I hit the fourth game. That’s definitely not the case, though. Each game has gotten better and better, so I’m looking forward to continuing on with the series. Not only do I want to know what’s going to happen to The World and all of its players, but I want to know what challenges the game is going to throw at me next. If you haven’t set foot in this universe yet, what are you waiting for? There’s so much here to enjoy, so feel free to dive right in.
Score: 4.5 out of 5