reviews\ Nov 6, 2006 at 7:00 pm

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1// Rebirth - PS2 - Review

Not only did Bandai’s .hack series sell generously worldwide despite mediocre reviews, but the amount of cross-promotional merchandise purchased seemed to be just as staggering. It seemed like every diehard .hack fan owned their fare share of DVD’s, artbooks, t-shirts, keychains and wallscrolls before the four-part series had ended. This certainly caught the attention of Bandai and their newly formed partner Namco, because what was supposed to be a conclusion now seems more like a beginning.


That’s right, much to the delight of fans everywhere; .hack is making a return with its newest installment, .hack//G.U. And much like before, .hack//G.U. will unfold over several different games, three to be exact, with Rebirth leading the way. Thankfully, the name isn’t the only thing that has seen a change, because from top to bottom, Rebirth provides more enjoyment in its debut than the previous series managed to do in four games over a period of several years.



With a new series also comes a new protagonist. The dual-bladed Kite is no longer the story’s main focus. This time around, players will get the pleasure of experiencing a kid named Haseo in all his angry teenage glory. Haseo is the bad boy of fake virtual online worlds - the kind of player that likes to prey on the weak, a PKK (Player Killer) if you will. His over-confident world soon comes crashing down, and before too long you almost feel sorry for young Haseo.


In his journey to become the absolute best, Haseo attempts to track down the games biggest and strongest character known only as Tri-Edge. This same Tri-Edge managed to send Haseo’s close friend, Shino, into a real-life coma after an online confrontation, and Haseo wants to unravel the mystery behind the event and save his beloved friend. Of course, Tri-Edge crushes him when they finally meet, and the result of the battle causes Haseo’s character to lose all data, therefore dropping him back down to level 1. Confused and angry, Haseo now makes it his goal to not only save Shino, but to track down the mysterious Tri-Edge as well. He soon figures out, however, that many other things are not what they seem in this new world, which ultimately sends him on a journey of a lifetime.



The previous online universe known as “The World” doesn’t make its return this time around either. It and the virtual lives of millions were destroyed in a fire that consumed the servers and the building that housed them. Of course the company behind this, C.C. Corp, has released a newer version called "The World R:2.", and as you might’ve guessed, it’s full of mysterious events that just so happen to affect the real world as well, much like what happened to Shino.


If you are not familiar with how this whole .hack universe works, it is actually pretty interesting to say the least. Instead of playing an actual MMORPG, you take on the role of a kid who likes to play MMORPG’s in his free time. This means that you get to control Haseo when he’s both online playing the The World R:2., and offline during his everyday regular life. While offline Haseo can perform multiple tasks that many people playing online RPG’s would do. Reading and sending e-mails, chatting in forums, and reading about the latest news are everyday occurrences for Haseo, but that’s about extensive as it gets. You cannot freely roam Haseo’s real-life world or anything, but that is probably for the better.


The way that .hack//G.U. handles the story is actually a big improvement over previous .hack installments. Seeing all the events unfold in both worlds becomes intriguing enough, and you honestly become involved and seriously want to know who is behind all the freakish occurrences. That is something that just didn’t happen for me in the previous versions, but unfortunately, more than half of the story was ruined in Rebirth due to horrendous voice acting. It’s not that the dialogue sequences are terribly long, or anywhere near the length of games like Xenosaga, but the poor quality makes them feel like an eternity. This became extremely frustrating because you had to constantly resist the urge to skip the cut-scenes in fear of missing important plot points, which is inexcusable for a RPG, at least in my eyes.  



The battle system is another area that has seen remarkable improvements. The long-drawn-out fights from before have now been replaced with a system that’s much smoother and focuses on real-time, which in comparison ends up feeling like something from Square’s earlier efforts. This result is a much quicker, much more exciting battle that really helps take advantage of the game’s new special moves and "Rengeki" system.


One of the main reasons for the new system’s success is the smaller confines of the fighting areas this time around. Once a fight ensues, a barrier of light surrounds the area and helps keep all party members and enemies within range. One of the biggest problems from previous .hack titles was that select enemies had the tendency to scamper off during battles, which would in turn cause you to chase them endlessly across the map. This grew increasingly frustrating over time, but thankfully, the light barrier helps keep those days far behind us.


These restricted areas also help you string together powerful attacks, which can end up resulting in some deadly combos, and can even sometimes trigger the coveted Rengeki mode I mentioned earlier. During this mode, Haseo can unleash devastating damage on to his enemies, receive after battle bonuses, and even raise the team’s morale. Which, if happens, allows the whole party to combine their skills for one gigantic massive attack, which pretty much eliminates any foe’s still standing in your way.



Overall, I think there is little doubt that .hack fans will devour Rebirth as quickly as the four before it, but I also think it has more than enough charm and upgrades to attract some RPG fans that might not normally stray into the anime genre. Despite the sub-par voice acting and recycled visuals, .hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth is a much improved direction for the series, and one that I think anyone looking for an offbeat RPG will appreciate experiencing.

Review Scoring Details .hack//G.U. Vol. 1// Rebirth


Gameplay: 7.5

Rebirth doesn’t do anything new, or bring anything to the RPG genre that we haven’t seen before, but the improvements to the battle system make a world of difference over its predecessors. After while, the frequent tussles do grow a bit tiresome, but not much else irritates.

Graphics: 7.5

Once again, the visual improvements in Rebirth are much improved over the previous series, and really add a ton of value to the game. The drab color palates from “The World” have been replaced with vibrant locations that help make exploring “The World R:2.” much easier on the eyes. Many of the characters look generic, but at least the environments and backgrounds are very well designed, and sometimes even beautiful.


Sound: 7.0

The comforting and soothing audio of the soundtrack is unfortunately overshadowed by the often times horrible voice acting. Seriously, your patience will be tested thoroughly, especially during the very long cut-scenes, but at least the rest of the game’s sound helps distract you from it.


Difficulty: Medium

Concept: 8.0

The premise behind the .hack series is very interesting indeed, and the amount of promise shown by Rebirth only enforces the fact that Namco-Bandai plans to increase the quality of the series. Hopefully, in the next two .hack installments we can start to see more of Haseo’s real-life world, which would certainly help support the fact that the game is essentially two worlds wrapped in one, which isn’t always apparent.

Overall: 7.5
With such a solid base already existing with Rebirth it will be fun to see where Namco-Bandai can take the series, especially at the near-end of the console’s lifespan. If they continue to improve the series as they have this time around, the final two installments of .hack//G.U have the potential to really make their mark in the RPG genre.


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