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.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PlayStation 2) artwork

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PlayStation 2) review

"Combat has been streamlined. You no longer have to wade through menus just to implement a single skill. Skill triggers enable you to simply press a few buttons in order to perform an ability. While it’s not perfect – you can’t utilize them to cast spells or use items – it’s definitely a lot more convenient. And it should silence anyone who knocked the first series for its unwieldy battle system. "

The original four .hack titles saw the popular fictional MMO “The World” stricken by peculiar phenomena such as indestructible monsters and weird data manifestations that caused players to turn up in comas. Seven years and a serious revamping of the RPG later, .hack//G.U. vol. 1: Rebirth still has people turning up in comas, just for an entirely different reason. Sort of.

Haseo has just begun playing, yet his first experiences ultimately shape his purpose, attitude, personality, and philosophy. Killed by the very people who agreed to teach him the basics, he develops a negative attitude towards PKers. Yet he doesn’t become a PKK until two months later, after the infamous PKer Tri-Edge, known for sending victims into comas, kills a close friend of his. With this new role, Haseo actively hunts down and destroys any PKers he comes across, hoping to obtain any information on the character who slaughtered his companion.

Six months later and reaching the extreme level of 133 as well as earning the nickname “Terror of Death”, the now-legendary PKK possesses no leads despite months of investigation. At least until another friend, the mysterious Ovan, tips him off. As he’s exploring Tri-Edge’s rumored whereabouts, Haseo finally encounters the enemy he’s been searching for. But things don’t turn out quite like he hoped. Not only does he fail in obtaining any information on how to revive comatose patients, but he also fails in killing the seemingly abnormal player. Instead, the PKK nets himself some serious EXP loss. Busted down to level one, and probably the only victim not ending up in a coma, Haseo effectively has to start all over again.

Fortunately for you, “starting over” only involves reacquiring the 300 or so experience points manually obtained earlier. And, of course, going through the tutoring process again, which might be frustrating. But at least you can laugh knowing that the feeling was anticipated. Throughout the whole affair, Haseo expresses sarcasm and exasperation at being told things he already knows.

Once that’s done, a whole new string of events ensues. Haseo will join guilds and participate in the arena. He’ll go on seemingly random quests with people he just met. And he’ll become involved in G.U.’s version of anomalous data. Throughout all this, you actually see him develop into something more three-dimensional. While he may seek power and Tri-Edge throughout much of the volume, you see him evolve from an indifferent, apathetic individual into a slightly more caring person. He’ll realize that power isn’t everything. He’ll understand that “The World” is more than just a game. He’ll feel remorse for offending his friends, and even apologize for doing so.

Unfortunately, most of this character development occurs during cut scenes. Long, extravagant, and numerous, you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Am I watching an anime or playing a game?” A sentiment further emphasized considering these scenes often come in waves, where you watch one just to venture to a separate area to watch another. But at least many of them are interesting. It’s when Haseo patronizes you that it gets annoying. He often concludes these events by saying something like “Guess I’ll check my e-mail or something,” as if you can’t figure it out yourself. As if you’re the noob people mistake him for.

That irksome detail aside, you’ll discover that much has changed for the better. Mostly.

Combat has been streamlined. You no longer have to wade through menus just to implement a single skill. Skill triggers enable you to simply press a few buttons in order to perform an ability. While it’s not perfect – you can’t utilize them to cast spells or use items – it’s definitely a lot more convenient. And it should silence anyone who knocked the first series for its unwieldy battle system.

Furthermore, monsters appear on the field along with you, and they possess an intelligence that creatures in previous titles lack. If you get too close, they’ll surely notice. Sometimes they’ll even investigate or posture threateningly to warn you away. To avoid initiating combat, you’ll have to steal away and approach from a different angle unseen. Manage that, and you’ll be able to execute a sneak attack, which lets you damage your enemy before battle even truly begins.

But successfully carrying out a first strike isn’t always easy. Depending on breed, some creatures have better vision than others. Avians are nearly impossible to creep up on. The only way to do so is to get directly behind them. Many bosses also possess extensive visual prowess as well, but because of their enormous size, slipping around behind them is easy. Alternatively, most beasts can see great distances in front of them, but their radial vision is poor. Slipping around the side should be enough. And some enemies are so nearsighted that literally walking right in front of them won’t ruin your chances for a stealthy assault.

Of course, to win any fight, you have to be properly armed. But unlike the prior series, Rebirth has adapted its equipment system for more thoughtful strategic thinking. You can’t just equip any gear just lying around; you have to be the appropriate level. Furthermore, your weapons and armor don’t endow your characters with skills like they did formerly. Instead, you need to level up your weapon proficiency in combat. Only then will you gain new abilities.

The most innovative aspect of armament is customization. Throughout your journey, you’ll collect materials that allow you to enhance your equipment with worthwhile benefits. These ingredients will provide advantages such as poisonous strikes, reduced damage intake, and certain masteries that make using some skills cheaper than others. Customized properly, a character can become immensely powerful, almost to the point of invincibility.

Combat and equipment aren’t the only things that have changed. Areas have been altered considerably, too. Instead of just wandering around a field opening portals then exploring a dungeon for a unique treasure every single time, each area in this game comes with a special mission. While this variety is a nice change, a sense of monotony will gradually permeate your mind as you realize that the same few missions are continually recycled. Add to that similarly recycled aesthetic backgrounds, and the feeling really starts setting in. At least in previous titles, the scenery appeared different enough to ward off any staleness.

Yet, even though each area traveled seems identical after days of play, there’s still a plethora of things to do. You can always hunt down the countless PKers haunting “The World”. You can help several NPCs with their research, whether that entails kicking multiple lucky animals for special bonuses or feeding a strange metallic creature ever-increasing levels of energy spheres. You can aid a painter by passing out flyers to every person you encounter in the city. Or just trade with them for valuable items. You can make your fellow party members love you by venturing with them or giving them lavish gifts. You can even attempt filling the Book of 1000, which chronicles every minute experience throughout the game. Accomplishing this will enable you to watch past cut scenes again, change your desktop music and background, and even increase your guild rank, which expands your faction’s headquarters.

With a fantastic story, significantly modified combat and a substantial list of extra things to do, as well as a multitude of ways to vary them, that hovering demon Sameness only has one course to take. And that’s to linger at the back of your mind, forever shoved out of the way by enough diversity to keep it there.

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Community review by wolfqueen001 (July 24, 2008)

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